Cowboy Paladin (part 1)
Jethro Bane breathed a sigh of relief as the sun finally slipped down behind the rolling hills to the west. Riding into the bright orange glare of the setting sun had given him a headache. Although his light-sensitive eyes functioned in the daytime, they definitely preferred the shadows, especially those in the network of caves below the Missouri Ozarks.
It was time to start looking for a place to stop for the night. It was tempting to keep moving because he was due to report in for duty tomorrow afternoon and was running behind schedule. On the other hand, it would soon be too dark for his tired mare to continue on safely on these rocky hillside paths. Jethro could risk his own neck since he'd survive almost any injury, even fatal ones. That didn't mean he would take reckless chances with his horse. She deserved better than that.
As he followed the trail up the hillside, he saw a wisp of smoke rising above the trees in the valley below. From little he could see, it appeared to be coming from a small cabin. It had been several days since he'd spoken to another human being, but he wasn't even tempted to pay a call on whoever was living down there. He just didn't have it in him to be that friendly tonight, so he kept moving.
Half an hour later, he spotted a small stream winding through the trees. He dismounted and led his mare through the woods. It didn't take long to set up his small camp. After seeing to his horse's needs, he put on a pot of water to make coffee and a second one to fry up the last of his bacon to eat with the stale biscuits leftover from breakfast two days ago. It wasn't much, but it would hold him until he reached Paladin headquarters. One thing the Regents did right was making sure the Paladins were well fed. They knew it took a lot of energy to fight off the crazy bastards who came boiling across the barrier with death in their pale eyes.
After finishing his dinner, Jethro leaned against a handy tree and stared up at the stars as he sharpened his sword. He found the soft rasp of steel against stone soothing. It wasn't often that he had a chance to relax and enjoy a beautiful night. Like the rest of the Missouri contingent of Paladins, he spent most of his time either in the caves beneath the streets of St. Louis or the ones in the Ozarks as they fought the never ending battle against the Others. He'd picked up his first sword at age ten and had long ago lost count of how many he'd killed with it.
He and the other Paladins might grow soul sick of the endless cycle of death, but not one of them would walk away from the fight. It was more than just sense of duty that kept him fighting. The world was full of innocents who had no knowledge of the secret war between the Paladins and their enemies, and that's the way it should stay. As far as Jethro knew, the fight had been going on for centuries with no end in sight.
It was past time to get some sleep. As a soldier of sorts, he'd long ago learned to take advantage of any chance he could to rest. He dumped the dregs of his coffee on the fire, the cold liquid hitting the coals with a hiss. Jethro curled up on his blanket, the night warm enough without additional covers. Sleep wasn't long in coming.
An hour later Jethro awoke to the sound of a woman's terrified screams. Cursing a blue streak, he grabbed his guns and his sword and charged down the hillside to see what the hell was going on.