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“How is it looking out there?” I asked Hunter, who was sitting down cleaning a rifle he had recently acquired from the stocks left behind by Ascension.
Everyone had managed to pick out a weapon except for me. It may sound strange, but the first one I had ever owned was the one Jacques had handed me. I had lost Veronica when our base was raided and the girls were kidnapped. I knew the gun wasn’t particularly remarkable in any way, but I had grown comfortable with it. I also knew where Veronica was. The Burning Fist had my gun, lead by that bastard Krux who had tortured me.
I also might as well consider the Cock and Balls my enemy. Marsh had not only tried to kill Jeri, but he had murdered Payne, raped Feather, and smashed my mirror. Well, technically that was mostly his men likely working outside of his desires, and I didn’t have much of a care for Payne who had betrayed us, but it still mattered to me.
Maybe I was nuts for feeling any kind of loyalty to the Fire Ravens. I knew that I never would have gotten as far as I did without their help though. Even though they were raiders, they acted more like a family. I could see that from the beginning. Raven had even said that Hunter and Husk were like his brothers. I guessed that would make Feather a sister.
Either way, they had decided to join me, and our next step would put us on the spot for every major raider clan in the city. That’s why I asked Hunter what it was like.
“Only one clan has shown themselves.” It was Husk who spoke, emerging from a dark corner with a slight limp from his injury, but an easy-going smile on his face. “The Dragon Claw.”
I shivered as I remembered them. These guys were odd. They didn’t speak to anyone outside of their clan. They didn’t wear shirts, they were covered in tattoos, and they had shaved heads. Even the women had shaved heads and tattoos, although they did cover their chests. Most of the other clans were frightened by them. They had a reputation for being crazy.
“Weren’t they sent running by Chief?”
“It seems they returned once they heard Chief was gone. I’m not sure of their intent.” Hunter shrugged.
“And it’s just them?” I asked with a gulp.
There were five raider clans in this city. I had managed to make enemies with two of them. If I could join at least two others, we’d have a chance.
“You can bet there are representatives in the crowds for all five clans,” Hunter finally spoke. “They’ll listen to your proposal, but after yesterday they’ll be extremely wary. Even if it was Ascension, they might not act. Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I have to try,” I responded. “The thing I lack the most right now is people.”
“True… but do you want these people?” Husk asked uncertainly. “You can’t trust raiders.”
“Weren’t you raiders?” I asked helplessly.
He coughed awkwardly. “Well, as to that-”
“We’re different.” Hunter declared.
I opened my mouth and then closed it. Declaring they were somehow special took some shamelessness, but the look on his face seemed completely earnest like he believed what he was saying.
“Don’t worry,” I responded. “I’m not going to trust them,” I reassured the men.
I started to walk toward the balcony that overlooked the courtyard. This balcony had once been where Chief, the undefeatable Mech armor, had remained as a constant reminder to these people that Ascension couldn’t be messed with. Their curiosity toward Ascension had ultimately caused them to remain here for weeks, even sitting only a few dozen meters away from those that they hated and despised.
As I walked, I noticed Feather standing nearby too. She had her arms wrapped around her like she was cold, and was leaning back against the wall. I hadn’t asked the Fire Ravens anything about what happened to Feather after she had been taken away. She had a few bumps and bruises but didn’t appear to be damaged, at least physically. She hadn’t spoken a single word though, and the once extroverted girl had seemingly become extremely closed off.
At the time, I had only been worried about myself. I would have even abandoned her if it meant I could survive. That left me with a bit of guilt. I didn’t think I could have changed anything, but I still regretted that I hadn’t tried to get involved. In the end, it was still their relation to me that had put the entire party through that hell that they barely survived.
With a breath, I turned to the balcony and took several steps forward. A murder dragon that was lying on the ground coiled up perked when it saw me walking by. It immediately ran up to me and then nudged my leg with its head. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a can of tuna. Twisting the cap and opening it, I put the can down. The murder dragon immediately started licking up the morsels. This was a casual thing for me, but it probably caused those at my back to freeze. After all, each one of those cans of tuna was gold to them. I was feeding it to some mangy animal that could and would eat anything, including the can.
However, it truly was nothing to me. I had swapped out my inventory the first second I thought about it, filling it with all kinds of survival supplies. Now that I could go to and from the earth without a problem, I’d probably never need it, but it didn’t hurt to have food, water, blankets, a tool kit, and other such items in case another problem arrived.
I could hear the shouting of the masses outside. There was some cursing, the occasional shot of a gun, and just a general level of rowdiness. To those men, this was a day they had been waiting for. It was the day of Ascension’s proposal. They were in for a big surprise. Take a breath, I stepped out onto the patio, coming into view of several hundred armed men.
As I appeared, the crowds started to quiet down, but several who had recognized me as the man in the cage began whispering and murmuring. There was confusion. It wasn’t until I raised my hand that the masses silenced once again. I could see raiders of all shapes and sizes. Some were nearly naked, while others were heavily armored. Some had big weapons, while others wielded only bats and knives. It was a motley lot of miscreants. When they had quieted down enough, I finally opened my mouth.
“The group otherwise known as Ascension is dead,” I yelled out in a clear voice.
This caused the crowd to break out, an explosion of cries, many of them filled with anger. They were mostly wondering why I was wasting their time.
“I am…” I shouted, but as they were still talking, I closed my mouth again.
Boom! Boom! A gun erupted right next to my ear. Raven had returned after fixing his hair and had shot up into the air to silence the crowd. I stuck my finger in my ear and yawned slightly while trying to get rid of the ringing.
“S-sorry…” He responded, blushing.
The crowd silenced enough, so I continued. “I’m the one who killed them. Randall and Chief are dead, as are the rest.”
“If they’re dead, why are you wasting our time?” Someone shouted out from the crowd, voicing the opinions of most everyone there.
“I’ve come here to give you a proposition,” I responded. “Ascension promised you wealth, riches, and the city on a platter. Since Ascension is gone, and I have your attention, I’ll make you the same offer.”
After more muttering, someone yelled out the question I was waiting for. “What do you have to offer?”
“Resources,” I responded. “Food. Medical Supplies. Anything you could want. That’s what I offer. Unlimited supplies.”
“If you have supplies, we’ll just take them!”
“The supplies only come through me!” I raised my hand, showing my Perco in the process. “If I die… all the supplies die with me. You don’t need to understand where I get them from. All you need to know is that I have them!”
I lifted a grocery bag, and then chucked it down into the audience. There was a bit of scrambling as people fought for the back. It ended up tearing, and nearly a half dozen different people each got a can of something. Curious, they were already opening the cans. Exclaims of shock came out as they smelled the clean food for the first time.
“Clean… unirradiated… nutritious… food!” I yelled.
The men who had there tried to eat it, but then others tried to grab it. As the commotion built again, Raven looked at me. I nodded and covered my ears, and he shot a few more bullets to silence them again.
“What part of unlimited did you not understand!” I barked. “There is plenty where that came from!”
One of the men who had been trying to grab one of the cans finally gave up and glared up. “What are the conditions then?”
“I’m opening up business… right here.” I declared. “Where you’re standing is the start of my marketplace. Once open, anyone has the right to come here and buy what they need. Food, water, anything you desire.”
“As for those who don’t want to be buyers, I have two options. First, you can sell things to me. I require various items. Gold. Silver, Jewelry. I’ll be placing a list on a board below soon. Anyone who brings me those items can exchange them for food and water.”
After a moment of silence as people let that sink in, someone asked. “What about option 2?”
“I need people to be my merchants. Salespeople. Trade Caravans. I need tough people who know how to handle the wasteland. I need people to protect my marketplace and keep it running. If you work for me, you’ll never want for food and water. You’ll get a clean bed. You’ll have a chance to put behind your raider life.”
This resulted in even more muttering. If they didn’t like that, they were going to hate the next part.
“However, there is a condition for working for me. You’re all thieves, murders, druggies, and rapists. To work for me… you’ll need to wear one of these!” I lifted something with my other hand.
That something was a slave collar. I had found a stockpile of them in Ascension’s storeroom. It looked like they had planned to bring in a lot of slaves soon. The silver device shone in the light as the crowd exploded into chaos.