Book 3, Chapter 34 - Collateral Damage

Autumn lay in the room with her leg crudely bound. The area that was bit was numb, but otherwise ok. She looked at Cloudhawk standing before her. Because he’d helped suck out the venom, his mouth had become swollen.

Autumn was a little nervous. She hoped swelling was the only thing he’d suffer from helping her.

Of course Cloudhawk was in no danger. His special situation limited the damage toxins could do. At present he was in the process of complaining. “It’s lucky you saw it when you did. A few seconds later and you’d be dead – or least lost the leg.”

Autumn was still embarrassed by the whole ordeal. Her cheeks were red and she looked off to the side, angry and ashamed. But she was also grateful. At Cloudhawk’s dire words she looked back at him. “Was it that serious?”

“No shit. Nothing that lives in the wastelands is safe to ignore. The viper was probably hiding in the water to escape the heat. They like to cool off in water especially. Recklessly throwing it around scared it, that’s why it bit you.” Cloudhawk shook his head. “The medicine I gave you came from a friend, who got it from the sanctuary back in Skycloud. You can’t buy it out here, no matter how much money you throw around. Without it you wouldn’t be here talking to me.”

Autumn understood that all of this was because she hadn’t been careful. But she was the victim here. Not only was she bitten, but Cloudhawk also saw more of her than she was comfortable with.

The hooligan got a good eyeful and got to be the hero, but instead of improving his attitude he just treated her worse. She felt indescribably maligned, kicked while she was down. She could just die.

But she couldn’t really blame him. She had to just accept it.

***

Barb set out on her mission to learn all she could. The best way to do that, she felt, was to ask the shop assistants.

Many of the people trying to make their way to Fishmonger’s Borough were quite famous in the wastelands. That made it easy to gather information. Only the old drunkard was the exception. No one knew a thing about him, other than he’d been around for a few days.

At least the sandstorm outside had started to calm down.

Barb took advantage of the lull to go outside and get some fresh air. Outside the place was almost buried in heaps of sand. Seeing this, she was starting to understand how dangerous getting caught out in one of those storms was. A group of large men had set about shoveling out the sand and getting things in order.

Barb bent her knees and jump. She sprang a full four meters and landed nimbly on the top of the earthen walls that surrounded the hostel. She shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare with one hand and peered out into the horizon. In contrast to when they were forced to stop, now she could peer out over the whole field of quicksand.

The minefield of pits and monsters they’d dodged on the way here was just the edge. On the other side of the hostel, the same scene stretched out farther than she could wrap her head around. As far as the eye could see, all the way to the limit of her vision. She squinted as the endless sands reflected the sun’s light.

Pools of quicksand joined, creating rivers of moving sand that crisscrossed the way forward. They were hard to pick out with the naked eye, but she saw signs of them as far out as a hundred kilometers before her vision failed her. Out in the distance she could see the border where choking sands still hung in the air like a curtain. Unlike the sandstorm it was constant, an ancient staple of this deadly place that ignored wind currents.

Why would they build a city in a place like this? How did it even get a name like Fishmonger’s Borough in the middle of a desert?

Barb’s curiosity was piqued and she felt that familiar lust for adventure tugging at her. The more mysterious the thing, the more she yearned to uncover its secrets. The truth was Barb had already started to grow weary of a bounty hunter’s life, but she wasn’t strong enough to life as she wanted. Traveling with her senior killed two birds with one stone.

Alright, well that’s enough. Time to make my report.

Barb hopped off the wall and made her way back toward the entrance when a gruff series of curses caught her ear. It sounded like some sort of conflict. Curious, she approached to get a better look.

“Mother fucker! Do you know who this is?” A group of men stood huddled together. The first one she saw was a tall man covered in a thick cloak. His face was red, scorched by the sun and sand, with a mop of black hair. There was something unsavory about him, especially his face which looked gaunt as a skull. He carried a pair of large hammers as his weapons. Silent and intimidating he just stood by the door, while an older man with a large curly beard hollered. “Anyone who stands in the Red-Faced Ghost’s way dies. You fuckwits wanna be next?”

This was the Red-Faced Ghost? That was a famous name in the wastelands.

Red-Face for short, he was the boss of a bandit clan. He didn’t operate in the borderlands much, but his crew was known far and wide throughout the wastelands. In the last decade he’d made quite a name for himself, and now here he was with a dozen of his henchmen, right outside the door. Only, several hotel workers were barring them from entering.

Bonobo treated the infamous robber gang leader the same way he’d greeted Cloudhawk. “We’re full up. Come back later.”

Red-Face was silent as a tombstone.

His henchman with the curly beard swaggered forward. “Who the fuck do you think you are? You worthless sack of rotwolf puke. You’ve got some fuckin’ stones thinkin’ you can stand before the boss and talk like that!”

“Get the fuck outta here,” Bonobo replied.

The bearded man did not take that well.

Red-Face was also scowling with displeasure. He was holding back, but he wasn’t moving to stop his subordinate from acting in his stead. Seeing this the bearded man wrenched a machete from a loop on his belt. Its mirror-like sheen caught the sun, cold and brutal, thirsty for blood.

Bonobo was unimpressed. “I’ll say it one more time. Fuck off.”

The bearded bandit was done arguing. Without hesitation he whipped the blade at the owner, its tip whistling through the air. As it traveled onlookers were struck with the distinct impression that it was no mere weapon. The sword seemed like it was dragging its wielder behind its tremendous power, not the other way around. Red-Face’s right hand knew how to handle himself.

Barb suspected it would take some effort on her part if she ever had to kill him. 

The bearded man wasted no time and gave no quarter, aiming for Bono’s head. A curtain of blood arose. With a thud, a head hit the sand.

Only, the head did not belong to Bonobo.

The bandit’s sword was sharp. Sharp enough to easily slice through bone. He turned it on the hotel owner, who was unarmed. However, it was more accurate to say that Bonobo held no weapon. He used his fists.

One slap. The bearded man’s head was slapped off his shoulders like a ripe melon. Barb could hardly believe what she witnessed.

Bonobo reacted with the explosiveness of a mortar shell. Suddenly Barb knew why Cloudhawk hadn’t picked a fight when they showed up, as she could immediately see the power this ugly roughneck possessed. If Cloudhawk hadn’t have stopped her she likely would have ended up like this mouthy asshole.

Was the Red-Faced Ghost not a feared name throughout the wastelands? One of his most trusted men had been brutally murdered right before his eyes – quit literally a lethal slap in the face. But he was powerless to do anything about it.

Bonobo fixed Red-Face with a hard gaze. “Anyone else wanna give it a shot?”

“That shithead always talked too much. We went back a long ways, you saved me the trouble.” If the ghost of the brigand’s loyal follower could see his master poking his head with the toe of his boot, one wondered how he might react. But he was dead and gone. Red-Faced turned around to scold the rest of his crew. “I’ve told you lot again and again, rules are rules! You can’t break ‘em cuz they don’t suit you. Don’t like it, bring it up with this guy.”

Red-Face put his foot on the gently oozing head of the dead bandit. The rest of his crew felt their blood run cold.

The bearded man had run with Red-Face for more than ten years. Every night they shared booze and women. Then, when his head was slapped clean off, Red-Face wasn’t even mad. In fact, he didn’t seem to care much at all. It was pretty clear what he thought of them.

“Rules can’t be broken. But maybe they can be bent. You’ve got a lot of people here, but do everyone deserve a room? I’m guessin’ if someone vacates their lodging that’ll open room for us, am I right?”

As the last word rolled off his tongue, one of the bandit leader’s hammers went flying from his hand.

Right at Barb’s face.

She’d been peeping and thought she was well hidden. The hideous red-faced bandit’s sneak attack took her completely by surprise. She was quick enough to reach instinctively for her exorcist rod, but not quick enough to summon its power.

The hammer slammed into her staff.

Barb felt like she’d been hit by a truck. She was flung back a full three meters then hit the ground, coughing up a mouthful of blood.

As Red-Face was preparing to throw his second hammer a flash of yellow caught his eye. Yellow feathers sharp as daggers flashed across his throat. Only, the bandit’s skin was hard as iron, and Oddball’s surprise assault didn’t slice his neck.

Clang!

The hammer was held fast before it could leave the bandit’s hand.

“Guests are under the hotel’s protection.” Bonobo held the iron-forged head of the hammer in his grip. He tightened his fingers, leaving deep imprints in the metal. “Once they leave you can do whatever the hell you want. But while they’re here, I have the final say.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve met someone like you out here in the wastes.” Red-Face’s scowl was savage and horrible. “I’m anxious to see what the master’s capable of. Maybe we can compare notes, what do you say?”

Suddenly the long hair that sprouted from Red-Face’s head rose, though there was no wind. He reeled back, then smashed his hammer into Bonobo’s shoulder. The hotel owner stood in place, unmoving as the weapon hit. The sound that rang out was like a hammer striking an anvil. A blast of concussive energy kicked up dust several meters around them.

It didn’t even leave a mark!

Unless he was some sort of super mutant, Bonobo had to be a martial artist. Mutants relied on their physical changes to protect them from harm, but martial artists learned defensive skills that made them nearly invincible. Methods like gathering true strength from their cells moments before an attack lands to make flesh impenetrable.

The two men exchange a flurry of attacks and counterattacks.

Bang!

Bonobo’s fighting style wasn’t flashy. He slammed his fist into Red-Face’s hammer, knocking the bandit back several meters. His arms tingled from the vibrations that rang through the weapon. The famous killer was surprised at the exchange. How could this nameless hotel owner in the middle of nowhere train to such a level? His defenses were overwhelming.

Red-Face’s hammers dealt tremendous damage themselves. In their furious exchange his attacks were knocked aside, leaving massive cracks and craters in the earthen wall when it struck. Red-Face wasn’t a pushover, as strong as Bonobo in every way. In the end it was hard to tell who would win.

But, for the moment, Bonobo had the upper hand.

If Red-Face continued fighting on the back foot then the odds were against him. Still, if Bonobo was going to win it would cost him. The bandit took the initiative to back off with a mirthful chuckle. “You made a worthy protector for these travelers. I’ve caused enough trouble today. We’ll finish this up another time.”

The Red-Faced Ghost led his men away from the hotel. But he wasn’t going to give up on getting into Fishmonger’s Borough.

Red-Face was counting on what he could smuggle from the city. The rare treasures and resources Fishmonger’s Borough was said to hold were valuable, to say the least. So if doing things the right way wasn’t going to work out, then he’d had to resort to other measures. After all, there was no such thing as right or wrong out here in the wastelands. There was only what worked, and what didn’t.

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