Chapter 1: The Drifters
"There ain't no time like the present."
The words echoed throughout the small town of Farson which was composed of many houses built out of flimsy sheet metal welded together to make them barely habitable. Only a few of the larger buildings such as the tavern and inn were in better condition and built with sturdy foundations. Wind blew dirt everywhere. A layer of grime covered everything from the livestock, to the town, to the very people who lived there.
A man stood in the dirt road that divided the homes into two parallel sides. Unlike the inhabitants of the derelict town, this man wore cleaner looking clothes and was obviously from a much higher standard of living. "Any person who wants something these days simply has to reach out and take it. All you need is a little conviction and it's yours."
To his sides were two equally clean and cut men who carried rifles. Belts of ammo at their waists would allow them to shoot and kill as many people who would dare step onto the street. Between them, and kneeling just behind the person who was in the middle of a grand speech, was yet another man who looked as though he had been beaten soundly for hours. His face had swollen like a balloon and blood spilled from his every orifice.
"Unfortunately for all of you," He addressed the people of the town who looked on from the cracks in their windows and homes. "None of you qualify as people." He then immediately turned around, drew the pistol at his waist, and shot the kneeling man through his left eye. Blood spurt out the back of his victim's skull as he dropped to the dirt. A crimson puddle of blood formed in the earth around the area of the wound. "WAS THAT YOUR BRILLIANT PLAN?" He shouted in a fit of rage. "Every month you pay us taxes and every month you maggots make the same excuses." The man turned and kicked the corpse in the stomach. "And yet somehow, you managed to scrounge together the money to hire this piece of shit. Haven't you all gotten it through your thick skulls yet? Hiring mercenaries? Hiring a mercenary?" He put heavy emphasis on the singular. "No one is going to save you. No one can. Any more defiance, we'll burn your homes to the ground with your children inside. We'll rape and kill your women. We'll slice off your hands. 'Leave you all here to die. This is our town! You're our property! Don't you forget it!"
The armed men left the dead as it was; lying with a wet, gushing hole where its face used to be. It was several minutes after they had gone that the doors to the homes, as flimsy and broken as they were, opened and the townspeople stepped out and moved towards the body. They gathered around it in silence and spoke not a word to each other. They looked down at the man who should have been their only hope and felt the utter despair with which they had been struggling with for so long.
They had skipped days' worth of meals to stockpile and sell. When they were finally able to send it out to Starkhaven, a much larger town not more than a few days away, it was painful to see all their work had bore no more than a single gunman's weekly wage. Even with the money to afford one, hiring one continued to prove difficult. Their town was too far towards the ocean to make the journey worthwhile. And there was also the issue of numbers.
One against fifteen took all the incentive out of it. But, in their desperate search they managed to find what they were looking for. He was a merc who listened closely to their story and took the job, not for the money, which would keep him fed and sheltered for two weeks at most, but for the sympathy he felt towards the people. He was a kind man who had years of experience as a gunfighter, but despite his profession, held a high respect for all life. He had been their hero and their savior when he accepted the job. The people of Farson had placed their hopes and dreams in him. Now, he too was gone.
The men and women who gathered around the gunman's corpse lowered their heads to the ground so low, it was as though they were ashamed to look at him. The futility of what they had tried to accomplish sunk in: Burdening a good man with the responsibility of single-handedly saving their entire town. The one bandit he had managed to kill would prove meaningless while fourteen others were still left to terrorize them. It had taken no more than a few moments for him to be surrounded and captured, then beaten and executed. He had never stood a chance.
"We are cowardly people." The man who spoke was Owen; oldest and, hence, wisest among the people. "We now have to live with the knowledge that we sent a selfless man to his death because of our own selfish desire to survive. We should have come to terms with it long ago. But instead, we involved another in our own troubles and had him pay too high a price."
Owen, like the others of Farson, had no last name. It was pointless to have one in a town with a dwindling population of a hundred people. He had lived long enough to see his two sons die during the initial raid no more than a few months ago. They had been the last of his remaining family and at almost sixty years of age, it was far too late for him to regain any of what he had lost.
"What do we do?" One of the frail men asked him. "There must be something we can do?"
"We give him a proper burial." Owen failed to give the answer the town was expecting. "We owe him that much. We've all been struggling for months in order to survive but, all we've managed to do is cause more deaths. I don't want more blood on my hands… No more."
For some, the hopelessness felt was overpowering. They broke down. It was all over.
* * *
Two of the more youthful townsmen shoveled the rough dirt for what felt like hours before finally getting the ditch deep enough to bury the mercenary. The scorching sun was already setting across the horizon as they lifted the corpse by its hands and feet and tossed it into the hole. At first, they dropped dirt into the grave one shovel-full at a time, but their patience grew thin and they soon began pushing the mound of earth into it with bare hands.
"We should just run," One of the men said as he looked towards the sunset. "While no one's watching."
"Right," The other stopped his daydreaming. "We'd be dead within a day without water or supplies. And even if we did make it, there's nothing out there for us."
"It's just like the old man said..."
With his work finished, the one who had proposed the escape lifted the shovel onto his shoulder and started his way home, but not before glancing one last time at the setting sun.
He stopped dead in his tracks.
Slowly turning his head back towards the horizon, the shovel that rested atop his shoulder slid off and hit the ground. His momentary glance had left him thinking that his eyes were playing tricks on him; that it was some kind of mirage. His grip on the shovel loosened and it dropped from his hand when he realized that what he was seeing was no deception. Two men were heading towards the town.
The sheer sight of them approaching was enough to send a chill down the boy's spine but, upon closer inspection, he realized that there was more to worry about.
The man on the left walked with his hands and head slumped forward, making it difficult to get a good look at his face. Sweat dripped from the jet black hair on his head as he marched with half steps and steady pacing that could be contributed to walking through endless stretches of desert. A red leather vest masked part of his upper body which, although did not ripple with muscles, seemed well-conditioned.
But it was his companion who caught the attention of the boy. Not nearly as tall as the first but even more muscular, this one had a walk that would intimidate most people. There was strength in each step and stiffness in his shoulders. His face was that of a young man's, barely scratched or blistered by the exposure of sand storms one would normally encounter through the desert. He carried several noticeable accessories with him, the least of which were a pair of highly reflective sunglasses that concealed his eyes. His clothing looked military in origin, from the army issue boots to a camouflaged pained combat vest laced with pockets.
The boy's heartbeat raced as he noticed a holster at his right hip which held what looked to be a semi-automatic pistol. Worse yet, on his back was another weapon covered with a brown blanket wrapped around it. Its only visible part was the long barrel that extended a foot above the man's head. It was being carried by a small, ring shaped hinge hooked underneath the barrel which was large enough for the man to put his middle and index fingers through.
The boy watched the two approaching from half a mile away without ever looking away. He froze up when they at last entered the boundaries of the town, but felt he needed to say something; perhaps a word of warning or, at the very least, a simple greeting. He stumbled over his own words and jumbled them as he tried to speak. Just as a single syllable was to leap from his mouth, the men walked past him as if he weren't even there.
"Oh man." The townsman whispered to himself. He looked behind him at his friend who appeared to share the sentiment.
It wasn't that the men looked dangerous or the fact that one of them was carrying weapons that concerned either of them. The real problem was the raiders who would not allow people to leave once they arrived. Farson was kept contained to better control it.
More unwanted blood would be shed.
The outsiders traveled half the distance of the town before stopping in front of the tavern. The man in the red leather vest was the first to step toward the swinging saloon doors and pull one open. The other man entered first and took a seat on one of the stools at the bar; resting his blanketed rifle against the counter. His companion soon joined him.
"C-can I help you?" The barkeep asked hesitantly.
"My friend would like some water please." The older and taller of the two spoke with a curious courtesy not seen in such remote parts of the Continent.
The bartender seemed hesitant when answering the request. "We don't serve water here."
"'The fuck you say?" The smaller man questioned him without such tact.
His eyes, hidden beneath mirrored sunglasses, made it difficult to determine if he was glaring. It could have been considered odd for someone to wear shades in such a dimly lit tavern. Then again, there wasn't much about either man that wasn't odd.
"W-we don't have any water pipes in this town. All… All our water comes from the well." He pointed through one of the windows towards the poorly built structure at the center of town. "Y-you can help yourself to all the water you want."
The man in shades sighed at the thought of having to walk again. "Right…"
After grabbing his rifle, he moved to the swinging doors and pushed them open. It was already nighttime and he could barely see what was in front of him.
"Don't go wandering too far." The other man called out to him from his seat. He received no sign of acknowledgment. He then turned to the skeletal-like barkeep. "You'll have to excuse him, he's not the most social person. Walking for hours without water didn't help either."
The man in military gear stepped out onto the street. The chirping of crickets that lived in the small patches of crabgrass across town were all that could be heard. Quietly, he made his way to the watering hole and hauled a bucket up to have a drink.
There was a mild aftertaste of salt. The ocean wasn't far and it appeared to have an effect on the fresh water the town depended on. It was clean enough to drink but certainly not enough for proper cultivation and it explained the nearly empty crop fields on the outskirts. Still, the dehydrated traveler gulped it down straight from the bucket as though it was from the cleanest spring.
* * *
"Well, let's see now…" The man in the red leather vest rubbed his chin. "I haven't had a good shot of whiskey in a long time."
"You're looking parched friend. Whiskey may not be a wise choice." The drifter smiled and the deprived bartender knew right away that he was wasting his breath. He reached for a bottle. "You boys just came into town did you?"
"Just passing through. 'Headed towards Starkhaven."
"Too bad you came at such a bad time..."
Bartenders were always up to date on current events and the best source of information in a town.
He went on to explain how four months ago, Farson was just another quiet town; albeit, not a very rich or prosperous one. That was, until a man named Cadmus and his gang raided it and started killing anyone who resisted. That day, everything took a turn for the worse. The people's only possessions were taken away and pawned, whatever food they had managed to grow was sold or kept out of reach. The populace was treated in a manner best suited for vermin and their numbers were quickly dwindling. He also told him about the mercenary that had been killed that very afternoon.
"But he managed to kill one right?" The traveler asked.
"Much good that'll do us." The barkeep replied as he poured him his drink. "There are still fourteen of those misfits causing trouble."
"Do they call themselves anything?"
The question caused the owner to look at him as though he hadn't paid attention. "The Misfits."
The wanderer twitched his head, then grabbed his drink and swallowed it in a single gulp. He nearly gagged. "God damn! That is some awful scotch."
Trying to scrape his tongue clean just a few seconds ago, the man looked at his shot glass as if suddenly impressed. "Not bad."
His glass was being filled for a second time when the doors to the tavern swung open. It wasn't the armed companion who had stepped out minutes ago, but two of Cadmus' grunts who were handling guard duty that evening. The smell of alcohol from them was worse than that of the bar itself. One of them carried a lever-action rifle in hand.
"Who the hell are you?" The grunt asked as he lifted the barrel upwards.
When the traveler didn't answer, the second man quickly placed his hand on the pistol holstered at his waist. The question was repeated much louder and in a more threatening tone.
Sweat dripped from the barkeep's face. He swallowed the built up saliva in his mouth as he carefully knelt down and reached for something behind the counter.
The drifter's firm grip on his shoulder stopped him.
"The name is Axel friend." He turned and grinned a friendly grin at the two men who glared back at him. "And you boys must be two of Cadmus'."
"What of it?"
"Is he around? I'd like to meet him." He looked at their expressions and knew he had gained some leeway. "I'm a trader and I make good money for people like you. I'm looking to restock my supplies."
"He's asleep." They let their guard down. "'Not a good idea to wake him up. You just stay here till morning and we'll make sure he sees you."
"What is it you can do for us anyway?" The other raider asked him. "We already sold everything they owned."
The stranger gazed at the man with one eye. "But you didn't sell THEM did you?"
The Misfits were taken back by the statement but quickly turned to laughter as they stepped back outside. The so-called trader watched them leave with a little smile on his face. He turned back towards the barkeep who couldn't believe what he had just heard. The man in the vest then casually slumped onto the counter and reached for the object the owner was trying to grab a few moments ago. It was a pump-action, sawed-off shotgun strapped under the bar.
"Bet it was real hard keeping this from them for so long. 'Would've been a shame to give it away now." He stretched his arm back and placed the weapon in its original spot. "I'll have that second shot now."
Outside, his companion had already withdrawn from the open terrain surrounding the well and chosen, instead, to settle between a pair of shacks. Staying within the confines of the small alley also meant he would be much less visible in the darkness and avoid the risk of being spotted. He spent the better part of the night sound asleep and awoke only to drink from his freshly filled canteen.
At dawn, the sound of approaching footsteps alerted him to danger.
He removed the snap that kept his sidearm in its holster. His grip was firmly on the weapon while he faced the direction of the increasing sound. With each step, the man's thumb moved closer towards the pistol's hammer. Just as he was ready to pull it back, his hand relaxed and released the gun.
"Hello?" It was Owen accompanied by a few town residents. "I'm the Elder of Farson… I was hoping I could speak to you." The younger man ignored him and opted instead to take sips from his canteen. The initial, small-talk ceased when Owen noticed the long rifle the man kept beside him. "Please, I don't know who you are or why you're here, but you need to leave immediately. If they catch you-"
"Do you have any cigarettes?" The stranger gestured with his middle and index fingers as if the townsfolk wouldn't otherwise understand. "…Cigarettes?"
The entire conversation lasted no more than a minute. Owen tried his best to convince the young man to leave Farson in a discreet manner, but all warning seemed to fall on deaf ears. Unfortunately for both men, the decision was not his to make.
Another hour passed until the gunman was greeted by a familiar face. Even so, his mood remained unchanged. His companion spent the better part of the night sleeping on a bar, yet looked relatively refreshed.
"Where the hell did you get those?" His face lit up as though someone had handed him a present. He looked at the cigarettes like they were priceless artifacts.
"The old man had a pack." His armed companion answered. "He gave it to me on the condition that I leave without a fuss."
They talked about the number of bandits and the situation of the town. The man who had spent the evening chatting with the bartender laid out the information he had been given. The other listened without interrupting.
"So…" It came his time to speak. "We're not leaving?"
"If we leave now, they'll come follow us. Best to deal with this here and now"
"Axel," His partner spoke with no emotion. His next words would give deep insight into the way he'd been living his life up to that point. "We don't owe these people anything."
His companion wasn't shocked or surprised by the comment. Quite the opposite, he knew most people in their shoes would feel that way.
"Maybe not," He smirked at his friend the same way he had done countless times. His mind was made up.
Dust picked up by the time he made his way back into the bar. His partner wasted no time taking shelter in one of the poorly built shacks. Not due to the storm, but because of the rapid increase of activity by members of The Misfits who were just waking up. The gunman watched the immoral bandits stepping out from the inn, which they had all occupied since the first day of the raid, and immediately began harassing civilians. They threatened them with weapons, kicked them around as though they were dogs, spit on them. None of it was new or surprising to the man who had seen far worse during his time in the world.
One sight in particular seemed to get his attention, as one of the armed men took notice of a young girl who looked at them through her house window. A raider broke down the door to her home, threatened the parents and grabbed the girl by the arm. She struggled as the man pulled her by the hair and threw her to the ground outside. She wasn't a year over sixteen. Her weak frame from due to malnutrition made it hopeless to fight back. The other bandits claimed her as property while they barked and laughed. She disappeared into the inn and her screams for help soon with it. The man hidden in the shack didn't move from his spot. There was no point. Irrational thinking would be the death of him.
"What exactly are you planning?" The worried bartender asked his customer who took his first shot of alcohol that day.
"What? These people are dangerous!"
"Earl," Axel had taken the time to learn the man's name. "Relax. Everything'll be fine."
At long last, the tavern doors swung open as the leader of The Misfits entered. Cadmus had all the physical traits of a natural born leader: tall figure, toned body, perfect cheek bones and most of all, vicious, unforgiving eyes. He moved to the far end of the room where he took a seat and lifted his feet onto a table. At first, it appeared as though he had come alone, but soon others followed him in and sat at the tables surrounding him. One by one they came in, each giving the stranger at the bar crazed looks while he looked back at them in delight.
In truth, he was keeping count. Nine in total entered, five others would still be at the inn.
"I hear you've got a business proposition for me." Cadmus paid little attention to his guest. He leaned his back against the chair and looked up at the ceiling. His shirtless chest was extended as wide as possible as though he had just gotten out of bed and was doing his morning stretches.
From the confines of the small shack in which he was hiding, the other drifter could not see what was taking place inside the bar. He too had kept a careful count of the armed men that had entered it, then placed his blanketed rifle across the poorly made dining table, reached for his sidearm and removed the safety.
The residents of the house sat on the opposing edge of the room and observed his actions without a sound. He ejected the magazine from the bottom of the semi-automatic. Its chamber was pulled back to remove the extra bullet inside. The mechanism was then slid open and closed several times to ensure it would not jam. Finally, the detachable box was reloaded into the weapon and the additional round dropped into the open chamber. A loud click as it shut frightened the family of three.
"You're not listening to what I'm saying. Two hundred a head is just too damn much!" The fake negotiations with The Misfit's leader continued.
Cadmus had become interested enough in the conversation to sit up straight. "I'm not letting you sell anybody for a dollar less…"
"These people aren't worth that much Cad. They're dirty, hungry and ugly. No one's gonna pay top dollar for low grade slaves like this." The stranger stopped and looked at his supposed client and could see that he wasn't convinced. He then hopped over the bar to the server's side and rested his elbows atop the worn counter. "Okay. Here's what we can do: We sell the men for one-fifty and we sell the women for two hundred. You've got more women in this town anyway. We can clean 'em up, make 'em look nice and we just might turn a profit. Girls tend to have more uses than men anyway. How many people in this town are over forty?"
"I don't know…" The leader shrugged. "Thirty?"
"'Can't sell oldies." He started thinking to himself. "That leaves roughly seventy people…" "Sixty-five percent women… multiply… That's about thirteen grand from which I'd be getting a fifteen percent service fee."
"Ten." A counter offer.
"Ten was what I was hoping for." The fraud trader grinned. "Well Mr. Cadmus, I believe this makes us business associates."
A loud cheer erupted from the bar as the bandits ordered copious amounts of alcohol to celebrate the momentous occasion. The man in sunglasses watched and waited from inside the small shack while time rolled by. It wasn't long after that he noticed the old man who had approached him earlier that day was making his way towards the tavern.
"Is it true?" The tyrant was too drunk to comprehend the question Owen asked him. "You're planning to sell us like cattle?" The fact that his question was not answered made him press it further. "Please, don't do this!"
When he was ignored, he tried to approach the leader. One of the members hit him upside the head with a beer bottle and knocked him to the ground. Laughter engulfed to crowd as they watched the old man struggle to stand. The man in the leather vest forced a chuckle and watched from behind the bar.
"Hey boss," The man who had struck Owen in the head pulled out a gun. "Axel said the people over forty are useless right? Does that mean we can kill this guy?"
Cadmus didn't even look at the man. He swirled his beer bottle and watch the liquid flow in circles. "Do want you want."
Axel regretted his previous comment. He hadn't expected someone to take such a stand against Cadmus. The gang leader had instilled fear into the hearts of every person in Farson, but it hadn't broken them.
The enforcer slowly took aim. The hammer on the pistol was pulled back. Owen was still down and trying to recover from the hit he had taken to the head. Laughter from the other men grew louder. They were like a pack of hyenas about to devour their prey.
The sound of a gunshot echoed throughout the town as people carefully stuck their heads out from their homes to try and get a glimpse of what was happening. From their perspective, a gunshot meant that someone in their town had just died. Reasons were trivial or nonexistent.
In this case it was neither.
The raiders were all stunned when their comrade missed his shot at point-blank range. It hadn't been a split second before he fired that a full bottle of liquor had crashed against the side of his face. The head of every Misfit turned to the source of the flying object that looked back at them with a half annoyed glare.
"Well, I hope you're happy." He spoke to the old man who looked back at him slightly confused. "I don't know what's wrong with you, but you just ruined all my hard work."
Cadmus was looking irate. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I gotta be honest with you Cad," Axel placed the half-smoked cigarette to his mouth. He had been careful to finish it too fast. "I'm not a trader, but if I was, I wouldn't be caught dead dealing with a sick fuck like you."
"Is that so?"
He grinned. "You bet your dumb, inbred ass."
Cadmus looked at the muscular man who was hit across the face with the bottle. "Tommy, break his jaw."
Blood trickled down the enforcer's brow and his clothes were soaked through. His eyes were on fire; both metaphorically and physically due to the alcohol burning his retinas.
He took a moment to breathe, then laughed it off. His attacker looked at him without worry and puffed away at his cigarette.
"I'm gonna rip your head off." The raider spoke through his teeth while taking slow, heavy steps towards the man. "I'm gonna beat you till there's nothing left to beat. I'm gonna break all your fingers and toes. I'm gonna gouge out your eyes. And just before I let you die, I'm gonna make you lick the scotch clean off my-."
"It's bourbon." Axel casually corrected him before flicking his lit cigarette in his direction.
His companion later witnessed the strangest of occurrences. A very big man leaped out the tavern window set ablaze and rolled across the dirt road trying to put out his burning flesh. By the time he was extinguished, he was no longer of use to anyone.
"New deal for you Cadmus:" His betrayer spoke as though what had just happened was of no consequence. "You leave town with your little pussy posse right now and you get to live to see the sun set."
The leader of The Misfits had seen and heard enough. "Somebody kill this guy!"
A piece of the bar's front panel exploded violently sending wooden splinters in all directions. A single, twelve gauge slug punched a massive hole through it before piercing the thigh of one members who was about to fire at the man. The thug dropped to the ground, holding his wound, screaming about being hit in the artery. Before the others had a chance to react, Axel had already pulled the sawed-off out from under the counter and pumped the weapon for another shot.
"Which one of you assholes thinks he's faster than me?"
His original plan had been to gain their trust and later disarm them. When the old man stepped in, the plan had to be changed. Fortunately, while the gang may not have been drunk enough to be helpless, they were inebriated to the point where they wouldn't be able to shoot straight. And they knew this.
Of course, there was still the issue of the five unaccounted members remaining at the inn. They would have heard the gunshot and were very likely coming to their leader's aid.
"How are ya?"
The semi-automatic of the gunman pressed against the neck of one of the bandits who had just stepped out of the inn. He reached out and relieved his captured enemy of his weapon before setting him down next to the other four. For every weapon he took, he armed one of the townsmen who kept the disarmed bandits to the ground. Meanwhile, Axel had managed to get every single drunkard in the bar to set down their guns and kick them in his direction. He smirked as he kept his aim squarely on Cadmus.
"Pick up a gun Earl."
"You help this bastard and you're gonna die like him." The leader shouted.
The bartender didn't even have to think about it. He walked around the bar and picked up a rifle.
Axel's grin grew wider. "Funny thing about treating people like dirt Cadmus… You can't do 'em any worse."
His partner was cautious as he made his way up the stairs of the inn and reached the second floor. The doors to all the rooms were closed and locked which meant he had to use the extra set of keys he had taken from the front desk. He'd open one room at a time, ensure it was clear, then move on to the next one. He unlocked the first room and entered in swift fashion. He verified the corners and ensured no one was hiding.
Down at street level, several more civilians came out of their homes. They took hold of the discarded weapons and increased the number of armed people the Misfits would have to fight in order to regain control of the town.
Back at the inn, the ninth out of the ten rooms was also clear of hostiles which spelled relief for the man who felt no desire to be shot in the back at that particular point in his life. When he finally moved to the tenth and final door, the unease he had been feeling multiplied tenfold. It was then that he remembered the young girl he had seen being dragged away from her parents. The fact that he hadn't seen the girl in any of the other rooms made him certain that he'd find her in the last one. What truly worried him was the condition in which he would end up finding her in. Putting his ear to the door, he couldn't hear a sound; not of cries or moans. The gunman made his decision to hesitate no further. Taking a step back from the door, he delivered a thunderous kick that ripped it off its hinges.
Slowly, he reached up and removed the sunglasses from his eyes before freezing at the sight he was seeing.
Axel could tell right away that something was wrong when he saw his partner step out from the inn. His demeanor was entirely different from earlier that day as he took quick steps towards his direction.
The man with the shotgun shifted his look back and forth from his targets to the approaching man. "Wh-"
Before he could finish his first word, his partner had already entered through the tavern's front door, stepped up behind Cadmus whose back was turned, pulled out the long, sharp combat knife at his waist and slammed it deep into the gang leader's left shoulder. The former tyrant was so stunned by the sudden strike that he was unable to scream and instead gasped as though all the air had escaped him. Keeping a firm grip on the knife, his attacker ignored his surroundings and dragged him out to the center of the dirt road.
He began circling the wounded prey after pulling out the knife and letting the Misfit leader plop to the ground like a captured fish. Without any explanation, he kicked him underneath his chin with enough strength to send him onto his back. Blood burst from Cadmus' nose and mouth.
"What the fuck do you want?" The severely wounded man tried reasoning with his aggressor whose only reply came in the form of another boot to the face. "I'm gonna fucking kill y-"
The kicks became more frequent and soon, his face was a bloody mess. His attitude adjustment came when the man stomped down on his right hand and crushed several of his bones.
Axel tried to keep his attention on the rest of the Misfits who were too wrapped up in watching their leader being brutalized to even try and escape.
"Stop!" Cadmus screamed. He was almost on the verge of crying. "Wait!" He brought up his only working hand. "Please stop!" His words were falling on deaf ears. "Just… Just… Tell me want you want!"
Those last words resounded loudly throughout Farson and caused his torturer to stop dead in his tracks. He appeared to think deeply about those words when he realized that he wanted nothing more from the murderer. Nothing he could do to him would change what he had done.
With that, the stranger cleaned the blood from his blade using his finger tips and placing it back in its sheath. He then casually reached for his sidearm and shot the man through the head. To the townsfolk, it had true significance since Cadmus had executed someone with a gunshot wound nearly identical to the one he had just received. The hearts of the people seemed to be lifted once more.
The gunman lifted his eyes from the corpse and shifted it across the entire town. As his eyes whirled around and saw the faces of the people readying to rejoice, he tried his best to hold back the sick feeling in his stomach.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?" He let out a shout that caught their attention. "You cower in your homes and watch as your neighbors are pushed around and killed. You don't do a thing when your town is being bled dry and you have to starve. You…" The man was momentarily overwhelmed by emotion. "Let them… Do THAT… To your children."
The people's faces expressed many feelings: denial, anger, sadness, but most of all, there was shame.
Properly venting his rage, the young gunman regained his composure and shielded his eyes with his sunglasses once more. Leaving the corpse to rot, he walked back into the bar and moved past his partner. Axel had managed to stay unfazed by the whole scene. The remaining Misfits all looked at the executioner of their leader in shock and awe. He looked back at them with cold disdain.
"Anyone else get a piece of that action?" He asked while hoisting his gun and taking a seat at the bar.
The thirteen surviving members, though some of them severely injured, were moved to the center of town and surrounded by a dozen civilians armed with their weapons. The noon sun was high in the sky and was burning up the desert beneath their feet. It was after very short deliberation that Axel convinced Owen of how to deal with the captured bandits.
"Kill 'em." He gave the advice to the elder. "Make sure it sends a message to all the other gangs."
There were no arguments against it. Letting them go free was out of the question. Escorting them to proper law enforcement would require resources they didn't have. Their only option to ensure the safety of Farson would be to deliver justice themselves. The men and women had taken the young man's words to heart. No longer would they rely on the strength of others to help them.
They fired into the group. A few of the raiders tried to run only to be shot in the back. Within seconds, the Misfits had been wiped off the face of the Continent.
For the first time in several months, the night yielded a different mood. At the center of the town, a large bonfire burned bright and warmed the hundred-or-so population of Farson that had surrounded it. Some of them sat, others stood. Axel did not take part in the circle which included Earl and the Elder. Instead, he sat next to the man with whom he had traveled to the town. They watched the strange ritual from afar.
A gentle murmur was all that could be heard from some of the men and women whose faces glowed red before the fire. More and more people soon joined until the sounds came from every last one of them. The murmur then transformed and became more akin to a hymn.
The two men listened to what sounded like a hundred prayers and songs being sung by a hundred people simultaneously; impossible to understand. Yet, despite their jumbled voices which were indecipherable, a deep feeling of peace and tranquility spread among the people.
"They buried the raiders." The comment from Axel was of both surprise and amazement. "They treated the bodies like those of their own." He looked at his comrade. A solemn expression was on his face. "Feeling bad about what you said? Don't be. These people are stronger now because of it. We did a good thing today Jim. I hope you realize that."
The man lifted his head and looked ahead at the massive flame which reflected off the lenses of his shades. "Axel, if that's true, why do I feel this way?"
It was later in the night the two figured what it was they had witnessed. It was a farewell ritual for those crossed over: brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, sons and daughters, even the mercenary who had helped them and the cruel raiders killed that day. People were a product of their environment. The people of Farson believed in absolution in death; the forgiveness of all sins once one was free from the harsh world in which they were forced to live. To them, death was the point at which everyone became equal.