“All hail the conquering hero!” Raven sang out, pulling his gun and shooting wildly in the air.
“Shut the fuck up!” A voice screamed from one of the levels of a nearby collapsed building.
“Hey, you shut the fuck up! We’re celebrating here!” He pointed his gun, randomly shooting it in their direction.
Hunter grabbed Raven’s arm and yanked him down. He stumbled, his arm going high. At that moment, there was a pop and the bottle in his hand shattered. He had just been standing there himself before Hunter grabbed him.
“Did he just shoot at me?” Raven blinked in confusion.
“Idiot! You’re looking to get shot!” Payne hissed.
Raven brought the bottle to his lips, only realizing as he tilted it back that the stem he was holding on to was all that remained. The rest of the liquor had been lost to the floor. Where it fell, there was a hissing steam coming off the concrete ground, which spoke to the kind of alcohol he was drinking tonight.
“Whatever.” He threw the remaining glass behind him, letting it shatter somewhere in the dark. “This is a great day for all of us. We scored big this time!”
He was excited, but Feather let out a little whimper. “And we almost died.”
“That’s in the past.” He waved his hand at me. “After all, we got our new comrade here! Bloodstained Dan!” He combined my name with the fake name I had originally given him, which to a man as drunk as he currently was, apparently seemed hilarious.
By the time we had returned to the massive raider camp, the night was setting in. It was all we could do just to get a place inside the ring of protection afforded by the gathering. We were in a cramped area with concrete ground that might have once been a parking lot. They had managed to get a fire going, and thus the drinking had begun. The hand full of snacks they had gathered from the office building had been opened and consumed by the group.
As I was told, it normally would have been 2-3 days of rations, but after such a catch, Raven had let them splurge. They had forced a share of the food on me, but I had managed to hold off until everyone was drunk enough and then cleverly replace it with my own food without anyone seeming to notice too closely what I was chewing on. As for alcohol, after taking one whiff of it, I had made sure that stuff didn’t get close to my stomach.
“You really did save my life.” Husk’s large hand fell on my shoulder and he patted it. “They told me what you did. Saving me from right under a murder dragon, giving me RegenX, luring him away with your own body, my own mother wouldn’t have done so much to save me.”
Husk was still hurt and had mostly been carried back. Even now, he was sitting on the ground in a half lying position, unable to get up. It might be a day or two until he completely recovered.
“Didn’t your mother abandon you?” Raven asked.
His mouth tightened. “Let’s not talk about my mother.”
“You brought it up.” Raven huffed.
“Point is… I remember favors.” He made a fist and gave my chest two thuds. “We’re brothers. Name a guy you don’t like, and I’ll kill him.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was both touched and simultaneously horrified. I gave a weak smile and nodded to him. Thankfully, he wasn’t as talkative as Raven and was satisfied with that. Raven, on the other hand, let out a boisterous laugh.
“Come on, bring out the award. How many did we get? Ten? Twenty?”
“Murder dragons only have 5-6 per clutch of eggs.” Hunter sighed.
“There are three.”
Of course, I had checked immediately after and found that there were three eggs in the bag. I pulled out the pack that Raven had gotten me and reached in. He little out a little giddy laugh as I pulled one out. It was still slimy and immediately made me want to wash my hands. I brought out the second egg as well. I reached in for the third and then blinked. Looking down into the bag, I flinched.
I had sworn I had counted three before, but it looked like one of the eggs had broken. I could see a broken shell with gook all over the bottom of the bag. I had really tried to be careful with them. I felt a bit frustrated.
“There are only two still intact.” I sighed.
Two eggs, two missing women. However, I’d never be able to get away with it in this group. The Fire Ravens had helped as well. Maybe, if I begged, I’d be able to keep one, but that was when I thought there were three. Now that there were only two, there was just no way they both wouldn’t be sold.
“Damn, after all that…”
“Don’t be so greedy.” Feather snorted. “Even getting one murder dragon egg is not only a miracle but more than we’d make in a month normally selling food.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He waved his hand as if to tell me not to mind him. “You can still make drugs, right? If that’s the case, then we’ll be set.”
“You’re putting a lot on newbie’s shoulders.” Husk warned.
“What? He can handle it.” Raven shrugged, pulling out a new bottle. “Hey, kid. Put those eggs away. We won’t get anything if another one cracks. We’ll stay up… guard. However, you hold, hic, you hold that with your life.”
I nodded, grabbing the eggs and carefully putting them back into the bag. “In that case, I think I’ll be going to sleep.
“Take the tent.” Raven gestured to a small skin hut they arrested in the style of a triangle tent.
It smelled like a dozen dead animals, but it was the only cover they had, and it would afford someone some privacy.
“I’ll join you.” Feather licked her lips.
“Uh… no!” Raven pointed at her with the hand still holding his new bottle. “You’re on watch.”
“I don’t mind watching, but I prefer doing…”
“Just shut it,” he said.
Although Raven was quite drunk, it wasn’t lost on me why he was the leader of the group. It might have looked like he was being safe by giving me the tent and the eggs. That wasn’t the case at all though. He was ensuring that I didn’t run off with them in the middle of the night. If he took the eggs or gave them to one of the others, they’d have to watch them like a hawk all night to make sure no one took them. However, if they made me responsible for them, then they just had to make sure I didn’t go anywhere all night, as all responsibility had been thrust on my shoulders.
I didn’t give away anything as to my feelings. Instead, I just grabbed the backpack, wished them a good night, and then went into the tent. There wasn’t anything else I could do. One way or another, I had ended up trapped in this situation. I had to play along, or my life would be forfeit.
I lay down on a dirty sheet that constituted a blanket and tried to acclimate myself to the smell of radiated animal skin. I unconsciously touched the bag several times, just making sure the eggs hadn’t disappeared. That was a possibility I had to consider. They might claim I watch the eggs, but then when I slept, they’d steal them and then blame me. They’d find an excuse to kill me and split the profits between fewer people. Such scenarios as these kept working their way into my mind.
The group partied for a little bit, but once I lay down, they had all quieted up as well. I wasn’t sure who was on watch and who was sleeping. It didn’t matter anyway. It wasn’t like I could trust any of them. The raiders camp wasn’t exactly quiet anyway. We were on the outer edge, and I could still hear the distant shouts of drunks, brawls, and people fornicating. It was an ambiance that made it that much more difficult to fall asleep.
As things finally started to settle and I felt like I might be able to go to sleep, I started to hear a scratching sound. One eye opened, and then the other. A frown formed on my lips. Scritch. Scritch. I could hear such a sound every few minutes. Looking around, it sounded almost like it was coming from behind the backpack. Slowly moving to my knees, I started to lift behind it.
“We’re not going to screw you.”
I nearly jumped, spinning to look at Raven. He had poked his head into my tent suddenly.
“Ah… huh… what?” I shook my head.
He chuckled, taking a step into the tent and crouching on his knees while giving me a serious look.
“You’re not a raider.”
I felt my heart fall. Had I really messed up?
“I-I am…” I argued back, realizing my words sounded hollow.
He shook his head and took a drink. “Naw, you’re too nice. You’re shit at raider…”
He chuckled softly. “It was a test, you know?”
“Raiders… we can’t do what we do without trust. Wastelanders may think we’re nasty, brutal, drug-addled murderers… and they’d be right, but those of us that travel together, we’re also family.”
“R-really…” I didn’t understand what he was getting at, but I still straightened myself and sat, listening to him with respect.
“I asked you if you wanted to lie about the food being exchanged. That was a test. If you had agreed, then I knew you wouldn’t have been worth the Fire Raven’s time. I figured it’d take a lot of time for you to get acclimated to the group… but then you did a stupid thing like save Husk… and even helped us claim those eggs. I saw you checking on the eggs. Maybe you think we’re planning a con on you. Maybe… in another situation, you’d be right.
“The thing about the apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a brutal place. Death is common. If you want to survive, you need to be willing to give up anything at a moment’s notice. When I saw Husk go down, I thought it was it for him. I had already written him off as dead and moved on with my life. However, not you. You saved him. Husk is like a brother to me. I hope you understand what that means.”
“I saw the Perco on your wrist,” he said. “When I was helping you up your sleeve fell back. That’s how you triggered the bomb, right?”
I looked away, biting my lip.
“I didn’t tell the others, and I won’t. How you got a Perco, that’s your secret. If any raider group in this camp learns about it, they’d do whatever it took to get you in their group. They’d bribe you, and if that failed, they’d just kidnap and enslave you. We could live like kings if we sold you out to them.”
I frowned again, and he shook his head.
“I already said. We’re not going to sell you out. You’re a chemist and you have a Perco. You really are a gem. I won’t ask how you fell into this manure pile, I’ll just say I’m glad we’re the ones that found you. Just keep that thing covered. The Fire Ravens will cover for you, alright? We’ll watch each other’s backs. Family. Just think about it, okay?”
He ended with that. Getting back to his feet and then walking out of the tent. I lay back down, a complicated expression on my face. He said he wouldn’t sell me out, and for some reason, I believed him. However, I didn’t feel good about it. That was because I knew that eventually, I was the one who was going to be betraying them.