I slip a small vial out of my pocket and walk to the pond. A strange thing to have I know, but in this world you never know when you’re going to come across something useful to collect...venom, blood, poison, saliva, anything that can be used to either create a weapon or track somebody down. Thief watches as I approach the now cloudy water, fill the small vial to the brim, cap it and slip it into my pocket.
“What’s that for?” She asks. “That’s enough to make even you mutate--”
“That’s my business,” I say. She clamps her jaw shut with such force I can feel the vibration through my own teeth. I brush past her and grab the shirt of the dead hunter as she silently follows suit. We drag him to the lake and hurl him several yards over the once-serene waters, then romantically watch him join the beast beneath the surface, his skin bubbling with a new infection as he sinks.
“I’m going home,” I say. “I’ve got shit to do, some loose-ends to tie up.”
“Are you going to Mars?” She asks.
“Yeah, now’s as good a time as any--” I cross my arms and look down, thinking about all the residents we just doomed.
“I was wondering when you were going to leave,” she says. I ignore her, since that’s my business too.
“Were there any other hunters left?” I ask her after a long pause from the both of us as we just stare tiredly at the greenish ripples in the water.
“No, that thing ate all of them. It gave me enough time to evacuate the village,” she replies.
“Hm, that’s convenient. Such a shame, a few looked fairly talented,” I rub out some of the goo still left on my shoulder, trying to figure out what to do. “Get the village residents and everyone who uses this water out of here. I’ll send some people to help. Maybe Empress or Z knows how to decontaminate...you know what? Let’s just--”
“Burn it,” we say in unison.
“Right,” I say. “Drain the lake first, then knock yourselves out. Try not to burn all of it, I like hunting here. And save that bar, it’s one of the last places I can go where no one recognizes me.”
“You might want to send in Ruck then. I don’t specialize in self control,” she says. Almost every clan has a team of hyper trained firefighters, since burning out infections over large areas is pretty much an everyday thing. While one or two mutations might be valuable for making enhancements and modifications, an entire population of beasts is too much for anyone to handle.
“Will do,” I say. “Come home as soon as they get here. I’ll need you at the capitol while I’m gone, since you’ll be in charge by the time I leave.”
Her eyes grow wide and she looks as if she’s going to protest, but just nods and whispers. “Alright.”
I ignore her apprehension and just keep giving orders. “In the meantime evacuate the residents. Cana has more than enough room.”
“He’d never allow that,” she says.
“Oh, he will now that he’s dead,” I reply.
“You really killed him?” She asks.
“Is that a surprise?”
“No, no it’s not actually,” she stammers once more. “You district’s massive now King. It’ll be an empire soon, think you can handle it?”
I grab her shoulder and give it a shake. “That’s why I have people like you around to handle it for me,” I say with a smile. “Now get these people out of here before I decide to make my empire a little bit smaller.”
She grins too. “I’m surprised, you’ve gotten soft. Think about how much money we’d make if we just let them mutate like that guy.”
“No, not even Empress would take that many off our hands, and no other merchant will either.” I push her over playfully and she stumbles over the small rocks. “Besides, I am many things, but a tyrant isn’t one of them.”
“If you say so...” she says under her breath. I turn my back on her and walk up the short distance to my poor bike that still lies on its side. I pick it up and turn the key, kicking myself for leaving it in the ignition at the bar like a damn fool. “See you later Thief,” I shout over the engine.
“See you,” she says. “And hey! Watch out for Number Seven!” She says with a dorky smile. An old customary farewell; used to be a common way to send off travelers when the legend was still raw.
“You actually believe in that shit?” I ask.
“I mean, you never know! If anyone finds it it’ll be you!′
“That two million does sound good...” I say almost to myself.
“Tell you what,” she shouts. “When you get Eli back from Mars, why don’t the three of us hunt it down together? Just like the good old days.”
“It’s not real you fool!” I reply as I mount my bike. “But fine, sounds fun. I’m game.” I put my bike in gear and spin my tires, leaving her alone in my cloud of dust--and to clean up my mess as always.
The trip home is beautiful, however it is lengthy. My country is in the southern region; the environment is lush and peaceful. An agricultural territory that I stole years ago from a failing warlord; with the addition of a few more districts taken from leaders just as pitiful as him, I now control some of the continent’s greatest agrarian resources. Fields of tobacco, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and mountains of apple trees follow travelers wherever they go. I protect the small towns of farmers scattered throughout; they feed me and my soldiers, in return I guarantee their safety...most of the time.
It’s not just the serenity of mountains and crops that comfort me as I follow the dirt road home, it’s the massive craters and ponds that populate the landscape. Years ago our ancestors wiped themselves out with an unforgiving war, their bombs scattered the earth with cavities. In some desert regions they lie lifeless and empty. But in my rainy and fertile homeland they’ve been transformed into clear pools, like how the old quarries surrender to sky-fall and become gleaming green lakes.
They rise everywhere, walls now covered in foliage that comes to drink the water, gigantic lizards blessed by an over-saturation of oxygen rest on their edges, fast moving streams run into the forests that jealously fight one another to shade these seemingly-sacred oases. I fell in love with them when I first came here, a magnificent landscape to remind us of the death and destruction committed at the hands of our foolish forefathers. For me the craters represent healing, power, resilience, and evolution. I strive to see myself in them.
My life has always been a bit bit of a wreck, but coming home always gives me hope. Even with the monsters that still traverse the Earth, our world is still beautiful, and it’s an honor to live within it. I guess that’s why I still go out of my way to keep my immortality; I choose not to believe in the afterlife because I know this is as close to paradise as I’ll ever get. I’m just not ready to lose it yet...even though it constantly goes out of its way to kick my ass.
I shake the rest of last night’s acid trip out of my head, momentarily pissed that I’d finally come down all the way, no longer stuck in that weird half-hangover-half-high dimension that I know all too well. The world dims into a much less shiny reality and I greet sobriety for the first time in weeks. Finally I give up on finishing my three-hour ride back to the syndicate, I pull over to a field of these craters and hide my bike under a pile of leaves. I disappear into the woods and climb up on the mossy green basin wall, rest my back on the surface, and drift into a long overdue nap.
You’re lucky I’m tired Fix, I think. Because when I wake up, I will not sleep again until I’ve put a bullet in your head. I lose myself in multiple dreams of all the different ways to dismember a man; each one more brutal and satisfying than the last.