Chapter One: Riding Like The Wind
Sunny skies, soft dirt, a nice cool breeze, and the horizon on my back. Yeah, it's another morning here as Linden and I keep watch by the farms. Who's Linden, you ask? Oh, that's easy, he's my horse. He's a nice dark brown colour and probably the least temperamental seven year old you'll see. Every morning, six days a week, we ride out to a different farm outside of town so the big fellow gets to help me with my work. Ah, crap, where are my manners, I didn't introduce myself yet, did I? My name's Marshall, Marshall Adlem. Nineteen, hopelessly single, but owner of the snazziest dark green neck tie and brown brimmed hat this side of these 1880s. The west is a strange place you know, so much so that they hire people, like yours truly to keep the cattle safe from whatever creatures may be out there. They say that they first showed up a little over a hundred years ago, the big damn lizards did. At least, that's what my father tells me. Some walk on two legs, some four, some even fly. We thought they'd been long gone, but just about a hundred years ago, people started digging up and getting exposed to some pretty weird minerals, substances, whatever they were, and then these buggers just start waltzing in like they own our territory.
It was a hell of a time trying to keep them at bay for the first couple of years, and then things started to happen. People started getting these weird powers like you wouldn't believe. Some science-y types started doing some weird experiments on it and apparently one of them had some crazy reaction and turned the nearest wall into ice just by sneezing accidentally. Soon some crazy religious types thought it was a gift from the gods and started feeding it to little kids at church before some guy made needles and just injected them right in. I guess they figured the creatures were getting too aggressive. A bunch of people didn't really react at all to it, but some of us? Well...we started using them to give these scaly creeps a little bit of hell. We make the best of the 'Gifts our Gods gave us' to keep them at bay by protecting our towns and lands. Some people use them to keep criminals in check, like my pops, others like to take advantage of things and stir up all sorts of trouble. As for me? I want to see what's past those freaky lizards, what's in all those old ruins out there. What good would I be if I let some big old man eating creatures stop me, right?
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy there, boy, easy. Don't tell me you're gonna get all scared this soon! I know it's a little early for you, but they're gonna pay us extra for this one!"
Pulling back on the reigns of his horse, Marshall Adlem gazes up towards the clear sunny sky from underneath his brown brimmed hat. The slight breeze ruffles through his plain long sleeved white shirt as his dark green suspenders move just so slightly. This was just like any other day for him, out checking over the farms and the fields just so he could keep affording to crash at that tiny two room apartment above the bar his old man set him up with. He was thankful to the Gods that at least it wasn't raining down on him today as he'd woken up just as the sun had started coming out, scarfed down some eggs and pork, and woken up a certain temperamental horse that really just felt like being a big old lazy slug today.
As he rides along, he can't help but lament over this being the way he spends his mornings. Sure, protecting the livestock from those damn lizards or whatever they were, needed to be done, but even when he got a warning about things being bad, it was always blown way out of proportion. Most of the time, he'd spend the first half of the day walking or riding around, thinking about how much more of an interesting adventure his life could be. His father was the town Sheriff, and what came with that job were tons of wild and crazy stories, some fascinating, some terrifying, but all of them far more interesting than what Marshall was doing. That kind of work wasn't for him though. The idea of staying put while there were so many unexplored locations outside of town that were begging to be checked out, just seemed like such a waste.
A nearby cow seemed to almost voice its agreement about the whole thing, amusingly enough. Even today had seemed tedious, and it wasn't something the nineteen year old found particularly enjoyable. The farmers had sent word that they'd spotted a Flyer, and not just the every day one, but a big fat old sucker that they thought might have scooped up a couple of the cows and even a bull overnight. Yet, here he was, only having seen a couple of tiny ones that flew off the moment he arrived, and a few of the tiny two legged ones that scampered away when his horse decided to neigh at them.
"I tell you, Linden, our talents could be spent so much better elsewhere." He muses to his horse, petting him on the head as they pass by the pig pens and a chicken coop. "Even pops has it better. He gets to chase down all the bad guys, and do all these badass things. It's no wonder everybody in town thinks he's awesome."
It was true, though. His father, Morgan Adlem had always been good at keeping the peace, and in spite of being a little rough around the edges, he had a good heart. Yeah, he'd yelled at Marshall when he was younger, but he knew he'd kind of been a bit of a troublemaker as a little kid.
He notices the breeze stop, and as the sun seems to beam down even more, he briefly takes his hat off to wipe the sweat off his brow before letting it rest comfortably back on top of his messy brown hair. Marshall was still relatively early into his morning, and sure, he'd been told this one would be worth even more than he normally got for pay, he wasn't sure they'd be able to pay him if the heat melted him into a puddle.
"Well, look a what we've got here, boy. I thought that old farmer finally lost his marbles!"
Marshall grins in excitement and looks over his shoulder to the shadowy figure in the sky. It was a big old Flyer all right. Its scaly and leathery green skin soaking up the sun as that long beak and those beady eyes no doubt were looking around over the ground below. That ugly extended head kept going well past those eyes like some nasty oval, and those wings of its made a ton of noise every time it flapped them. No doubt it was just waiting to swoop down and sink its claws into a poor unsuspecting cow, pig, or whatever it could get its dirty grip on. Why, it'd probably go after a horse like Linden if he wasn't riding him around.
"How big do you think that sucker is, Linden? The size of three cows? Four maybe? We're really gonna get a healthy tip and some good eating for this."
As it circles around, seemingly preparing to dive on some understandably scared livestock that really don't want to be its dinner today, Marshall pulls out an old faded silver coloured six shot revolver with a brown handle. His father gave it to him a few years ago when he realized that he wasn't going to stick to hanging out in town all the time. He showed him how to use it, and told him how if he was going to use a man's weapon, he had to learn the right way. There were plenty of other ways and tricks Marshall had to defend himself, just as there were with so many others, his father included. Yet, he couldn't rag on the old man for not wanting people to become complacent and reliant on those, as awesome as they really were.
Loading a few bullets into it, he spins the chamber before clicking the gun shut, patting his horse playfully on the head as he looks to intercept that flying reptile thing that just so happens to be even weirder than the guy who used to run the tavern.
"Get a load of this, boy!" He says excitedly, hopping down off of his horse with his boots crunching on the hot dry dirt below. Relieved at finally getting some action for the day, he raises his revolver up and looks back at his faithful companion. "This'll be a piece of cake!"
The shot hits the flyer in the lower right side, seeming to catch its attention and piss it off more than anything. It turns its head and that long beak towards him, almost angrily as if looking to dive bomb him.
The second shot grazes the creature's right wing as it dives down full speed towards him. Putting some distance between himself and Linden, Marshall drops down just as the Flyer reaches him and passes just barely overhead. He grabs a hold of his hat with his right hand as he turns around and the creature flaps its wings staring him down again.
"Whoa, whoa! Hold on, hold on! Aren't you just a pesky sucker? You should've just left, buddy. I really wanted to make this easy on you, you know?"
He looks back over his shoulder to see his horse has run closer towards the nearby barn and understandably out of harm's way. With the Flyer now in front of him, Marshall looks to the trees behind it, while it continues to flap its wings keeping itself low to the ground. A smile on his face, he puts his revolver back in its holster and momentarily glances at the ground.
"I tell you, I really didn't think I'd have to pull this stuff out. My hat's off to you. I'm not a religious guy, but when the Gods give us gifts..."
The wind begins to pick up as a breeze blows across the farm. Looking over, Marshall stretches out his fingers and opens and closes his left hand a few times as a brief jolt flashes over and seemingly lights up his green eyes. He was one of the blessed forty percent, they said. It'd be pretty silly to let something that wicked go to waste, he thinks as he readies himself.
"Oh, Wind Rider...give me the strength to take this creature down...GALE SHOT!"
Bringing his left arm around and swinging it forward, a gust of pressurized wind shoots straight out of him, as its strength were enough to cut through solid steel. The impact hits the Flyer square on, tearing holes in the loose flaps of skin that served as wings and launching it backwards hard towards the ground as it screams out.
Getting launched backwards, it kicks with its legs flying backwards to the old, dead trees behind it.
It slams hard into the trunk of not one, not two, but three trees in a row, hitting them headfirst with such impact that the trees snap in three and the Flyer's head and neck snap forward. As it collapses to the ground and lays there still, Marshall shakes off his arm and the slight buildup of sweat that had formed on it, before whistling to call Linden back over.
He'd been using his abilities to goof around a little bit over the past couple of days when he had time to himself, so it was probably only fitting that it was a little more tiring this time than normal. You had to give these sort of things a break every now and then after all, so maybe when he used a little more than intended, he'd brought it on himself.
"Look at you, running off like a little kid, boy. I swear, you still get way too jumpy sometimes." He jokes, petting the horse on the side to calm him down as he puts a leg up and hoists himself onto its back. "Come on, let's let the old guy know, and head back to town."
"Well, look at that. I guess the train's getting all ready to take off, Linden. Even it gets bored of this town sometimes. Wouldn't it be awesome if we just decided to sneak on one of these things and see how far it took us?"
Riding along slowly and casually, Marshall looks around his hometown with an unimpressed look on his face. It was a pretty unremarkable collection of houses with a few restaurants, stores, and a run down looking bank that must have been there long before his father was even born. Yeah, there was some weird science guys off at the other end of town that were always experimenting with things and trying out some new crazy medicines, but you almost never heard anything from them. The small group came over into town when they ran out of whatever it was they felt like eating lately to stop themselves from starving to death, and then disappeared back into their workshop. Somebody up north in the capital must have liked them somewhat for them to afford all their crazy equipment, but why, he didn't know. If they'd kept having one breakthrough after another that'd be one thing, but he couldn't remember the last time that they seemed to have anything earth shattering.
Looking to his right, he spots the Sheriff's Office and Town Jail behind it. Normally he'd be able to see his old man either sitting out front in the wooden chair that lay empty reading through the newspaper or inside at the desk filing through forms and paperwork. Both were looking pretty empty right now, and as he hears the train whistle go off a street behind him, signalling that it's preparing to leave the station that he momentarily turned his attention to, Marshall figures that his father must have been off tending to some business. Somebody was probably behind on paying their taxes or something and the government wanted him to lecture them about it.
He hears an explosion in the distance that a little bit on the faint side. Oddly enough it doesn't really phase him or seem that out of the ordinary. There was some troublesome little kid that would somehow always manage to swipe blasting caps or even small pieces of dynamite and setting them off in different places. The kid wasn't one of the forty percent, so Marshall always thought he was just a little bit angry and bitter at everybody else in one of those things where he was thinking "I want to blow stuff up too!".
"Hey! After him! Don't lose him!"
The nineteen year old turns his attention back to the street in front of him as he hears his father's voice, and the galloping of not just his horse, but that of 2 others in the distance. Having to double check, he sees what looks like a quick bright light as if it were some kind of explosion going off in the distance as a man in a white brimmed hat and black vest runs forward in his direction. Marshall notices what looks to be some kind of bag draped over the man's shoulder. He didn't know what was in it, but he was pretty sure judging by the way the man who looked around forty was getting the heck out of dodge and where he came from that it could've easily come from the lab.
His father rides up in pursuit, with his tan coat flapping from the speed that his black horse kicks up as its hooves stomp the dirt to chase. The Sheriff, his pistol removed from its holster, aims it towards the man in the white hat and takes a shot.
Just as the bullet strikes the ground just short of the man, he aims his hand down and fires a blast of bright light into the ground, launching himself forward and ahead of them. The light momentarily hurts Marshall's eyes, making him turn away as the man blows past him. He must have been a 'forty-percenter', one of the gifted, or whatever people liked to call themselves too. As the sound of the train whistle cues everybody in to its departure, both Marshall and his father realize the man's destination.
"Dammit, he's heading for the train! Deputy, take the other route! Find out where that train goes!"
With a mocking laugh, the man keeps running towards the station as the front of the train slowly appears in sight while it gradually begins picking up speed.
"Have you been putting on some weight, Sheriff? That damn horse of yours looks tired already!"
Seeing then man taunt his father, Marshall readies his horse and moves to pursue the man himself, calling over.
"Pops, let me help!"
"No, Marshall! What did I tell you about civilians getting involved in my work? I can handle him!"
Stubborn as always, Morgan insists on stopping the man on his own as he rides on past Marshall and Linden. Even though some of the townspeople were in actuality more capable than some of the police officers in town, he always refused the physical assistance of anybody not on the force and thought he had to do it all himself. Taking a second to close his eyes, his father clasps his hands around his pistol, making it glow an orange-ish brown colour before pointing it again at the man running in front of him.
"You won't get away...CLAY SHACKLES!"
The gun goes off and no sooner does the bullet hit the ground than a pair of earthen chains shoot out towards the criminal, snapping at his feet. With the impact of them hitting the ground a mere inch behind him, it knocks the man forward, yet he tucks and rolls, before righting himself and keeping his momentum going.
Nearly at the train as he starts full on sprinting, the man holds his white hat in place as the frustrated Sheriff stares him down and approaches on horseback. As he inches ever so closer to the passing train on the tracks, he turns and flashes a cocky grin before making sure the bag is secured and raising his hand up.
"Ah, nice try, but even you can't make the long arm of the law catch up to me, Sheriff! Adios...BLINDING FLASH!"
A blinding light spreads out over the area in front of them in a flash, making Marshall's horse whinny and kick back, while stopping Morgan and his horse right in their tracks disorienting them for a few seconds. Shaking their heads for a few moments to gain their composure, they look around upon clearing their vision, only to find an almost mocking sight.
The man was gone. Replaced by nothing more than a roughly drawn smiling face in the dirt.
As Marshall and his father look over to the train and see what looks like a white brimmed hat waving at them in the distance from atop one of the train cars while it rolls away out of sight, he hears Morgan let out an angry groan.
"Dammit...he got away with the Professor's samples. We'll have to get the whole county in on this."
"You'll get him pops, you always do."
He tries to cheer his father up, noting the disappointment in his face over what's without question a rare failure. The Sheriff smiles appreciatively, though whether it's because it actually helped, or because he was just being polite to his son, Marshall didn't know.
"Don't worry about me, Marshall. You'd better report to your boss on how your morning went and head back to your place. I'll be in my office after I get things cleaned up."
Nodding and slowly riding on, Marshall takes a moment to think to himself. His father really did have things tougher than he let on, and as strange as the thought may be, he can't help but ask himself a question. If something like that can happen in a boring old town like this, what other crazy and exciting things could be out there past where those damn lizards roam?
Next time, pops fills me in on what that white hat guy was after, I hear about some rumours that there's just no way I can ignore, and - hey! Who're you? What're you doing to my horse?
Chapter Two: Burning Dame