The Plan of a Master
Part 4: Tradertown
By True Raven

"So boys, are you going to tell me a little bit about yourselves or am I going to have to guess?" Mark was a large human being. There were no two ways about it. He was the type of guy who could walk into a room and attract immediate attention, both good and bad, from others. By stature alone he looked like the type of guy who was ready, willing, and most certainly able, to put up a hell of a fight at the drop of a hat. Maybe that was why he was so eager to get to Tradertown by nightfall. He had said only a little bit about the taverns in the town, but from what Richard Grey knew about taverns from the old writings he studied in the Vault, they were the perfect place to find a drink, a woman, or a fight. Right about now, Grey could use all of those.

The first days of his exile had been completely frustrating. Even trying to do insane amounts of documenting on everything he had come into contact with during his first three days on the outside hadn't helped as much as he had hoped it would. He was almost starting to lose hope. Something he couldn't let his former assistant, and long-time friend, Harold see was happening. That was a man who had lost more than Grey had. Much more.

Grey never married, he always believed that he couldn't handle the commitment of marriage due to of the amount of work he did. His assistant, however, had found a deep and rich love the likes of which Grey thought only lived in stories. Sam- as Harold was known then- and his young wife Lucy shared the kind of love someone could only dream about. The two of them were soul mates. They were perfect together. There was just no better way to put it than that. They were going to be the happiest people the world had ever known just because they had each other. They were going to live out their last days gazing into each other's eyes with all the love and passion that had been burning in them for a lifetime. They were going to have everything anyone could have ever wanted. Until a self-righteous, maniacal bastard took it all away.

Henson Reliche, Overseer of Vault 8- damn did it hurt to think of him that way! - had Lucy murdered or maybe did it himself, Grey hadn't figured out which yet, and framed Grey and Harold. Convicted and sentenced without a trial, they were exiled from Vault 8. Harold wanted vengeance and Grey wasn't far behind. Reliche was as good as dead to Grey, but the Overseer's time would come, for now they had to worry about keeping the story just they way they planned it.

Well?" the large man questioned. "Is anyone going to say anything?"

Grey noticed Harold looking at him with eyes as pained as they were once happy. It seemed that the young man needed a little bit of leadership. Grey always accepted his leadership role. Ever since he was a young boy he had been a natural leader. For some reason, when he spoke others listened. A skill he was going to need indefinitely now, but also a skill he couldn't be sure would work. It would be very simple for humans to forget about keeping an organized government. The world wasn't destroyed when people lived by the way of the gun but rather when world powers got greedy. Would they come to Tradertown and find a haven of political paradise and distinguished gentlemen or would they find a collage of blood, beer, and violence with ramshackle huts serving as housing and savagery running wild?

Grey shook his head slightly to clear that thought. He had to focus! If they could make this man believe the lie they were about to tell then they could make anyone believe. Mark was certainly more intelligent than he was given credit for. Where did he get his intelligence? Maybe all humans who survived were this smart and maybe not. Life always doled out gifts in various amounts to everyone born. All gifts are different and given in different amounts but all are useful, one way or another. Grey's mother had told him that after she spanked him for making fun of a classmate who couldn't learn as fast as he could. She taught him a valuable lesson that day, one he would never forget. His mother had taught him many valuable lessons he would never forget.

Grey shook his head again and looked at Harold. The young man seemed to be worried. Did he really have reason? Reviewing the past few days in his mind, Grey decided that he probably did. It was time to take the lead and help his friend. Taking a deep breath Harold opened his mouth and began the story they had crafted so carefully over the past three days.
"We are survivors from a vault, Vault 14 to be exact." That would explain the Vault suits both men were wearing, and if they found anyone who was from a Vault and who knew anything about the numbering system or location of Vaults they would still be able to keep up their charade. Very little was mentioned in Vault records about Vault 14 except that there was one and somewhere far to the south and east. Nobody could possibly walk that far to the northwest in the Wasteland.

"Really," Mark mused. It wasn't a question. "Will you please continue with your story."

"Sure. About ten years ago our Vault opened and we emerged from it into these Wastes. We were both young at the time, many details are hard to remember but the sirens…" Grey sighed. "… I remember them. Terrible years followed. Many members of our Vault died from the radiation, or from starvation. After ten years or so Harold and I decided to leave. We wandered around for a long time until we stumbled upon you."

"And that's it?" Mark asked.

"Yeah that's how it happened," Grey sighed again. It felt bad lying this way but the both of them still had members of the Vault who they cared for very much living there until the doors opened. They decided that they had to protect members of the Vault as much as possible until the grand opening which was still years down the road. Both men agreed quickly on this matter. Although it would be wonderful to watch Reliche's immediate downfall, they were obligated to protect the vault as much as possible. Looking at his young accomplice, Grey almost sighed again. The young man looked worried again, not to mention haggard.

"Well that's a great story," Mark said.

"Thank you-" Harold started.

"If it wasn't a complete crock of shit," Mark interrupted.

"What the bloody hell do you mean if it wasn't a crock of shit!" Grey screamed. He could feel fire in his face and in his voice but didn't care either way. How could the man know they were lying? True, they were ignorant of this land but they crafted their story asking every question they could think of to keep it simple and to the point. How could Mark know?

"Tell me, oh great liars from Vault 14, what is a Wasteland Brahmin?"

"Well- it's a kind of, thing-" Grey stammered.

"Another question, since you don't know that one," Mark's face had twisted into a sneer, and his muscles were tensing and releasing in a very threatening way. "If you came from Vault 14, which is, oh, let's say 400 miles southeast from here," he snarled at the end as if to punctuate "here". "Then you wouldn't happen to know how some of my friends in the Hub or Junktown are doing would you? That is if you've ever even heard of them!"

"Mark! Grey! Calm down!" Harold yelled. Why was Harold yelling at him? After a second, Grey realized that he had assumed a threatening position himself, with his hands squeezed into fists and held up as if ready to fight.

"I am calm!" Grey yelled back, forcing his fists to unclench and stay by his sides.

"Mark, do you want the real story?" Harold asked.

As quickly as Mark became infuriated he became completely calm, washing the anger from his features quite easily.

"I'll make you a deal, boy. You tell me your real story and I'll tell you mine." Mark extended his hand to Harold. "We got a deal?"

Harold looked at Grey and nodded his head before taking the large man's hand into his own. "We've got a deal Mark. I won't hold anything back if you won't."

At that Mark nodded and Grey felt an impending sense of dread. On one hand it was good to see Harold taking some leadership, but then again it was almost impossible for Grey to ignore that feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him something very bad was about to happen.

**********

"So we wandered around for three days until we stumbled upon you. That is exactly how it happened."

All three men sat on their haunches in a small circle. Grey and Harold were looking at Mark with eyes both scared and furious. They were both the hunters and the hunted. In all his years in the wasteland, Mark never saw anything like that in anyone's eyes. Never. Nor had he heard of any story like the one that they just told.

It was unbelievable to think that a man was going to emerge from the vaults in just a few years with that much manpower and technology behind him. Sure that Brotherhood of Steel he backed up in one fight before his raider days could combat him but their organization was still quite small. Mark shook his head. No time for worrying about that now. It was time to be a man and keep his word.

"You didn't lie once, so I won't lie at all. We'll have to talk a little later about everything you said because we'll have quite a bit of work to do." Both men opposite him sighed, obviously relieved. "And I definitely have to get you boys ready for Tradertown. I don't want to see either of you wander into The Cage accidentally."

At the mention of The Cage both men looked at each other and shrugged. Then turned their attention back to Mark. Responding to their indifference with a slight groan Mark realized that both men knew nothing of The Cage. Feeling like a father telling his two children not to touch a rabid pig rat, Mark spoke with a voice he hoped would get the message across.

"The Cage is one of the most notorious and dangerous places in the entire Wasteland. It is basically a cell twenty feet by twenty feet and ten feet high. The walls are chain link and it has two purposes. First, if you wish to fight somebody or a group of people without anyone getting involved you go to The Cage and fight there. Second, there is a prize fighting organization called the Links who will lure people into fighting in The Cage. The Links find whoever they feel would give them a good fight against one of their fighters and promise them lots of caps if they win. They run the gambling in Tradertown and use The Cage to further their profits. Do not go to The Cage, understand?"

Both men looked at each other again and shrugged before Harold looked at Mark and asked, "What are caps?"
Fighting back the urge to either slap both men back into reality or just run to Tradertown and pray they didn't follow, Mark instead began to explain the wonderful Wasteland into which these two men had just entered.

**********

Henson Reliche glided along the corridors of Vault 8 with as much purpose and anger as he could manage; as such was expected out of him. But for any who looked closely enough at the Overseer, they would see he was really as excited as a Vault Schoolboy during recess. Not that many citizens had the nerve to look closely at Reliche in the first place.

The first three days of his enemy's exile had been far from problem free. But trivial matters such as what to do with the skeptics who believed that Reliche had actually done something wrong by exiling murderers just meant that the Overseer had gotten a little more pleasure out of having them sent to the Detentional Facilities for a week or two. With the more minor problems out of the way shortly thereafter, Reliche would have no trouble focusing on his present duties. By now it was very clear to everyone who lived in the Vault; Henson Reliche was in complete control, and nobody was going to take it from him. Nobody.

A small giggle escaped from the Overseer's lips. The seldom-heard sound was so foreign that a small group of boys playing in the hallway scattered, all but one crying for their mommies. That sight just made the Overseer want to giggle again. If the children feared him now, the respect he would garner from that fear would make him even more powerful in the years to come. Generations would pass and Reliche would get more powerful with each passing year. Fear was his greatest ally.

As he neared the entrance to his chambers, Reliche smiled once more. As a constant reminder of his power he decided to take Lucy's sister, Helen, as his bride. Their wedding was set for just a few days away. She had all the wonderful physical attributes of her late sister, but unfortunately she also had some of the spirit of her wretched sibling as well. Motioning the guards away from the door, Reliche entered and looked at Helen.

The marks from her last attempt to resist him had faded somewhat. The lump next to her temple had reduced and the bruise on the corner of her lip had become much less purple. "With enough pain and suffering anyone can be broken," the Overseer thought to himself. Putting as much of a smile as he could on his lips he looked at his future bride, who in turn spit on his boots.

"I see your spirit remains as strong as ever."

She glared at him.

"I feel I'm in the need of some comfort, join me in the bedroom."

At the thought of what she was about to be forced into again, Helen started to shake slightly. Reliche went over to her side and took her by the arm. Lifting her out of her seat he noticed that her eyes were glossy. "Tears are the first step on the road to braking someone down," the Overseer reminded himself with a small sense of personal satisfaction.
Leading her into his bedroom he closed the door behind them and started to unbutton his Vault suit.

As he got into bed and began to overpower his unwilling fiancé he thought, "This bitch better give me a son…"

**********

"So what you're saying is that bottle caps are the current currency?"

"Yes Grey that is it. The Hub backs them and so they are the accepted form."

Stretching a little Mark looked upwards at the sun. Probably around four or five in the afternoon and the trek to Tradertown would take only about another half an hour, although he didn't bother to tell his newfound friends that yet. They still weren't hardened enough for the place he was about to bring them. Even that miraculous kill of the bull radscorpion by Harold didn't mean that he could take on ten or twelve men at once, which is exactly what would happen if they didn't get a firm grasp of what to and not to say.

The explanation of all the terms and beings he could think of in the Wasteland had taken the better part of the afternoon. The teaching had been incredibly tedious because of the questioning nature of the two scientists. Who didn't know that Brahmin had two heads? Of course upon just stumbling over a fact that everyone knew had forced him to answer a barrage of questions about how the radiation had effected the second head, with Grey furiously scribbling notes all the while. It was enough to make him want to just shoot the poor bastards and put them out of their misery.

But for some reason he couldn't bring himself to harm them. Even when he stumbled upon them two days ago and followed them without them knowing it, he was sure he couldn't just go ahead and kill them. Something about them, Grey in particular, was just… special. It was like every time he loaded his firearm up and was about to blow the two hapless men away he couldn't bring himself to do it. Never in his eight years of mercenary/raider work had that happened before. And now here he was with a couple of men with the mentalities of children who he was forced to baby-sit!

"So Mark what about you? Are you going to tell us your story now?" Harold asked.

"Damn you boys just keep coming with the questions dontcha?"

"Sorry, if you want to wait until we get to Tradertown and into a room we could talk then."

The story, his story- the one he hadn't told a soul in all his years in the wastes that for some reason he was about to tell these two men- was extremely personal and was something Mark had guarded all his life. Now these two men had come out of nowhere and gotten him to actually want to tell them. What the hell was it with these two?

"Yeah let's get settled first. Tradertown is just over those hills," Mark pointed to hills in the not too distant horizon.

"Well Mark when we get there we'll listen to your story, there is no rush to tell it," Harold added.

Breathing an internal sigh of relief, Mark jumped on the chance he had been given. Finally he could try and think of a way out of his word without killing these two. It wasn't like he didn't like the two of them, it was just that, well, they were annoying sometimes with their constant questions and their note taking. Sometimes it seemed that every thirty feet Grey would shout, "Stop!" and run over to a rock, peering at it and diagramming it. What could the man see in lots and lots of rocks? Maybe now that they knew Tradertown was so close they could slow down their desire to want to know everything and instead focus on pretending they were average Wastelanders-

"Hey wait guys I think I found another great specimen!" Grey yelled as he trotted over to s small pile of dirt, bent down, and pulled out his notebook.

"Ugh," Mark grunted. Maybe not.

Mercifully after only a few minutes of writing Grey seemed to be finished and Mark decided that the men would need a little more advice and even some money. Damn these bastards better be worth his trouble!

"Before we go on you need some caps," Mark forced out of himself. Again here he was going out of his was for these men who he didn't know. A handful of caps was all he had, enough for a few nights in a tavern, some food, some drinks and a few whores. Now here he was dividing his small wealth equally among these two strangers. Someday this risk had better pay off…

Mark pulled a dog-eared bag out of his pocket and went ahead doling out his caps equally, about forty-five each.
"That is enough for food and a room for two days each. If we get separated I want you to meet me at Merchant Pete's Tavern. If I get killed sometime soon go to him and say you know "Merc Mark" tell him your story and he will help you out."

Mark realized that both men reacted with sudden shock at the idea that in the next three miles someone could die so easily. Even after the hours he just spent telling them about different areas and what the Wastes could do to you! They needed to see it to believe it. Too bad if they survived they would see more death in a week than they had in their entire lives before this point. If anyone knew where they were coming from it was Mark. Maybe it would be good to get that story out after all.

"Let's get on to Tradertown boys," Mark said in a strong and helpful voice.

Both men looked at him in that furious fearful way and smiled.
"Sounds good friend," Grey said.

And off to the horizon, and Tradertown, they went.

**********

Harold could hardly hide his excitement coming up the final hill before Tradertown. What would it look like? Any type of habitat would look wonderful right now, even something less than pleasing to the eye. Would it be big or small? Most likely on the smaller side from what Mark had told them thus far.
Harold still couldn't believe the luck he and Grey had had in bumping into someone who knew so much about how to live outside and survive. Mark told them all about the different areas of the world they just entered. Everything from the northern mountains to the "Rad ridden hell of the southern deserts," as Mark called it. The lands couldn't be that bad.

"Get ready boys, we may see trouble here."

Both Grey and Harold stopped dead. Harold supposed he was looking a little too anxious as he scanned the countryside. The last thing he wanted was another battle. His eyes had beheld too much death the past few days.

"What do you mean by that?" Grey snapped. The former Head Scientist was eyeing the surrounding area with uncertainty. It seemed to Harold that Grey was getting a little tired of fighting around every corner as well.

"What I mean is that this is the final hill before Tradertown. If any Raiders are going to jump a caravan, or a small party of men for an easy kill, this is it."

"So we could get raided by a force this close to a town?" Grey asked.

"Tradertown doesn't have an army or even too much of a police force. If a band of Raiders wanted to take this place down they most likely could do it if they were large enough."

"Well, why won't a band of Raiders do that then?" Harold was curious about this matter. Didn't it make perfect sense to control a place that made so much money? The land itself must be worth something.

"No raiding clans have the balls to take Tradertown. For one, if they took it they would see less caravans. Nobody wants to get themselves into a situation where all their wares are in a town full of Raiders."

"Well I guess that makes sense."

"Wait there's more. If they did try and take Tradertown, they would have to come in during a certain time of year."

"Well why is that?"

"Because if they come in at any old time they have to deal with not only the Tradertown Police but the Guards from the various Caravans as well. The merchants that base themselves in Tradertown have a regular supply of Caps, they can hire Mercs to act as guards whenever they feel they need it. And trust me, they do so often. They are also the ones who supply the Police with their Caps so they may operate. This assures them that potential customers aren't robbed before they can spend their money at their shops. Trust me, the Cops in Tradertown do very little except keep people from stealing. Killing someone else is fine so long as you have a reason or do it for sport." Mark snorted at the end. "That's why I need you boys to stay away from the Cage. You will be hurt bad there and I can't stop it."

"Mark we understand," Grey replied. "What do we have to look for?"

"Well, first off make sure you don't se any glints in the horizon. Raiders ride in trucks and on motorbikes and always have armor on that shines in the sun."

"Alright we got it Mark."

"Well boys here we come. At the top of this hill you will see Tradertown for the first time."

The thrill of the moment was bubbling inside of Harold. What would Tradertown be like? It had to be something significant else Mark wouldn't have brought them here. Harold took a deep breath as they took the final steps towards the top of the hill. Finally, they came to the top of that final hill and looked down at what was to be their salvation.

A small settlement welcomed them at the top of the next plateau. From the looks of it, it wasn't huge by any stretch of the imagination and looked a little run down as well. There was a wall of old pieces of scrap metal around the town with what looked like a rusty chain link fence behind it. Past that was a large open area in the center of town and around it was what looked like different types of buildings in different places. All of which were made of either wood or scrap metal. Nobody lived in luxury in the wastes, so it seemed.
"Mark why are there different areas in that town?" Harold asked.

"Good eye boy, there are four areas of Tradertown; The Market, The Corner, The Bronx and The Cellblock. Every area has different things that go on in it. For example The Market is where all the caravans go, where the shops are and where all the jobs are for us wandering folk."

Grey looked skeptical, "What about the other areas?"

"Well, the Corner is where the residents live. There aren't many of them, mostly guards and caravan masters who live here. The Bronx is where the taverns, bars and bathhouses are. They call it The Bronx because they say it's as tough a place to go as the Bronx on the East Coast was before the war. Then there is The Cellblock, which holds the Cage and the Links. Remember what I told you and don't go there."
Harold didn't care who or what was rough now; this place just may be a home for them until they could get back on their feet, so to speak. Some generous soul would have pity on them and give them a place to stay until the Vault opened. As haggard as they looked nobody but the most ignorant would turn them down. Even in a Post-Nuclear Hell nobody could be that ignorant.

The thrill of seeing new things was almost unbearable for Harold. He knew the corridors of the Vault like the back of his hand but he always wondered what it would be like to traverse grounds he had never before seen. Now one of his dreams had become a reality. He looked at Tradertown against the skyline for another brief second before rough glances from both Mark and Grey got his feet moving again.

As they made their way down the hill Harold noticed a gleam in the distance.

"Mark what's that?" he pointed to the gleaming object. "Those aren't raiders are they?" Harold asked, getting a bit nervous and touching his sheath to make sure his knife was there.

"Not Raiders. You are about to see your first caravans boys," Mark said, and then spit before continuing, gesturing with his head. "That particular one is going in through the Northgate. We're coming in through the Westgate. Settle down and concentrate on keeping your eyes open. You are outsiders here. Most places in the Wastes don't care for outsiders. And trust me Tradertown doesn't take kindly to strangers causing trouble. You'd better be friends with important people to get your ass out of trouble."

"Er, Mark what about that gleam?" Grey asked as he pointed to another gleam moving more quickly towards them from the other side.

"Now those are Raiders! Let's go boys! Run for the gates, they are after the Caravan but will take us out too. Go, go, go!"

They picked up their pace and covered ground quickly arriving at the Westgate before the Raiders could become too much of a threat. Mark nodded at the guard who let them in with only a slight suspicious glance at Harold and Grey. They went on by the stone-faced guard and into the less than crowded streets.

As they got to the gates they realized that the Raiders were now after the Caravan alone. They stood and watched as the Raiders came across the area they just left, only a handful of them, maybe six at the most, in a pickup truck and three Motorbikes. The Caravan was out of sight and most likely near the Northgate.

"Well they aren't going to catch that Caravan are they?" Grey said.

"Don't get too cocky, Grey. Raiders are good at Raiding and splitting up their prey. I'm guessing they already have another force coming from the East that will get to the Gates before the Caravan."

Harold suddenly felt his heart in his throat, "Well what do we do about it?"

"Harold we do nothing. That is why the Caravans hire guards. Trust me on this one, even a dozen raiders will have problems killing too many of the Caravan members on this run." Mark smiled grimly and shook his head. "Lost a lot of my boys on these trips. It would take a miracle for these Raiders to slaughter all of those men. I can tell, again trust me."

Grey and Harold looked at each other and realized that Mark knew what he was doing. He was the one who lived in these Wastes all his life.

"So you know all these people?" Grey asked changing the subject.

"Many but not all. I see different people here every time I come. Most of the mainstays and I are friendly though."

"So are we off to Merchant Pete's Tavern?"

"Yes, I need to get you two some real clothes before the Links see you. They just love to hurt people in Vault Uniforms. The crowd gets a sick pleasure on watching them die."

Small ripples of fear shot through Harold and made him look at all the people with more scrutiny than before. Most of them were poorly dressed in tattered clothing. Almost all of them could use a bath as well. Smelling himself, Harold realized that he was in need of a bath as badly as any of the others on the street. Other than that they were regular people, of all shapes, sizes, and colors. They seemed to do a double take at the sight of Harold and Grey and then went about their normal business, or glared warily. Mark was right; they would have to be very careful until they got used to their new home and its inhabitants.

Looking around Harold did a double take at the sight of a pretty young girl who looked very familiar. That hair and height… of course…but it couldn't be…could it? Thoughts swirled through Harold's mind. Maybe Reliche had tricked him, no it was impossible, but it couldn't be, he had to know.

"Lucy!" Harold yelled as he tore into a sprint at the girl. She turned and screamed and tried to run away.

"Harold get back here!"

"Lucy! It's me Sam! Don't run!" Harold grabbed the girl by her arm and she swung at his face with a knife she was carefully concealing. Ducking he disarmed her with shocking ease and held her in an embrace.

"Lucy how I've missed you." Harold almost sobbed into her hair. "I love you my darling."

"Harold you fucking idiot let go of her!" a man yelled behind him.

Anger boiled inside Harold. Someone was trying to take his love away from him again. Nobody would harm Lucy ever, ever again.

Spinning around quickly Harold held the knife in one hand and Lucy in the other. Behind him Mark came to a sudden and complete halt from his run towards Harold's back. Grey skidding to a stop just behind the larger man.

"What the fuck are you doing to my girl Vault punk?"

Turning again Harold saw another man stride next to Mark. Obviously he was someone of importance; the way he held his body defined that. Smaller than Mark by a couple inches he was still built like a tank. The way his eyes were shaped and his olive colored skin, made Harold think that he was from what was the Orient before the War. Those had been men who excelled in hand to hand combat. Not people to mess with. His flattop hairstyle and scarred hands just gave more weight to the assumption that Harold was in very deep trouble.

"Harold," Grey said a little too calmly, "Did you happen to see this girl's face yet?"

"Well no…" Harold stammered and looked at Lucy.

The girl was pretty but not nearly enough to be his Fallen Angel. Hastily he let go of the poor girl's arm and the knife. She ran towards the new man as Harold tried to stammer an apology.

"I'm-"

"Gonna get my ass kicked? Couldn't agree with you more," the large man moved threateningly closer to Harold. "Don't worry boy, when I make you my bitch you'll be in too much pain to get embarrassed over this. It'll be fun draggin' your face across the chains of the Cage"

"You'll shut your little punk ass up before I shut it for you Geranimo," a new voice bellowed.

Harold looked in the direction of the newer voice. A man with a large amount of belly under his tattered clothing was marching up to the scene. He walked with a quicker step than a man of his weight was supposed to and almost looked jovial if his eyes didn't burn into you the way they were now. The newer man stepped right in-between Harold and Geranimo, as Harold guessed his name was.

Looking at Geranimo, the newer man snorted. "Are you trying to act like a big shot again? I don't give a shit and a half who the Links think they are. You are on a side of the town you don't own and unless you plan on fighting not only this boy but also Mark and I, I suggest you make a run for it before you wet yourself. Understand?"

At that Geranimo stepped back and looked at Harold.
"This ain't done yet, you still gonna be my bitch."

Grabbing his protestant lady friend by the arm, Geranimo stalked towards the center of town, his girl waving her arms and pointing back to where they just left.

"As for you…" the fat man turned and used that piercing stare on Harold causing Harold to wonder if he was the one who was going to wet himself. "Welcome to Tradertown. You seem to be a friend of Mark's so I don't think you meant any harm. Do it again however and I'll drag you to the Cage myself." Turning to Mark he said, "Welcome back Merc."

Mark smiled and said, "Pete I've got some boys here who need help from one of the few decent men left in the Wastes. You up for it?"

"Well that depends on the help they want." The look radiating from Pete's eyes had vanished, leaving a warm and friendly glance in its place. The look of someone who helped people down on their luck. Harold felt almost tingly inside, although the fear from his latest encounter with another person still burned his cheeks and was making the blood in his ears pound.

"Let's go to the Tavern and talk it out, we'll formally introduce ourselves there," looking at Harold, Mark added, "and talk about how to keep ourselves out of trouble while we're at it."
Harold's face felt like fire. He was very embarrassed about what he did to the poor girl. She must have been terrified. How could he make it up to her? Maybe he could find her something at one of these shops as a gift for the trouble he caused.

Grey scowled at Harold as best he could, but the fatherly protective look that he had been bestowing upon Harold was in his eyes. Harold knew Grey wanted to do something to help him, but nothing could ease the pain of losing Lucy.

Harold my love, I am no longer with you, but in your heart always.

Harold blinked and looked around. People mostly walked by and the few who had stopped to watch what they surely thought was to be a massacre had vanished into the taverns and bars that lined both sides of the packed dirt street. Who or what was that voice? It had saved him before and now was here for what reason?

"Who are you?" Harold asked inside his mind.

Only silence returned his question.

Deciding to ask Grey about this when he got the chance, Harold trotted along the street until he caught up with his friends and Pete. As they ducked into a halfway decent looking building, Harold wondered what lengths he would need to go in order to survive his own personal hell.

******************