Facing off against a group of five bandits, I had ended up freezing entirely. I had thought I’d be able to lie my way through everything, but now that it came time to act, I could barely speak. Katarina had warned me about how dangerous these bandits were, but we had managed to give them the slip and discover their presence before. Plus, the previous group of bandits I was able to wipe out when I first came to this world. I had grown a bit sure of myself, and I had pushed forward thinking only about preventing a grisly fate for Katarina and Kiera.
However, these were bandits who would kill you as soon as look at you, and I was really standing here playing pretend. I was completely out of my element. I was like that guy who was convinced he could act in a Shakespearean play, but the second he gets on stage, he chokes. No more words came out of my mouth and my eyes could only look at their guns as their expressions grew more irritable.
“You made them yourself?” The pretty girl gasped.
The frowning leader blinked a few times. “What, seriously?”
“That can’t be true!” The big guy with the hammer said. “He must have killed someone with the drugs.”
“Does he look like a hardened killer to you?” The scrawny guy spoke in a wiry voice.
“Just kill him and take everything he has on him.”
“Come on, Payne.” The pretty girl elbowed the ugly one. “I think we should keep him.”
“We’re not some charity.” The guy with the mohawk grunted.
“If he can make drugs, then why not?” The wiry man stood up for me. “He’s worth more to us alive than dead.”
“Husk, what do you think?” The lead guy turned to the big man.
Husk shrugged his muscular shoulders. “If he lives or dies, it doesn’t matter. Unlikely to get us in trouble, either way.”
The leader thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “Fair enough. You in kid?”
Their conversation had happened quickly, and I was still staring at them trying to find something to say. Suddenly, all of their eyes were on me. I could only blink.
“How cute… he’s like a scared puppy.” The girl chuckled.
“You’re just a slut, Feather.” The other girl named Payne responded unhappily. “Is there any boy you won’t spread your legs for?”
“I’m not saying I want to fuck him.” The pretty girl named Feather frowned.
“Kid, I’m asking if you want to join us.”
“It’s clear you ain’t got no group. Look, it’s clear you’re just some wasteland newb who wants to take a crack at raiding. My guess is you were an apprentice pharm tech for some big colony when you got addicted to your stuff and cocked booted. I know Randall put out that all raiders are welcome, but if you walk into camp without someone to back you up, you’re likely to get shiv’d and robbed in your sleep, you understand? You supply us with more of these drugs, we sell them and make money, we watch your back. Deal?”
The second he said ‘deal’, my mind snapped back into functioning. I was no good at acting, clearly, but something I was good at was making deals. My mind searched through everything he just said and I considered his offer carefully. Crossing my arms, I gave a considering face.
“You want all of my profits? How is that a deal? It looks like it’s just the five of you. There are thousands of raiders. I could find more safety in a variety of groups.”
This wasn’t even me necessarily leveraging for the best deal. This partially was me ferreting out information. In reality, I didn’t know how the raiders were structured at all. It seemed like there were various bands of raiders, each group wore tags to indicate which group they had. These tags were tattoos that they displayed on their person. Their tattoo appeared to be a black and red raven with its wings outstretched. The red looked like flames streaming from the wings. The big guy had the tattoo on an exposed arm, while the girl named Feather had a tattoo under her navel, the top just popping out of her pants, meaning the tattoo was right where her… ahem… where the hair would usually be.
“This kid…” Payne stepped forward and glared.
“A bigger group is likely just to throw a slave collar around your neck and make you work for them for free.” The man managed to keep his cool. “I’m offering you a chance to be part of our group. We’ll even cut you into our group profits.”
“Seriously?” Payne shot him a glare.
“Hey, we sell the drugs and protect you, and you keep 20%. Plus… we’ll help get you supplies. You won’t find a deal like that anywhere else in the raider camps,” he explained.
I had no clue if what he said was true, and honestly, I wasn’t looking to become a drug dealer for a group of raiders. However, money would probably help me be able to find the girls quicker, and I could certainly use the protection. There was only one issue. I couldn’t make the drugs. That was something that Jeri did. However, I could probably work something out so that I could get the drugs from Jeri and bring them to this group. That would give me some protection in this group.
“Fine, I’ll take the offer.” I agreed.
“Heh, like we would have let you leave if you didn’t.” The wiry man grumbled.
The leader guy shot him a look to shut up, and then gave me an embarrassed look. “Haha… anyway. We’re the Fire Ravens. I’m the leader, Raven. This is Husk and Hunter.”
“Husk I had already identified as the big guy, and Hunter must be the wiry, thin one with the pockmarked face.
“I’m Feather!” The pretty girl stepped forward and raised her hand.
Everyone looked to the last girl, who shot them all a glare. “Payne. If you do anything out of place with us, you’re dead.”
“I’m um… Bloodstain?” I tried to come up with a name that sounded like theirs.
The group snickered, but it was Feather who spoke up. “We didn’t pick our names to sound cool. These were the names were born with. It’s just the norm for those born to raiders. You can use your Wastelander name. No one cares. Randall was a wastelander once, and he’s second to Chief.”
I blushed. “D-Daniel.”
She smiled. “Hello, Daniel.”
“Okay then, it’s settled.” Raven pushed things forward. “Come on, kid, let’s go.”
I blinked as they started walking away from the camp, heading in the direction I was standing. “We’re not going to camp?”
“It’s every man for himself.” He declared as he passed me. “We need to hunt for our food. What? Did you think Chief was going to feed you?’
All the raiders chuckled as they passed me. As Feather passed, she gave me a wink.
“Stay close to me, I’ll keep you safe.” She reached out and touched the back of my hand, stroking her finger across it seductively before walking on.
By the time they reached the stairway leading back down to the street, I still hadn’t moved.
“You can stay behind, but then we’re not going to feed you.” Raven declared.
I still hesitated. This was the opposite direction that I wanted to be in. I wanted to be in the camp where I could start looking for the girls. Any second I didn’t save them was a second they could be facing some unimaginable horror. I didn’t want to be out hunting. Furthermore, they could be luring me away just so they could do something to me. I didn’t exactly trust these guys at all.
On top of that, I had my food. He said I could stay. Then, I wouldn’t have to endanger myself and I could eat my food in privacy. I wasn’t eager to eat the irradiated garbage from this world, and I couldn’t let anyone see me eating the stuff I had brought from my world. I had canned most of it so no one would know it was clean and fresh unless I gave them a bit, but I was still nervous that if this aspect was discovered, it’d all be over.
“He’s just a coward. Leave him to starve.” Payne scoffed.
“Look, kid, our group has been making money by selling food inside to the larger groups. With you, we won’t need to do that anymore. However, to get the ingredients you need to make drugs, we will still need to sell some food first. Once things get going, we may not need to scavenge anymore. That’s why I’m agreeing to let you join the group. However, until that time, if you want to be in the Fire Ravens, you need to participate.”
I let out a breath and nodded, moving to follow them. It looked like I would have to be a Fire Raven for the immediate future.