In the world of Saggaun, the great nations of the world each appoint a master to represent them on the illustrious Master’s Council. Wise, skilled, and the best each nation has to offer, the Council has kept peace and balance since the collapse of the Ancient Tower and the civilization that was built around it. However, the Master’s sense a new change in the balance of the world, a new player inevitably rises from the shadows. The only question is, will it rise in glory or blood?
The sign swung in the dry wind. Where once, bold lettering spelled “Sanduskyville” more than half the letters had either been swiped for a quick buck or just fallen off and no one bothered to replace them, leaving only “Sandy” left, and even then barely holding. On the porch of the saloon sat two men, one a large older man and the other a thinner slightly older man. The latter was chewing tobacco that he fired into a spittoon with an audible “ping” sounding out. Some dingos slinked near the porch, whining.
“You mangy mutts.” The larger of the two said while he took a piece of steak from the plate by his side and tossed it into the street. “Go on git!” The two predators scrambled for the sliver of meat, so ravenous were they, that they were biting into each other for the scrap. A cruel chuckle emerged from the fat one’s mouth as he watched the frenzy.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, mate.”
“What, you gotta a soft spot for dingo, Elroy?”
“Just don’t seem right, Blake. What goes around comes around after all.”
“Yeah, and maybe the Devil’s gonna git me with his forked tongue.” Blake scoffed. Suddenly a wind began to pick up, the two men brought down the rims of their hats as Sandy was blasted with it’s namesake.
“Hmm a little later than usual.” Elroy said as he spat again into his spittoon. The two men heard the heavy hoof falls of a horse approach. The horse was a creme color with a brown mane, it’s muscles were clear and defined, but relaxed. An excellently bred beast to be sure. It’s rider could be said to be the same, he had on wide brim campaign hat with one of it’s brims pinned to the cover’s top and olive colored officer clothes. He tapped his mount with a riding crop to slow it to a trot before finally bringing it to a halt in front of the saloon.
“Gentlemen,” he said.
“Where?” Blake laughed again.
“Pardon my friend, he’s a few stickers short of a porcupine. What can we do fer you, sir?” Elroy asked.
“I’m looking for Ned Hesher and I was told I could find him here,” the officer said.
Blake hooked his thumb over his shoulder and Elroy nodded.
“Thank you.” The officer dismounted and tied his horse to one of the posts before entering through the bug screen and bat-winged entrance of the saloon.
Inside three men sat at the bar, one in the center and two at the far ends. The pianist at the back wall dragged his fingers across the keys. Four more men sat at one of the tables playing cards, wagering little more than chump change and some pocket lint. The entrance of the soldier did indeed turn some heads. For his part, the man simply removed his cover and placed it on a hat rack beside the door. The knob coming loose the moment he let his cover rest, causing a few chuckles.
“Oi! What’ll ew ‘ave suh?” Asked the bartender, polishing a glass.
“Beer and a name. I’m looking for Ned Hesher and I was told I could find him here.” The piano stopped. The men at the poker table shifted in their seats.
“Hey Burn. Put his drink on my tab, I know where the man he’s looking for is.” Said the man at the center of the bar. The soldier took a seat next to him.
“Thank you.” He said as he sipped the glass that was slid to him across the counter.
“You got quite a pair for brining up that name ’round these parts, Creswell.” The man growled as he downed a shot. He wore a grey stetson hat crowned with crocodile teeth, a deep green poncho, and had a full beard and mustache.
“Well if you didn’t want to be found, maybe you shouldn’t have left those two out there as your sentinels.”
“Figured you would come looking for me sooner or later. Told Elroy and Blake a digger lookin’ fella would eventually be asking for me. They’re an odd pair but they know how to keep a secret. Come to try an’ make a crusader out a’ me again?”
“The cause needs you, old friend. Don’t you realize how serious this conflict is?”
“Some old tossers half the world away smacking us in the nose like an uppity dog? The stuff a’ legends that.” He knocked back another shot.
“If we gain our independence, it will be revolution. The cadence of the world itself will change overnight. The Master’s Council won’t impose their iron grip any longer. I know you have no love for them or the Empire, Hesher.”
“Hesher?” One of the card players got up from his seat. “That’s twice I heard that name.”
“He’s quite a man to talk about. Any what would beat him sure would become famous ’round the outback.” Creswell’s friend said without turning as he swirled the swill in his glass. “Heard he took on eight men.”
“I heard it was only four.” He nodded to the three around his table and they got up. The grey hatted man at the bar then turned to face them.
“Eight.” He slapped the shot glass down and all Hell broke loose. The challenger reached behind and grabbed the bottle he was drinking from. As he raised it, Hesher’s hand flashed and his weapon flew from it’s holster. The bottle shattered and Hesher’s “boomer” returned to his hand. Atop it’s eloquently crafted curve sat a barrel and hammer, with a six round revolver resting in the center.
Another man grabbed a chair and tried to bring it down over Hesher’s head. Hesher sidestepped, the chair splintering on the bar, and Hersher snapped his free hand in a hammer fist into the man’s temple before dropping to a sweeping kick to knock him off his feet. The two from the far end rounded the table and tried to come at Hesher from both sides. The one on Hesher’s left was met with a swift roundhouse to the ribs, sending him crashing into another table, while the one on the right had his uncontrolled haymaker hooked with the inside of Hesher’s boomer. Hesher used the leverage to spin the man about and slam his face unto the bar.
The first challenger at last managed to catch Hesher off guard and full on tackled him, sending Hesher crashing through the window. Hesher knocked Blake’s portly form off the saloon porch before rolling into the dirt, himself.
“Son of a-” Blake froze. Not an inch from his face was a rattler, it’s rattle shaking and forked tongue tasting it’s latest victim. The challenger burst from the saloon door and strode toward Hesher. He drew his own boomer from his holster. The curve had been filed down for a quicker draw, at the sacrifice of basically all the weapon’s other functions. Pulling himself to his knee, Hesher heard the sound of his enemy’s hammer cocking and he froze.
“You were right Hesher. Once I kill you, Jake Chase is going to be the name to fear.” Hesher only muttered to himself. Jake flashed his yellow teeth. “Any last words?”
“Huh, a little later than usual.” Jake didn’t even have time to be perplexed before the hourly dust devil kicked up. Jake sputtered and shielded himself from the wind. Bullets of grain were easy to shrug off but not bullets of lead. Hesher turned, cocked, and fired in one motion. When the wind died down, one man stood and the other lie dead in the road.
Creswell stepped out from the bar and replaced the cover on his head as he approached Hesher.
“You would squander such skill, living as a hunted man out here?”
“You talk a big game about battles to be fought, old friend, but I didn’t see you stick up for me during that scrap. Where’s your commitment to the cause?”
“I have no weapons, no men. You and yours may look down upon my lack of finesse but I am a commander, not a fighter. That’s why I need soldiers like you, Ned.” Hesher twirled his boomer before sliding back into it’s holster.
“You have plenty of hot blooded nippers lining up to join you. You don’t need me.”
“You’re wrong. We need you not just as a fighter, but as a symbol. Master Chuck Kelly is as much a child of the Commonwealth as you and I are, but he’s a damned loyalist.”
“That ponce can go sit on a cactus for all I care, and that goes double for you! We’re done, Creswell.” Ned Hesher turned to leave. Creswell sighed.
“You know Irene was asking for you.” Kelly stopped dead in his tracks.
“Bright girl that one. Smart, passionate, patriotic too.”
“What have you done with her?” Creswell once again turned to Hesher.
“Duel and beat Master Kelly and Irene goes free.” Creswell said plainly. Hesher’s hand flew and once again so did his weapon. Creswell crumpled to the dirt, his feet gone from underneath him. The boomer returned to Kelly’s hand and he cocked the hammer before holding the weapon’s barrel over Creswell’s head.
“Where is she?”
“Those are the terms Ned, and before you say anything, she chose this. Irene is willing to put herself on the line for independence because she had faith you would too.” The air was charged with tension for a few moments before Kelly uncocked and holstered his weapon. Creswell climbed to his feet and tried to dust off his previously immaculate uniform. “So, I can expect you in Syndyork within forty eight hours?”
“You’re an arse, Creswell.”
The soldier smiled.
“Welcome to the war, old friend.”