Book 5, Chapter 36 - Rhino's Decision

Rhino, Sandspire’s ultimate warrior, was a man known as much for his arrogance as for his strength. That mighty conceit took a blow when he suffered defeat at the hands of the southern strangers. It was one of the lowest points in his life.

But what he really couldn’t stomach – the fact that ached worst of all – was how that invincible southerner had crumbled before Greenland’s plain-looking representative.

Such a dramatic contrast in power made Rhino finally grasp how insignificant he really was. All of his posturing and conceit was merely a show. He had been the biggest ant in the anthill, only to be stomped on by an elephant.

Although Rhino was somebody in Sandspire, that city was nothing compared to the vastness of the wastes. Out there in the barren expanse, he didn’t even amount to a fart on the wind. Before the truly strong, he was about as threatening as an insect.

Luckily, his hide-like flesh saved him from death, though the defeat was a crushing and bitter one. The wounds it left behind weren’t of his body, but of his spirit. It changed him, so that as he recuperated he made no threats to anyone and kept to himself.

He had seen at last what true power was in this world, he knew he had no right to be so arrogant any longer.

As he came face to face with the crushing realization, an idea started to rumble around in Rhino’s head. It was an idea that got its hooks into him, one he couldn’t let go of. So it was that after a few days he turned that idea into action.

Rhino made a final visit to Sand Viper before setting off. The city’s Governor was a little shocked and unhappy with the sudden change. “You’re preparing to leave?”

The three-meter tall giant of a man had a scar on his chest about the size of a wash basin. When he was well enough to move, Rhino had decided it was time to go.

Sandspire didn’t have many capable men. It was a shame to see him go. Sand Viper’s displeasure was evident on his face. Things were rather unstable in the city as of late, and word was the Three-Eyed Spider was back in the southern wastes. It was only a matter of time before he turned his focus on his former haunts.

Three-Eyed Spider was not a threat Sand Viper could afford to ignore. He must have joined a dangerous northern organization by now.

So there was no question that when – not if – Three-Eyed Spider decided to act, Sandspire would be in for serious trouble. This fact kept Sand Viper up at night. In fact, the only reason he hadn’t abdicated his control over the city already was because of Greenland’s support.

“I’m just here to tell you what I’ve decided. It’s not up for discussion. I’m leaving and no one will convince me to stay.” Rhino was just as stubborn as his namesake. He was steadfast no matter what stood in his way. “I plan to wander the wastelands. Sandspire is too small, and if I stay here for the rest of my life I’ll never learn what the world is really like. I won’t even learn was true strength is. Now I’ve said my piece, and there’s nothing more to it. I don’t think we’ll ever see each other again.”

And that was that. Rhino turned around and left. 

Sand Viper couldn’t say he didn’t understand the sentiment. Rhino was an important piece of Sand Viper’s strength, but he wasn’t going to try and compel him to stay. After suffering such a humiliating loss… the mental effects had to be catastrophic for Rhino.

“If you want to leave, I won’t stop you. But if the word is to believe and the southern wilds are stirring, now isn’t the time to go wander aimlessly. Have you thought about where you’ll go?”

Rhino hesitated. He had no answer to give. He’d only decided that it was time to go but had given no thought as to where.

“The wastelands are in crisis. So far as I can see, if you leave without a plan, even a man as strong as you will be taken by the desert sooner rather than later.” A thought occurred to the governor, which he voiced immediately. “I have a recommendation, if you’re willing to try your luck.”

“Where do you suggest,” Rhino asked.

“Greenland!”

Rhino’s ugly face twisted into a dour scowl.

“Greenland has put it out that they’re looking for capable people and have scoured the wastes for two sorts. The first are those with a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the other are the strongest warriors they can find. I heard there have been quite a number of people who’ve flocked to the city already to see if they make the cut. If you make the cut, you’ll immediately have status and a slew of benefits.”

Sand Viper rose to his feet. “Look, it’s no secret that you can’t beat those folks with supernatural powers. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re one hell of a warrior. I know they’ll see how important you are. Why not prove it to them?”

It was the first time Rhino had heard Greenland was recruiting. But was that what he wanted?

“You say you’re leaving Sandspire so you can see what real power is. Well, as far as I know there are only three places where you’ll find your answer; the south, the Elysian lands, and Greenland. Try as you might, I don’t think there’s any way you’re getting into the southern wilds or the Elysian lands.” Sand Viper spoke with certainty. “That leaves only Greenland for you to discover what you’re after.”

The Governor’s words made sense, but Rhino was still uncertain. Greenland had many strong and mysterious people. It was rich, safe, and definitely a fine place to make one’s living.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to go. He’d insulted Greenland’s unimpressive leader when he’d come to visit so what chance did he have of being accepted? He shared his concerns, to which Sand Viper laughed and assured him it would be alright.

Sand Viper and Cloudhawk had been in contact often over the last few days. After sixty years, the old man had learned to read a person’s character pretty well. Greenland’s new Governor was a man with a mysterious past, powerful and domineering. Small grievances were of no concern, and in fact if he let someone like Rhino get to him then he was just debasing himself.

Sand Viper had another thought. “How about I send Sand Tiger with you, bearing a letter of introduction from me? That should be more than enough to ensure nothing happens to you. That should be fine.”

Indeed, the suggestion made Rhino happy. Sand Viper was right. There was nowhere to go but Greenland, so he might as well set up shop. 

Rhino agreed and left. Sand Viper then immediately ordered his son to come pay a visit.

“This is an excellent opportunity. Greenland’s criteria are growing stricter by the day for those they accept, but if you go with him then Rhino’s acceptance is assured. He’ll be Greenland’s man.” Sand Viper quickly shared his idea. “Set out immediately with Rhino and your men. Don’t come back to Sandspire unless absolutely necessary.”

There was something unusual in the Governor’s voice and words. On the surface, it looked like Sand Viper was trying to help Rhino out of the kindness of his heart. In reality, Rhino had just been conscripted as a bodyguard. The Governor’s real intention was to send Sand Tiger to Greenland and install him there.

“Things are going to get bad in the wastelands. I have a feeling the coming fight will be unlike anything we’ve seen. I want you to be safe, and the safest place for you is Greenland.”

“If I go, then what about you?” 

“Don’t worry about me. I am still Governor. They won’t get rid of me so easily. Anyhow, as my son, you will almost certainly be given special treatment in Greenland. Meanwhile, I can focus on matters here. There’s nothing to consider. Take advantage of this opportunity. There’s no time to waste.”

It was a grim premonition from Sand Viper. Greenland would become one of the few safe havens in the coming storm.

Sand Tiger knew his father to be a wise and prudent man, so he gathered his people and prepared to leave. All together, he had twenty men, several of them talented scientists, and also employed two particularly special characters. They were a brother and sister, newcomers to the city.

When news came to Gray Rabbit and Sister Bug that they would be leaving the city, they were terrified. Their whole world had consisted of Sandspire and the ruins surrounding it. They’d never known or cared about what existed outside.

If they’d been given a choice, they would never leave Sandspire. But they didn’t have a choice, and weren’t even given an explanation. So they set off, an uneasy pair among a group with similar misgivings.

Sand Viper watched his son disappear into the horizon with a delighted smile on his face. This was as much as he could do. His son would be safe, and now he could put all of his attention toward other things.

Two days later.

Rhino led Sand Tiger and the rest of the group toward Greenland City. During the journey that’d be attacked several times by roving bands of mutated animals. Luckily, Rhino kept them all safe. Although the beasts around Greenland were in many cases more dangerous than those around Sandspire, Rhino performed his bodyguard duties ably and everyone was in one piece.

“This… this is Greenland?” Rhino was stunned when he saw the place. 

Everyone had heard the stories, that Greenland City was a rare gem among the barren landscapes of the southern wastelands – a place covered in dense forests and vegetation. But now that Rhino saw it with his own eyes, he was amazed at the scope of it.

Even more striking was the seamless cascade of energy that shimmered around the border. To his eyes, it looked like a sort of massive glass bowl placed over the top of the forest. However when he looked up, he saw different sorts of flying animals trying to fly through, only to be repelled by the strange power.

It was some sort of shield! A protective covering that enveloped the whole area. What wastelander had ever encountered such a miraculous thing?

Were the stories true? Was this place protected by nature itself? Just the sight of this light curtain shield filled the onlookers with a sense of safety. When they came to the entrance, they found it flooded with wastelanders seeking entry.

A number of infamous and dangerous figures were patiently waiting in line. 

It was incredible that Greenland could have such a draw on people. So many of the wasteland’s best people were here, hoping to earn a spot in the new realm! It filled Rhino with excitement. Here was a crowd of people no less powerful than he. A real collection of power.

All of them were waiting in line, hoping for a shot. Greenland was a paradise for men like this, a place where the mighty were as plentiful as the clouds.

This was the reason Rhino left, wasn’t it? It looked like coming to Greenland was the right decision.

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