A Note From Your Author: This story is meant for an adult audience. There may be (will be) offensive language and themes. This is a revenge story. It’s a twisted western that involves ninjas and whatever I damn well please. Don’t take it too seriously.
About: After Zetti Sweetwood’s husband is murdered by the Moraday boys, she sets out to get revenge with the help of her friend, Dove. It isn’t long before she learns there was a bounty out for her husband, and she begins to uncover the truth about his mysterious past.
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Zetti opened her good eye. A diadem of stars twinkled above her. She didn’t think she’d see the milky way again. She gazed at it for a long while, lost in the feeling of being small in the dark. For a moment, she wondered if she had died after all. Maybe heaven looked like the night sky, infinite and powerful. The sort of thing that dug into your gut, made you wonder what you were really worth—if anything at all. But heaven wouldn’t feel like rocks and cold water, would it?
I thought hell was hot. A sputter of air made its way through her cracked lips. It might have been a laugh, a groan—she couldn’t tell. Whatever it was, that’s when she knew for sure. She was alive. Everything hurt. Her bad eye was swollen and hot from where one of those bastards kicked her with the heel of his boot. She couldn’t see out of it at all. Blood caked her face, her clothes, her hands. Some of it was hers, some of it was theirs.
“Teru.” She said his name though she knew he was gone. She could feel that too. It wasn’t like a flame had gone out but like a whole town had been set fire. The fact burned in her. Teru was dead. She saw it herself. Just like she couldn’t stop it from happening, she couldn’t change what was done. “Teru, Teru, Teru,” she said over and over again. She sobbed, even though sobbing hurt too, and pounded her head back against the earth.
When the sobbing stopped, she lay gasping for breath. She concentrated on what hurt. Her ribs, her face, her wrists, her ankles. They could have done worse. They probably thought they had, leaving her for dead with rope cutting into her skin. It was tight enough that she could hardly feel her hands or her feet. Her ring finger looked crooked, broken. Savages.
“I’ll live, you fuckers, and I’ll tear you apart!” she screamed at the stars. And it wouldn’t be like the first time. No, she vowed to herself. She would be sensible about it this time. She wouldn’t let the rage blind her. It would be planned, cautious, definite.
With a growl, she forced herself to sit up. Pain shot through her. She gave herself a moment to let the pain settle back down into her bones and then looked around. They had left her by the river. Maybe they hoped the water would take her. But why hadn’t they just thrown her in? Maybe Shep couldn’t do it in the end. Maybe he wanted to give her a chance. Then again, he probably didn’t think too hard about where he threw her. He was just getting the job done like his pa asked.
She looked up the slope of brush and rocks that she had tumbled down. If she had fallen any closer to the water, the river would have done its job. Somewhere up above was the road. If she could get to it, she could walk to Onkawa, find Dove. Dove would get her fixed up.
When she tried to uncurl her fingers, she could hardly make them move. Her hands shook with the effort. “Come on, Zetti,” she said to herself as she reached down to the ropes around her ankles. Picking at the knot with numb fingers proved next to impossible. She howled in dismay and pain. It was too tight. She couldn’t do it.
Cursing to herself, she rolled onto her belly and started inch worming away from the water. At least she wouldn’t slip into the tide. But as she dragged herself across the rocks, the pain became unbearable. Her eyes rose to the top of the hill, desperate and watering. That’s when she saw someone watching her. She could hardly believe it. Though she couldn’t see his eyes, she could feel them, and she stared back with a hard gaze.
“You gonna help me or shoot me?” she called out when the staring got to be too much. The man stepped away from the little ledge, and she huffed. “You coulda just said neither.”
But he returned, this time leading a horse by the reins. Horse and man picked their way down to the riverside. Without saying anything, he crouched down and started sawing at the ropes with a knife. When the blood rushed back into her feet and hands, she nearly started crying again. Biting her tongue, she held her hands close to her chest, careful not to touch the broken finger.
She sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “Why you helpin’ me?”
At last, he had something to say. He had a low, slow drawl. “Between helpin’ ya or shootin’ ya, it seemed like the kinder thing to do.”
“I gotta get to Onkawa,” she said. “You goin’ that way?”
“I came from that way, but I can turn around.”
Zetti looked up at him, hardly believing a stranger would be quite so kind. Too tired to ask questions, she let the man help her up onto the horse where she slouched in the saddle. He took hold of the reins again and led the horse back up the hill.
Once they reached the road, the stranger got up behind her. “You just rest now,” he said, voice gentler than most men’s—she almost didn’t trust it. But how else was she supposed to get to Onkawa?
They rode all night. She didn’t like being so close to the stranger, but she was alive, and he was taking her to Dove. He didn’t talk to her, and she appreciated that. It let her rest even though she couldn’t sleep. Every time she closed her eyes, all she could picture was Teru covered in blood, slack-jawed and cold. Anger burned in her chest. By the time the sun came up, she had pictured killing the Moraday boys about eighteen different ways.
The stranger stopped to let his horse drink water and rest. He shared his waterskin with her, then pulled out a bed roll and let Zetti lay on it while he slept in the grass. When he got to snoring, she stared at him, memorizing his face. He was young with a thick brown beard and greasy brown hair on his head. His skin was brown from the sun. Even his shirt and breeches were brown. He could’ve been made from mud for all she knew.
While he slept, she limped to the riverside and started washing the blood off. Her bad eye felt hot, and she could barely touch the skin around it. She lifted her shirt up to look at the nasty bruise against her ribcage. Her knees were black and blue too. They did a number on her. “I must look like hell,” she said to herself.
“Ya look like ya’ve been through it,” came the stranger’s voice. “It’s a wonder yer alive by the looks of ya.”
She slowly looked over her shoulder, hurting too much to move quickly. The stranger sat on a log behind her, whittling at a stick. “How long you been sittin’ there?”
He looked up from the stick, thumb still pressed against the knife, and shrugged a little. “I saw you was cleanin’ up. Figured I’d let ya finish before we get goin’.”
With some effort, Zetti got to her feet. “How long we got?”
“With the two of us ridin’? Judge ought to get us there by sundown.”
She limped toward him and sat down on the log. “What’s yer name anyhow?”
“What happened to ya?”
“I got whooped,” she said in a way that told him not to ask any more questions. “Why you helpin’ me?”
He slid his knife away and flicked the whittled stick toward the water. “Almost didn’t. I heard ya yellin’ like a demon down there. Couldn’t decide if you were more trouble than ya were worth. From the looks of it, whoever yer gonna tear apart has it comin’. Ain’t never seen a lady up and walkin’ after somethin’ like you been through.”
She gave a wry laugh. “Ya ever want to kill a man, Louis? I mean really want to kill a man?”
Whatever he had expected her to say next, that wasn’t it. He looked at her with wide, mud-colored eyes and shook his head slow.
“Well, Louis, I suspect there ain’t nothin’ more powerful than that want. Ain’t nothin’ gonna kill me ‘til I put those bastards six feet under.” She could feel that hot anger more than ever as she spoke those words. It must have shown in her eyes too because Louis stood up, nervous and flustered.
“I don’t know ‘bout that,” he said and then said it again more quietly. “I don’t suppose I could change yer mind?”
She shook her head and let out a shaky breath. She could hardly bring herself to say it, but she didn’t want Louis to think it was for no reason. “They killed my husband,” she said, voice flat.
He let out a slow whistle and looked up toward the sky. “I reckon I can’t argue with that.”
Read Chapter Two
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