Disclaimer: I don't own anything to do with Red Dead Redemption. This is just an idea that's been rattling around in the ol' noggin for awhile. Please read, review and enjoy!

Hope still rides

These were dark days.

Clouds always seemed to hang in the sky and on some days it seemed as though some sort of miasma came from the land itself, choking the life out of anything living.

Not that there was much that was actually living out there. Not in the normal sense of the word.

It was another day at Fort Mercer, hearing the undead hordes shuffling about outside, their moans a constant chorus of the dammed that brought nightmares even to those who had actually managed to fall asleep and a constant reminder of the hell that the world had become.

The scent of rotting flesh had settled into everyone's noses by now, smothering the scent of anything else with its own suffocating stench. Until not even the smell of cooked meat (a very, very rare treasure these days) could displace the smell.

To make matters even worse, lately there was a new stink added to the mix. Retchers, the acid spitting undead were getting more and more common around these parts. And they were constantly spitting on the walls of the fort to gradually weaken them. The people in the fort tried to stop them but the sheer numbers overwhelmed them and now the retchers were so close to the wall that if you shot them they would blow up all over the wall, weakening it so much faster.

And everyone in the fort was nearly out of ammo. Some of them not even having two bullets to rub together.

"We're going to die aren't we."

A young boy of about 8 years old said to nobody in particular as a group sat around the fire.

"We're all gonna die. And when we do we're all just gonna become one of those things out there."

Nobody bothered to try and argue with or comfort the boy. He was right and they all knew it. They all knew it all too well.

The boy continued to stare blankly ahead from his seated position. He was just another orphan who's family had either been devoured by the undead right in from of him. Or worse, his family was now part of the undead horde.

Out of the throng of people, a young woman walked over to the boy and sat down next to him.

"What do you want?" he asked bitterly.

"To do what no one else here can do. Offer you hope child."

The boy just scoffed bitterly and did his best to ignore this stupid woman.

"The walls are weakening! Everybody take aim!"

Most people in the fort only had one shot left in their guns, two at the most. The really lucky ones had managed to scrounge up three. Not that that mattered, even if all the guns in the fort were fully loaded it still would be about as helpful as pissing in the wind against the hoard out there.

The boy looked at the crumbling wall lifelessly as lovers said tear filled farewells or tried to comfort each other. Even it they both knew they were lying through their teeth. And many started looking at their own pistols, contemplating whether or not to let the hoard take them and go down fighting, or to make their death quick.

"I'm going to die here today."

"No you will not child."

Now the woman was just making the boy angry. "What do you know? I lost my ma when those dead people first showed up. It was just me and my pa for a while. Then the dead rose again and took my pa right in front of me. Ripped into him like animals."

As much as the boy hated it, he felt tears starting to fall from his eyes as he remembered his parents.

"They took my ma, my pa, now they here for me. And ain't nobody left to protect me or any of us now."

BANG!

A lone crack of a pistol seemed to echo in the deathly fort followed by a thud as the now headless corpse of a man still clutching a smoking pistol fell to the ground. Near to where the boy was.

The people in the fort barely even looked at the corpse before going back to their own affairs. Their own last moments.

The boy though got up from his spot and picked the pistol up and looked to see if it had and more bullets. This man had been one of the more fortunate ones. There had been two bullets in here, now just down to one.

Slowly, he loaded the bullet and cocked the pistol. It was harder than his pa had made it look but he did it. Then he took the gun in his hands and tried to lift it but it was so heavy.

But just as he was about to finally get it off the ground, the woman placed her soft hand on top of his.

"I'd wait on that if I were you child."

"Why? Ain't got no hope here. I ain't ever gonna grow up to be a big man like my ma and pa told me I would."

"Who said that was no hope here child? The undead were stopped once who's to say they won't be stopped again?"

The boy was about to reply when a rather large chunk of the wall fell down with a crash. The wall was barely holding together now.

"When the undead first began to walk the world child, there was a man who took up arms against them. Who saved whole towns and countless people from the hoards. And who finally was able to bring a stop to the madness. And what kept him going you may ask? His family."

She smiled a bit. "Some would say he was a bad man. Others say he was a great man. Other's still would say he was a bad man, but perhaps, with a good soul. But one thing is certain, John Marston, would travel anywhere, face any danger, to protect that which he valued far more than his own life. His family."

"They're coming in!"

More chunks of the wall crumbled, some actually squashing an undead or two. People hugged themselves together and three more gunshots rang out. Two of them accompanied by falling corpses and one by a wail of an injured undead.

"I heard about Marston," the boy said interested despite himself. "Pa said he was practically a legend round here. But he's dead too. He ain't gonna save us."

The woman's eyes gleamed with mischief. "Dear child, do you think a man such as that would let death stop him from protecting his family? Many say that he has risen up from the dead, but instead of longing for flesh, he longs to protect the people from this nightmare. They say he rides a pale stallion that brings death to the undead wherever he rides. His aim just as deadly as when he was alive. And if there's one thing I know for certain about John Marston…"

The was almost in shambles now, and the undead, sensing their next meal nearby, began to jeer and growl with excitement.

"…is that he will not stop."

The whimpering of many other women and children and even a fair portion of the men began to reach a crescendo even as it was drowned out by the ravenous undead outside.

"He will not rest."

The few men and women still with guns gripped them in a white knuckle grip. Their teeth clenching with fear more than determination.

"He will not give up."

"They're coming!" The wall fell down and the last shots of all the guns

In the fort fired in one last moment of defiance.

"Until this nightmare has ended."

The undead gave a ghastly cheer and surged into the fort.

But before they could really get into the fort, six shots rang out so fast that it didn't seem possible that they were shot from one gun.

Then something landed in the midst of the undead which caused them to turn around and start grabbing at it. It looked like…

An explosion rocked the fort and blew dozens of the undead to pieces. Boom Bait was extremely rare, who could have…?

There was no time to think of the question as a horse cried out in the silent din and people looked to see where it came from.

A lone rider was riding his horse right through the middle of the hordes of undead. Heedless of any peril but most shocking, the heads of all the undead were bursting as though shot as the horse passed them by. The rider rode faster and faster until the horse jumped over a pair of retchers and landed in the fort. The retchers falling to the ground headless as well.

The rider looked back and brought out a pistol and fired it so fast and so accurately that it seemed like his hand was just a blur as an undead fell from perfect shots to the head.

The rider whirled his horse around and it rose up on its hind legs giving a war cry and that was when everybody saw the rider and the horse clearly for the first time.

The horse was pale and seemed to have a strange mist surrounding it. Everyone in the fort had a feeling that this horse was not of this world. But it was the rider that commanded the most shock.

For starters he was undead, with flesh and bones rotting and skin peeling away. But no undead was able to use guns, much less ride a horse. And this undead was dressed in a strange garb with a wide hat.

But that was lost on the people of Fort Mercer as he gave a guttural wordless cry and drove his horse right into the fray of the undead. Loading his pistol and firing another volley of shots, all perfectly aimed at the heads of the undead.

When he ran out of bullets he switched to a firebottle and threw it at the undead still trying to get into the fort. Then he threw a plain stick of dynamite and watched as another massive group of undead blew into pieces before switching to a rifle.

But the deadliest weapon of the rider seemed to be his horse. Any undead who got near him died instantly as its head just burst apart.

But as deadly as the rider was, he was only one rider and the undead quickly started to move in on the people of the fort while he was distracted.

"HELP!"

Several undead began to swarm over a young girl and her family. No one tried to help them, they were already dead to them.

But the rider turned around and ran his horse right back into the fort, he shot one of the undead before his rifle clicked with lack of ammo so he drew a bottle from his coat and threw it at them.

The bottle appeared to just be water but the undead screamed as it covered them, leaving the girl and her family unharmed as they quickly ran away to the farthest corner of the fort. The rider growled and threw another bottle outside of the fort. Just a bottle of bait the old snake oil sailsman made a long time ago and the undead went after it and away from the fort.

This gave the rider a chance to reload his weapons before he gave another guttural challenge and rode into the horde again.

No one can tell how much time passed, but every last person at Fort Mercer watched as the lone rider slew the horde by the dozens by himself. And despite themselves, they felt something they hadn't felt for the longest time, something they had forgotten about. Hope.

After what felt like the longest time, the hordes of undead began to thin and soon, what was once a mass of hundreds became a mass of dozens and then there were only a few left.

The boy had made his way to the upper level of the fort along with everybody else and watched the single rider mow down the undead. The gun forgotten in his hand.

But then, the rider was knocked off by an undead just before its head exploded. The horse began to stamp around and kill undead on its own. But it left the rider with just his own guns.

That seemed to be enough as he continued to shoot faster than the eye could see, but then the boy saw a retcher lumbering toward the rider from behind. The rider didn't notice it.

The boy began to feel a bit of panic. He couldn't let this rider die. If he died then…

Out of impulse, the boy lifted the revolver and set it on the top of the wall. Desperately trying to remember what his pa said about shooting, took aim at the retcher as it was about to spray the rider and fired.

The boy was lucky he didn't miss, not completely at least. Instead he hit the beast in the shoulder which threw his aim off just a bit.

It also alerted the rider who spun around and put one in the skull of the retcher.

Then with a whistle, the rider called his horse back to him. But six more undead still formed a half circle around the rider and charged him. But the rider held his ground, dropped his rifle, drew his pistol faster than the eye could see. Six shots rang out and six undead fell.

With a flourish, the rider pocketed his pistol and got up on his horse again. The rider took a look at the boy who was just getting back up from being knocked down by the pistol's kick and tipped his hat toward him. Then he reared his horse again and ran off after the setting sun.

The people of the fort were silent a moment then whispers began to spread about the rider and then finally a great cheer rose up and people began to celebrate, hugging their loved ones, their families even their enemies. Once again, not a single person didn't have tears in their eyes. But this time, the tears were for something alien to this dead land. Joy.

"You see child. Even when death surrounds you, there is always hope. You just have to protect it."

The boy turned around to ask what the woman's name was but when he did, she was gone. He looked around and she was nowhere to be found…

"Alright everyone, we're still alive. If we want to remain that way we gotta fix that wall up as much as we can. Also you two! Scavenge the bodies, maybe they have some ammo on them. Let's get going!"

With that, the people began to get to their tasks but as the boy looked around, there was a new energy in their movements. Everyone was…alive.

The leader of the fort, a grizzled man with a white hat and an old marshal's badge walked over to the boy and patted his head.

"Thanks for saving him boy. You did good."

The boy just nodded. "You have to protect hope, otherwise there ain't none."

The marshal smiled. "Never thought of that before. Let's get you something to eat boy."

The marshal turned and started to head down toward what passed for a kitchen in this fort closely followed by the boy. But before the boy went down the ladder, he took one last look in the direction the rider left.

There was still someone fighting to end this nightmare and not just survive another day. Someone who would not stop, would not rest, and would not give up until this nightmare had ended.

Perhaps it wasn't much. The boy's parents were still dead and he still missed them, the undead still walked the earth. And just because he was saved this day that didn't mean he'd be saved tomorrow. But still…even in the middle of all this death, there was still a bit of hope.

The boy finally smiled just a little bit.

A long time later and far away…

"Hehehehehehehe, c'mon Jimmy boy! Play us another tune go on now."

A skinny man wearing little more than rags and a strange mask urged an undead with a harmonica to play a tune. After some more prompting, the undead blew on the harmonica making small tuneless noises.

"That's it Jimmy boy! Now let's go Darla, may I have this dance?" he gave a large bow and curtsy to which the only reply he got was "ugghhhghhh."

"Why thank you darlin' now then," he grabbed her arms. "Swing your partner do si do…"

Snap!

The lady undead's arms came off as the little man twirled around too quickly.

"Ooops. Sorry darlin' we'll get these sewn back on right away. Jimmy! You got the sewing needle? Jimmy?"

He looked back at the harmonica playing Jimmy only to see he had a knife in his forehead.

"Now why would you put a knife in your head Jimmy? You just can't find good help these days. Not to worry Darla darlin' I'll be right back with that…Darla?"

Darla now had a knife in her head as well.

"Well hell, even the undead are startin' to die all around me. Well better go make some new friends."

He turned to leave only to run face first into an unyielding (and smelly) wall of person.

"Who the?! Paul?" He took a step back and lifted his mask to look at his new guest. He seemed rather…

"Ha…hahahaw! Marston! John Marston! Hahaha! My old pal John good to see you ol' buddy! Oh we are gonna have such good times together. Better than the old times we'll be…hey!"

John roughly grabbed the mask out of the little man's hand and shoved him down. Drawing his blunderbuss as he did so and aiming it down at the little man in front of him.

"Now John…we can work this out right? Partner?"

The vocal chords of John Marston had rotted a long time ago along with many other bits and pieces. But John looked him right in the eye and croaked out,

"No."

The blunderbuss turned the man that was once known as Seth into a red mist.

The being that had been John Marston in life pocketed the mask and left the small cave without ever looking back.

A few days later, the sun rose up in all its glory for the first time in a long time. As a new day finally dawned. And in a cavern now collapsed and sealed off from the outside world by several sticks of dynamite, a strange mask once again rested on a plain pedestal. Many undead bodies lay around the cavern except one in a strange garb with weapons still strapped onto him rested against the pedestal as though guarding it.

And from a certain angle, it almost seemed as though the rotted face of John Marston was smiling as the dawn rose upon a world now wakened from its nightmare.