Race could only see Cole's sightless eyes peering up at him through the blood. Cole, who had raised Race like a brother after Race's family was killed during a looting outbreak just days before Race's ninth birthday. Cole had taken him in and taught him the ways of this world, honed Race's predator mentality, and tutored him into a fine thinking machine.
But now Cole lay dead at Race's feet and all Race could do was think of revenge. Memories of everything Cole had ever done with him and the times they shared swirled in a red miasma of rage behind Race's blue eyes. Tears and loss welled up and threatened to overflow but didn't. Instead Race's gun hand pulled out his sidearm and jammed it none-too-gently into the chin of Cole's murderer. With teeth firmly clenched, he snarled, "You want my answer, Swurgdal? Well here it is! Hope you like it!"
The dark-skinned man called Swurgdal had squinty little eyes, but they quickly bulged with realization that he was possibly moments away from losing his life. Nevertheless, his face remained placid. He regained control of his eyes and looked at the weapon in his face with a bored annoyance. The five other men with him had already drawn and each had a point-blank shot on the boy, Cole's protege.
Swurgdal grinned and shook his head as he stared down his would-be killer, "Not yet boys, not yet. Hold your fire."
"Look," Swurgdal explained, "even if you put fifty bullets in his head he's still going to be able to get off one shot before he dies, right? And I've gotta think that it would be pretty friggin' unlikely for him to miss, eh Ragbon? Considering he's got his gun halfway up my sinuses at this point! So just take a damned second to harness that trigger finger of yours!"
Race quickly glanced at the man behind Swurgdal, his second-in-command. Ragbon was a dense, thick, physical presence whose facial expressions indicated he would like nothing more than to kill Race. His green eyes were cold and looked like the only time they felt joy was when Ragbon was hurting someone. The bloodlust pounded in those icy eyes with every heartbeat, and for a moment Race knew he was going to die by this maniac's hand, but just as quickly the hunger to kill receded and Ragbon ran his tongue over thick, scarred lips as he called out to the others, "Hold yer fire!"
Swurgdal spoke then to Race, still staring down the barrel of Race's pistol, "Now keep in mind, young one, that I did not tell Ragbon and the boys to holster their weapons and start knitting a colorful throw. Know that you will be dead exactly one second after you pull that trigger of yours. Capiche?"
"So let's just talk this over so everyone walks away, huh?"
Race's gun hand trembled with rage. He spat, "Like you let Cole walk away?"
Swurgdal sighed, "Cole lacked the vision to get the tribes through this ordeal. Leadership requires tough decisions be made for the good of the collective. Trust me, your Hema Clan will be stronger without him, and I'll tell you why. The five clans have been at war with each other for generations, and I'll let you in on a little secret: five groups of people pulling at the same prize are guaranteed to fail. The only thing that will bring the tribes out of these difficult times is a single, unerring voice to lead us all."
"Uh-huh. Your voice, I take it?"
"Of course. Because I can make the hard decisions."
The dark clouds coming in from the sea deepened the maroon sky above them, the gusting wind tugged at their scarves and lapels. Race saw no way out of this. He was condemned to death no matter what he did; once he had pulled his weapon his fate had been sealed. It finally seemed as though Race's impetuous nature would cause his demise. He looked up at Swurgdal's smug little eye slits and thought screw it!
"And I can avenge my fallen friends," he said and pulled the trigger