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Raven’s announcement left me worried as well. I had caught the personal interest of one of the great raider clans? Worse, this was the one clan who had decided to stay behind, which meant that they were in much higher numbers than the rest. If they refused to leave the premises, I wouldn’t be able to force them out like all of the smaller clans. I realized a lot was riding on cutting some deal with them.

As much as I wanted to flee to Earth and not deal with this, I realized that this was exactly the kind of issue I had to deal with. I wanted to become a businessman, now I needed to act like one. With a breath, I straightened my outfit and then followed Raven out the door. We managed to walk about halfway down the building when Katarina came running up behind us.

She had hastily gotten dressed to be able to join me. Apparently, she was worried about me heading out to visit the Dragon’s Claw as well. Raven stiffened slightly as Katarina ran up, but he didn’t say anything.

“Where are we meeting?” I asked.

This was a very important question because if things went south in these negotiations, we needed room to escape. Meanwhile, the Dragon’s Claw would only be willing to meet halfway. They wouldn’t want to put themselves into a dangerous situation either. There was no trust in the wasteland. Even if this was a meeting between merchants or wastelanders, it would turn out this way. No one would willingly put them into a situation where they couldn’t back out safely.

“Just on the bottom floor.” Raven declared. “We have two turrets watching the floor. We’ll be in an advantageous situation.”

I raised an eyebrow. “They’re seriously willing to get that close?”

It surprised me because this was more than just advantageous. This was their leader giving us all of the trust. It would be very easy for us to set up a trap. Even if we didn’t, just with what we already had they wouldn’t be able to escape easily if we didn’t let them go.

As I was pondering this, we walked out onto the bottom floor of the building, which was incomplete and mostly dirt other than the stairway that dropped out onto this floor and the thick steel supports that held the entire building up. The turrets left down here were naturally to keep anyone from attempting to take out such supports, although they’d need quite a heavy bit of firepower if they hoped to pull it off.

There was a table and some chairs set up, and there were already a group of ten bald tattooed people sitting at the table. In comparison, there was only the three of us, as well as Hunter and Husk who had taken up a protective station in front of the stairway. They were mostly for show though. Husk could barely walk, and if they pressed them, they would have no choice but to retreat. The turrets currently being controlled by Cecelia were the only truly protective screen that we had.

The group stared at us with expressionless eyes as we walked across the dirty landscape to reach the other side of the table. No one greeted us or said anything, even as the three of us took a seat across from them. In the future, I’d need to create a special negotiation room that would allow conflicting parties to meet in relative safety. I’d think about it in the future. For the moment, the silence was lingering.

“My name is Daniel. I’m the leader of the new Ascension.” I spoke up.

The person in the middle sat forward. “Red.”

I was surprised to hear their voice sounded feminine. Even though her head was shaved bald, this was a girl. Well, her large chest that was insufficiently clad in some kind of mutant animal skin also clued me in. She also had long, pink lacquered nails that were cut to look like sharp claws. Her face was pretty but in an exotic kind of way. It sort of reminded me of Raven, although he was a guy.

“Your name is Red?” I was clarifying what she meant by her one-word answer, but my eyes couldn’t help but flicker to her bald head.

“If you’d like to confirm, you’ll have to look down below.” She grinned. “Although I’d be careful, it bites.”

The men around her chuckled as she casually sat back and crossed her legs. I kept myself from reacting to such a provocative statement. Although Katarina didn’t need to scowl like she was jealous. Raven was scowling just as much for some reason.

I cleared my throat. “You’re the leader of Dragon’s Claw?”

“I’m surprised… for a man who surrounds himself with beautiful women to protect him, I didn’t think you would judge.” She responded, her lips pouting.

I didn’t want to sound sexist or doubtful, but I had been trying to confirm that she was the leader. All she had said to start was her name, and I didn’t want to end up negotiating with someone without understanding her relationship with Dragon’s Claw. She seemed to have misunderstood my intention though.

“It’s not that. I just wanted things to be clear before we continue.”

“Clear.” She repeated. “Very well…”

She reached her hand into her tattooed cleavage, and I instinctively looked away as she fondled for a bit before pulling something out. After a moment, I glanced back to see a string wrapped around her neck, but at the end of it she was holding something up that dangled from her fingertips.

“What is that?” I asked.

“This is the claw of a murder dragon.” She responded. “To be the chief of the Dragon’s Claw, you have to personally kill a murder dragon.”

“I see…”

“Hmph… Daniel has done that much.” Raven declared under his breath.

“Yes.” Red smiled. “I had heard that you were selling dragon claw eggs. I had thought the story was embellished or false, but then early today I saw you with a baby murder dragon. Where is it?”

I didn’t like the way her eyes glowed when she spoke of the baby murder dragon. I had left him upstairs. In truth, it wasn’t like I wanted to keep him around. I understood Raven’s concerns. That’s why I had been so free with the dragon. I was hoping when it grew old enough it’d run off and then it would be someone else’s problem. I had saved his life, and he had saved my life, and that was that. At the end of it all, he was a mutated monster, and that didn’t fit in polite society or something like that.

I had only talked about taming just to give Raven a start. I knew enough to know that you couldn’t tame wild animals, and it was only a matter of time before they mauled their owners.

“Lilith is busy,” I responded, and immediately regretted it as Red’s smile grew.

“Lilith… how interesting… and you killed the parents?”


I wanted to sound threatening, so there was no point in disputing the rumor. As far as they could know, I punched the murder dragon to death with my mighty fists. Well, maybe not something that ridiculous, but saying I activated a bomb and still barely managed to escape with my life wasn’t the kind of tail I wanted to reveal to this woman.

“I see… how interesting…”

This conversation was getting nowhere, so I decided to interject. “You wanted to meet with me. I assume this is regarding my offer?”

Her eyes flashed dangerously for a second, but they were calm a moment later. “I had a chance to get a hold of some of the food you were offering. It is definitely of a higher grade than Argos city has managed to obtain in fifty years.”

“It’s clean, not expired, with no radiation.” I asserted.

“I’d be very interested in knowing how you’ve gotten access to such food. You wouldn’t need to just find unirradiated animals, but you’d need an entire food processing plant.”

“I have my methods. It’s a trade secret though. I wouldn’t tell any more than you would tell someone how many people and weapons you had or give them the schematics of Dragon Claw’s base.”

“Be careful, I have a mind to just take that information from you.”

Those words caused both Katarina and Raven to reach for their weapons. Hunter and Husk were too far away to hear the conversation, but they could see the other two getting read and similarly aimed their weapons. The only ones who hadn’t moved were Red’s group and me. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t have moved. It was more like I was stunned by her words. Even after all of this time, I still wasn’t quite as alert as I should be.

“You should mind your own business,” I responded after a moment. “I didn’t mislead what I said before. The source of my supplies dies with me.”

“Of course!” Red laughed, seemingly to relax. “I know this all too well. Oh, you two can put your weapons down. If I planned to make a move, I wouldn’t have done it here.”

Katarina and Raven glanced at each other. For the first time, the two seemed to be on the same wavelength. However, it was Raven who looked away first, his cheeks turning red for a moment.

“What is it that you want?” I asked, trying to make my voice sound assertive.

She smiled. “I’ve become somewhat excited thinking about you. Oh… what would you call it, I’d like to become more than friends.”

“Excuse me?”

“I want to become business partners.” She responded, her long lacquered finger stroking the table. “I want you, Daniel.”  

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