Unjust Deserts, Part 15
Part 15: The Beach Episode
“Graham, when you said we’d be paid to party on the beach, I gotta admit, I was expecting there’d be a fifty fifty split of sand and water. Know what I’m saying?” The chocolate skinned woman put her hands close to the fire, gathering what warmth she could from it, unused to the cold desert nights. She turned from the fire to glare at Graham “And some, you know, money too.”
Her glare didn’t really upset the lanky warlord sitting next to her. He was used to having his hunches questioned. Mostly though, his nonchalance was because he was too busy looking up at the unfamiliar, twinkling stars far above to notice. “What can I say Hershey? I go with my gut, and my gut says there’s a lot of dough in deserts!”
“Mmm, I could do with something sweet.” The plump warlady tending the fire was only half listening, mostly preoccupied with feeding the flame with chopped up tumbleweeds and dry wood.
Glare evaporating, Hershey sighed and shook her head. “No, Marsha, Graham means ‘dough’ as in Shmuckers, not dough for desserts or pastries.”
Marsha harrumphed. “Well, in my defense, eating only minimum rations for three turns has a way of making most topics seem food related.”
Hershey’s stomach grumbled in sympathy. “Yeah, and pipe dreams aren’t edible rations.”
Finally noticing the sour edge to her words, Graham got up with a sincere “D’awww!” He moved over to his friends, wrapping his long arms around them in an awkward group hug that was merrily reciprocated by Marsha, and not at all by Hershey.
“Come on, cheer up! We’ll be fine as long as we stick together! C’mon, what’s our song?”
Hershey pursed her lips like she’d tasted a lime. “I’m not singin’ it, it’s a ridiculous Rhyme-o-mancy.”
Marsha giggled. “Oh come on Hershey, what’s the harm?”
“Losing my dignity is the harm.”
“Pleaaaase?” Chorused Marsha and Graham.
“Fine.” Hershey sighed again, rolling her eyes and fighting to keep a smile from her face.
“On top of a mountain
With sore backs and feet
Is where Graham and Hershey
Chanced an unlikely meet
Then swung in Marsha
Rappelling whips aloft
She glued us together
So we wouldn’t fall off’t!
We put it together
As a clique, we impress! (Now onward we press)
When life squeezes too hard
We’ll make it out of this mess!
We’re ready to face it,
What life’s got in store
And if life gives seconds
Well just ask for some more!”
Hershey, Marsha and Graham finished their campfire song and broke into laughter and clapping.
Except, the clapping was coming from the darkness.
The three turned, with Hershey springing up and grabbing her warhammer, Marsha unfurling twin whips and even Graham seeming to snap into position, readying his lance.
“Woah, I’m not here to fight.” The voice in the darkness called, revealing a man in a vest just a bit beyond the firelight. “I heard your singing and came over, it’s rare enough to end turn with other Barbarians in the same hex.”
“Oh, we’re not all barbarians.” Offered Graham, only to be shushed by Hershey.
“What we are--” Hershey stressed, moving in front of Graham to screen “Is a Band. So you’d better watch yourself, mister!”
“Really?” Asked the man, hints of amusement and curiosity in his voice. “There’s four or so barbarian bands going around in the Capital Wasteland right now, but I can’t say I’m familiar with yours. What’s your band’s name?”
Hershey shuffled her feet, belatedly making it look like she was adjusting her foot. She coughed, not having expect the conversation to take this particular turn. “We’re the-- ah…”
“We’re the S’mores!” Graham yelled amusedly behind her. “You know, because of how our song ends.”
The stranger chuckled. “I believe you, it took my own band the better part of a turn to pick a name, and since we couldn’t agree, we finally just went with the most bland, obvious thing we had in common.”
“Oh?” Marsha asked, as she casually twirled her whips on the sand between them in a dizzying pattern. Hershey thanked the Titans they’d run into her. Her mellowness combined something fierce with her casual use of whips to make her the most intimidating of the three.
“Sure did. We call ourselves the Rock Band, after the rock we live on. If you’ll spare me a seat by your fire, I’ll even tell you about it.”
“I don’t know.” Cautioned Hershey. “He’s level nine, and a stranger.”
“Well, he won’t be once we meet him properly, will he?” Philosophized Graham, to Hershey’s embarrassment.
The stranger looked behind them to the campfire, eyes gleaming. “The Capital Wasteland’s a wild place, but we do have some traditions, like extending invitations to share a fire, and honoring the invitation with a truce.”
Hershey, Marsha and Graham shared glances, and nodded. Hershey stowed the warhammer on her back and took a step forward, pinky extended. “Sure, just come forward slowly with your hands out. No weapons.”
The stranger nodded, spreading his arms wide. “Seems fair. I do solemnly pinky swear to abide by truce with you tonight and tomorrow.” He stuck out his right pinky and walked slowly up to the fire, showing he was an ordinary looking man with a thick stubble, and well maintained purple clothes.
Hershey moved and hooked her pinky in his, sealing the deal. “Well, stranger. Now that we can meet properly, I’ll introduce us. I’m Hershey Barr, this is Graham Cracker and that’s Marsha Mallow.”
Nodding, the stranger smiled warmly. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Tyrian O’soar. But you can call me ‘Tyr’.”
The group moved back to sitting by the fire, with Hershey and Graham seated together close to Tyr.
Marsha moved by the fire and tossed a log into it, smiling back to their guest. “We’d offer you something to eat or drink, but we’re kinda low. Fire’s warmth is about all we can offer.”
“Thank you kindly, lady Mallow. Fire’s a rare enough thing to find, and hospitality is rarer still. If you want to find water and game, you should head on seven hexes north by northeast, there’s an oasis hidden there. I’d be mindful though.”
“Why?” Asked Graham. “Is it in some side’s territory?”
Tyr smiled, reminiscing. “No, mostly because you can never be sure who you meet there, like the peculiar run in a friend of mine had.”
“Really?” Asked Graham, fascinated. “What happened to him?”
“Well.” Began Tyr, getting comfortable. “It just so happens another of our desert traditions is sharing campfire stories.”
Several turns ago, in a hidden oasis not far from the border between Berliner and Parisserie, the hex had played host to something seldom seen in the Capital Wasteland. Much rarer than Baudseeds or Tyramisurus Wexes.
Lady Rosa Fingers stood stacked with eight knights, each wearing royal blue and white, looking across the pool at the Warlady from the distant side of Twister. The Warlady Gina Cryseas kept her expression impassive, standing at the head of a stack of eight high level Stabbers in jerry green uniforms, with another stack of unveiled scouts hanging back. She looked for all the world like a unit idly whittling the hours until start of Turn.
For her part, Rosa betrayed nothing. Even her famously unruly pink curly hair was behaving in the bun she’d wound it in. As a princess, and daughter of the famously taciturn Queen of Puddings, putting on a Royal facade of studied indifference was as natural to her as breathing.
She let another few seconds tick by, before opening negotiations. “Good day, Lady Cryseas. I trust the journey here was not too arduous?”
Gina folded her arms in front of her, and shrugged. “About what you'd expect; crossing mountains, hungry jungles, mountains again, and hotly contested desert hexes.” Somehow, she managed to make that plain statement of fact sound sardonic without giving outright offense.
Rosa smiled politely and didn’t take the bait. “Indeed. And now you’re in uncontestedly hot desert hexes. An interesting Dittomancy, that. I must say, it is a pleasant surprise that you made it on the appointed turn and hex; we expected nothing less from Twister.”
‘... and paid for just that.’ She may as well have said from behind a Veil of politeness cloaking her own sass.
If Gina picked up on the insinuation, she also let it pass. Twister and Puddings had a strictly business relationship. Both were so many hundreds of hexes apart they had no real history. The tension was heightened because of the mission; it had been ambitious, expensive, and an incredibly difficult ordeal, and the contract no less so to negotiate and finally sign.
Gina lowered her eyelids a fraction. “Let’s not waste any more time with pleasantries, Lady Fingers. I have the delivery. Do you have the information we want?”
“Yes. Maps of the Capital Wasteland, with capital sites, and the seven standard sides surrounding us beyond the desert. As well as the first editions you requested.”
“Good. I don’t need to remind you of the contract penalties if the satchel doesn’t have them.”
“How coincidental! I was just thinking of the penalties the other way around, as well.”
As one, Gina and Rosa disarmed, switching weapons for the diplomatic satchels to be traded. They walked in even, measured steps around the edge of the pool, under the slim shade afforded by the Blue Palo Verdes. Once halfway around, they exchanged the satchels. With it in her hands, Rosa automagically felt her side’s treasury lose a single Shmucker, a symbolic transfer that showed the contract’s terms had been met.
She nodded politely to the correct degree when addressing an ignoble warlady ally, itself a generous gesture considering they weren’t truly allied. “Thank you, lady Cryseas. It has been a pleasure doing business with you.”
Gina shrugged, but suddenly got a shrewd look. “I got a look at those books along the journey. They’re full of utter nonsense and Dwagon battlecrap. You really mean to try and make ‘em work, here?”
Rosa’s polite smile went genuine, audacious. “This desert is an unlikely place. Lots of seemingly impossible things happen here every turn; with so much chaos and fighting. But my side is old by Wasteland standards, old enough to see patterns in the ‘chaos’.”
Gina just raised an eyebrow. “Doesn’t answer my question.”
“We’re going to change the rules of the game. And that’s all you’ll get out of me, at least without a few pints.”
That got Gina to crack the barest hint of a smile. “We’ll, we do still have some Tarzhale from a jungle side--” She hadn’t finished making the invitation, when one of her scouts came rushing (soundlessly) down the hill, making a hand signal.
Gina turned to Rosa, all seriousness again. “Barbarian incoming from outside the hex. Come this way and stay still. We have a few scouting veils to spare.”
Graham was breathless when he interrupted Tyr. “That barbarian’s your friend, right?”
“Shhh!” Counter-interrupted Marsha. “Don’t jump ahead, let him tell the story at his own pace.”
Tyr’s smile seemed to glow in the firelight. “Thank you, Marsha. And yes, that was my friend Beck. He came in on his newly tamed Baudseed, too young and green to really know where to look for the hiding Mountain-capable Twister units on the rock walls, and too excited over finding the oasis to really scout around the hex for Rosa’s knights, hiding just over a ridge. They stayed hidden, hoping their secret meeting wouldn’t be discovered and Beck would ride off. But as Beck was about to find out, water has a gravity all its own.”
The loud splash and frantic beeping was unusual enough that Rosa risked poking her head over the ridge and saw the barbarian had fallen into the oasis and was flailing, struggling to stay afloat in the shimmering blue water.
In one fluid motion she hopped one armed over the stone ridge and ran to the edge of the oasis, Ordering only one of her knights to come with her.
She cried up to where she suspected Gina was hiding. “Lady Cryseas, throw me a line!”
A face with a look of utter disbelief poked out of a rocky outcropping on the stone wall around the oasis. “What are you on about, you raving mad Royal!?”
Nonetheless, she jumped off from the wall and onto the shore, letting her scouting veil turn back into cape, but not unhooking from the anchor point she’d set on the rockface. “You can’t be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“I am, now tie me tight and get ready to pull us out.”
Rosa looked to the surface of the oasis, and saw the Barbarian’s mount, a Baudseed of all things, poke her head into the water in an attempt to save him.
With a final squeeze, Gina finished tying her rope around Rosa’s chest as an improvised harness. “Done, now go in there before we all think better of this.”
Rosa nodded, and took a big gulp of air as she jumped in.
“That’s so romantic!” Swooned Marsha, sidling up closer to Tyr.
“It’s so noble!” gawked Graham.
“Hopefully your friend is more careful around water in the future.” Snarked Hershey, who despite herself, had been engaged by the tale.
Marsha pouted scoldingly at her before asking Tyr. “So did he join her side? Did they fall in love?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. Lady Fingers and Gina Cryseas left the hex before he came to.”
Graham gawked at that. “What? But why?”
Hershey leaned back, with a good guess at the answer. “Their secret mission, most likely. Which begs the questions: how did you know, and why are you telling us?”
Tyr smiled. “Being friends with a Predictamancer has its perks, and a looted spyglass isn’t just something useful for when you’re at sea.”
“And you’re telling us because….?”
“Say” Tyr brightened up. “Would you like to hear the story of how I tamed a T-wex?”
Hershey straightened and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t change the subjec--”
“Yes!” Tag teamed Graham and Marsha, shouting over Hershey.
Eyes gleaming in the firelight, Tyr leaned forward and started his tale. “Many moons ago, when I was barely level three…”
“Five turns worth of rations, check. A level 1 Yabba Dabba for a mount, check. Feed for the Yabba Dabba, check. And-- a dozen bottles of Kahlua?”
Tyr looked up questioningly from the duffel bag containing the last of his rewards. Lady Fingers raised an eyebrow, but kept her hands clasped primly in front of her.
“Yes, you did request ‘copious libations’ as payment if I recall correctly. There they are.”
He chuckled, closing the top of the duffel bag. “What’s that old Rhyme-o-mancy? Wine is fine but liquor is quicker?”
“I wouldn’t know.” Answered Rosa primly. “This Kahlua is some of the finest made in the United Queendom of Puddings. We thought your service merited it, rather than the beer our infantry usually drink.”
“Well it’s much appreciated, and it’s been a pleasure doing business with you. If you have any more missions, you can always reach me by hat.” Tyr was scraggly and wounded, wearing torn armor and battered raiment underneath. He’d just helped defend the United Queendom of Pudding’s second city, Tapiopeka, from the side of Madridleños.
So when he bowed deeply, to the precisely correct degree required for an ignoble commander addressing a Princess, he seemed all the more out of place.
Rosa nodded her head, perhaps a touch more deeply than strictly necessary, and watched Tyr lug the duffel bag onto his Yabba Dabba and mount it.
“Be safe!” Rosa called after him, not really breaching protocol, but somehow breaching his expectations.
Tyr half turned and smiled, though he didn’t expect her to see it, so he waved back as he rode off.
He ended turn on a bend of the river Mudslide, a tiny river, but one that didn't rely on the Swiss Mississippi. He had the notion to refill his canteen and do some fishing.
The day wore on slowly, and after an hour of silently waiting for a bite, he felt a tug on the line! He started spooling in the line, only the fish was really pulling back something fierce.
He stood up, started hauling the rod and line with all his might, when he felt something give.
Specifically, the “rock” he was standing on started rising slowly, he braced his feet wide only for twin geysers to breathe out just ahead of him, where the line was hooked.
Panic only set in when two huge, golden eyes opened to either side of what he now realized was the head of a Tiramisurus Wex!
With the sleeping creature now rapidly standing up, he let go of his fishing pole and prayed the Titans his “catch of the day” would let him get away. He ran over the back of the neck and slid, one foot ahead of the other, down the lizard’s back and found himself involuntarily launched into the air from its upward curving tail!
“Yabba Dabba, catch me!” The mount reacted and ran as best it could to get under him as he fell, even twisting mid sprint to allow him to land feet first on either side.
The miracle was short lived, because the T-wex roared and started stomping after them, a hungry look in its eyes.
The fact they couldn’t leave the Hex was constantly at the back of Tyr’s mind, making him unsure how long he could survive trapped in the same hex as that monster. So Tyr rode the Yabba Dabba deftly around boulders and over fallen trees, but the T-Wex simply stomped over those obstacles, making their agility advantage nearly null.
It was in one such twisty bend that the Wex tricked them, twisting as if to go around a boulder, only to keep twisting to use its enormous tail as a cudgel to slam against Tyr and the Yabba Dabba, sending Tyr clean off the Yabba Dabba and careening across the dirt.
He’d actually rolled across the dirt four or five times before coming to a stop. Dazed, one leg broken, just three hits away from croaking, Tyr managed to get up in time to see the T-Wex toss the screaming Yabba Dabba into the air, then chomp it down in one gulp, supply bags and all!
Horror welling up to his ears at the sight, the T-Wex picked that moment to turn its shiny golden eyes in Tyr's direction.
Blood draining from his face, Tyr could only deadpan. “I’m Yabba Dabba doomed.”
The Wex strut maddeningly slowly towards him, almost delicately putting one sequoia sized leg in front of the other, seemingly content now to toy with its meal. Tyr tried to stand, looked around frantically but couldn’t find his sword anywhere, so he grabbed the first thing he could… a large stick.
A huge shadow fell over him, and he could smell the Wex’s sweet and… surprisingly boozy breath on him. He did the only thing he could think of.
He threw the stick straight at its right eye in a final act of defiance!
But, as any commander can tell you, throwing things works for squat without the Archery special, so the stick went wide and far behind the beast. Tyr could have croaked right then from embarrassment.
However, the monster blinked, twisted its head to follow the path of the stick as it flew through the air… and in another miracle, ran after it!
Dazed and a little confused, Tyr could only wonder out loud. “Why would a Wex chase a stick?”
He didn’t have long to puzzle it over before it came tromping back, stick in snout, and dropped it near him. For some reason, it wagged its tail, its head was kinda wobbly, and it didn’t seem able to actually find Tyr as he lay still, eyes darting around the desert floor.
He moved to try and pick up the stick, and that got its attention, but thankfully, he realized the booze mixed in with the rations and Yabba Dabba was starting to take effect. So he waited until he was just outside its field of vision, picked up the stick and threw it again!
He was thinking maybe he could keep tricking it this way until he crawled to a cave or other hiding space, but it was too consarn fast with its fetching. With his only way to delay the inevitable being to keep playing fetch, he kept sneaking over to the stick and throwing it, or using new ones when it finally broke.
By the twentieth or so throw, the Wex was too pooped and boozed up to stay awake any longer, and collapsed onto the ground fully tamed.
Tyr got up laboriously, using the slobbery fetch stick as a crutch. Taming the Wex had about doubled his upkeep to 300 Shmuckers, but he suddenly realized, he’d have a far less difficult time making that upkeep.
“That’s amazing!” Enthused Marsha.
Graham agreed. “Yeah! It was a miracle you weren’t eaten, but that’s an incredible way to tame a feral.”
“I’ll admit, that was an entertaining story.” Conceded Hershey, fully believing it was all hogwash.
Tyr was about to say something, when Graham jumped up, finger pointing skyward and foot on a log as he loudly proclaimed. “We should tame a few! Three at least so we each have one to ride into battle!”
“Well.” Cautioned Tyr. “I wouldn’t recommend you go out trying to tame even one just yet. You need a lot of preparation and supplies. And even knowing what you’re doing, I’ve nearly croaked whenever I’ve tried it again.”
Hershey rolled her eyes. “Yeah, we can barely feed ourselves, much less a ten ton lizard. No need to get ourselves croaked over a story.”
“Oh come on Hershey, we can do anything if we try!” Pouted Graham.
“If by ‘do anything’ you mean ‘croak’, then yes.”
The two argued on, forgetting about Tyr, who chuckled and shook his head. He turned, however, when Marsha touched his hand.
“You wear it well.” She whispered, smiling.
Tyr raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you mean, lady Mallow.”
She shook her head slowly. “You can conceal it from ‘commoners’, but not to another hiding in disgrace. Tch. You keep calling me ‘lady’, for Titan’s sake.”
About to plead ignorance, Marsha made a shushing sound and motioned for them to stand and walk a bit away to look out at the desert. “Your history and reasons are your own, but I suspect you didn’t tell us those stories just to idly pass the time.”
“...If I didn’t, I can promise you it’s not meant as harm.”
Marsha’s eyes crinkled in a smile, and she put her hand to his cheek affectionately. “I do hope so, you seem like a good and honorable fellow, and I’d like to think you mean well. And… it would surely be a shame to have to choke you until your head popped off like a champagne cork if you got one of my friends so much as lightly injured in your machinations. Judging by the faces of the units I’ve croaked, it’s horrifically painful, but at least it's quick. It takes seven to twelve seconds before you’re unconscious, you know, but I wonder...” She put her index finger on her chin thoughtfully, before asking. “Do you think it does? Feel quick, I mean.”
Despite being five levels her senior, and having one of his T-wexes hiding just behind a ridge, Tyr’s brow had progressively knit in worry and his mouth now gaped open at what she was threatening him with. Finally noticing she’d asked him a question, he got a hold of himself and tried to answer. “I, uh, wouldn’t know.”
She smiled sweetly, put an arm through his and snuggled up close. “Mmm. Let’s keep it that way, handsome.”
Wasteland survival guide
Rule #1: don’t panic! Panic makes you do stupid crack.
Rule #2: It’s dangerous to go alone; tame a friend.
Rule #3: Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.
Rule #4: The desert is weird; roll with it.
Rule #5: That’s the way the Kooky crumbles.
Rule #6: Foolamancy isn’t just a special, but a state of mind.
@falcore51: Glad you like it! I'm as much a fan of mysteries as the next guy, but this was one that needed to get answered. On that note, Gina may take a little over a year of IRL time to deliver your pizza, but it will get there! ;D
@Nakedkali: Thanks for the spellcheck! Jerry Green is basically army green. A dark, forest-y color rather than olive. On that last note, Signamancy points to-- Maybe. ;)