1 Chapter 1: Arrival

The sun beat down on the sandy ground and its rays danced devilishly on the dry parched earth. Insects sang their squealing songs cheerfully in the heat. Grass and scrappy bushes grew in scattered clumps along the broken asphalt road that snaked through the parched wilderness.

A tall woman carrying a large darkly polished plywood coffin, wearing it like a backpack, walked slowly along this southbound road. Her leather jacket and jeans were sun beaten, faded and worn, but they were still in good shape. Her shoes still had some sole to them, but they were getting thin. A tattered black Yankee's hat covered her face from the sun and her jet-black hair was tied in a ponytail that dropped down to her shoulders.

As she walked, a road sign, half bent over, seemed to come strolling past her. The old white letters of the towns ahead had long faded, but someone sprayed on it the name of a gang that probably controlled the area, a common sight. The symbol was a dog snarling, below was the name of the town: The Damn.

The woman scanned over the hazy horizon with tired, bored gray eyes. A far-off large smudge of green lined the horizon to the left of the road, called to her. She sighed and continued trudging along the road. The sun had started to fall from its zenith as the green smudge slowly grew closer and turned into large pine trees, evergreens, and oaks. The road disappeared into its woodland shade, beckoning relief from the searing sun and dry scrublands. Roots had dug up most of the road leaving it bumpy and wrinkled, like an old man's face. This change in scenery was refreshing from the open sand strewn rocky land, but the change was misleading.

On both sides of the road's woodland entrance, five rough looking men sat around a small fire. A flag was nailed to a nearby tree and on it was the symbol of the dog snarling. The very same symbol that was on the sign from earlier. The men noticed her approaching and got up to surround the woman. The woman kept trudging slowly on, giving off an air that she could care less if the men were there.

Stepping forward menacingly, one of the men blocked her path. "Hold it right there. Where do you think you are headed?"

The woman shuffled to a stop; her gaze remained calm while retaining her bored look. "I'm just passing through to the next town."

"What's in the box?" Another one of the rough looking men asked as he started to circle behind her. He was holding an old metal pipe that had its handle wrapped in tattered cloth.

"Not much." The woman answered dully while glancing with a lazy look from man to man. The five of them had her surrounded now.

Another man on her right chuckled, patting a dented metal bat threateningly. "Oh yeah? Let us see it then."

Unfazed by their brutish behavior, the woman replied, "Sure thing." Slipping off the wooden coffin backpack, she set it down gently and let out a slight groan of relief from her burden. Here she paused, "The thing is, I only open this box to customers. Are you interested in buying?"

The rough looking men snickered upon hearing this.

"No, we are not customers, but we are taking donations.” The biggest of the men replied as he took a step closer. Then holding out his hand he continued, “If you'll just leave the box there, we'll let you leave."

The woman inhaled quickly, like a salesman would do when he disliked an offer. "Sorry, but I can't do that. I sell things. I don't just give them away."

"That's too bad." The big guy replied, edging slowly closer once more. "I was hoping to not work up a sweat today and dirty my shirt, but since you're so stubborn, I'll need to."

"I think you'll be getting more than just sweat on your shirt if you don't let me be." The woman droned blankly.

The big man’s face drooped into a frown. They didn’t expect her, a lone woman, to be so calm in this situation. They then watched as she casually reached into her jacket pockets and pulled out two leather fingerless gloves with metal covering over the knuckles of her fists.

"Seriously?" The big guy said, raising an eyebrow. "You think you can take on all of us? Ha! Get her."

The small gang then simultaneously attacked the woman on all sides. The big guy went to punch the woman in the face, but she quickly drifted out of the way. The big guy faltered for a second, but the woman countered. Grabbing the big guy's wrist and forearm and she then flipped him, almost too easily, over her shoulder and into the man coming at her from behind. Both men hit the ground hard. A third man swung his pipe at her head, but she ducked. Then she countered by grabbing the back of the man's arm, stopping him from swinging again. She then punched him twice, hard in the ribs, knocking him to the ground gasping.

Another guy came at her with his bat and the remaining man followed next to him armed with a knife. The woman dropped to the ground and spun on her hands, kicking out the legs of both men, like some old Kung Fu movie. Then before they could even react, she was back on her feet and pounced at the knife carrying man and slugged him hard in the jaw. The metal on her glove made a pinging sound as it bounced off the attacker's face, knocking a tooth out. The other man scrambled half up to his knees and tackled the woman. They rolled around on the ground, each trying to get on top of the other.

The big guy and the pipe wielding man were up now and getting ready to jump on the two grappling on the ground. When suddenly their own guy was abruptly kicked off by the woman and sent rolling down into a deep ditch that ran along the road. He was kicked with such power, that there was no way she could be a normal woman!

The coffin woman quickly got up with her fists ready. The big guy warily closed in as the pipe man also circled around her cautiously. Yet she didn't wait for them to get any closer. She charged at the big guy and jumped, kicking him in the chest, while launching herself into the air in the process. Then, like some Olympic gymnast, she flipped around in the air to punch the pipe guy coming from behind square in the face.

Landing lightly, she turned back to the big guy who had recovered from her kick and dodged a swing coming from him. Effortlessly she countered, punching him again in the ribs. Jumping calmly back she avoided another clumsy smashing swing from him. The guy she had kicked into the ditch had now climbed out and joined up quickly with the others. The other two were still on the ground, one knocked out, the other was still holding his stomach, but he was struggling to get up.

The big guy's chest heaved heavily as he gasped, "N-not bad. But how long can you keep it up?"

The woman smiled faintly. She was hardly breathing at all, and she still had that lazy look in her eyes. "You don't get it, do you?" She said, and the big guy looked confused. "It was five to one, but now it's barely four to one. You're out matched."

"Ha, keep talking tough." The big guy snarled while charging the woman, who in turn also charged back.

The big guy swung wide at her head, but the woman ducked sliding on her knees, like she was limbo-ing. Then without skipping a beat, she hit him hard in the kidney with her elbow and then kept going at the other two men flowing behind. She dodged a swing from the pipe man and landed her own punch on his bleeding face. Turning she saw the second man was already in mid-swing at her face! There wasn't any time for her to dodge, or so the man thought. To him it looked like his hand passed right through the coffin woman's head! But she had just dodged so inhumanly fast that the human eye failed to notice.

The woman skipped lightly backwards to get out of range from the three men. She then put her hands on her hips, while exaggerating the motion. "Really guys? That's as fast as you can swing?" The woman shook her head disapprovingly. "Want to give up?"

The guy on the ground got up rubbing his stomach, finally joining the others. Seeing that they still had numbers on their side, the big man wasn't finished with this fight. Though it was clear he was suffering from her strikes.

Utterly humiliated, the big guy yelled at her, "You are so dead!"

"Sure, whatever. If that's all you got, I'm leaving." The woman scoffed before turning around to pick up her coffin.

"Get her already!" The big guy yelled and all four of them charged.

The woman, still facing away, smiled, and thought to herself, "They never know when they're beat."

Quickly unzipping her leather jacket, she pulled out a large folded blackened katana like blade. The compact blade could unfold itself and lock into place at any length she wanted, reaching up to three meters! In a blur she spun around to swing up the blackened sword just as they closed in. The first swing took off a hand, the second stabbed another in the gut. The other two men stopped approaching in shock as the first two fell to the ground screaming, clutching at their fatal wounds.

"W-what happened? Where did that sword come from!?" The big guy shouted, stepping nervously back, as did the other two uninjured men.

The woman casually flicked the blood off her blade as she replied, "It doesn't matter where it came from. I told you, you're out matched."

Taking a step forward, she grabbed the man, whose hand was cut off, by the hair and slit his throat. All the while staring coolly at the other remaining men. All of them were stunned and rooted in place by the blatant merciless murder.

Stammering, the big guy looked on with horror plastered plainly on his face at his dead comrades, "L-look miss. We're sorry! We'll leave you alone!"

"Nope, too late." The woman sneered, taking a threatening step towards them.

"W-wai--!" The big guy screamed as her blade struck.

. . .

Some time had passed when his eyes opened. The sun was already setting, and the forest was darkening slowly. He started to sit-up, but there was a jarring pain in his face. Then he remembered, there was that woman who they all were fighting! He sat all the way up, rubbing at his jaw tenderly, while looking cluelessly around.

"Crap, lost a tooth." He grumbled aloud, feeling the hole in his mouth.

"Oh, looks like you're finally awake." Someone called from above him.

Looking up, a black shadow jumped out from one of the trees. It was the coffin woman from before!

Jumping up with his fists at the ready, he shouted, "Hey, who are you and where are the others?"

"I am just a merchant looking to trade stuff. As for the others, well… they are not around anymore." The woman answered motioning behind her with a thumb. The man looked past her and saw, in the red light of the sunset, four motionless bodies lying in blackened pools.

"What! What happened? Are they dead? Did you kill them?" The man fearfully shouted while taking a couple steps back.

"We fought, they died, and I did. There, I answered your questions. Now you're going to answer some of mine." The woman said, looking lazily at the man with her bright gray eyes, seemingly glowing unnaturally in the sunset light.

"No way. Get away from me!" The man screamed as he turned to run.

He didn't get far when a jolt of pain stabbed through his lower leg, and he flopped to the ground clutching at his leg in a panic. Struggling he looked at the back of his leg only to see that her blade was sticking completely through his calve!

"Running from me is pointless. Now tell me, who are you? What is the name of the gang you're in? And are they in charge of the town ahead?" The woman asked. She proceeded to casually place her hand on the blade's hilt jiggling it a bit in the process.

The man grimaced in pain, "I'm Turner! I'm just on road patrol this week for our gang, the Mad Dogs, and we're the only real gang in The Damn. P-please don't kill me."

"Hmm, well I really don't feel like letting anyone go knowing that I killed your buddy's back there. You see, it's bad for business." The woman stood up pulling the blackened blade from Turner's leg, who gasped in pain. "Sorry. It's nothing personal."

"W-wait, please! I won't say any—." Turner started to say, but the woman's blade was already burrowing into his chest.

"Uh, well that was messy." The woman mumbled, whipping her blade on the dried grass.

The sun had now fallen below the horizon and night was closing in. A cool air was settling into the forest now and she felt chilled. She laughed to herself, "I get chills from the cold, but nothing from killing? What a sad creature I have become."

After her blade was cleaned, she returned it to its place in her jacket and picked up her coffin, slinging its straps onto her back. Continuing her journey, she traveled until only the moonlight, which struggled through the trees, could barely light her way. Finding some large bushes off the road, she crawled under them. After tossing aside some branches and a rock or two, she settled into the thick dead leaves. Looking up through the foliage, one star twinkled at her and soon she drifted off to sleep.

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