Back Alive, or Maybe Dead
A Tale from the Realm's Wild Frontier
A Tale from the Realm's Wild Frontier
To the town of Freewater rode a stranger, one fine day...
Freewater was the kind of place that passes for a town in places too far from the center of the world to know what real towns are. It had buildings made of wood and adobe instead of stone or concrete, and the tallest were only two stories. Its regular population was greatly outnumbered by its regular drifters. The name was either wishful thinking, false advertising, or deliberate irony - anyone who lived there would tell you water was about the most precious thing they had.
The sun shone down on a dry, dusty road that passed between dry, dusty houses. Air rose in hot waves from the burning earth. At that time of day and that time of year in that part of the world, nobody went outside by choice. The sun would bake the sweat right off you.
Which is not to say that nobody was outside - just common people who had no choice. There was a smith, working hard underneath a shade, hammering out a ladle. A couple of teamsters hauled buckets across the road to their sheltered animals. Farmers wandered around the edges, doing daily labors they couldn't delay. These were plain working folk, making a living however they could in an inhospitable land.
Then came our stranger, drawing eyes as she rode in. Really, it was her sand-dragon drawing the eyes. Sand dragons are hard to tame, as everyone knows. This one stood out even more for having scales red as rust in the twilight. His rider swayed atop him as the dragon plodded along. She would've been a sight too, if the dragon weren't so distracting.
She was a lean woman in a long, dust-colored coat, keeping the sun out of her face with a wide-brimmed hat. Leather gloves, chaps, and boots completed her riding ensemble. Red hair in a loose ponytail rested against the scarf wrapped around her neck. She had pale skin gone ruddy from exposure, and her freckled face was aged prematurely. Every so often, when the dragon moved her just the right way, her coat slipped and showed the flame piece bouncing off her hip.
It had been a long time since she'd come to this part of the country, but now she was looking for someone. She was...
- The White Plains Ranger , a mysterious vigilante. The Ranger lived a solitary existence in the desert, closer to its spirits than its people. Her existence was a rumor, her name was a secret, and wherever she went she brought hope to the hopeless and swift justice to the wicked.
- Marshal Jan Steader, the Law around these parts. It was a tough, thankless job, but somebody had to keep order on the frontier. Jan was the only one hard enough to be able to protect but still soft enough to want to serve. Impartiality, a no-nonsense attitude, and a knack for spotting the root of a problem helped her keep the peace between people who disagree. If that failed, she had the fastest draw you've ever seen.
- Burning Red, the Devil in the Desert, an infamous outlaw. One day she just appeared, robbing and torching her way across the frontier, leaving a trail of destruction behind her. When people saw fires burning high off in the distance, they'd say it was Burning Red at her bloody work. Then they'd lock their doors, for what little good that did them.
- "Swifthand" Ash, a self-made legend.Tales were told far and wide of the woman who wrestled a wildfire, befriended the king of all sand-dragons, married nine men and seven women at the same time, took on a hundred-fifty dunefolk singlehanded, killed half of them, and drank a whole river dry. Most of those stories were embellished or made up by the woman herself. Make no mistake, Ash wasn't all talk. Far from it - records prove she was a crack shot, a fine rider, and a successful bounty-hunter and gambler. But she liked to spin a yarn, or put on a show, and sometimes she'd pay to have her story told... pretty soon, her myth far outgrew her deeds. She didn't mind at all.
- Something else?