The Legend of Diablo
V. S. McGrath
The Devil's Revolver Series, book 4 • Release Date: September 17, 2019
Print ISBN: 978-1-948559-33-1 • EPUB ISBN: 978-1-948559-36-2 • Kindle ISBN: 978-1-948559-34-8 • PDF ISBN: 978-1-948559-35-5
Brain Mill Press offers The Legend of Diablo in ebook and in a limited fine first edition printing of signed, numbered paperbacks. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle), EPUB, and PDF files, offered without DRM restrictions. Print book buyers receive a physical copy of the book and access to the ebook files in all formats.
“The feminist western you’ve been waiting for: The Devil’s Revolver has heart and grit. A terrific genre-crossing tale with a deft touch of the macabre.”
—Donna Thorland, writer on the Netflix series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
“A fantastically readable female-focused story . . . A really terrific riff on the Western, told with huge verve.”
—KJ Charles, author of the Charm of Magpies series
“Features vivacious characters with tricks up their sleeves.”
“Immensely readable, gritty, and sharp as a spur rowel, The Devil’s Revolver is a western with a twist.”
—Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author of the Julia Grey novels
"There's death and dying and secret operatives and speculators and dirty Pinkerton agents, a cowboy gang, werewolves, vampires and more in this story. Trust me, you won't be bored."
—Independent Online Booksellers Association on The Devil's Revolver
"[The Devil's Pact is] especially recommended for community library YA Fiction collections."
—Midwest Book Review
“An exhilarating ride through a unique world, The Devil's Revolver pulls you in and doesn't let you go. Hettie casts a spell on you that's sure to keep you turning the pages.”
—Christine D'Abo, author of the Bounty series
“The Devil’s Revolver is a riveting ride that mixes the grit of Westerns with the world of magic. McGrath loads this fantastic story with action, suspense, adventure and unforgettable characters. You’ll definitely want to pull the trigger.”
Hell’s not so scary when you’ve been there twice already…
It’s been three years since she lost her sister, Abby, to the Division, and Hettie Alabama has gone rogue. Roaming the West with an outlaw posse, robbing banks and stealing magic, she’s broken every rule she once believed in. Nothing matters anymore but finding Abby.
Meanwhile, the world is on fire. Hungry for power, the Division leaches magic from the vulnerable, with dire consequences that set Hettie’s pursuit of her sister on a collision course with dangerous monsters and even more dangerous men. It’s up to Hettie and her cursed revolver, Diablo, to find a way to save the world—or end it.
The Legend of Diablo delivers an action-packed conclusion to the Devil’s Revolver series steeped in violent history, dark magic, and hope that demands an accounting.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V. S. McGrath is a published romance author (as Vicki Essex) and has six books with Harlequin Superromance: Her Son’s Hero (July 2011); Back to the Good Fortune Diner (January 2013), which was picked for the Smart Bitches Trashy Books Sizzling Book Club; In Her Corner (March 2014); A Recipe for Reunion (March 2015); Red Carpet Arrangement (January 2016); and Matinees with Miriam (November 2016). She has been featured in the Globe and Mail, Metro Toronto, Torontoist, Inside Toronto, and Canada.com. The Devil’s Revolver is her debut young adult fantasy. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her websites: vsmcgrath.com and vickiessex.com. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
AN EXCERPT from The Legend of Diablo by V. S. McGrath
© Vicki So, 2019. All rights reserved.
“There are still only five men.”
“Count them again.” The blandly repeated order chafed every time it was repeated. Hettie knew that, but she’d also learned not to jump into any situation until she was absolutely certain.
“We should go now,” Duke Cox growled. The man had been with her for nearly three years, and he still questioned her orders. “We’ve been sitting on our asses for damn near two hours, and it’s hot as hell out here!”
“Hell’s a lot hotter, and it’s where you’ll end up if we’re not careful,” Hettie said without looking the man’s way. “Count ’em again, Tommy.”
The younger man peered through his spyglass once more. “Five, Mizzay.”
She cut him a narrowed look. Duke cuffed him in the back of the head. “Not Miss A, you lunk. You call her ‘Blackthorn’ when we’re out here.”
“Sorry, Miss—I mean, Blackthorn.” Tommy lowered his chin. “Won’t happen again.”
She kept her expression cool. “Count ’em out loud, Tommy, so we can be sure.”
“One, two, three…four…five.” He paused. “No, wait, six. Seven! I see more of ’em now!”
His pitch rose with excitement, terror. “Fifteen! No, twenty!”
“Twenty, eh?” Hettie sighed as she conjured Diablo. “Not as many as I’d hoped.” She rolled her neck, and it popped. “Plan’s still the same, though. Five or twenty-five, it don’t make a difference.”
She notched her chin at Tommy. The young sorcerer hastily put his spyglass away, then raised a bright pink conch shell and recited the amplification spell precisely. Hettie’s throat expanded as she put her ear and mouth to the shell. “Walker, d’you hear me?”
“There are twenty-three men, including the drivers.” His voice was like a whisper carried across the sea. He had a similar conch—amplification spells were messy because when cast, everyone could hear them. Tommy, however, had crafted this pair of linked talismans so that their conversation would be private. He was extremely talented, though too anxious by half. It was a dangerous combination in someone so young.
“Twenty-three. We only had twenty.” She glanced at Tommy again, eyebrow arched. He immediately started recounting.
“They’re using hide spells, Hettie. They’re anticipating trouble. It’s gotta be a trap.”
“It’s always a trap. But we need that canister.” She looked at Tommy, his pale forehead beaded with sweat. He would need a hit of juice soon.
“Time to move.” She nodded at Duke. The man signaled the others to prepare for the assault.
The men got into place. Hettie stood and stretched just as a shadowy bloom of darkness alighted from the twisted tree above them, landing on the rock pile fence they’d been crouched behind.
“Open for business?”
She waved off the raven familiar. “Let me be, Rok. I’m busy.”
“Busy, busy business. That’s the name of the game.” The spirit bird clicked his beak. “How many souls will you reap today? Bringer of blood, bringer of death, of war, of pain and ends, bringer of—”
She squeezed the bag of bones in her pocket as if she meant to strangle the bird. “Please shut up, Rok, or I’ll grind your beak down for tea.”
The bird squawked and promptly settled. “No wonder Uncle drank so much,” she grumbled. Why he’d bonded this chattering spirit familiar to her when he’d died was something she still hadn’t figured out. Rok could be useful when he chose to be, but mostly, he was just annoying. “Go to it, bird,” she commanded.
Rok took off in a cloud of black dust. She watched him wing into the white-hot sky and dissipate in a puff of ash.
No one could see Rok except her. Familiars didn’t bond to mundanes, and despite wielding the world’s most powerful mage gun, Hettie was as giftless as they came. Eventually, she’d stopped trying to convince anyone the raven existed. Even Walker was skeptical. Instead, she used Rok’s gifts as needed, and the gang had learned to trust her uncanny instincts.
The intensity of the sun dimmed, though the sky was clear and cloudless. The men stirred uneasily beneath the greenish-hued light of a supernatural eclipse.
Hettie took this as her cue. She walked into the open toward the cluster of buildings that made up No Hope—four sun-baked wood structures including a general store, a saloon, a clerk’s office, and a long-shuttered sorcerer’s saloon.
She walked toward the wagon, keeping an eye on the engine and the men guarding it. As she left the perimeter of the gang’s hide spell, she spotted more Division agents perched on the roofs, waiting at windows, hiding in the shadows. They’d come with shotguns and pistols, knives and talismans. Not a lot of good they’d do against her and Diablo.
One of the men shouted a warning. Heads snapped up, muzzles swung around.
Some of them didn’t wait for the order to fire. They knew the stories. They pulled their triggers before they could even be sure it was her, but those reckless men faltered, and their eager guns jammed. A few bullets peppered the ground around Hettie, kicking up plumes of dust, but she kept walking. A raven’s caw echoed over the field. “Bad luck, bad luck!” it sang in a throaty hiss of laughter audible only to Hettie’s ears. Rok had done his job and cursed those who would harm her.
Hettie signaled her men at the same time she dropped into her time bubble.
She drew her sabre, the singing of the blade in the deafening silence making her teeth ache. The sword had come from a Division officer she’d killed almost a year ago—a deviant of a man who’d become well-known for beheading the criminals he pursued, serving as judge, jury, and executioner. She’d given him the honor of Diablo’s fire, neither a quick nor painless death by the end. That’d been the last time she’d used the gun to kill. The last time she’d slaked its blood lust.
The saber was cleaner, in many respects. While Diablo never missed, it had a mind of its own and could prolong an agonizing death. It had killed when all she’d wanted to do was maim, drinking down another one of her precious years. Her control over it was not absolute. It sometimes thought it knew better than her, and for that reason, she could not always trust it.
The mage gun had taken its toll, its blood price, with interest. She reckoned that with her brittle, gunmetal gray hair, the dark circles under her eyes, and the sun-weathered lines on her face, she looked at least twenty years older than her actual age of twenty-one.
The truth was worse: she didn’t know exactly how many years she’d added. She’d once asked Walker when he’d lost count of the number of men he’d killed. He hadn’t responded.
She started with the snipers. There were more and more of them with each new attack—as if they thought they were safe perched high above everyone, picking off whoever they could, never having to look their victims in the eye.
Cowards, she thought in disgust, spotting the first man lying on the rooftop. She climbed a ladder to the topmost vantage point and began her grisly work.
* * *
The last Walker had seen of Hettie, she’d stepped out of the magic blind and was striding toward the town. At the first volley of fire, she’d vanished, and the distant caw of a raven made his skin prickle.
He always took a second to scan the ground for her crumpled body. Every time they went out and she withdrew into her time bubble, he feared she might rematerialize as a corpse on the doorstep to the swirling hell’s gate.
“Madre,” Lena whispered, crossing herself. Beneath the truthteller, the horse known as Tisiphone shifted restlessly.
“Trust her.” He swallowed back the cold, hard lump that rose in him every time they went on a job. These two words sustained his faith in Hettie, in the knowledge that whatever else it might want, the mage gun his stepfather had created would protect its wielder.
The air bristled as the Division agents realized they had fired at a field of nothing, or perhaps a ghost. Walker knew that feeling well now—the collective intake of breath as their enemies finally grasped exactly who and what they were dealing with.
A bloodcurdling scream pierced the air. It was joined by another, and another, until a shrieking chorus echoed around them. Walker spotted the writhing bodies atop the roofs. Hettie was doing her work.
His sorcerer sent up the signal to charge. “Let’s ride!”
Walker’s team spurred their horses into action, leaping through the perimeter of the magic blind. They yipped and hooted, kicking up a lot of dust and circling the town, corralling the Division men within.
On the southern flank, Duke’s group opened fire, raining bullets upon the confused and disoriented soldiers. Caught up trying to reload or unjam their guns, the Division men dove for cover, shouting and seeking orders from their commanders. Walker knew who the officers were on sight: they thrashed on the ground, screaming, blood pooling around their ankles. Their Achilles’ tendons had been cut.
Hettie appeared above them like a wraith. Her mussed gray hair waved around a sallow mask of blank indifference, the kind of expression Death probably wore as he performed his duties. The captain and his second scrambled to draw their side arms as the gang closed around them.
Before Walker could even think to shout a warning, Diablo winked into Hettie’s hand. Its matte black surface absorbed the sun’s scalding glare. She pointed the mage gun at the two men on the ground.
“Captain.” Her low deadpan carried, thanks to the amplification spell. Her voice had grown harsh over the past few years, rasping like a snake crawling across shale to shed its skin. “I’d hate to send any more of your men home in caskets, so if you could please tell them to put down their weapons…”
“You’re her.” He glanced up and around, but his triumph quickly dimmed.
“You’re wondering about your snipers.” Hettie dumped an armload of rifles in front of the captain. She hadn’t been carrying them a blink ago. Little pink bloodied nubs rained down along with them, but it was only when a large hand slapped down onto the dirt that Walker realized they were fingers.
“That one tried to fight me.” Hettie gestured toward the clerk’s office, grimacing. “If you get him some help now, he may yet live.”
The second in command retched. The captain growled, “You…you little whore—”
Walker took a menacing step toward the man, but he needn’t have. “Whore?” Hettie tilted her chin up in thought. “Is that all you have as an insult, Captain Crenshaw? Whore?” He flinched when she addressed him by name. “I know some fine young women and men in the profession. They’re smarter than you, at any rate. They don’t go gambling away their hard-earned paychecks at the poker tables. What do you suppose your wife, Annabelle, thinks of that?”
Walker frowned. She was putting on a real show today.
The captain pursed his lips. His second in command looked equally appalled, though Walker doubted it was the man’s gambling habits that’d shocked him.
“Kade,” Hettie addressed the second, startling him. “Please relay my orders. Captain Crenshaw’s a little tongue-tied at the moment.”
“L-lower your weapons. Lower your weapons!” he shouted to the remaining soldiers.
The men slowly obeyed. Duke’s boys confiscated their guns and lined up them with their hands over their heads. They made them kneel in the dust as they divested them of all their money, weapons, talismans, and boots. There was always a need for boots. Walker and the others kept their muzzles trained on their prisoners.
“What do we got, Lena?” Hettie called over her shoulder.
“One canister, half full.” Lena was in charge of the sorcerers who provided magical protection. “Ammunition, food…ooh, dynamite!”
Hettie nodded. “Load ’em up. And check on Tommy. He’s a little peaked.”
Walker would have words with Tommy later. The young sorcerer had juiced up before they’d left, but he’d expended his power too quickly. The highs didn’t just come from the hit—they came from using the juice, performing magic. He worried the young man was getting hooked.
Hettie paced along the line of prisoners. “Gentlemen,” she addressed the Division men, “if you know anything about my reputation, then you know how this goes. Tell me a useful piece of information, and I let you live. Tell me a lie, and you don’t.”
“H-how are we supposed to know what’s useful?” someone asked tremulously. The man next to him knocked him with his elbow.
The kid was fresh out of the Academy, like so many she’d encountered lately—smooth-faced and gangly, his collar and cuffs too starched and too white. Students were being fast-tracked to serve the Division. Hettie tilted her chin. “Well, it depends. There’re only a few things my boys and me really want. Money, magic…and my sister.” She panned the men. “Now, which of you happens to know where Abigail Alabama is?”
As expected, they were silent. The Division was notorious for keeping its projects secret, even from its own agents. That way, no one person knew all of the Division of Sorcery machinations.
Hettie nodded to Duke, who whistled. His people had rounded up the snipers, their hands bloody. Some were missing more than just their trigger fingers, and one man clutched a stump that had been hastily bandaged.
Hettie took out a wicked-looking curved knife, and the snipers shied away.
“Money, magic, or Abigail Alabama. Information that leads us to one of those things gets you home. And don’t try to lie—I’ve got three truthtellers with their eyes on you. Who wants to start?”
The gang shifted restlessly beneath the scorching sun.
Hettie sighed. Her duster flapped, the leather snapping like a whip in the wind.
Captain Crenshaw gasped as a tiny cut, deep and small like a snake bite, opened up along the side of his neck. Another appeared across his forehead. Blood ran down his face.
He yelped and grabbed the side of his head, smearing blood across his cheek. A piece of his left earlobe was missing. Then a slice appeared on his jawline in the cleft of his chin and through his lower lip. He screamed as blood poured from his face.
Walker kept his eyes fixed on the man as he flailed, yelping with each new cut. The others squirmed as the Division captain was reduced to a fleshy whittling stick by his phantom assailant. It was no poltergeist, though; Hettie was using the time bubble to inflict her torture without being seen.
“Money, magic, or Abby Alabama.” Hettie pointed her curved blade at Crenshaw. “Or y’all can watch me shave him down to the bone.”
The wounds gaped like tiny, bloody, hungry mouths. Crenshaw spat a wad of crimson. “Don’t give this witch a single damned word, or I’ll shoot you myself!”
Hettie frowned. “Really, captain, that ain’t good for morale.”
He showed her what he thought of her morale by extending his middle finger. Bad move, Walker thought, and sure enough, the captain howled and fell over, clutching a stump where his offending finger had once jutted. Hettie tossed the useless digit into the pile along with the others.
She paced along the lineup, wiping her hands on a handkerchief, and stopped in front of the last man. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Freddie Henricksen.” He added, lowering his face, “Ma’am.”
Hettie’s lips twitched. “Freddie. Tell me something useful, and you can get up off your knees and sit in the shade over there.”
He licked his lips, keeping his gaze down. “I…I did security for a payroll wagon. Runs every Thursday from Gull Falls.”
She smiled. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” She nodded, and one of her men grabbed Freddie and led him to the shade of a scraggly tree. “Freddie’s going home to his family on his feet and fit to keep earning money. How about the rest of you?”
“I did payroll, too,” another man volunteered quickly. “In Jailor’s Creek, last Monday of the month.”
“Me, too!” another man said.
Hettie nodded, and the men were pulled out of the lineup. The secrets rolled out steadily after that. After all, it was just money, and banks were insured.
When half the men had been freed from the lineup, Hettie held up a hand. “Seems we’ll have plenty of cash for the next little while. How about magic?” She panned her gaze across the remaining agents. “You boys know anything about the Fielding expeditions?”
“Y-you said money, magic…”
“Or Abigail Alabama.” She nodded. “If any of you has information about her, I’ll let you all go at once. Your compatriots were smarter, faster—they have less to lose giving up secrets about payroll wagons.” She flashed her teeth in a humorless smile. “Tips on magic or Abby. Whaddya boys have?”
Crenshaw started to growl a warning, but Duke cuffed him across the back of the head.
Reluctantly, one older man said, “I ran security for a Fielding expedition two weeks ago.”
“Uxbridge, you shut your mouth!”
He looked the captain in the eye. “Ain’t worth our lives, captain. I’ve got three girls to feed.”
Hettie seized on the information. “Where’d the engine go?”
“Did a short route through Kansas. Went to five towns before we drove the engine and the canister to Junesfield. They were put on the train from there.”
“Where does it go from there?”
“They don’t tell us that.”
Hettie checked with Lena, who nodded her assessment. He wasn’t lying.
“How many other Fielding expeditions met you in Junesfield?” Walker prompted.
“Haven’t I already given you enough?” the Division man asked irately. When Hettie’s eyes bore into his, he sighed. “Seven, as far as I could count.”
“Thank you, Mr. Uxbridge. Your information has earned you your freedom.” He was taken out of the lineup, and she addressed the remaining men. “If any of you can tell me anything about where the canisters are being banked, you can all go free right now. I’ll even give you your boots back.”
“We don’t know anything about that, we swear,” one young man blurted. “They don’t tell us anything about the Fielding expeditions!”
“I don’t suppose they would.” Hettie’s gaze panned across the prisoners’ pale, smooth faces and came to the same conclusion Walker had a moment ago. “All you greenhorns are too young to be on those expeditions. The Division’s only assigning veterans and elite agents to those details. Ain’t that right, Uxbridge?
The older man stared resolutely at the ground as the younger agents peered at him.
Hettie raised her voice so they could all hear her. “Did you know they’re forcing gifted to bank their magic? That they’re stealing powers from old and young alike?” The cold, hard anger pressed into them like the barrel of a gun. “Did you know they’re draining them dry?”
“That’s League propaganda!” Captain Crenshaw barked. “Those rogue sorcerers are terrorists bent on destabilizing gifted and mundane unity.”
“Whereas you’re all upstanding citizens dedicated to…what? Taking magic from your fellow man? Ripping children from their families to stock your ranks?” Hettie’s death glare panned over the Division men, many of whom were young enough to have gone through exactly that, even if the experience had been wiped from their memories.
“Mr. Uxbridge,” Hettie addressed the older Division agent. “Tell us the truth. Did anyone come forward willingly to bank their gift?”
The man lowered his chin.
“The League of Sorcerers has been telling the truth, hasn’t it? The Division’s been rounding up all the gifted. They hold them down while they’re kicking and screaming, put those clamps on and drain ’em dry. And they kill anyone who tries to fight back.”
“Lies!” Crenshaw howled.
The men stared, appalled. “Uxbridge?”
Walker knew by the slight compression in the air that the truthtellers were applying a subtle spell on the Division agent. Even though Walker no longer had his stepfather’s borrowed magic, he could still sense when spells were being used.
Uxbridge’s face grew red, and he scratched at his neck. The flesh cinched in an invisible vise, and the man spluttered and fell to his knees.
Shit! “Undo that silence spell!” Walker shouted.
Lena leaped from the saddle and slipped a rope around the man’s neck, speaking an incantation. Uxbridge continued to struggle. “It’s binding!” she yelled, and the two other truthtellers joined her, placing their hands over the man’s shoulders, chanting in tandem.
Uxbridge jerked. His lips turned blue, despite the sorcerers’ efforts. He thrashed, scrabbling at his throat as the binding spell silenced him forever. When he stopped twitching, Captain Crenshaw growled, “Traitor deserved it.”
A sick feeling swamped Walker, and he glanced over at Hettie.
Her eyes were wide, unblinking, and cold. Slowly, she turned toward the captain. “Not every Division enforcer gets a binding silence spell put on him.” She pointed at the man’s shield—the badge that indicated his rank. “What’d he do to earn it?”
The truthtellers turned to face the captain, whispering their spell in unison, the sound like the shushing of a creek wearing down a river stone.
“Had an attack of conscience,” Crenshaw blurted. “The little ones cried too much for his soft heart to take. They had to put the binder on him to keep him from telling the world what was happening.” He glared. “Good riddance to him, I say. A dimcan like him was just taking up space. It’ll happen to the rest of us, too, if any more of you decide to turn traitor.”
“Uxbridge was a fifteen-year vet!” one of the freed soldiers said. “He didn’t deserve a binder!”
“And he ain’t no dimcan,” another snarled. “He was a good man, decent, modest. He didn’t flash his power around like you do.”
The captain seemed to realize what was happening. “You idiots! Uxbridge is dead because of that witch! She’s geised you all to turn against me!”
“I’m mundane,” Hettie replied evenly. “You know that. Your men know that. The only reason you keep calling me a witch is because you have a small vocabulary and very little imagination.” She conjured Diablo. “Truth is, there’s no word for what I am. Except disappointed.”
She raised the mage gun. Walker’s grip tightened over the reins and on his sidearm. “You got anything you want to tell me before you meet your maker?”
“Go to hell,” he spat.
She shrugged. “Been there twice already.”
She pulled the trigger. The captain shrieked as Diablo’s fire engulfed him in a brilliant blaze of green. The flame swirled and swallowed him up, then disappeared, leaving only a greasy smudge on the ground.
A sickly greenish glow enveloped Hettie. She set her teeth as the mage gun drank down a year of her life in one long draw. It used to be that she’d scream, long and loud, the kind of cry that tore a man’s soul apart. But these days, it was as if all she had was a little cramp. She huffed as Diablo released her, and she straightened, rolling her shoulders back. Dark shadows hung beneath her hollowed eyes, giving her the look of a skull.
“The rest of you are free to go,” she said to the Division men. “There’s been enough death today.” She withdrew a pouch of coins and went to Kade, the second in command. “You’ll deliver this to Mr. Uxbridge’s widow and daughters, along with my deepest regrets and apologies.”
Kade was still staring wide-eyed at the spot where his captain had been. He fumbled the sack of coins, seeming surprised at the weight.
She looked over the Division men. “Remember what happened here today. The Division isn’t your friend. Once they’ve taken magic from all the gifted, they’ll come for you next. They’re not interested in your loyalty, only control of your power, and one day, you’ll realize how they first took it from you. Listen to what the League of Sorcerers for Free Magic is saying. Don’t trust the Division.”
The Rogues collected the cart containing the Fielding canister and engine, along with the Division men’s horses, supplies, and loot. Hettie mounted her own stalwart mare, then flicked her gaze toward Walker.
“Let’s ride!” he shouted.
The Blackthorn Rogues galloped out on a wave of thunder and dust.
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