Emma’s been wandering for years now. It’s been almost a decade since the massacre at Rose Creek and she feels the years in her bones, in the way the cold nights creep in and don’t let go come morning. She wanders anyway; no town has ever felt right, not since Matthew died, not even in the year she stayed after Chisholm and the others fought for her, for her people.
She’d rode with Chisholm a bit in the earlier years. Vasquez and Red Harvest were with him then, and they made room by the fire whenever she was around. She hadn’t seen any of them for a while; a couple years back, she and Red Harvest had found themselves in the same mountains where he told her of Chisholm’s passing—age, mostly, and the hard life of the trail.
So, alone, Emma rides the west. There’s not much security for a lone woman and her horse, but she’s good with a rifle, and she learns the pistols. She picks up bounties—her first with Chisholm and the other two, and the next few as well. She shakes, the first time she brings an outlaw into town on her own. The tremors don’t stop for a full day.
Her hunts don’t always end in a payday, but Emma has always been a quick study, and she never forgets getting tripped by Vasquez. She makes a name for herself, once Chisholm manages to get her a set of Warrant Officer papers. The Law-woman. Lady Hunter. She ignores the names and keeps moving, going farther and farther from Rose Creek in time and space until the dust she kicks up doesn’t know her secrets, until the towns don’t know what she’s running from, just that she comes in with an outlaw and leaves with cash.
She’s been riding New Mexico for a few months now, feeling a little more lost than usual. There’s a posse of Wanteds known as the Bishop Boys that could bring in quite a haul but, from the chatter, going after just one is a death sentence, and going after the lot is a job for the army. She’s not too hard off, but she’s starting to itch; Emma hasn’t felt whole in a while and hunting down bounties gives her a purpose.
She’s thinking about moving on, about riding until she finds a bounty that’s not going to get her killed when she hears a shriek and sees a woman being pulled into an alley. Emma finds a ratty looking fellow looming over the woman, two guns drawn, and one quickly pointed in her direction.
“Move on, lass, this ain’t your concern,” the predator snarls.
Emma isn’t bothered, though, she’s seen his like enough, cashed enough of them in, too, “My concern is laying at your feet. I suggest that you move along, or I’ll be turning you into the nearest sheriff.”
He laughs at that, an awful, wet sound, “You’ll be turnin’ me in, will you? You’ve got an empty head underneath that red.”
“This colt isn’t for show,” She tells him, and she’s about to say more when there’s a crack of gunfire and a bloody hole in his head. Emma looks down, and the woman is holding her pistol in both hands, staring into space where her attacker had just been.
“Emma Cullen,” she says, extending her hand to help the woman up, “sworn Warrant Officer. Are you alright?”
“Jane Hammond, ma’am.” Jane is slight, but steady when she takes Emma’s hand, “I have a job. If you’re willing.”
Emma is going gray, her bones hold onto the cold, and there’s a hollow in her chest that seems to grow by the day, but the look in Jane’s eyes is one she recognizes. It’s not fire; there’s too much sadness for flames. It’s a look of anger, of loss, of determination, and Emma knows, she knows deep within her soul, that she once looked like that: years ago, miles upon miles away, in a small town a few hours’ ride from Rose Creek, desperate for help, offering all she had—all her town had—to a Warrant Officer.