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Regent Sunny, a highly-skilled fighter and the deadliest “Head Clipper” for Baron Quinn battles the Nomads to rescue a mysterious boy named M.K. who harbors a dark secret about his past. But when he brings him back to The Fort to train as a “Colt”, a Clipper-in-training, things quickly get out of hand with another trainee. When first blood is drawn, M.K. loses control of himself as if something takes over his body, making the boy valuable to an opposing baron, The Widow. Meanwhile, Sunny discovers M.K.’s pendant has the same image as the one on his childhood compass of a place called Azra, the boy’s home. In order to seek out the truth about his own past, Sunny wants to know more of this city beyond the Badlands, and must find a way out, especially now that his lover Veil is illegally pregnant with his child.
In a territory known as the Badlands, encompassing several states located between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River, a feudal society has developed to fill the power vacuum left by the war. Barons control land and monopolies over commodities like opium and fuel, trading amongst themselves to maintain the peace. Each baron is served by a massive workforce of slaves called cogs, as well as a prostitute class called dolls. A baron maintains power through an army of young men and women called clippers: highly trained and loyal warriors, clippers are forbidden from marrying and having children lest their loyalties be divided. Each clipper force is captained by a regent.
Several groups exist outside the strict hierarchy of the barons. Nomads are the most common, mostly lawless homicidal bandits who subsist on stealing from trade convoys between the baronies but some live in organized clans. The River King and his men control water trade in the Badlands and beyond, and is considered a neutral party in the barons’ power struggles. An ascetic religious movement called the Totemists is also shown to exist on the fringes of society, living in isolated communities and practicing a form of idol worship. The Widow leads a revolutionary group of anti-feudal fighters from her late husband’s barony; although nominally recognized as a baron by her peers, they do not respect her, and the contempt is mutual.
Little is known of the world beyond the Badlands, but it is implied that it is far less politically stable and environmentally sound like the Badlands. The mythical utopian city of Azra is believed to exist outside the Badlands but, most dismiss it as a legend.
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