Random Fortuna Chapter 2
There was little doubt in Card's mind that he had taken a wrong turn from the start. Who would have known the ancient pre-Burn sewer systems ran so far? He had subsisted for a day and a half down there, drinking questionable water and begging food of several subterranean bands of ghouls. Finally he had emerged, climbing up into a half collapsed shack. He expected to find himself on the far outskirts of the Hub, possibly even Necropolis depending on his direction. Instead, he stepped through what was left of the doorway into the Razor Wastes.
The Razor Wastes was an area a few miles wide in the middle of the desert somewhat west of Necropolis. Here, the intense heat caused by the explosions and the radiation that destroyed the city Necropolis had fused and melted the sand into a jagged glass plain. This had happened many places, but the Razor Wastes for whatever reason was particularly bad, and unlike most other locations where the wind and blowing sand had either removed or worn down the sharp glass protrusions, here the deadly terrain was sheltered by a ring of large dunes. The Razor Wastes were extremely dangerous. Your clothing caught on sharp edges, and if you ever fell you'd come up looking like raw hamburger, if you came up at all. The reflection of the burning desert sun off of the ground could blind you unless you tied something around your eyes, and the glass grew incredibly hot. The only good thing about the place was the total lack of dangerous creatures. Nothing could live there.
Unfortunately, he couldn't go back. He knew the Hub police or Decker would be hot on his trail. His best bet was to strike out for Necropolis- once he left the Razor Wastes he would mostly likely run into homesteads, perhaps trappers or merchant caravans. Unfortunately, the first step to all that still consisted of leaving this place.
He made an attempt at meager protection from the deadly glass and the glaring sun by ripping off strips of his shirt and tying them around his hands and eyes. After that, it was time to start walking.
In the wasteland the sun was always fierce, mankind no longer protected by an ozone layer. Today it seemed particularly merciless, beating down on his back and sucking the moisture out of his system. It was approaching midday, the worst time to be out in the sun. If he could survive until sunset, he would okay, provided he didn't run into anything dangerous.
Seconds turned into minutes, which slowly turned into hours. He felt lightheaded, then he felt nothing at all. He stared down at his feet, making sure not to step in the wrong places. The sandals he wore could easily be cut open by the glass.
By the time he could see the end of the field, he could no longer tell how much time had passed. From the position of the sun it was now in the late afternoon. He doggedly continued east, one foot in front of the other, mind melting in a haze.
Then the glass below his feet started to peter out, merging with the regular sand like and ocean tide. The painful glare slowly subsided, and he was left with only an aching pain in his head to remind him of the Razor Wastes. Not looking back, he trudged up the side of the nearest dune, and peered off into the distance.
Necropolis was clearly visible, the ragged black shapes of the pre-Burn structures reaching off into the sky like burnt fingers. Closer, he could see the glow of a fire, most likely a caravan. Reaching for the last of his strength, he stumbled down the other side of the dune, and limped as quickly as he could towards the beckoning light.
The next thing he knew he was staring up into a pair of dark black eyes, and he could feel water trickling down his chin. He coughed, retching as his system tried to swallow. Someone lifted him into a sitting position, patting him on the back as he choked on his own parched throat. More water was poured into his mouth, and he managed to get some of it down, gasping for air. A deep voice with a thick accent sounded behind him.
"Are you all right? Did you come through the Razors?"
He tried to speak but only managed a low croak. The canteen was handed to him and he gratefully drank what he could down. Another few moments and the power of speech returned to him.
"...Y-yeah... I got lost in the s-sewers..."
"Sewers? You come from the Hub?"
"What are you doing out here?"
Card turned around. The man behind him was obviously a merchant, head sensibly swathed in cloth. He wore a set of short white robes, dirty and tied around his waist, homemade denim pants underneath, and a pair of dark brown Brahmin leather boots. The face that peeked out behind the folds covering his head was of obvious Indian descent, dark eyes and skin. He appeared to be somewhere in his late thirties or early forties, only a few wrinkles on his forehead. Card knew that people like him came from up north, from Shady Sands and the surrounding area.
The man took his hand and pulled Card to his feet. Card slowly regained his balance, and shook the man's hand in thanks. He figured he had probably passed out on the way down the hill.
"Thanks for helping me."
The man smiled. "It is no problem. I am Radeth. You are?"
"Card. Card Teller."
"Then Mr. Teller, it seems fate has brought you to me. You wish to go back home?"
Card scratched the back of his neck, apprehensive. A merchant never went out of his way, and he knew this man would be no different. "If possible. Are you going to or from Necropolis?"
Over Radeth's shoulder Card could see the merchant's guards milling about, replacing supplies and readying the Brahmin for a trip.
"Neither," Radeth stated, staring off to the southeast. "Our destination is a greater one."
Radeth looked Card up and down, then shrugged, deciding there was no harm in him. "No. We travel to a place called, 'Glow', where I hope to find many things from before the Burning."
Card frowned, the name not ringing any bells. There were many small 'villages', where several people built a few homesteads next to each other and gave it a name. Most of the time the only people that knew the name were those that lived there. However, most of these villages were placed close to established towns like the Hub or Junktown, the only safe places to be. Caravans didn't come out to the middle of nowhere to sell stuff to three families. So in the end, these self-proclaimed villages ended up under the same name as everything else surrounding them.
"I've never heard of it."
Radeth started walking back towards his guards, motioning for Card to follow. "I had not either, but two years ago a man dressed in metal came to Shady Sands. He was from the Brotherhood of Steel. He spent his time at our village arranging trade with Aradesh, our leader. While he was there, he slept in a tent outside the walls. One day, I was chosen to bring food to him, as someone was sent everyday. He invited me to eat with him, for he was lonely for talk, separated from his people. I was eager to listen, and he told me many stories of the Brotherhood."
Radeth mounted the side of one of the carts and sat in a seat bolted to the floor. He patted the empty space next to him, and Card climbed up. The guards still had much to load, and Radeth continued his story.
"One story in particular caught my interest. He told me of an old base, built before the Burning. There, wonderful things like his steel suit were to be found. He left shortly afterwards, and I also left to start a caravan, the caravan you see now. In the last years, I have made enough profit to follow my dream of finding Glow, and the machines within."
Something about that didn't ring right with Card. If this place was so stocked with goodies, then how come the Brotherhood hadn't already pilfered it? He voiced the question. Radeth shrugged.
"This I do not know. The Brotherhood is most secretive, perhaps they do not wish to go out to this place? Perhaps they are too busy with more important matters."
Card doubted it. No, something was wrong. Well, it wasn't his problem anyway. Hopping off the seat, he thanked Radeth again.
Radeth smiled. "It was no problem, as I said. If you ever need good caravan work, you look me up, yes?"
"Uh, yeah. I'll see you around."
Regaining his energy, Card set out towards the edge of Necropolis.
The smell of decay was strong on the air, both the decay of flesh and of structure. Necropolis was a dark and wilting graveyard, populated by the throngs of restless dead. Card had never been a Ghoul hater, but their presence was unpleasant to the senses. He had the sense to know that elsewhere the Ghouls might be second-class citizens, but this was a Ghoul city, and he was an outsider. He would have to step carefully.
He had been here only once before, when his father had still been alive. As a child he had enjoyed the trips to other places, but Necropolis was one that he hadn't. From his recollection, his best bet would be to descend into the sewers and contact a group of more human friendly Ghouls below ground, who could help arrange some way for him to get back to Junktown. These were the same Ghouls his father had traded with.
Card clambered over the wreckage, which grew increasingly dense the closer in he was to the city. Eventually, he managed to drop down off the piles of debris and onto an old road that had been cleared, leading into the heart of the city. Around him the charred hulks of old skyscrapers loomed, casting eerie shadows over the landscape. Here and there, out of the corner of his eye he could sometimes see shapes moving in the upper stories of the buildings, no doubt Ghouls who chose to live above the dangers of the desert.
The road emptied into a large plaza that had been cleared of rubble, the only standing structures in it the remaining lower floors of whatever constructs had stood before. There were few Ghouls in sight, the only ones visible wandering about aimlessly, living dead in search of purpose or release.
There was no way to get across the open space without being seen, so Card gathered his courage, and, looking around for any obvious hostile presence, strode across the plaza to one of the manholes. He slid it open, lowered himself down and shut it behind him.
The sewers were dark, the only illumination coming from cracks in the ceiling, thin windows into the world above. As could be expected, it was also dank, but Card found himself reluctant to touch the wall to prevent a possible slip and fall.
Getting his bearings, he struck out north, avoiding tunnels obviously inhabited by molerats. Watery gravel crunched beneath his feet. Some sections were dark enough to require his lantern, and the artificial light cast frightening shapes on the glistening walls.
It took him half an hour to navigate the tunnels before a light shining in the distance caught his attention, a wavering reflection from around a corner. He turned it, and the sight he was greeted with brought back memories.
They were a small group of Ghouls, driven underground by Set, leader of the Ghouls above ground. They didn't believe in his way of running things, and had built their own small community down here, amongst the ancient passages. They traded the many things to be found in the sewers, things like mushrooms, the brackish water that collected in pools deep in the tunnels, and the occasional piece of tech found in some long deserted pre-Burn storage room. What Card was after was the knowledge they held. They knew their home well and could get you anywhere in Necropolis, and not a few places out of it. Card also knew that they could tell him where the closest caravans were, and possibly arrange a way back to Junktown.
He approached their leader, hands held up to show he was unarmed. The Ghouls warily lowered their weapons.
Whatever he had been about to say was cut off by the sudden roar of weapons above their heads.