Chapter 60 - Exposed

Greenland Outpost was able to sustain a population of fifty thousand because, unlike the rest of the wastelands, they had food and water aplenty. They also had acres of unexcavated archeological sites which were rife with tools and materials.  In other words, the only thing this place needed the most was people to dig those things up.

There were kilometers of dig sites waiting to be plundered, and fields of fertile soil which needed to be cultivated.

Considering its surroundings, the outpost needed many soldiers to help keep the oasis’ less friendly critters at bay. Workers were needed to forge and maintain equipment, and pretty girls were needed as entertainment for the affluent denizens of the Outpost who wanted for nothing.

Laborers, soldiers, and women were the goods Greenland Outpost sought. And where there was a need, there was a market and merchants to meet demand.

Greenland Outpost had a cadre of slavers, with Leonine being one of their most notable. He scoured the wastes and attracted the unfortunate with promises of surplus and comfort in Greenland Outpost. Those who survived the journey were sold as slaves, put in shackles, and thrown in cages where they were ‘domesticated’ through torture.

It wasn’t the first time Leonine had sold a batch of humans in this way. He alone had brought a hundred and fifty high-quality chattels to work in the outpost. Most became soldiers or laborers, but he’d brought a few valuable women as well. Leaders from the outpost were pleased with his product.

As the prisoners yelled and spat, levying curses on him and all he touched, Leonine was unmoved. He watched with cold, unfeeling indifference.

His goods would be escorted by armed guards to the slave vault, one of the most highly policed area of the settlement. Guards were posted everywhere inside and out, and they were locked behind massive iron doors. Once slaves entered the prison, any chance of escape was gone.

Slaves were forced to bear inhuman treatment, molded little by little until they were broken and gave in to their fate. They were worked to death digging wells and then fed to beasts while the women were reduced to toys. All of them were consigned to a terrible fate, and eventually they would die.

Leonine felt guilt for none of this. There was no place for it in the wastes.

The outpost guard leader spoke as they walked toward the slave camp. “As always, we take forty percent, you keep sixty. For the time being just wait for the word.”

This fuckin vampire. He was making a killing without any risk, but Leonine had no option but to accept the guard leader’s shakedown. If he didn’t the guard leader would either fudge the reports or undersell his goods and Leonine would suffer because of it. He had to swallow his pride and take it.

Leonine used some water to scrub himself clean, changed his clothes, then went home. He made his way to a squat stone building, one of the remaining structures from the old city, and gently rapped on the door.

“Who is it!” An anxious voice called out from inside. It sounded like a young boy.

“It’s me.”

The door opened only a crack and a small head peeked out. A boy no older than ten looked up at Leonine, and though young he was very vigilant. He clasped a revolver in his hand.

When he saw who it was the boy’s eyes lit up. He threw his arms open and gave Leonine a hug.

Suddenly Leonine’s loaded, wrinkled scowl disappeared and he smiled. He wrapped one of his arms around the child in a hug of his own. When he spoke he did so with a gentle and fatherly tone. “Look at this guy with the gun I gave him. You plannin’ to use it on me?”

The child vehemently shook his head. “You said that I was a man. I have to protect my mom and my sister!”

“Yeah, good boy.”

Leonine picked him up and walked into the shabby dwelling. Inside, a modest-looking middle aged woman was perched on the side of a bed. She was looking after a small girl, maybe five or six. The little one had a head of tousled flaxen hair that made her look like an adorable little imp, only she was all skin and bone. A large growth had taken over the left side of her neck – some kind of malignant tumor.

This woman, the boy, and the sick child were a family. Yes, a family. This frail clan was everything Leonine had in the world!

Although they were staying here, they weren’t citizens of the outpost. It cost a significant amount of money to house them here, and just getting water and grains for his young ones was a great expense, especially since they couldn’t work. Sometimes it was so much of a weight Leonine found it hard to breathe.

One disaster after another had plagued the slaver.

Half a year ago his daughter had started to show signs of illness. The growth had started to show, bulging out of the left side of her neck. Day by day she seemed to get weaker, frailer. Leonine did everything he could think of to try and save her and brought her to doctors in the outpost who were equipped with high technology from the old days. However, enlisting their help came at a staggering cost.

Leonine had to earn more, and risks would be necessary. Slave trading was a way to increase his income so he could save enough for his daughter’s treatment. It was an arduous situation, definitely, and he wasn’t sure how long his little girl would last.

Leonine put the boy down. He made his way over to the bed and took the woman’s hand in his. “How is she?”

“It’s getting worse.” She was a common looking woman, time and stress had made her haggard. “She doesn’t eat a thing and she sleeps all day. She’ll wake up maybe once and complain that she wants to see her daddy.”

She couldn’t keep the knot in her throat from creeping into her voice.

With all the talking, the afflicted little girl’s eyes fluttered open. They were brown and beautiful, and clear as pure crystal. In this putrid wasteland, it was hard to find eyes like these.

The little girl struggled to extend her stick-thin hand and put it in Leonine’s calloused own. There was joy in her sparkling eyes as she looked at him, like she’d forgotten all the pain wracking her little body. She called to him, her voice as thin and frail as the beating wings of a mosquito. “Don’t go daddy… okay?”

“Stop your nonsense and get some rest.” He kissed her tiny hand. “I’ve almost got enough money. We’re gonna get you the best doctors and it’s gonna be just like before.”

“Brother and Mommy are always being bullied by bad men. You have to stay, Daddy.” Tears had begun to gather in her eyes, twinkling in the dim light. “I don’t feel bad. Honest. I don’t.”

Leonine’s eyes were red. She was eight years old, but she knew she didn’t have much time left. The little girl didn’t want her father to be in danger when her mother and brother needed him here.

Leonine shut his eyes against the painful thought. He couldn’t give up, he couldn’t. Even though he knew there was so little hope.

The middle-aged woman wiped the edges of her eyes and spoke to Leonine. “You must be tired after all that travelling. Let me fix you some food, we’ll eat together tonight.”

No matter how dark the world had become, no matter how cruel the wasteland, no matter how hard just living was, whenever he finished a task and laid his tired bones down at home surrounded by family, Leonine was happy. He was willing to do anything to protect this.

They weren’t together long before…

“Hey, is Leonine home?” A guard barged in. “Your batch has been looked over. Please go to the Fort to collect your earnings.”

Leonine didn’t delay. He headed toward the fort at once.

Greenland Fort dominated the outpost from its center, the ivory tower from which its leadership rules.

The building occupied about five thousand square feet of land and was forty or fifty meters high. It was big enough that ten thousand people could live in it, and those that did were the best of the outpost. Denizens of the fort had cleaner water, better healthcare, and safer accommodations.

Leonine’s dream was to one day move his family into the tower.

The highest floor was reserved for the outpost leader. Over a hundred and fifty hand-picked bodyguards were permanently stationed there, who also acted as caretakers of the more than two hundred women he kept for his personal use. Anyone else without official business wasn’t permitted to enter.

Leonine followed the guard, who led him right to the boss’ lobby.

The boss was entertaining someone, and so Leonine stood silently to one side and waited his turn. While he did, the slaver took furtive glances at the people the boss was meeting with. They were three strange men. One of them was dressed entirely in black and a tubed mask covered his face. Another also wore black but it was the natural hue of his coal-black skin, and a pair of bulls horns grew from his skull. The final one was younger, and his back hoisted a pair of wings.

Greenland Outpost’s boss was known for being fierce by nature – they called him Hydra. However, as he spoke with the three mutants he was clearly being deferential. If he didn’t know better, Leonine would have said there was some fear there as well.

The black-clad one spoke in a voice cold as death. “Don’t forget, Hydra, this place would be nothing if not for the master’s help. Without his support you wouldn’t be the boss. Now suddenly you’re wearing big boy pants and want to stand on your own?”

Hydra was actually wearing a suit of armor with a sword strapped to his waist, and one dead eye was covered by an eye patch. His face was craggy and fierce, far from attractive. He was a burly man, tall and muscular, but the look in his single eye was deep as a well. He scowled somewhat as he spoke with the man in black but spoke in respectful tones. “Like you said, everything I have is all thanks to our master. I wouldn’t dare to betray him. Only, for you three to request two thousand men… you are asking a great deal for this outpost, and you’ll forgive me if I’m not eager to agree.”

“Hydra, you clearly have no idea what’s good for you!” The winged youth ripped a falchion from its sheath. He thrust it toward the outpost leader, fast as lightning. “If you won’t follow orders then what the fuck are you good for?! Might as well kill you and install someone else!”

The bull-horned man caught his companion’s sword with his bare hand. The keen metal rang against his fingers like it was striking steel or stone, and left no wound. “Don’t be so hasty, Third Brother.”

Hydra’s hand rested on the pommel of his weapon. “You have to at least tell me why you need so many people.”

The one in black answered, his voice light and aloof. “We’re chasing a pair of demonhunters.”

“Demonhunters?”

“In short, we lost them in a sandstorm. We need more men to help pick up the trail.” He paused for a moment then went on. “Also, I’m prepared to offer a reward to the outpost’s mercenaries. If anyone finds these two and delivers them to us, they’ll be richly compensated.”

A strange look came over Hydra’s face. “How will we know them? Don’t misunderstand, I ask because I might take part in the search personally.”

“One male, one female. The female’s age is unknown – perhaps around twenty. She prefers a mask, wears gloves, and has a cross pendant she wears around her neck. The boy is fifteen or sixteen with black hair and eyes. He is thin and carries a strange staff with him, rather prism shaped…”

As the man in black gave his description a voice called out from below.

“Them?!”

The three mutant commanders and the outpost leader were strong and skilled individuals. Of course they heard the words, and when they turned their heads to find its source they spied a tall man with a large beard looking back at them.

Hydra narrowed his eyes. “Leonine? Did you just say something? Don’t tell me you have an idea where these demonhunters might be?”

“Oh, I know where they are. Hell, I can bring ‘em right to ya!” But he suddenly had a thought, and stepped forward to face the man in black. “But you gotta keep your word!”

The three men looked quietly at each other for a moment. Eventually the man in black spoke. “You have my word… so long as you deliver.”

Leonine blurted it right out. “I already brought ‘em here. They’re in the outpost, locked up in the slave vault!”

They fell silent again and the mutants looked at each other in obvious surprise. Could it be they wouldn’t have to wear out the soles of their shoes scouring the Wastelands? Did their prey come in from heat only to land feet-first in the fire?

Hydra glanced at Leonine, a dark look flashing through his eyes, then immediately spoke out as well. “I’ll bring them to you!”

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