The Badlands, South of the former RhyDin City
October 5, 566 (34 A.N.)
Harsh, brutal laughter filled the bleak, sandy air. Six gruff looking bandits stood around a dead, splintered tree, where a teenage girl was strung up by her hands. Her faded, ripped cotton dress hung loosely about her, and tears ran down her dirty face.
Their leader was a man named Bowe, a rough man with grey hair and a pockmarked face. He and his five cohorts had terrorized that area of the Badlands for years, robbing and raping survivors of the cataclysm who tried to make their way north. They had caught the girl, whose caravan had been overrun by zombies, running through the wild. Unfortunately for her, she had not found safety, but Bowe’s gang.
Bowe leered threateningly at the girl. “Now, don’t get excited, sweet thing. All we want is just a little taste. Me and my boys, we’re gonna each take our turn with you. And if you don’t try anything funny, we’ll let you go. But if you do . . . ” Bowe pulled a menacing looking dagger from his dusty shirt. “Well, I think you get the idea.”
The girl began to sob, her shoulders shaking from fear.
“And you better act like you enjoy it, because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s a frigid woman.”
“I don’t reckon a lady oughta be handled in such a manner.”
The bandits, one by one, turned their heads, incredulous at the arrogance of the statement they’d heard. There standing before them was a man who appeared as though he stepped right out of a western dime novel. It was a man in his late twenties, wearing a black hat, a white pinstriped shirt with a black vest, black leather pants, and black boots. Around his waist was strapped a gun belt that holstered a Colt .45 revolver. The man had brown eyes and brown hair, and an unshaven face. He had something in his mouth that he absently chewed as he watched the six bandits.
Bowe watched the man for a few moments in a kind of shock. ” . . . and just who the hell are you supposed to be, Mister Cowboy? You’re about thirty five years late for the masquerade party.”
“Don’t suppose my name matters much. But you can call me Ace, if you’re so inclined.”
“You see, stranger, that there was a rhetorical question. I don’t give a damn what your name is. I suggest you get the hell out of here. You’re lucky I’m in a romantic frame of mind, or I’d let my boys kill you right now.”
Ace leaned to the left a bit, and spit a mouthful of tobacco juice onto the parched earth.
“Where the hell did he get chewin’ tobacco?” One of the bandits remarked.
“Alright, asshole, I warned you . . . ” Bowe began, pulling a shotgun from behind his back. His followers began reaching for their weapons as well.
Suddenly, Ace whipped his Colt .45 out, his left hand rapidly slammed down the hammer as he unleashed a flurry of bullets at the bandits. Five shots rang out, and Bowe’s five helpers spun in morbid pirouettes as they were struck, falling to the ground, dying. Bowe, surprised by the fury of Ace’s attack, dove behind a rock to save himself. Ace watched him with narrowed eyes, and slowly began to make his way over to the bandit leader.
“You can’t . . . you can’t have beaten me . . . I’ve killed seventeen men . . . ” One of the bandits barked, clutching his chest where the bullet hole was, as Ace strode past him.
“Well, bully for you.” Ace aimed his Colt at the bandit’s forehead and pulled the trigger.
Bowe peered from around the rock he had leapt behind, and glared at Ace, who was casually walking towards him and reloading his Colt .45. “Who the hell are you, Mister?”
“Thought you didn’t give a damn what my name was.”
“Real funny. In a few more seconds, it won’t matter anyway.” Bowe began to lift his shotgun in preparation of returning fire.
“You’re right. It won’t.” Ace let off a shot that ricocheted off a nearby rock and behind Bowe’s hiding place. Bowe jumped up in pain and howled, revealing his head. Ace calmly leveled his Colt and put a bullet in his skull. Bowe dropped backwards onto the dusty earth, his blood leaking out of the wound. Ace turned, spit his gob of tobacco out, and walked over to where the girl was tied to the tree. She stared at him apprehensively, not knowing if he would do what Bowe’s gang had threatened. Ace looked the girl up and down a few times, before pulling a knife out from his belt, and cutting the ropes that bound her. She rubbed her wrists and watched him questioningly.
“Now be careful next time, ma’am. It’s dreadfully dangerous out here.” Ace began to walk north again.
The girl continued staring a few moments, before blurting out. “Wait! You’re just gonna leave me?”
“There’s a camp about a half a mile that way.” Ace replied, pointing his thumb over his shoulder to the south. “They got food and water. Just follow the road, and you’ll be there directly.”
“Can’t I . . . can’t I come with you?”
“You don’t want to go where I’m going. The camp’s your best bet. Pony up now, in case these boys had friends lurkin’ about.”
The girl eyed the corpses of Bowe’s gang, then pelted off down the road, towards the camp.
Ace continued on his way north, to the ruins of what was once RhyDin City.