A lone man sat on a hill looking over the turbulent river that toiled down below him. He took a long, slow drag on his cigarette. His hands are almost locked into position from the years he has spent smoking. Scars covered his hands and arms; he picked at the fresh scabs with an absent mind as he watched torn-up trees smash their way through the river. They splintered and broke apart as the brown torrent swept through the valley below him. His dark, stained, and tattered clothes blew gently in the wind. The soil beneath his feet slowly slipped away as he put more pressure on them.
“Well.” He said as the ground beneath his feet slipped away, lying his legs flat.
“I suppose I better move on.” He continued as he slid his heels into the ground, pushing himself to a stand. His hands were covered with mud and small chunks of grass.
Brushing off the worst of it, he slid and stepped his way down the hill, following the flow of the river. Keeping a wide distance, he stayed back from the water that overflowed over the sides, carving a path into the landscape beside it. He trudged slowly through the mud, chaining the cigarettes from his seemingly endless supply that came from the large pocket on his well-worn coat.
“Ah, there she is.” He chuckled as he glanced back to the loud cacophony behind him.
A large tin shed made its way through the overflowing river, breaking into smaller parts as it passed the man. Its metal slammed against itself, tearing, and screaming as it was swept out of sight. The man grinned as he lit another cigarette, smiling through the pain. His left hand pressed against his lips while his right pulled a wallet from his pocket. Flicking through the paper money he had available, he scowled.
“What am I going to do with this?” He asked himself as he scratched at his short beard hair. Enjoying the sensation and using it to distract him from his financial troubles. He folded his wallet away and marched in solitude, his only companion, the mud that stuck to the bottom of his pants and shoes.
Behind the roars of the river, his ears picked up the soft squelching of light footsteps sinking in and out of the mud behind him. He rolled his eyes and drew a large barrel pistol from under his coat. He rolled the four-barrel chamber to check it was loaded. Satisfied, he clicked it back into place, spun his upper body, and aimed his weapon. Behind him crept a creature that mimicked the texture of wood. Its legs looked like thin posts, and its torso was clothed but rigid. Its head moved as if it were made of flesh but with the grain of wood engraved deep into the skin. It shrieked as soon as it was seen. But the man did not react. Firing his hand cannon, his eyes remained open as the bullet tore open his target. He watched as it writhed on the ground and screamed. Blood poured from it as if it were any other normal living creature. He pulled the gun back and watched as the creature began to slowly sink into the muck.
“Shit.” He said plainly, as he heard an uproar of noises coming from the nearby forest.
He looked to his side as the forest seemed to shake with excitement. Still, with his smoke between his fingers, he gripped the handle of a bladed weapon resting on his hip while he raised his pistol to the tree line. He carefully eyed through the coming darkness of twilight.
High on a hill not too far away, a young man sat with crossed legs. He watched with a giggle in his throat as the man below him unloaded his pistol before he drew a large machete from his side; swinging with great precision, he cut down many monsters of the night before he fell to their might.
“Stupid old man, who uses such a loud weapon this far out?” He muttered to himself as he cautiously checked to make sure his gun was still on his hip. Feeling the handle, he patted it, reassuring himself. Cautiously he surveyed his surroundings as sounds from behind the hill carried on the wind, giving the young man chills. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he gripped his gun; his eyes darted around as he started to move to the crest of the hill. Keeping himself low to the ground, he peered over the top to see what was creating the noise. Down the jagged hill, two women fought. With a singular bar of metal between them, they fought for ownership. Neither one of them is willing to release the bar to be used as a weapon by the other. The young man saw this as an opportunity for himself. Just meters from the girls was a wagon with a large Oxen strapped in as its form of locomotion. Carefully making his way down the hill, he got to a position just out of the girl’s eyeline. Raising his weapon, he fired. A vibrant bolt of energy arcs from the tip of his pistol in near silence. The electricity collided with the metal bar, shocking both women. The skin on their hands cooked slightly as they were forced to grip the now-heated conductor in their grip. The young man holstered his weapon and sauntered over to the woman. Their bodies contorted in odd ways as their muscles locked in place. But before he could do anything, his ears started to ring when a sudden, cracking force collided with his skull. His vision blurred as he jolted to the side, the whole world turning as he plummeted into the half-frozen dirt beneath his feet.
“Come on, you two, stop playing around. Let’s get his shit.”
Neither of the other girls could respond, their jaw muscles still frozen from the shock of the gun.
“Oh right, I guess you two are a little tied up right now. Guess I’ll do all the looting then.” The third woman cracked out as she searched the young man, as his blood pooled onto the ground around his head.
Satisfied with her loot, she looked back to her companions on the ground. They were slowly recovering when she fired a second bolt of lightning at them. Starting their agonizing muscle spasm once again.
“Sorry, I know we said we would split the loot three ways and that since we have been together for years, we would always have each other’s back. But frankly, I really want everything we have, and I don’t hear any complaints, so I am going to just take the carriage and head off. Enjoy your metal stick.” She laughed as she shot the metal rod for an extended blast.
The metal started to heat so much that it turned red. The smell of cooking flesh filled everyone’s noses as the third woman climbed into the cart, flicking the reins. The Oxen started to pull the carriage, and she was off.
Before the rod could cool, both the woman made the decision independently to rip their hands from the metal bar. Their hands shook as they brought them close to their chest for comfort.
“How long has that bitch been planning this?” One of the women said as they rolled on the hard soil in agony.
“Planning, do you really think she can plan? I think she got greedy today and took what she wanted. But we will get her back.” The other said as she slowly made her way onto her feet. “Now get the hell up; we got to hit a town.”
Both women climbed to their feet and started walking in the direction that their cart was driven off in. Much to their own surprise, they managed to find their way into the nearest town without sustaining too many injuries. The cool air of Hollow slowly calmed the throbbing in their hands until it was only a slight ache, providing they didn’t touch anything. They wandered until they found the nearest doctors; stepping inside, they were instantly being examined by a small team of people. They walked around them, grabbing and prodding at different body parts, making notes. They flashed lights in their eyes and probes into their ears invasively. Eventually, they stopped abruptly and left a pile of notes on the front desk before sitting down to wait for the next person to enter. On the far side of the desk sat a portly man who seemed to be sweating perpetually. He licked his swollen lips as he looked over the pieces of paper dropped before him. His thick fingers stuck to each page as he lifted them from the desk.
“Burnt hands and over-tensed muscles. You two seem like you have had fun today because that looks fresh.” He said as he pointed at the still raw wounds on the hands.
“Yeah, we had a little hassle with the person you suggested. She decided that the goods we gathered were hers. Now she is gone, and we have virtually nothing.”
“well, I can’t have that for my favorite customers. Now usually, I don’t run compensation on a deal that happened over a year ago. But I will run you a little trade. Interested?”
The two-woman looked at one another, muttering and darting their eyes around in communication. Turning back to the man, they gestured for him to continue.
“Well.” He said as he stood from his chair. “I have a very high reputation with my labor hire, one I wouldn’t want to be tarnished. So, this is my deal, you keep your mouth shut, I stitch up your hands and release those tensed muscles for free.”
“Don’t get us wrong, we like to be ahead. But there is no way you are trading down in this exchange.”
The man knocked his fist on the wooden desk before making his way to a back door.
“This back here is what I keep, and there is an additional prize for our lasting friendship.”
The man ushered the others into the back room, where their cart sat. It was unloaded, and all the goods were stacked neatly.
“I keep the goods; you take the cart. In the back is your prize.”
The two women made their way to the back of the cart and grinned as they watched their betrayer squirm in her binds.
“She came back to me trying to make a deal, but she didn’t understand how I run my business. Now, she is your business. Now come with me; we will sort out those wounds and send you on your way.”
Once the woman woke up from their sedation, they slammed their heads against the wooden post behind their heads.
“Stupid, so stupid. Why did we trust that fat fuck?”
The two women took in their surroundings. Looking at all the other slaves that were chained to various posts and bound with metal chains to large stones.
“How does he even have a connection to a slave mine?”
“No talking; if you are awake, you are working.” Yelled a man before he cracked a whip over their head.
Reluctantly they stood and took the pickaxes that laid at their feet. Starting to swing, they waited for the slaver to move away from earshot before continuing their conversation.
“How long has it been since you were a slave?”
“Probably, six or seven years. You?”
“More than ten now, and the only reason I got out was that my slave camp got raided, and I snuck out. How did you get out?”
There was a short moment as the second woman smiled softly, but before she could answer, a lashing from a whip carved through her back. She knelt to the ground and threw her pick away. The slaver approached her, grabbing her shoulder. She turned as soon as she felt his hand, burying her face into his neck blood started to spray, and the man cried out as his throat was ripped out.
“We ate our captors.” She said, turning to her companion, grinning wide with sharpened teeth and blood dripping from her chin.