Chapter 1

It was a few weeks ago. The day that man gave me his offer. I'd just made the biggest progress in my life, and here I was, taking raider jobs again. I was invited to a building, deep within a small settlement. It was packed with chem addicts, dealers, drunkards, people with problems. Place wasn’t going anywhere, I thought. Perfect place for a man like Crowe to hide. Man loved to wear white suits, even though it wasn’t made for his body. Crowe owns too many mercs; too many for me to count. And here he was, hiring me to do a job for him, trying to add me to his ranks.

It took me days to build up the courage to walk up to that building. Why couldn’t he do it himself? Had his raider agent send his invitation to me. Says he’s willing to remedy my debt. Some men just know me too damn well. It was an offer I found hard to refuse, so I picked up my old instruments and went up to his desk. Windows were boarded up; walls were pale and tattered. Thick cloud of smoke, smell of whiskey. Man was a damn walking vice.

“I knew you’d come,” his rough, smoke-ridden voice said to me.

“Rats like you… you always come for the food.” Fat bastard sat on his desk, coughing up another smoke.

“Five thousand for you walkin’ out that door, doin’ what I ask, another five for comin’ back. I’ll even clears up some of those debts you’s owe.”

I tried my hardest not to open my mouth. “I presume you’s wanna know about the job...” He breathes a fat one, and exhales. Fat bastard coughs for a good minute.

“I want you to clear what’s remainin’ of this here town… we’ve cleared it up pretty well. You wipe it ‘till I can see my face on it.” A merc of his walks up door behind me, as I heard from the footsteps.

“So let me get this straight,” I finally responded, “You want me to kill what’s already been killed?”

Crowe chuckles for a bit, then starts coughing again.

“You know me, Demetrius. I love makin’ surprises. You’s just gotta find out once y'get there. Ya better bring whatever ya packin’.” He points to my traveling pack, which had a few rifles in it.

“You’re wasting my time, Crowe. I ain’t that man anymore.”

Crowe’s smug face was wiped off when he heard this.

“Ain’t that man anymore? So ya tellin’ me ... heheh ... that we's got no competition no more?”

Crowe started chuckling louder, and surprisingly, he didn’t cough.

“Hahaha! I never thought ya givin’ up that quick… I thought all’s that killin’ would never change ya… hahaha----“

My hand slipped. And with it, my knife flew, all the way to his chest. The chest of his dirtied suit became red all of a sudden. His open mouth started to pour as much blood as the whiskey he drank.

“Y-you sunuva...” I rushed over to him and pulled the knife out. Hand slipped again; the knife stabbed him five more times. I checked his desk for any caps, and found the five thousand he was talking about earlier. I steadily laid his head to the top of the desk. Those eyes didn’t need sleep.

I opened the door, as if nothing happened. The guard hadn’t noticed the pistol in my hand; I shot him point blank on his forehead when he looked to check me. I laid him down nice and easy, and made for the exit. My safe exit there was the old man’s biggest mistake; he should’ve brought all of his mercs today, so it would've ended then and there.

I left the building, passing by the addicts, dealers, and people with problems. This town’s going to hell, and with it, Crowe.

The map for the town came with the bag of caps. It was a town I hadn’t seen before. I decided to check it, see if the rest of Crowe's men were still hanging around. I should've prepared for a week-long trip; whatever I brought didn't last too long. I had to hunt for mole rats, and even even dogs for food. Path was nothing but dust. It was hell finding this damn place.

After what seemed an eternity, I found the place. It was a small set of houses, many of them ruined. It was headed by a worn-out sign, covered in red writing; “They’re all dead”. Smoke was rising up. I could already see blood on the walls. I rushed to the settlement.

Bodies were scattered. Most were burnt. Others were carelessly left there. 20 years old, all over again. I scoured the buildings, hoping for more survivors; I regret it. I found nothing but death. Raider work. I didn’t lose hope, though. Kept looking, until I finally came across a small man-made shack. Door was barred shut by wiring; I forcefully removed it. I slowly opened the door, hoping for something.

And there it was. Darkness. Behind it, a woman, and two crying children. Enveloped in darkness. The woman’s eyes were red, tired; her face was dried with tears. They looked as if they're about to get executed. I tried my hardest to compose myself on the inside. This reminded me of that day...

I reached out my hand. “Look, look… I ain’t here to kill y'all...” I reached for food, but instead found my bag of caps. I dropped my pack, clutching the bag. “I… I ain’t one of them. It’s all over now. I seen nobody out there; I checked.” I left my hand there, as they continued to look scared. “Please, come close. It’s only me.” The woman, as scared as she was, maintained to look at me as she reached for my hand. The children’s cries became silent. “It’s only me, and I ain’t here to kill anyone.” Couldn’t help but shed a tear. The woman grabbed my hand, as I slowly moved back outside. As the sunset’s light shined on the woman, she fell down the ground, crying her heart out. I was powerless; I had no idea what to do. I was weak. As weak as this woman was.

I gave her all my caps, and gave her proper directions to take. “Get away from here as far as possible. As far as you can. Make sure to hide during nights. Stay in the nearest settlement you find. But whatever you do, you keep on walking.” It felt bitter, leaving those words to that woman. I could’ve followed her, but it’s not worth the risk. The woman embraced me, as hard as she possibly could, and left, carrying her daughter while her son held onto her clothes clothes. She hadn’t spoken a word since I saw her. Hoped for the best as I spotted her from a distance; she was safe. I made sure it was me they were after.

I continued to scour the settlement, cleaning up what I could. Folks needed to be buried. That fire needed to be put out. Day turned to night sooner than I thought. Then, just as I was busy cleaning up, I heard a fire crackle; and with it, voices. I reached for the pistol in my pack, and walked as quiet as I could. Fire was right behind a house. They probably hadn’t noticed me since it was dark. I clutched my pistol as I looked to see who was present.

It was a pack brahmin; around the campfire, five people sat. Raiders never mix in with this kind of crowd... “...–ld you this town wasn’t worth the damn risk! Look at what the hell happened now!”

“I wouldn’t have known. One day this place looked like paradise, the next, damn massacre town.”

“Why the hell did you guys cower anyway?”

“Did you see those guys? They were armed to the teeth! We could’ve died.”

It was a caravan. A caravan that picked this particular day to stop. I clutched my pistol tighter as I prepared to show myself.

“We can’t risk it; it’s for the carav---“ The conversation suddenly stopped as they saw me, pointing a pistol at them.

“Lemme guess,” one of the caravaneers said; he looked like one of the guards.

“Y’here to finish the job?” I couldn’t maintain this posture any longer. I put away my pistol; they didn’t look like they were ready for a fight, anyway. “I was here cleaning up the place; putting out that fire. Where the hell have y’all been?”

One of the younger members narrowed his eyes to me as everybody paused. “We hid in one of the basements; told this brahmin here to hide from a distance... I just called it back a while ago.” They continued to look carefully at me. “We did it quietly, assuming some of them are still here... and it appeared you were moving quietly, too. We hadn’t noticed anything, so we set up this camp.”

Just a bunch of innocents surviving the attack.

“Demetrius. Came here to protect the town. Guess I'm too late."

They all looked at me.

"Well I guess yer a little too late," one of the older folks said.

"'D you guys witness the whole thing?" I asked.

The younger man looked at me, then his fellow members. “We all hid, hoping to escape it. We coulda died.”

The other older caravan guard shook his head, looking down. “Town's lookin’ up to us… fuckin’ lookin’ up to us to protect them...”

A woman, the tallest of their group, looked to him. “We didn’t promise them anything...” She turned to me. “We were worn out from traveling. Five straight days of no stopping; this place looked like heaven when we first saw it.” The other older man looked to her and spoke. “We were unlucky, and as it turned out, we couldn’t save them.” Moment of silence.

The younger man looked up to me. “I’m Diaz. Caravan guard, but mostly navigator.”

The other older guard looked to me afterward. “Kramer. Been lookin’ after Diaz for quite some time now.”

The tall woman looks at him with a smile on her face. “Eve. I’m the one looking out for them.”

The man who hasn’t spoken a word all this time finally spoke. “Mark. Making sure this caravan gets all the guarding it needs.”

I looked at the other two sitting, looking like they’ve been waiting for their turn all this time.

“I’m Decker. This is my daughter, Tristan.” Tristan shyly looks up, then resumes eating her food. “We-we’re just tagging along. We’re headed to the Boneyard.”

Folks must be headed south. The young man, Diaz, reassured me. “We’re going to Arroyo. We owe some supplies to someone over there. The pay’s big.” I looked at Diaz, then to the rest of the group. Bunch of ragtag mercs who need a safe passage. I know I’m risking them, but I know the odds will be better with extra guns around.

“I’ve taken this path before. I can take y'all to some alternate ones.”

And so here we are. A new story for me to unfold. The company’s nice. Much different from what I’m used to. Maybe it’s these folks that’ll bring me back. Maybe it’s these folks that’ll change me. My last caravan run. I’ll make it worth their while.