Hey all! This is a story that I had to write as part as my portfolio for one of my college classes. This is a western AU, where I utilise Zane as well as some characters from DOMH, and included some new ones. In regards to DOMH, I'm in the process of beginning chapter 51, I had school and family things to deal with since my last update and hadn't been able to write. But now school is out and I have more time to myself, so hopefully I'll get that next chapter out soon! Thank you for your patience. In the mean time, enjoy!

It was a fair summer's evening when Dr. Julien stood up from his chair at the dinner table.

"I do say," He began, fixing his tie. "This is the first nice day we've had in a long while, what do you say we go for a ride?"

Martha, Dr. Julien's wife, smiled. "I'll clear the table." She said, getting up. "Zane, be a dear and help your father hitch Maxwell while I get things cleaned up, will you?"

Zane smiled and nodded as he hopped down from his chair and followed his father outside. Together they brought the family horse from the pasture. They groomed him until Martha was finished cleaning up dinner, then they hitched him to their wagon. Dr. Julien helped Martha into the wagon before getting in himself. He picked up his young son and sat him on his lap before taking hold of the reins and clucking to Maxwell. Setting off at a brisk trot, they bounced along the main road that led away from their small flat and into the hills just behind the town of River's Bluff in central New Mexico. There was a cool breeze blowing, floating with it the delicate smell of magnolias and Red Bluff River that flanked the dirt road.

They had been driving along for a time when Zane finally spoke up. "Father, may I please have a go?"

Dr. Julien looked down at his son and grinned. "What, driving Maxwell? Oh, but of course! Here you go, son."

He handed Zane Maxwell's reins. The young boy grasped them with the Doctor's hands over his own. He grinned from ear to ear as he felt the reins bounce up and down with each clip-clop of Maxwell's hooves.

Dr. Julien looked down and seeing his son's joy smiled even more. He was glad he pitched the idea of going for a family drive.

Suddenly a flick of movement out of the corner of his eye made the Doctor look up. He scanned the path, but saw nothing.

"Dear, I think I see something up head, on the left." Came Martha's worried voice.

Dr. Julien looked and saw Martha was right. Farther up on the trail he could see a handful of shadowy figures moving about the brush. He tried to place them as they neared closer, but he was too late to realize, as several armed horsemen jumped in front of the wagon and blocked their path, firing off their weapons as they surrounded them.

Dr. Julien gasped and snatched the reins from Zane's hands as Maxwell reared in fright. Grasping the reins with one hand, he clutched his son and wife with the other and held them close as if his life depended on it.

"This is a stick up!" One of the gunmen said. "Hands where we can see them!"

Maxwell's harness snapped and he broke from the wagon, fleeing into the hills, leaving the family of three behind. Seeing they had no escape Martha and Dr. Julien complied, while their son clutched his mother's sundress as he trembled in fear.

"Don't shoot!" Dr. Julien said. "Please! Not in front of my son."

One of the other gunmen rode forward towards them. He pulled down the bandana around his face and grinned. With wide eyes Zane looked from the man up to his father, when he saw Dr. Julien's face go dark.

"Sloane?" Dr. Julien said. "What do you want from us?"

"I don't want your money, and I don't want to hurt you." The man said. "But I do need a favor." He reached into the pocket of his vest and produced a folded piece of paper. "I need you to send a message to your father out east." He tossed it to Dr. Julien.

The Doctor picked up the paper off the ground and unfolded it. His look of confusion and worry quickly turned into that of anger.

"I should have known." He said. "You really expect my father to sell? To you of all people no less? You don't even have S-Bar in your name!"

"Not yet." The man replied. "But I will soon, one way or another. You may be forgetting my future property and his share fence lines, so believe me when I say he's been having trouble getting by these past few years. I think it's time he considers taking what he can get before it's too late. He doesn't listen to me, so I figured his son would be the best way to reach him."

"No, absolutely not!" Dr. Julien shot back. "You and your family have plenty enough, leave the others be! God, you and your greedy dirty hands."

"Clemens will never sell 44-A, especially to you!" Martha said, her voice brave but her body trembling as she clutched her husband's arm. "And we all know the reason he's struggling is because of all those bales of alfalfa you 'accidentally' threw over onto his pasture!"

"She's right." Dr. Julien added. "I wouldn't put it past you. Good lord, all those poor cows, ballooned up right to death! I put my foot down, I'm not persuading my father to sell on your behalf." He threw down the paper. "You're a cowardly, selfish man. I'd go so far as to say that you're well on your way to starting another Cattle Baron Killer incident. Is that what you want? Is it?"

The man merely scoffed and smiled grimly. "Alright Doctor, have it your way. I said I didn't want to hurt you, but..." He gestured to his men. "Have at 'em boys."

He turned his horse away as the five other gunmen rode past him and towards the family, loading their guns. Dr. Julien's heart dropped as Martha screamed.

"Zane, RUN!" He cried, grabbing his son by the arm and shoving him away. "GO!"

Too young to understand what was going on and scared, Zane obeyed, running away from his mom and dad and jumping into the bushes on the side of the road. There was a great roar of gunfire and he covered his ears before he could hear his parents' dying cries of pain. The sounds of horses' hooves ran past him, then it was quiet. Not knowing what else to do, Zane huddled in the brush, knees up to his chest with tears streaming down his face. He wanted to go find his parents, waiting for one of their voices to tell him to come out, that everything was okay, and to jump into their waiting arms. But he never would.

The cracking of dry brush startled Zane out of his thoughts and jumped up, ready to flee. That was until he saw Maxwell's friendly face looking down at him. He sat back down and the chestnut horse nuzzled the child's face with his velvety nose. Zane clung to the horse's head as the twilight gave way to the night sky. It was nearly pitch black when the town's sheriff and his posse came to investigate the source of the gunshots and stumbled upon the gruesome sight. One of the posse members saw Maxwell and rode over and also discovered a petrified Zane.

"Hey buddy, it's alright." The man said gently as he got down off his horse and kneeled in front of Zane. "I'm not a bad guy. Here," He held out his hands. Zane ran to the man and jumped into his arms, clinging to his shirt.

"Hey boss, we got a survivor! He's just a boy!"

"Here, let me see," The sheriff said after he finished covering up the bodies. The posse member handed Zane over. The sheriff took Zane into his arms.

"Oh, good lord, what a shame." he said. "It's okay son, you're safe now. Are you hurt?"

Zane shook his head, eyes still wet with tears.

The sheriff nodded. "Okay." He said, trying his best to comfort the boy. "Someone get his name. Once he's calmed we'll make a statement. God, I hope he's got some good folks left in his family…"


After the brutal murder of his parents Zane was taken in and questioned by authorities. Because he was so young and scared he didn't have a good recollection of the altercation and wasn't able to identify the suspects, so no arrest was made. He then had his belongings packed and was whisked away to 44-A, a cattle ranch near Texas' eastern border to live with his grandfather, Clemens. Well into his sixties, Clemens was a kindly elderly man with a great work ethic. One would often find him working his cows alongside his ranch hands. After learning about what happened to his son and wife, Clemens took Zane in with open arms. While he did put Zane through school to continue his academic progress, he also took his grandson under his wing showing him the ropes of running the cattle operation. As Zane grew he found himself enjoying the ranch lifestyle, but he still prided himself in his academic prowess and still found himself reading in his spare time, as well as handling all the financial business of 44-A and anything else having to do with math since he was good with numbers. It had now been twelve years since Zane lost his parents, and he and his grandfather had grown very close. Since he had lost his real father at a young age and had only vague memories of his parents, Clemens was Zane's role model and father figure, and Clemens loved and cared for Zane just like he had with Dr. Julien, and made him next in line for his livestock operation.

Today was a few weeks after Zane's 19th birthday, and a hot summer's day full of tiring work, and by the end of it Zane and Clemens were exhausted. So Clemens made the suggestion that they go to The Cantina to unwind, a well-known bar among the locals of Elkhorn, a small cow town just a mile or so from 44-A. The two saddled their horses and rode along the dusty trail as the evening settled in. By the time they reached Elkhorn, the shadows of the setting sun had grown long. They trotted down the bustling main road before reaching the tying post outside the bar. They secured their animals and walked inside the crowded, cigar smoke-filled interior and found an empty booth by the dance floor.

After making himself comfortable Zane took a moment to take in the inside. He seldom came to town, but he always enjoyed it when he did, as it could get pretty lonely on the ranch sometimes. Tables and chairs occupied the floorspace beyond the bartop, where patrons were playing cards, drinking, or conversing amongst themselves. Music played from a band on the small stage, where dancers whirled around the polished floor. He looked on in awe.

Clemens chuckled at Zane's fascination as he lit himself a cigarette. "Like here, son?" He asked.

Zane smiled and nodded eagerly. Clemens chuckled again.

"Maybe I should bring you into town more often."

While Zane continued to look around, Clemens caught a passing waitress and ordered a couple of drinks. Soon he and Zane were sipping on bourbon, unwinding after a hard day's work.

The doors of the bar opened as someone entered, and suddenly the noisy interior hushed. Zane and Clemens looked up from their drinks to see what caused it. Clemens glanced behind him and grabbed Zane's arm.

"Keep your eyes on the floor son, and stay quiet. You hear me?" He whispered. Zane gave a small nod as he did what he was told, still not understanding what was going on.

The thud of a pair of boots and jingling spurs was the only sound heard in the bar. Zane listened with a bated breath as they approached their table and stopped just before them. Though he was looking down at his dusty boots, Zane could see a man's shadow spread across the floor.

"Clemens." Came a dark, gritty voice.

"Huxley." Clemens acknowledged the newcomer curtly. "What is it this time?"

"You know what I want."

The two conversed among themselves. Though Zane was still looking away, out of the corner of his eye he was able to catch a glimpse of the man. It was Huxley Sloane, their neighbor. But he was far from neighborly. The Sloane family ran cattle on their S-Bar properties, and combined together it far surpassed the area of 44-A and most of the other surrounding ranches. The Sloanes were once known to be a respectable family, but Huxley was far from it. He had just inherited S-Bar a few summers ago after his dad's passing and in just those few short years he had bought out most of the surrounding properties, and those that refused to sell later fell to seemingly mysterious accidents, which left them conveniently to Huxley's disposal, doubling his acreage and increasing his beef herd tenfold. 44-A and a handful of other standalones and larger pieces were left to compete for land and water rights. He and his men had been hackling Clemens to sell to him ever since he got his hands on the S-Bar deed. During his twelve years on the ranch with Clemens he had only seen Huxley a handful of times, but he seemed to always give off an uncomfortable vibe. Zane found him to be vaguely familiar somehow, but he could never place how, or where he would have ever seen him before coming to 44-A. But no matter what else he thought he could never shake it from the back of his mind.

"Well I ain't sellin' and that's that." Clemens said. "Now quit askin' Huxley, you're wastin' your time."

"I'll give you some more time to think it over." Huxley replied. "I get what I want, Clemens. You know that."

"You greedy bastard, stopping at nothing. Not even another Cattle Baron Killer incident would faze you. There's no way you're your father's son, he was never like this. When will you learn, Sloane?"

"I'll see you in a couple weeks. Think it over till then, then we can reach a deal." Huxley continued, as if he hadn't heard Clemens' argument. "Have a good night."

Huxley left a couple dollars in coins, enough to pay for the two's drinks. His shadow moved away from the table and a few seconds later the door to the bar closed. Music, chatter, and the clinking of glasses resumed once again, and Clemens told Zane he could lift his head off the table.

"Grandfather, what was all that about?" Zane asked. The old man grumbled and waved a dismissive hand.

"Now don't you go off and worry about that now, it's just business." He said. "Damn Sloane, been trying to get me to sell for years." He scoffed and took a few sips of his whiskey.

"Okay." Zane said. He absentmindedly swirled his glass around. "It sure does not sound like it, though…"

The two had a couple more drinks, then decided to head for home. They grabbed their horses from the post and rode out of town, accompanied by the soft glow of the moon and the chirping of crickets in the dry grass.

The Cattle Baron Killer. Zane had heard that phrase before. Hearing those words gave him the same feeling every time he saw Huxley's face. Painfully familiar, yet so frustratingly hard to place. It wasn't the first time he had heard Clemens speak of such a thing, but he had no clue what it meant. He thought of asking his grandfather, but after such a thing where it was spoken of Clemens would be all worked up, so Zane would always just let it be. No one else in the town would really speak of it either when he would ask.

Zane looked over at his grandfather in the saddle next to him. He had taken to lighting himself another cigarette. He seemed in a more decent mood, and Zane was desperate to try and figure out this mystery that had been evading him for so long.

"Grandpa?" Zane said.

"Hm? What is it, son?"

"A question about something you mentioned earlier...The Cattle Baron Killer...I've heard you say it before, and for some reason it seems familiar to me, but I could never place it. When you told Huxley about 'another Cattle Baron Killer incident', what exactly did you mean by that?"

"Didn't I tell you to not go off and worry about that?"

"Yes, but, I can't help but wonder, what is it all about? And why won't anyone else tell me what it means?"

Clemens sighed and flicked some ash off the end of his cigarette. "Bad things, Zane, lots of bad things. It happened when I was just your age. Younger actually. I was just a boy. But it damn near tore this valley to bits. I'll tell you, but just this once and just this once only. So you better listen good, you hear?"

Zane nodded. "Yes sir. I will listen well."

"Alright, good. Well hell, I ain't told the story in awhile, so here it goes."

"Like I said, this all happened when I was just a boy. There was this man, I forget his name. But he was the exact same man as Huxley: greedy, ruthless. He owned lots of land and hundreds of thousands of head, a cattle baron. But it wasn't enough for the damn fool. He wanted more. So he went around trying to buy out all the properties nearby that he could, and whoever didn't sell to him something bad always happened. Cut fences, animals being shot, barn fires- it all happened. They knew it was him behind it all, but this man was smart and always cleaned up after himself, and authorities could never find any evidence against him to make a lawful arrest. Nothing they ever tried worked. Probably had someone on the inside for him.

Anyways, he was buying out all these properties, but the remaining cowfolk that hadn't succumbed to him yet stood fast. They took up arms against the Baron and started fighting back. But the Baron wasn't alone in this you see, some of the other cattlemen had stakes in his tricky business too. And they'd rather die than lose what they took. It became a war basically, as you know in war you pick a side. Those who sided with the Baron either had something- money, land, whatever- to lose or feared what would happen to them if they didn't. Then there were the standalones, who refused to give in to the Baron. The good men. Everyone picked a side, including Elkhorn. It was neighbors versus neighbors. Businesses versus businesses. Families versus families and even within the families themselves. Believe me when I tell you it was just like a war, son, everything about it was." Clemens paused his storytelling to take a long drag of his cigarette.

"Then about a year later the Baron decided to stoop to a level that was low even for him." He continued. "One night he and his fighting men went out to the leader of the opposition, the good men. This cattle baron was smart, and he knew to hit them where it would hurt the most. He and his men rushed the leader and his family while they were sleepin'. Baron and his posse killed his wife and kids right in front of him then left his ranch to burn. Left him alive just for the hell of it. They were hopin' that it would be enough for him to give up, call it quits and the baron get what he wants. But instead now this war over cattle and land wasn't just so, now it was personal. So the man decided to do him one better."

"W-what did he do?" Zane asked, though he was afraid to know the answer.

"He killed the Baron. And his wife and kids. And his relatives. Damn near wiped out an entire bloodline. Then when he was done there he moved on to the people that had been in the loop with the Baron during the whole spectacle. People were laying dead in the streets at his feet. By the time the sheriff came and finally put him down, the poor bastard had already killed over two dozen people including the Baron and his family. The National Guard was sent to calm the rest of the conflict. It was a terrible time, Zane, and I pray to everything above you don't ever have to go through that."

Zane gulped as he imagined the story of the Cattle Baron Killer.

"I-I apologize that I've brought this subject up…" He stammered. "Had I known, I would have never-"

"Ah hell, it's okay Zane, you had no idea." Clemens said. He took another drag from his cigarette. "You would have had to know eventually. Just don't bring it up from here on out, yeah?"

Zane nodded quickly. "Yes sir, I will not push the matter any farther."

Clemens grinned. "Good. Don't ever turn out like that man, Zane." Clemens had noticed his grandson looked particularly rattled after hearing about the Cattle Baron Killer, and even though the events that he had heard weren't exaggerated, he felt terrible for scaring him so. "I know you won't."

The old man tapped his horse with his heels and he and Zane trotted the rest of the way back to 44-A. The rest of the ride back to the ranch was a quiet one. Though Zane said he would not speak of the subject of the Cattle Baron Killer, he was unable to think of anything else. He could only imagine the screams, the terror, as the people of Elkhorn's lives were torn apart by an angry vengeful man. The Cattle Baron Killer's anger was not unfounded, Zane knew that. But who was capable of such a thing? Killing and ripping families apart over materialistic things? And who was really at fault here?

These questions buzzed through Zane's head, even long after he and his grandfather returned to the house and put their horses away for the day. Later that night laying in bed, Zane stared up at the darkened ceiling, trying to find answers. Sleep came to overtake him, and as his eyes fell shut he drew the conclusion that perhaps he never would be able to understand, and made a silent vow to never become that man.

Oh, but he would.


" 'Er son, cut that red one in the back!" Said Clemens' voice, cutting through the mooing of cattle.

Zane nodded to acknowledge his grandfather and weaved his horse through the herd, loosening up his lasso as he approached the last few cows in the far back. Throwing the lasso over a young calf's head, he tied it to his saddle horn and got off his horse. He shooed away its mother before flipping the animal on its side.

"Quick!" he said. Clemens appeared through the herd and rode over to Zane, red hot branding iron in hand. Zane took it from Clemens and pressed the iron into the calf's flank. It mewled in protest as Zane lifted it's leg.

"It's another bull." He said.

"Good." Clemens replied. He looked around. "I think that was the last of 'em. Let him go back to mama, won't you?"

Zane freed the calf from his rope, getting up and scampering to its very distressed mother. Zane coiled his lasso up and got back up on his horse. Together they watched the mama cows collect their babies and move down the hill to get water and graze.

Clemens sighed and wiped the sweat from his forehead before putting his hat back on his head. "Long day, innit?"

Zane huffed and nodded, sitting back in his saddle.

The herd had barely vanished from sight, when the two heard hoofbeats approaching.

Clemens and Zane turned around to see a handful of mounted men coming up to the other side of the fence. Zane watched as his grandfather's kind face quickly turn dark.

"Ah hell, this can't be good." He said. "Come on."

Zane followed him, staring at the newcomers. They were already waiting for them by the fence as they came close, as if they knew the two would be here.

"The hell you want, Huxley?" Clemens growled. Zane couldn't help but bristle. Seldom did his grandfather show his angry side, but when he did he nearly always had a probable cause. And boy, this cause was more than just probable.

Huxley was on his horse standing in front of the others and flashed a grin, and not a kind one.

"You know what I want, old man." He said.

"Figures. The hell you ain't gettin' it. We've been over this before, Huxley."

"You say it as if I don't know that." Huxley said "Look Clemens, I'm just telling you my offer still stands. Fifteen hundred for all forty-four acres and ten dollars a head for cattle, five a head for your horses."

Huxley leaned over the fence and handed Clemens a piece of paper. Clemens snatched it from his hand and looked at it. Zane craned his neck to get a better look too. It was a bill of sale. All the amounts had been written and almost every signature was filled. The only one left was the sellers'.

"The money's all there, Clemens." Huxley said. "All you gotta do is sign."

Clemens glared at Huxley with spite before ripping the paper in half.

"Over my dead body!" He hissed, further ripping the paper to shreds. "You control almost half the entire valley, ain't that enough for you?! 44-A's been a part of my family for almost a hundred years, and by god it'll stay another hundred more. And ain't no buffoon made of money is changing that! You're damn lucky there's this fence between us!"

Clemens crumpled the paper up in a ball and chucked it at Huxley. His men rushed forward to the fence as if to attack Clemens and Zane began to get ready to defend his grandfather. Huxley stopped his hands. Seeing this Clemens held out a hand to get Zane to pause. He watched as a dark look passed over Huxley's face, his eyes glittering coldly in a way that made Zane shiver.

"Alright." He said. "I see. You've made your point, Clemens." He picked up his horse's reins and he and his posse backed away from the fence. He turned to leave but looked back over his shoulder.

"Just don't forget, old man. I always get what I want."

With that Huxley and his men rode away, leaving Zane and Clemens by the fenceline. Clemens watched them vanish from sight.

"C'mon, son." He said. He spurred his horse into a trot. "Dammit, I need a drink…"

Zane followed in silence, thinking back about the events that had just transpired. There was a look in that man Huxley's eyes that he didn't like. It was more than just greed, it was something much worse. But he couldn't place his finger on it.

He considered bringing it up with his grandfather, but seeing how worked up he already was, he decided to just let it be for now. But there was still a feeling in Zane's gut he couldn't shake.


Later that night the two were eating dinner in silence. After a few glasses of scotch Clemens seemed in a more pleasant mood, so Zane decided to talk.

"So, grandfather," He began, choosing his words carefully so as to not upset him. "With what happened today-by the fence with Huxley- are you perhaps thinking about selling?"

"The hell with that. Ain't no way I'm selling our property to that imbecile." Clemens said, sipping his fourth glass of scotch. "He's been trying for years to try and convince me, but if it ain't worked by now I don't see why he thinks he has a shot."

Zane went back to stabbing at his carrots and beef roast with his fork, when he decided to ask another question.

"Do you...think anything will happen? As in...to us?"

"What? What do you mean by that?"

"Well, it seems to me that almost everyone who has refused to sell to Huxley has had something happen to them. Do you think perhaps he had something to do with it all?"

Clemens sat back in his seat, pondering Zane's question. Now that he thought about it, his grandson wasn't wrong. And it didn't seem too out of the ordinary for Huxley to do such a thing.

"I...don't know for certain." He said finally. He took another sip, falling silent for a moment before speaking again, as if contemplating his words.

"Zane, I ain't trying to put ideas in your head. But your folks' death was no accident, and a small part of me always suspected Huxley was behind it…"

It wasn't too hard for Zane to talk about the death of his parents, since he was so young when they had died he had little recollection of them.

"R-really?" Zane said. "Then why don't you say something?"

"Well, it ain't been proven, and I don't know for certain. I'm not gonna slander a man's clean name based on my suspicion."

Silence settled over the two. Clemens felt bad for bringing this subject up. Though Zane could talk about it, it's not that he liked it either.

"But don't worry, if he tries to come for us, we won't let him take 44-A. We'll be fine, Zane, alright?" He patted him on the back, attempting to cheer him up a little.

Zane nodded and gave Clemens a small smile. The two finished their dinner and cleaned up the kitchen before the two turned in for the night. Zane changed into his pajamas and slipped into his bed and fell asleep. But it wasn't long before Clemens burst through the door.

"Zane, wake up!" He cried, shaking him awake. Zane's eyes flew open and he sat up fast.

"Grandfather?" What's the matter?"

"There's a fire on top of the hill at the east pasture! I need you to go with the other hands and put it out!"

Zane and Clemens hurriedly changed. Both of them ran for the door when suddenly gunshots rang out. Clemens ran back to his room and threw open his gun safe.

"Go, stop the fire!" Clemens told Zane as he loaded rounds into his rifle. "I'll watch the house!"

Zane ran out the door and for the stable, keeping his head low as bullets flew and shattered the night. He grabbed his horse and hastily tacked it up before galloping out for the east pasture. Flames were moving fast, scorching the dry grass as it spread. The other cowhands were already there, throwing buckets of water and smothering the flames with hats, saddle pads, and anything else they could find. The smoke was getting thicker by the second, and Zane had backed away for a moment to catch his breath when he happened to look up. His heart dropped.

"No, no, NO!" He cried. He ran for his horse and spurred it into a gallop. His stomach roiled as he rode up the hill, watching the house and stable being consumed by fire. He could barely hear the wind rushing past him as his heart pounded in his ears.

He reached the house and jumped off his horse. "Grandfather!" He cried, running to the burning door. "GRANDPA!" He cried again.

He heard cackling behind him, and turned to look. Five shadowed figures turned and rode down the edge of the hill and out of sight, but that was all it took for Zane to recognize one of them.

Huxley. And several other townsfolk he had seen before. They were in on this?!

Groaning and cracking of wood snapped Zane's focus back to the house, part of the roof collapsing in. Gasping, Zane fought with the door, finally resorting to kicking it down before springing inside. The wooden interior was engulfed in flames, the smoke so thick it stung his eyes.

"Grandfather!" He yelled over his coughing and the crackling of burning wood. "Grandfather!"

Still, no response. Zane stumbled blindly through the burning house, trying desperately to find Clemens, when he tripped over something. He fell on his knees and through teary eyes saw him lying on the ground.

"Oh my, Grandfather!" He cried. He shook him. "We've got to get out of here!"

Zane went to pick Clemens up, but he was completely limp. Zane looked at his grandfather and saw a bloody hole in his chest. Red soaked the front of Clemens' shirt and his eyes were glazed over. A thin trail of blood dripped from the corner of his mouth and his skin and hair was singed from the intense heat. His gun lay beside him. Zane felt frantically for a pulse or any other sign of life, but found none. Clemens was dead.

Zane clutched Clemens body and buried his face in his grandfather's chest, sobbing. The last of his family he had was gone.

The sound of splintering wood made Zane look up, just as the rest of the house came falling down, it's burning remains toppling upon the two. Zane tried to escape, but was trapped by a wooden beam pinning down his leg. He felt himself weaken as his lungs filled with smoke.

'No, no. I cannot die, not like this.' He thought frantically. But his vision began to darken as it was getting harder and harder to draw in air, and the heat from the fire was closing in. He thought it was the end of him as he slumped unconscious, unaware of a strange mounted figure that waded through the burning remnants of the house. The stranger reached down and plucked Zane out of the debris and slung him over the saddle and rode away, leaving Clemens' body and the rest of 44-A to burn, riding past its gates and into the dark open range beyond.


Zane awoke with a start, gasping for breath and bursting into a coughing fit, his lungs scorched and raw. His mind went back to the burning house and for a moment he thought he was still there, looking around frantically for Clemens. But he became confused when his eyes were met with darkness, the only source of light being the moon shining its silvery light upon the landscape. His breath hitched as he started to panic, when he became aware of a strange figure standing before him.

He was a tall, grizzly man, wrapped in a dark sheepskin cloak and a wide brimmed hat pulled down over his eyes. He had a gun hanging down at his side and sat upon a buckskin horse. Zane looked at the man's gaunt face, trying to place him, then he realized something strange. Though he could see their features, both horse and rider were transparent. Zane gasped.

"W-who are you?" He stammered, backing up. His back pressed against a tree and he clutched it, trying to stand up. "What do you want from me?"

"Y'all should be thanking me, not questioning my motive." The stranger growled, his voice echoey. "I just saved your life. You lost everything in that fire."

"H-how do you know? Did you do it?!"

The man held up his hand. "If there's one thing I know about, its loss. You lost everything to a damn greedy bastard. I was in your position once too. Lost everyone I loved just because I was trying to do the right thing."

Zane tried to place his words, having heard them before. He gasped as he remembered the conversation between him and Clemens just a few weeks ago.

"Y-you're the Cattle Baron Killer!" He cried. "They said you were dead!"

"Killer isn't a word I would use," The man said. "A killer preys on the innocent. What I did to that man was justified, as was for everyone else. Huxley and his croons are far from it."

Zane listened, shaking his head. "No, no, that can't be true." He said. "I've known almost everyone in that town since I was a child! They would have told me. And I swore to never become like you."

"I know you may think I'm a bad man, but I only did what was right. It's all true, they knew, and they lied to you. Those that sided with Huxley, they are not your friends, they never have been. And Clemens wasn't the only one Huxley took from you."

"W-what do you mean? He was the only one I had left!"

"Zane, I see a lot of things now that I'm not on the mortal plane. I saw the night your parents died. It was no accident. It was Huxley."

Tears pricked in Zane's eyes as he realized. That's how he recognized him. He lost everything he knew and loved. The ranch, his parents, his future, his livelihood. But not only that, his grandfather. But he was more than just that. He was Zane's mentor, his rock, his father figure, the only family he had left. All brutally ripped away by Huxley over a piece of dirt.

"Zane, I know what it's like to lose it all. I understand your pain." The Cattle Baron Killer said as he watched tears roll down Zane's face. "Which is why I hope you listen to me when I say this: it's not too late. You still have time to avenge them, and put down Huxley and his associates once and for all."

The Killer reached down and slipped his gun from his holster and held it out to Zane. It was very much real, a worn silver revolver. The cool metal settled its weight in Zane's hands as he took it.

"It's not too late to take your revenge, Zane. Against Huxley and the others. Make them feel what you feel, make them know what it's like to lose it all. That's the only way to make them understand. An eye for an eye."

Zane looked down at the gun, the same one that had taken so many lives years before. He looked back up at the Killer, only to find he had vanished into thin air.

Sadness turned into anger which boiled into Zane's chest. He had been robbed. Robbed of his parents' love, robbed of his grandfather, robbed of his future and livelihood. Now he had nothing to his name and nothing to show for all his years.

But now he also had nothing to lose.

Enraged, Zane shoved the gun into his belt and limped to his horse, which was tied to the branches next to him. He climbed into the saddle and found his way back to what was left of 44-A. There was nothing. Every single structure had been torched, charred remains and dead animals littering the property. Everything he had, ashes.

'It's not too late to take your revenge, Zane. Against Huxley and the others. Make them feel what you feel, make them know what it's like to lose it all.'

Now Zane understood. He understood everything.

Tonight would be Huxley Sloane's, and everyone else who ever had anything else to do with him, last day on earth. Even if it cost him his own life.

Zane spurred his horse into a gallop for the S-Bar ranch, fueled by rage. As he approached the gates in front of the main house, he pulled the Killer's gun from its place on his hip, made sure it was loaded, and jumped out of the saddle. Two men from inside the house had seen him coming and rushed outside, firing at him. Zane charged and shot them both before bursting through the door. Now inside, he ran through the hallway and into the main parlor. Huxley was waiting there for him, sitting on the couch, with the town's deputy standing behind him. Both were armed.

"See Deputy, I told you he'd come." Huxley said, a sly grin forming on his face.

"Easy now son, no one wants to get hurt here." The deputy said, seeing the gun in Zane's hand. "How 'bout you put the gun down for me?"

"It was you!" Zane seethed, chest heaving in anger as he glared at Huxley. "It was you all this time!"

Zane attempted to lunge at Huxley, but was stopped by the deputy. He knocked the gun from Zane's hand and pushed him back. Huxley chuckled as he watched the spectacle.

"I don't follow." He said casually, leaning back. He grinned some more. "What did I do exactly?"

"All of it!" Zane snarled, anger blazing as he watched Huxley's grin, fighting against the deputy. "My parents, my grandfather, 44-A, you killed them! You did it all!"

Zane wrestled with the deputy and was able to grab the gun from his holster and push him off. He pointed the gun at Huxley.

"You took EVERYTHING from me! You have more already than most people will in their entire lives! Yet that STILL isn't enough for you!? It wasn't enough so that you felt the need to orphan me over a PIECE OF DIRT?!" Zane paused in his rage to cock back the hammer of his gun.

"You've gotten away with too much, Huxley. TOO DAMN MUCH! Now it's your turn, time for you to know what it's like, to lose everything! Now we both may be headed for hell, but you're sure as hell going first!"

Zane began to pull back on the trigger, but Huxley was faster. Before Zane knew what was happening he felt a deep burning pain in his chest. His knees buckled and he slumped to the ground, watching Huxley's living room grow dim around him as tears rolled down his face. A moment later he was dead.

Huxley stood up and walked over to where Zane lay, unbothered by the big pool of blood spreading across the floor. He nudged the young man's body with his boot. He grunted.

"A damn shame. I hoped it wouldn't come down to this."

"Did you really? I find that hard to believe."

Huxley grinned again. "You know me too well, Deputy." He shook the other man's hand. "Pleasure doing business with you. Those steers will be at Flying J by the end of next week. Your money's already in the bank. Now get someone to clean this mess up."