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Water, the wanderer pleaded to himself, I need water.
Sunlight poured over the pitch-black sand, which stretched as far as the eye could see. The wanderer trudged along, staring at his feet that sizzled even through his brown worn-out boots. Tins, cans, and jugs clanked together on his backpack with every step. He thought the sound mocked him, their emptiness an insult. His throat was parched, his stomach empty, his legs shaking, and there seemed to be no end in sight. Just another day in the life of a wanderer, he smirked to himself despite it all.
The wanderer looked up from his feet to look around. Maybe there is something over that hill. As he reached the base of the hill the wind buffeted him with sand, his whole body being protected by his large cloak. His exposed eyes, however, were covered with the sand as he began to slog his way up. It felt like an eternity, but eventually the top was reached. Looks like my instincts were right, he mildly celebrated.
At the bottom of the other side was a shantytown, the only kind of town one would hope to run into these days. The small shacks that composed the town were barely held together pieces of scrap metal, and they surrounded one very large shack that the wanderer recognized instantly. A bar. Making his way down the hill, the wanderer noted the emaciated people that seemed to be wandering aimlessly between the shacks. This did not surprise him, almost everyone has been starving since the World fell. He felt himself lucky he had any coins to give the bar in the first place.
Stares bored into him as he walked into the shantytown and towards the bar. Clearly, his covered appearance was unusual to them. This did not bother the wanderer, and he ignored it as he passed through. At the entrance to the bar was a one-eyed cyclops whose stare was more intense than all the other townsfolk combined.
“You thinking of entering this here establishment?” the cyclops said when he approached.
“Yes,” is all the wanderer said as he lowered the hood of the cloak and showed off some of his coins. The cyclops grinned at the sight.
“Mr. Holgag says the only good customer is a paying customer, you may enter.”
The wanderer snorted at the fact things have devolved to the point that that was a legitimate saying. He still remembered when the World wasn’t like this. Green grass, flowing rivers, bustling cities and towns filled to the brim with people of all races, species, and creeds. Things weren’t perfect obviously but at least there was hope for the future. Then one day, everything changed. There were massive earthquakes, forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, and so many deaths. The wanderer vividly remembered his family’s house collapsing before his eyes. At the top of all this suffering was someone named Vrix. The wanderer did not know or care who he was, but one day he somehow obtained insurmountable power and became the malevolent god that everyone now knew the name of. The wanderer never bothered to find out the whole story, he only picked up on bits and pieces he heard. He glanced around the bar, it was a wretched hive of scum and villainy indeed, though there weren’t too many other customers. Sitting at the bar was a hardened looking bearded man with mechanical eyes. The robotic body parts flicked within the eye sockets as he turned while taking a sip of his beer. The bartender himself was a regular mustached human, but even he had an untrustworthy air about him.
“Just give me water and some soup,” the wanderer told the bartender as he sat down. The Mechanical Eyed Man glanced in his direction, but the wanderer ignored him. The meal was quickly placed in front of him, the water looked even more brown than the soup. This made no difference to the wanderer as he quickly descended upon his meal. He was about to ask if he could refill some of his jugs with water when the bar door burst open.
“Ha! See ya later ya ugly beast!” said an even uglier beast to the cyclops as he entered, followed by a parade of chained people. The cyclops could be heard laughing as well, clearly they were friends. The large size, terrible smell, sharp tusks and thick yellow skin told the wanderer he was an ogre. He pulled on what appeared to be a leash and the chained people followed obediently. They were all badly sunburnt and covered in the black sand. The wanderer eyed the scene with desensitized disinterest.
The ogre took a seat at a table in the center, the small wooden chair buckling under his weight. “Where is Holgag?! I understand he wants to do business.” In response, a door in the back was hurriedly opened as an old dwarf rushed out. The ogre held up a bag of coins 10 times the size of the wanderer’s as he yelled, “Waiter, bartender, whatever, give me your finest chicken! It better be good!”
“Ah yes Kirog, you will only receive the finest of food and drink here,” Holgag boasted as the largest chicken the wanderer had ever seen was placed on the table. Kirog quickly set to eating, ignoring the hungry stares of the chained people.
“Pretty good…” Kirog conceded as he took another bite, “a bit dry though.” The dwarf flinched at that.
“So, Holgag, you want my bosses to throw money into this cruddy bar? Ha! If Ol’ One Eye didn’t work here I wouldn’t even consider. But the answer is no.”
“B-but you said we had a chance!”
“You did, and you lost it. You know how many fools come crawling to us for favors? Everyone in the damn desert. It’s annoying honestly, running such a successful quarry means freeloaders and parasites all over the place. Including you,” he took another bite of chicken. Holgag was petrified as he watched the ogre lick the bones clean and then place only three gold coins from his bag on the table. “I’m done with this place, I need to find someone to help transport these new ‘employees’ to the quarry. Come on you scum!”
The wanderer stared at the jingling bag of coins on the ogre’s waist as the grotesque creature got up from his seat. Kirog’s eyes panned around the room until they landed at the Mechanical Eyed Man. “Here’s an interesting prospect!” Kirog said as he approached.
“Not interested,” the Mechanical Eyed Man grunted as he took another sip of beer. Kirog growled at the disrespect but opted to move on as he made his way to the wanderer.
“I guess you’ll do,” he said snidely as he took in the wanderer’s appearance.
“If you give me enough I’ll gladly do it. But may I ask why?”
“The Black Desert isn’t always a safe place. Another escort just died the other day to a damn basilisk. Terrible tragedy that was, but I gotta admit seeing his cheeks balloon up from the venom was hilarious!” The ogre began to cackle.
Quite an employer he had here. The wanderer was not worried, however. He had dealt with all sorts of things in his travels and this would be no different. He held out his hand. “Half now, half when we get there.”
Kirog grinned. “Getting down to business, I like it! Fine.” The ogre reached into his bag and retrieved a pile of gold coins which he dropped into the wanderer’s hands. He would never get tired of feeling that imprinted metal falling into his grasp. With that, the both of them left the bar with the slaves shambling behind at the pull of Kirog’s leash. The wanderer took a closer look at their appearances. There were 10 in total, the poor things. Half were, as far as he could tell, humans. The other five seemed to be goblins of some sort, greenish skin, wrinkly faces, clawed hands and feet, not to mention the pointy ears. Regardless, all of them looked equally starved and burnt. When the wanderer looked at the scars on each of their necks, he realized none had made even a peep the whole time. Their vocal cords are cut out. The wanderer shivered but said nothing as he pressed forward to the quarry.
The reason why he was brought along quickly became apparent. Two bandits crawled out from whatever hole they were hiding in and made a run for the ogre’s coin bag, which was in full view. While Kirog was big, it was clear he wasn’t a fighter. He only made slow punches at the thieves who were stabbing at the purse to rip it open. The wanderer rolled his eyes and pulled out his revolver, quickly shooting the surprised bandits down. Kirog also looked surprised.
“A gun? Where’d some lowlife like you acquire such a rarity in these parts?”
He shrugged “I looted it from some corpse I found, bullets and all. They aren’t that hard to find if you know where to look.” What he didn’t mention was that those bandits ate up all but one of his bullets. The group continued onward, Kirog informing the wanderer they should be at the quarry by sundown. Things were quiet until they heard an engine roaring in the distance. Looking into the vastness of the Black Desert, the wanderer could see a hover car approaching with its rusty exterior occasionally reflecting the setting sun with flecks of gold. It levitated over the ground, blasting sand in its wake as it approached.
“A hover car? Not even I can get one!” Kirog snarled, “I don’t like this.” The wanderer had to agree. Outrunning it was out of the question, so they could do nothing but watch as it approached. To the wanderer’s surprise, the Mechanical Eyed Man stepped out of the driver’s seat. In the passenger’s seat, a green cloaked figure sat watching.
“I believe you have something of great importance to us,” the Mechanical Eyed Man said while looking at the slaves. “You must have mistakenly taken our friend. Hand him over, and maybe the rest of those slaves while yer at it.” He pulled out and cocked his shotgun. Kirog only grinned.
“I don’t think I will,” he turned to the wanderer. “Show him what we’re made of!”
The wanderer hesitantly reached into his cloak for his revolver before drawing it out and pointing it at the Mechanical Eyed Man. The wanderer felt sweat beading on his forehead.
“Ya think a peashooter like that’ll overcome this here shotgun?” he chuckled. “I don’t think so.”
Before the wanderer could respond he heard a yell of “WAIT!” as the green cloaked figure left the hover car. The hood fell in the process, causing golden locks to pour out. He took her appearance in quickly. Besides the hair, she had large green eyes and a surprisingly tall frame.
“LISSA! WHAT ARE YA DOIN’?” the Mechanical Eyed Man shouted but kept his aim steady.
“We can do this without bloodshed!” she turned to the wanderer. “What is he paying you? We will double the amount!” His eyebrows raised at that.
Kirog roared. “I will give you this whole damn bag if you get these slaves where they are needed!” The wanderer had never been so simultaneously scared and happy in his life.
“How much money do you have?” he gestured slightly to Lissa but never lost his aim. At this her expression faltered. Clearly, it wasn’t enough. He shrugged. Oh well. He decided to get things over with and took his shot. It would’ve hit the Mechanical Eyed Man right between the eyes if a massive fireball didn’t decimate the bullet and barely miss hitting him. The wanderer reflexively forced himself to the ground, dodging the shotgun’s assault and looked up in massive confusion. To his absolute fear, Lissa was conjuring fire magic right before his eyes. She’s a witch, no amount of money is worth this! The wanderer made a run for it as Kirog screamed in anger. Quickly those screams turned to pain and then silence. No matter what happened, he didn’t look back. At least, he didn’t until he felt a hand grab him by the back of his cloak and push him to the ground. Looking up in fear, the shotgun was aimed directly at his forehead.
“I should kill this guy for what he did!” the Mechanical Eyed Man roared. He was quickly pacified by Lissa.
“He’s just greedy, he’ll leave us alone. Come Barok, we have the slaves and more importantly we have saved Clect!” The Mechanical Eyed Man removed the shotgun reluctantly and walked back to the car, giving one of the goblin slaves a hug. The wanderer wondered if they already realized he would be a mute for life. Lissa stayed behind and sighed, “Regretful what happened to that ogre, but it had to be done.” She looked on him in pity.
“I don’t believe you are a bad person. You know how I know? Your eyes, they hold emotions that I don’t think you even know you have…I understand what you are thinking, why even say such a thing? Well, in this world, I think words such as those are important. There are good people who do good, and good people led astray. It is easy to forget this with the current state of everything. In the end though, they all still hold onto that goodness regardless even in a small way. And despite Vrix’s wishes, hope lives on,” she considered the distant desert dunes contemplatively before smiling at him kindly. “Safe travels out there, wanderer. I wish you luck.”
She handed him a flask of water and the ogre’s bag of coins before returning to the hover car. The wanderer stood up and stared at the packed hover car drive off into the distance, his cloak billowing in the sand-mixed wind. As he watched the gold flecked machine turn into a speck, he pondered Lissa’s words. Maybe there was hope for the World after all. Looking on the singed bag of coins, he wasn’t sure if there was hope for him though. He turned his attention back to the hover car but it was gone, leaving only marks in the sand behind.
Only one way to find out. He collected his things and began to follow.