I tightly gripped the barrel of my rifle as I settled down in the dirt and gazed over the ridge at the red desert sprawling before me. The landscape was a red and orange scene of mesas and plateaus, as if a god had taken a carving knife to the ground. The sunlight beat down relentlessly, hot and heavy on my back. A dusty road ran through the red cliffs, with intervals of shade where the rock walls blocked the sun.
I would have given my best gun to be in the shade, but Castro had ordered the crew to lay prone on the ridge atop the Mesa. It was the best ambush spot in the Drylands, he said. And if the stories about their quarry were true, they would need every advantage.
The Red Sun Sons were the best bounty hunters in the Drylands. It had been Castro’s idea—the gang and the name. The gang was an excellent idea, we were all rich and dangerous—everything a man could hope to be out in this waste. The name…well, an infant could have come up with a better one. Castro thought that the double meaning of son and sun was magnificently clever. It wasn’t.
Normally we took bounties alone and returned with the gold. If the target was especially dangerous, sometimes we would go tandem. Never before had any more than three of us been on one hunt together, but five of us lay atop the dusty mesas, our rifles trained on the road below us. Castro hadn’t even wanted the job, but Ray had forced the issue.
“We didn’t become the most feared hunters in the Drylands by shying away from the tough jobs,” he had argued, and he had been right. The Red Sun Sons had taken down some of the most notorious bandits and some of the most powerful lawmakers. As long as the gold was good, no prey was off limits for us.
If that was the case though, why did five of the most dangerous men in the Drylands demand a king’s ransom before taking this job? Why were our palms so slick with sweat, making it difficult to keep our rifles from slipping? It wasn’t greed, and it wasn’t the sun.
We had been in place for over an hour when he approached on his white horse, his wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face and a short beige poncho draped over his shoulders. As he grew nearer, I could see a pistol on either hip, a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a long sword hanging from his saddle. His skin was deeply tanned, and he sported a scruffy black beard, and he was entirely underwhelming.
This was the man that had required five of our best to hunt? The legendary Whiteshot, who was seven feet tall and impervious to bullets? The bandit who had single-handedly created ghost towns? I glanced towards Ray, who lay 20 meters to my left, and raised my arms questioningly. He nodded once before settling the stock of his rifle into his shoulder and returning his attention to the rider. I took a deep breath and aimed my own rifle. My breath came easier, and my palms felt drier. This I could do. The man before me was no god, just a bandit the like of whom I had dealt with before, on my own, without the luxury of an ambush.
We allowed him to enter the pass. That was the plan: fire from the top of the cliffs on either side, from all angles. I pulled at the brim of my hat to shade my eyes squinted down the sight of my gun. Whiteshot entered the pass at a slow canter, and I began to count. Three seconds from when he entered, Castro had said.
I lined up the rider in my sights.
I cocked back the hammer.
Five men fired in unison, an earsplitting crack running through the air as the shots discharged. Our quarry didn’t even have time to duck. It was a perfect ambush.
As it turns out, Whiteshot didn’t need time to duck. He didn’t even have to lift a finger. The five bullets, one moment speeding towards him, suddenly stopped, hovering in the air a meter from his body, sunlight glinting off the bright steel. He was surrounded by a ring of bullets, completely unharmed. They started to rotate around him, still suspended in the air.
My original fear was nothing compared to what I felt now. I was facing a man who could stop bullets midair. It was worse than the rumors, because I knew it to be true.
Ray was a braver man than I, because he fired a second shot before I even thought to raise my gun again. His bullet joined the others, but the shot gave away his location. Two of the bullets left their orbit and sped towards him, faster than a shot from any gun. They tore through his head and he collapsed dead to the dust.
As I fumbled with my gun, my other companions fired again. Castro, Tom, Mick—all met the same end as Ray. I watched as they were killed by their own bullets, held immobile by the sickening realization that the hunters had become the hunted.
I never fired a second shot. I lay silently as he continued through the pass, my one bullet still circling him. It wasn’t until nightfall that I found the courage to move, but I haven’t stopped moving since. I lay in the grip of terror, but I will never again let it control me.
I still hunt him, because I made a deal. In the Drylands, two things are sacred—your gun and your word. I gave my word, and now my gun will see it through. I am a Red Sun Son, and we always finish the job.