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“Binding Ties”

by T.S. Luikart

In the dusk of his life, the Venerable Sage Tinbaroo deigned to stay for a week with the Sleepless Scriveners of the Istralene Valley. The Scriveners were desperate to record all they could of Tinbaroo’s wisdom and experiences before his last breath joined the winds of the Far West, but decorum limited them to a few choice questions each evening. On the third night of the sage’s visit, a scrivener young enough to not know any better asked him, “In all your many travels, Sir, what was the most tragic thing you’ve seen?” Tinbaroo drew on a long stem pipe as he pondered for a time before responding, “A War Drudge with a conscience.” This answer caused a long and respectful silence till one of the older scriveners asked, “Venerable Sage, what was the most remarkable thing that you’ve seen?”

 

Tinbaroo tapped his pipe against a windowsill and smiled slightly as he repeated, “A War Drudge with a conscience.”

– from “The Wisdom of Western Sages” by Oron Hospurn

*                   *                    *

They moved only in darkness, hiding from the light of the sun in shallow bed-graves they dug out of the dusty soil when they could, and makeshift lean-tos when they could not. Their garments were a riot of soiled colors, patched together from the coverings of their victims. Their hands were heavily callused, hardened by scars, sand, and use. They took what they could, when they could, and few could gainsay them.

Their people had passed west long before. The price they paid to survive was dear: they buried their hearts in the desert and ceased to be men, becoming mongrels that hunted on two legs.

But their kung-fu was terrible strong.

*                   *                    *

Girenado Zasodar and his men retained a surprising number of social graces, but had little use for law. They roamed the hinterlands of the Thousand Mesas, making their camp where the wind took them, looting wealthy travelers and prosperous small towns as the opportunity arose, occasionally doing some honest work when times were truly lean. Zasodar believed in traveling light and fast, believing it always kept him one step ahead of real trouble. Sportin’ ladies who were acquaintanced with him swore his spurs never came off.

Zasodar made few mistakes in his life and did his level best to learn from the ones he did. It was a little town called Whiskey Baddow that first showed him the Far West was far stranger and more wondrous than he had imagined. It also taught him to always send a scout or two in first and that some things just couldn’t be planned for.

*                   *                    *

The first that Sheriff Loquide heard of the matter was sporadic gunfire. Some fools were shooting up the only decent bar in town and it wasn’t even twilight yet. Surely not locals, he thought as he hefted his repeater with a sigh and went to deal with the matter himself. Absun had the night off to attend to family matters and the Sheriff saw no point in rousing Roy for something that was likely to prove routine.
A crowd had already formed outside the Shady Lady; he saw visible relief on faces he knew as they saw him coming. The host of folks in front of the bar smoothly parted to let him through, nods of encouragement all around. The inside was a riot of overturned tables, scattered glass shards, and drunken brawlers. Loquide looked about the scene, trying to sort out exactly what had caused the fight, but nothing stood out in particular. He slowly stroked the fingers of one hand over his mustache as he considered the matter, but the cocking of a six-shooter by his ear interrupted his reverie.

“Kind of you to join us, Sheriff Loquide, was it?” Loquide turned and looked up at the roughly handsome youth holding the gun to his temple.

“My pleasure. Now who might you be?” The bravo whistled and the fights all over the room abruptly ceased, some few lasting one or two more telling blows before ending.

“Zasodar. Girenado Zasodar, at your service.”

“Hmmph. I somewhat doubt that, son.”

Zasodar laughed.

*                   *                    *

They moved into the street, Zasodar’s men following efficiently looking for signs of trouble from the townsfolk. There weren’t any. None at all. In fact, most of the people of Whiskey Baddow promptly backed off without a word, which in Girenado’s experience was unusual. He hoped they weren’t going to do anything stupid. Zasodar had his faults and was surely guilty of many crimes, but wanton murder was not among them.

“We will harm none, Sheriff, as long as our demands are met and they are few.”

“Do tell?”

“Ver. We require only grain for our horses, some time with the ladies, and some silver for the road.”

“Uh-huh. Eager ladies or will any gal do?”

Girenado was somewhat nonplussed by the old man’s flippant attitude.

“We are not barbarians.”

Sheriff Loquide’s eyes moved up from Zasodar’s gun till he met the bandit’s gaze.

“No?”

“No.”

“What about respect for the law?”

Zasodar made a dismissive gesture with his free hand.

“The law has seldom shown me any respect.”

“Well, I reckon that is probably so. At any rate, son, I will take what you’ve said into account. It will all go in your favor at trial.”

Girenado laughed again and his men joined in. “Old man, I admire your cojones, truly, but what can you possibly do?”

“Me? Nothing.”

Many times in years to come, Girenado would think back to that exact moment, trying to sort out his impressions, exactly what he could recall, but it always remained a blur of sensations: the sudden smell of oiled metal, the whirr of gears, the ground vibrating beneath his feet, and the pain of two of his fingers breaking in a relentless steel grip as his gun was crushed right out of his hand.

Zasodar looked up and up into burning amber eyes that hummed as intricate metal shutters spun about them, bringing him into sharp focus. Three of his men lay in unconscious heaps about them; one was still airborne, when he heard Sheriff Loquide say as if from a great distance:

“Meet my deputy, Iron Roy.”

*                   *                    *

Zasodar spent a fairly tolerable night in jail; he had certainly stayed in much worse than the spartan accommodations the Whiskey Baddow lock up offered. The Sheriff had even arranged for a decent breakfast, in part as an apology for their “rough handling” much to his and his men’s amusement. Though they were all a little worse for wear after their encounter with the Drudge deputy, Girenado Zasodar was not a man to hold grudges, far to dangerous in his line of work.

Mostly, Girenado sat in the cool shadows of his cell and studied the Drudge in the room across from him. A massive poncho and a wide-brimmed hat covered much of its body. A bandanna with crudely stitched stars concealed its face below the eyes, though Zasodar was fairly certain from the odd way the material of the bandanna hung that the Drudge had no nose.

“Kids did it.”

Girenado turned to the speaker. “Pardon?”
Deputy Absun smiled at him over a coffee cup. “You were looking at Roy’s bandanna. He swaps them regular on account of dust. The local kids made him that one.”

“He swaps them, Deputy? It’s a machine.”

Absun’s smiled deepened. “Is he?” Whatever else the Deputy was about to say was cut off as some sort of commotion arose outside the Sheriff’s office. “Ashes and oils, now what?” Absun walked off to join Loquide and a small knot of men outside. Girenado couldn’t make out the details, but there was certainly quite a tumult. He wondered if his cousin was already causing trouble in preparation for breaking him out.

After a few minutes, the Sheriff walked up to his cell and peered in at Zasodar with a thoughtful expression on his face.

“I think you better come with us, son. There’s something you need to see.”

*                   *                    *

Six set out; five on horses and the Drudge ran alongside. Girenado marveled at how smooth the machine’s movement were, how easily it loped over the terrain. Wherever they were headed, a young farmer had volunteered to show them the way. Zasodar’s placid demeanor was swiftly shaken though as their course away from Whiskey Baddow soon lead directly towards where he knew the rest of his men to be encamped.

As they approached a low rise between two hillocks, the young farmer pulled aside, his face ashen, as he wordlessly pointed them on. The rest of the group crested the hill and looked down on slaughter. Bodies lay scattered about a makeshift camp, mangled almost beyond the point of recognition. Their limbs were torn, broken, or strewn about the clearing haphazardly. The smell was loathsome.

Despite his bound hands, Girenado was swiftly out of his saddle and rooting among the bodies, even as one of the young men who had accompanied them was sick on the trailside. Tears unnoticed cut furrows through the dust on his face as he struggled with a torso. He almost fell into the gore, until a warm metal hand steadied him, and effortlessly shifted the weight out of his grasp.

His surprise at the Drudge’s unasked for help was lost as he realized what he was seeing. He sank to his knees with a stifled sob, as he looked down at the remains of his cousin Bilado’s once handsome features, pummeled almost beyond the point of recognition by what must have been multiple hard strikes.

Loquide’s voice was firm, but kindly. “How many did you leave?”

“Seven.”

“And no more than a day or so ago, yes?”

“Ver,” he nodded, “Sheriff… what has… what is this?”

“Ferals.”

“The Old Ones… But, the Imperials say they are a myth.”

“The Imperials say a lot of things, you must know that. Roy, come on, let’s burn these fellas.”

The Drudge swiftly piled the remains scattered about the campsite into a makeshift pyre. Girenado made himself help the machine, though he soon lost the fine breakfast the Sheriff had provided. As the flames licked up over the bodies, Girenado sighed and smiled ruefully up at the Drudge.

“I think I envy you, my friend.” He gestured towards his face. “You don’t have to bear this stench.”

The Drudge’s amber gaze shifted away from the fire and swiveled down toward Zasodar. A voice more akin to the pulling of swords from sheaths than the tongues of men stated:

**THERE ARE MORE FLOWERS THAN CORPSES.**

“By the Maiden’s holy tits, you talk!”

**I DANCE A MEAN JIG, TOO. SHERIFF, WE BEST BE MOVING. THEY’LL NOT HAVE GONE FAR. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE OUT HERE AFTER SUNDOWN.**

“No, I most certainly do not. Well Master Zasodar, I do believe a unique opportunity has just been afforded to you and your men. Vengeance and a pardon of sorts in one go. Interested?”

Girenado looked back and forth between the Drudge and the old man, before slowly nodding, and responding in his native tongue.

“Ver.”

4 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    OK, I finally read this one and…wow!

  2. Shawn says:

    Very interesting. I wonder how they work…

  3. Apocryphon says:

    Boilerplate vs. Reavers. Cool.

  4. walker says:

    My local game store told me about this project. I’ve been reading everything I can and love all of it. These fictions started off fantastic and keep getting better! Can’t wait for the RPG!

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