Unjust Deserts, part 6
Part 6: Day Tripping
I wan't to give a huge 'thank you' to Lipkin for his help and the special guest appearance of his products. You can read about it in Finding Sanctuary!
Satisfyingly sweet with a slightly sour aftertaste.
Beck popped one of the stolen fruits into his mouth and munched on it, not a bad breakfast by any means. He enjoyed it at first, only to sigh when he remembered how he’d gotten it. It was funny how the taste mirrored how he felt.
He kept eating though; it seemed his appetite was quite immune to pangs of guilt.
It was annoying. He’d been perfectly fine, even happy, while ransacking the farms yesterday until that one stabber started blabbing. Beck was only doing what he needed to survive, and paying back a bad turn to a sleazy side. He didn’t regret taking back his due, and it was his life on the line too, after all.
But that niggling feeling of guilt was annoyingly clingy, much like the fruit’s sour aftertaste.
So he focused on another annoying thing: peeling the fruits. As he sat under the eaves of a large craggy hill, he pulled one apart by holding onto the hairs and splitting off the rough outer skin. Sticky juice got onto his fingers as he exposed the milky white and juicy interior around a large inner seed.
“Beep. Beep beeeep?”
Kevin was sitting by him anxiously, waiting as he peeled, ate, and then offered her each fruit’s seed core one at a time.
“A little patience won’t croak you, you know.”
She beeped plaintively, poking her head over his hands, under his arms, on his shoulders, all to try and sneak in a peck. Beck moved this way and that, he knew she only needed to eat the seeds, but if she ate the whole thing it was less food for him.
“No, bad bird! You won’t get any food unless you wait!”
He hadn’t actually said it as an order, but the clarity of instruction he layered into his words seemed to pacify Kevin, who sat still (if grumpily).
“Attabird. Here’s a nibble for your troubles.” Beck tossed up a seed into the air, and Kevin snatched it expertly in her beak, swallowing it happily.
He patted Kevin and rubbed her neck before getting another fruit to peel.
He was Level Three with a Feral to feed. Physically, he didn’t feel hungrier, but their combined upkeep was 110 Shmuckers, and it would only get bigger as they leveled. He instinctively knew foraging for upkeep would eventually stop working. He’d need better quality food, learn to actually cook, and then eventually only Shmuckers would suffice.
He had a responsibility, Duty even, to Kevin and himself to meet that number. He would have to get used to the fact he’d have to do nasty things to fulfill it.
And this Turn, he had a notion of how to do just that.
They rode northwest, four hexes left and parallel to the dry riverbed.
Close enough to keep it in sight, and far enough to avoid Terry’s haunts.
He and Kevin rode over the bumpy hillside strewn with dark rocks at a half a gallop, with the river peeking in and out of view to their right. He was getting better at riding, and he could handle her Superspeed for a few short bursts now.
They’d ransacked the farms for two turns straight, and with only one turn of neutrality left, he’d thought it was a good time to make themselves scarce. His new plan was twofold: find out who was blocking up the river, and offer to work for any sides fighting them.
He wanted to destroy the dam, or whatever it was that kept the water from the desert. Doing that would make his life considerably easier, increasing both the abundance of water and game.
Beck had no illusions about this though. Tyr had made the rise and fall of sides in the Capital Wasteland seem downright mundane, but it would still be hard, and whatever side hired him would probably want to keep the dam once it was captured.
It would be downright impossible to find a ruler who would be willing to give a dam.
So, he’d pillage, raze and destroy it himself, if he could. Probably fill up his Purse and help the desert.
He was halfway through imagining what the river would look like, full of water instead of croaked soldiers, when a particular scent hit his nose and he Ordered Kevin to stop. She halted so suddenly in her tracks Beck struggled not to fall off. He was still getting used to her ability to ignore inertia.
He patted her back and asked. “Do you smell that?”
Kevin moved her head this way and that, sniffing the air delicately before chirping out a happy “Beep. Beep beeeep!”
“Alright then, let's see if we can snag some lunch.”
‘No way. No cracking way!’
It was an abandoned camp. Backpacks, bedrolls, weapons, a dozen tents arranged in two lines, with a larger one at the end, and even a couple of wooden racks for smoking meat, the fire just barely flickering beneath.
He had no idea why it was deserted, there were no bodies (living or croaked) and there didn’t seem to have been a struggle. It looked like they had all literally up and left. Whatever had happened had been recent though, as evidenced by the fading fire.
Beck leaned forward and spoke softly to Kevin. “What do you think girl? Is it safe to go in?”
Kevin looked below, craning her neck and warbling a bit, but didn’t seem scared. He trusted her instincts, and his, so after circling the camp once they made their way inside.
The tents were colored a dull gray and blue, with banners showing a confusing jumble of brightly colored rectangles overlapping each other. All the tents were seemingly empty, flaps open and swaying in the breeze.
He peered into the tents, rode around camp, and found the place to be perfectly deserted.
Really, other than a cloying pine-fresh smell everything seemed legit. So Beck dismounted by the central, larger tent and ordered Kevin to stand guard. But just as he reached to pull open the tent flap, he cried out as something sharp pricked his hand. He pulled it back and reflexively sucked on the wound, and looked the tent flap over more closely, only to find a few cleverly threaded cactus needles.
It seemed an odd, pointless kind of trap. Was it meant to keep out ferals?
He didn’t have long to puzzle it out before Kevin beep-beeped worriedly. Turning to the sound of roiling soil, he saw the small black pebbles strewn across the camp were rising out of the ground, unearthing wrinkly green skinned humanoid bodies.
Some deep Signamancy of it struck terror into him, the thought that the camp’s croaked dwellers were coming back to life as Uncroaked, angry at his pillaging their belongings started to sap at his sense of balance.
In fact, on either side of him two such Uncroaked bodies were springing up!
Confused and fearful, his reflexes kicked in and he managed a one-handed arc of his axe that sliced through both Uncroaked’s chests and knocked them back.
He put a hand to Kevin’s back and tried to mount, but missed and fell. Something was off with his balance… and why were his hands different sizes?
Kevin was on the ball though, she ducked her head under his torso and slid-lifted him onto her back, only to start running evasively around the camp.
The problem was that the Uncroaked were packed close, boxing them in along both rows of tents, and Beck was only marginally holding on with one hand and balanced on her back, not letting her reach full speed.
Around them, he heard the Uncroaked cry out to each other:
“Ne tanta multitudine salvaretur, oppugnare cum spinis!”
“Ne, utere Acme Rete!”
Ne, uti Acme Incus Ballistae!”
There was a huddle around one of the creatures, who was pulling strange magic items out of a hat and handing them to the others.
And he realized, these weren’t Uncroaked, they were some kind of Natural Ally! The name came up in his mind: these were Wily Peyotes!
Beck swung a leg over Kevin’s back and steadied himself as best he could with a hand under one of her wings, and Ordered her to try and leave the camp.
She weaved and ducked, avoiding grab attacks and a thrown net, but Beck felt a sharp gash into his right leg from a lucky claw strike.
And oooooh woooooow…
The Peyotes were growing! One, two, three stories tall! Kevin ran underfoot as they stomp stomp stomped to try and squish squash squoosh them to itty bitty gritty bits!
Their big hungry snouty faces, cunning yellow eyes with their droopy enormous ears and sharp teeth snip snip snapped at them, and up above somehow the clouds turned into technicolor Cooky Battews, and the sun morphed hideously into a huge intense eyeball, Terry’s!
Beck shut his eyes tight and hugged Kevin blindly, overwhelmed with terror and unable to process the insanity around him. This was turning into a really bad trip!
“Help! Please, I require rescue!”
Beck felt the words resonate deep inside his soul, understood the deep truth behind them; but oddly, they reached his ears from the outside, and he realized they hadn’t come out of his mouth.
He dared to peek, and saw Kevin was still ducking and weaving, maneuvering to escape the camp, but he definitely saw the words “Whoever you are, I am in this tent, please release me!” Come out of the large tent as a huge white balloon with blocky black lettering and neon colored exclamation marks expanding out of the balloon and dancing around the tent.
Just then, the tent decided it was actually a lovely, and terribly terrifyingly terrifically familiar pool of water, which started to swallow the desperate word balloon and drag the exclamation marks down with it, each pleading he was leaving them to croak.
And deep in his heart of hearts, he knew if he didn’t fish out that word balloon it was him who’d drown.
“Man overboard! Come on Kevin, we have to rescue me!”
“Beep-beep!” Kevin protested, “Beep beep Beck, Ah’m sorry but Ah can’t carry two riders, it just ain’t in me!”
Dammit, Kevin was right. It was getting harder to hold onto details like that, especially with all the skidding and running. “How about some of that Superspeed Foolamancy? Try and trick’em by flying over them onto the tent!
“Beep beep, been hit with some kinda poison hon, didja forget I ain't a flyin’ bird?”
Frustrated, Beck swung his axe hand all willy nilly silly, only to sloppily lop a limb off a Peyote as they did a lap around the camp. Belatedly, he realized he was supposed to be terrified of them.
Kevin seemed enthusiastic “Beep-beep better! Try attacking, stop being afraid of them!”
“Wait,” thought Beck out loud. “Since when can you talk!?”
Since he’d phrased that as an order without meaning to, Kevin had to comply and “waited” by going into one of her famous sudden stops. She turned her head, annoyed, and was about to scold him for stopping them in the middle of the battle only for half a dozen Peyotes to run, jump or skid calamitously past them and crash into each other or into the tents.
In the mixed up, colorful new view of reality he currently “enjoyed”, Beck realized that the Peyote’s had not, in fact, been expecting things like a Baudseed being able to stop stock still in her tracks from a sprint.
A large, upside down glass bottle with a corkscrew cap appeared over Beck’s head, only for the sun to appear inside and light up.
Beck yelled out “Hey, uglies! Bet you can’t catch us!” and silently shared a perfectly looney tooney battle strategy with Kevin.
Kevin ran a zigzag pattern, and did her ‘stop stock still’ trick again. Just as a pair of Peyotes aimed strange devices at them Kevin jumped up, letting them hit each other in the head with tiny thrown anvils.
For her next trick, she ducked down and let two Peyotes leaping on spring-loaded shoes smash into each other snouts first, and Beck finished them off with a lazy swing of his axe.
As another quartet of Peyote’s corraled them, Kevin sat up. At the last second, Kevin sidestepped and tucked a leg under her body like a Flamingo, while Beck lifted his axe halfway up by his side… and used it to ping-pong, the flat across the heads of the four Peyotes, making Kevin spin clockwise and counter and back again as they each got KO’d!
The lone Peyote on Rocket Skates barreled towards them, the only Peyote with a chance of outrunning them. Beck hallucinated a ridiculous idea, then ordered Kevin to stop in front of one of the racks used for smoking meat. As he approached the Peyote slobbered, chomped at the bit, only for Kevin to sidestep and beck to swipe at the beams supporting it… and let the poor Peyote (with no real ability to turn) fly onto and then off the rack / ramp and into the air, only to twinkle in the sky before leaving the hex.
“Have a nice flight!” Wished Beck.
To keep up the foolery, they ran into a tent chased by a half dozen Peyotes. And to the Peyote’s surprise not only were they not in there, but they ran out of a tent at the other end of camp!
Whatever the Peyote’s had poisoned him with, he was actually starting to enjoy it, even opening up his mind to the possibilities of Kevin’s Foolamancy. Beck and Kevin, the real ones, not the Foolamancy images running out of the other tent, walked out, and he yelled out “This is a groovy groovy groove!”
They kept this up for several cycles, and before long their Foolamancy doubles had the Peyotes confused and unstacked, making them easy pickings even for Beck’s wobbly axe arm.
And so, improbably, fantastically, and intoxicatedly, he and Kevin croaked or KO’d every Peyote in the hex.
Beck half fell, half dismounted off of Kevin, and looked into the dizzy, swirly eyes of one of the Peyote’s with the notion of sending him off with a cool one-liner like ‘Baudsee you later!’
Whatever was in his system was making him stumble over big words though, stuttering three times over ‘Baudseed.’ He screwed his mouth shut, trying to form the words to his cracking awesome one-liner, then tried again.
“B-- B’dea, bau’dea, Bau-deea!”
Grumpy, he just yelled “That’s all folks!”