The door to the small tavern opened with a squeak while a hooded figure crossed the gap with steady steps. The eyes of the only two dwellers of the place turned lazily towards the newcomer, while he took of his biohazard protections, hood and cloak, hanging all of it from one of the rusted nails protruding from the rotten walls of that slum. While removing each one of the garments he left on the floor a trail of orangish dust, marking him as a nomad from the desert.
- Move away, old man, and leave room for a thirsty wanderer!
The big man let him fall on one of the stools, while his partner at the bar moved his own chair aside and swallowed his drink in one big gulp. Without looking away from his glass this old man, by all means drunk, said with raspy voice:
- If you’re willin’ to buy me other pint of tarkila, stranger, I grantee I will tell you the weirdest story yo will ever hear.
Throwing a bullet on the counter the nomad made a gesture to the barman, who reluctantly poured a round of a thick and tarlike paste in their glasses before returning to his place in a corner to lit again his fungus-mungus pipe.
The old man grabbed the nearest glass with anxiety and took a long gulp, cleaned the leftovers on his lips with his own dirty sleeve and then stared at the stranger with glazed eyes and slowly started his tale:
- Few have heard about the band known as the Takahiro’s Orientals, but those who have say that they are a bunch of merciless killers who want to live away from the settlements and only contact them to trade the basic goods they need. As you surely know, stranger, they are easily recong… regoni… told apart because they are covered in tattoos, speak a foreign language and have their own customs and traditions, dating back apparently to a shitload of years ago. And for some unknown reason, they value honor above anything else. But what fewer people even know is that they popped out of thin air near Scrapbridge.
The barman, suddenly interested in the story, expelled a thick puff of smoke that engulfed the old man’s head making him cough loudly and interrupting his narration. The storyteller spat on the floor, took another long drink from his glass and continued:
- Many moons ago, when I was young and used to roam the Wasteland making a living, went to visit the moss distillers on Dark Hill as I had done a zillion times before. Back then the Feeders Guild paid me good bullets for harvesting moss sap, so that was a route I knew very well.
He changed position on his stool and, after a long sigh and a longer drink, resumed the tale.
- But one day with a specially dark sky something different happened. While walking up the path leading to Dark Hill, I started to hear some screaming. Thinking that maybe a biter had strayed too far from his hunting grounds, I readied my rifle and cocked it, just in case it showed up in a narrow bend of the path…
But after walking several meters more the noises became stronger and, judging by the fuss, there was indeed more than one or two creatures. Then I heard the shots.
- I thought that maybe Jerry or Moe, the other harvesters, were in trouble, so I tried to ignore the fear and ran uphill to the place the noises were coming from. After reaching the top of the hill I saw the origin of the agitation, and it had nothing to do with me buddies.
In the empty yard in the middle of the five main distillers of the plantation there was a girl, fighting for her life against several creatures that looked like balls of fur, teeth and razorlike claws. Judging by the hole in the fence nearby, she might have been trying to sneak into the plantation to leave the pursuing creatures behind, to no success.
And looking at the pile of dead creatures scattered around her, clearly the young lass was not giving up quite yet. She delivered firm cuts with her medium blade, while the gun on her other hand blazed again and again.
But even so it was clear it was not a fair fight. The girl was doing alright against the monsters on the ground in front of her, but I saw at least two of them climbing to the top of the closest distiller at her back. From there they would easily jump on her back by surprise. And then she stopped shooting and I knew he was out of ammo.
Don’t ask me why, instead of turning around and leaving as quietly I had arrived, I aimed my rifle and shot at those beasts. She looked at me for the first time and then resumed killing more of those creatures.
After shooting down three of those things and when the bulk of the pack was finally fleeing down the hill, one of the beasts, that had been hiding crouched behind a pipe, jumped on the girl with such force that she was sent flying against the distiller with a loud crack. The lass fell to the ground senseless, the sound of her crashing so loud that I was sure her neck had snapped. Scratching the ground with one of its claws, the damn creature readied for the final blow. To this day I still can’t tell how I was able to hit it at that distance dashing at full speed…
When I reached the girl I had a better look at her. I hadn’t noticed from afar, but she was almost completely naked: most of her body was covered in colorful ink. The deadly sword she carried was an amazing weapon with a slender and sharp blade like nothing I had ever seen. And against all odds, she was still breathing…
- I managed to drag her to the hut of Lonely Pol, which was not far away, as I thought we would be safer there if the creatures came back. The girl didn’t wake up for the rest of the day and all the night, while I stood guard at the window although the sand storm that unleashed soon after didn’t let me see shit.
At the next day she opened her eyes, so I walked up to her to see how she was doing. I hadn’t taken not two steps when she rolled over the floor, grabbed the sword from where I had left it, unsheathed it and released a cut that stopped an inch away from my neck. He stared at me and blinked twice with her dark, almond-shaped eyes, as if having trouble to remember what happened some hours ago and how she had gotten there. Finally she lowered the sword, held it with both hands and nodded her head in a solemn gesture I couldn’t understand back then. She pointed at her chest and said what I assumed was her name: Michiko.
In the following two days we spent in there, waiting for the sand storm to go away, I tried to ask her who she was or how the hell she had been involved in such a nasty fight. She didn’t speak our language at all, so we talked with signs, single words and drawing on the dusty floor of the cabin.
She said she came from a far away land surrounded by water. She was part of a clan of warriors living in a cave under the ground, the Norronin- or something like that- who only emerged to the surface to hunt some huge mutard monsters.
Apparently in one of their hunts she and her group chased one of those creatures to a kind of big ship, and during the fight it got loose and drifted into open waters for many moons. When they saw land again they soon realized it was not her homeland anymore, but an unknown, foreign land. They walked for another full season inland upon reaching this area.
Can you imagine such thing? No one is going to believe this shit, I thought…
And with the dawn of the third day, the door of the hut exploded into a shower of splinters when a tattooed giant crashed into it without a sound. After him a group of people equipped with heavy armors and masks sneaked in silently and for the second time in a couple of days a shiny blade was pointing at my neck.
Michiko, quickly standing between me and the owner of the sword, talked to him in a really strange language. Then the intruders lowered their weapons and retreated again to the door of the cabin, while the girl gathered her few things and dashed after them. Before disappearing out of the room she launched a quick glance in my direction.
Just one of the warriors remained with me in the hut, the one who seemed to be the leader of the band. He came to me with heavy steps and stopped about three feet away. I thought my time had came! That man, wearing a hideous mask with a mocking smile, reached for something in his belt and gave it to me without a word, although he nodded his head as his partner had done a few days ago. He then turned his back on me and left. I peeked through the window and saw all of them walk away downhill one by one. Some time later I understood that was a gesture of deep respect and that the man was Takahiro himself.
- Nice tale, old one! A real story to be told to the kids… I bet you have drank a lot of tarkila jars telling that bunch of crap to anyone crossing that door!
But I don’t buy a single word, you hear me? I am a nomad from the Wasteland, I have seen a thousand horrible creatures and travelled to the edges of the Barren Lands. And I have never seen or heard anything like that. You are nothing but a lying old drunk!
With a quick move the old man took out from his sleeve the sharpest, thinnest and shiniest dagger the stranger had seen in his life and drew an arch with it pointing right at his left eye, so the nomad could clearly see the strange symbols engraved in the blade.
- Oh, yeah? So where did I get this from, smart ass?