Chapter 38 Last Supper

Katrina drew the flaming sword and raised it skywards in a great arc of fire. From every corner of Scrapyard the gesture was imitated, a host of torches flaring in the darkness. She looked out upon a sea of faces bathed in the glare of red, yellow and orange light. These colours were reflected again from the surface of the polished mail that covered and protected her breasts, and from the woven metal skirt that extended from beneath her bare navel to just above her knees, and from the silver skullcap that fitted tightly on her head.

Punching the air with her fist, she shouted, "Who is the bringer of death?"

A multitude of throats gave back the reply.


"Who holds all life in her hands?"

The air thrummed with the response.


Katrina took a long breath, paused a significant heartbeat until she judged the exact dramatic moment had arrived.

"Serve the Angel of Death in all things!"

She glanced sideways, and nodded. From slightly lower than where she stood, on a roof at the highest point of the junk yard, her band of Holy Whores began a raucously enthusiastic chorus of She is Gathering the Faithful to her Bosom, jumping up and down to make their own tattooed and brightly painted naked breasts jiggle wildly. Their inability to sing in tune was more than made up for by their fantastical and lewd gyrations, and partly drowned out by the discordant whine of homemade fiddles, along with the drumming and clashing of Raiders beating on car roofs and other pieces of junk. The ecstatic responses of the worshippers, most of whom didn't know the words to the song, made up the rest of the cacophony of sound carrying far across the Wastes.

Katrina gave the slightest of winces. The singing, like the holiness, would need some working on. But it served its purpose, and there was no doubt that the young women had the whoring part of their new profession off to a tee. Like everything else, it had been surprisingly easy to bring about. A new religion was being born. And one that she'd created in her own image.

It was true that it would have been much harder without the help of her new friends, Leo and Agatha in particular. Their extensive knowledge of the past and the resources of their hidden library had proved invaluable. With their assistance, she and Arta had thrashed out the basics for the worship of the Angel of Death in a matter of days. It was relatively simple to adapt the ways of pre-war religions to the Wasteland; everything in terms of rituals and organisation was already there for them to use. And brainstorming sessions had produced plenty of new ideas. Some of the best were all my own.

The din accompanying She is Gathering the Faithful drew to a close as Katrina raised the Shiske sword again. With a host of devotees at her command, finding the components had been straightforward. While it had not been, like Arta's, lovingly manufactured by a master craftsmen, it worked perfectly well, and was a potent symbol of the supposed invisible presence of the Angel of Death amongst her followers. Having drawn their attention, Katrina placed a finger to her lips for silence.

She pronounced clearly, "Let the sacred banner be brought forth."

From one of the larger open spaces of Scrapyard on her right marched a solid mass of Raiders, in a ranked formation that showed the beginnings of military discipline. The front row carried long poles, tipped at the end with bound daggers like spears, extended forward to form a pointed hedge of weapons. Each wore his or her hair in a crest of spikes.

Instead of a blade, the centremost Raider in the Phalanx carried a furl of cloth on the end of his pole. As he drew nearer, the dark folds of material unrolled, to flap in the night wind. The flag revealed was midnight black, and across its diagonal, sloping left in the bend sinister, was a jagged slash of gold like a tongue of flame.

The Raider offered the banner to Katrina, who seized and lifted it along with the sword, waving both wildly in the air. The sound of the crowd's cheering was like crashing waves on the shore of a distant and unseen ocean.

I love the way she … prepares me. Sometimes so gently at first, with just a touch here, a graze of the lips there, in places that I don't expect, which make it all the more delightful. Teasingly creeping into my sensitive zone, like a stealth hunter, brushing against the tendrils of my awareness, gradually wakening them to the coming invasion. And then when it has begun, building and building, keeping on with fierce, relentless pressure, never losing the rhythm, pushing it home all the way, setting my senses on fire, until the final explosion comes in screaming white light and I'm soaring through and beyond.

How much I need her to be with me, always … and yet.

As Arta's impassioned moans ceased, Clover allowed her body to relax into hers, touching thighs, breasts and lips. Time slid by as they caressed each other, smoothed each other's hair in post-coital bliss.

Eventually Clover lay back in a contented fashion, and said matter-of–factly, "You know, this could become a pretty good home, especially with a few extra fittings to add some style and comfort. And Bryan can use the spare room to sleep in."

After a long pause, Arta said, "It's certainly a very convenient base."

Clover jerked her head upwards from the horizontal. "Oh," she said. Then: "Are we going out again so soon? Into the Wastes?"

"Yes. You know I never thought I'd say this, but there's something about going out there that's addictive. A feeling that you're heading somewhere that's become familiar, and yet you never know quite what might happen."

Clover said, "I know plenty of people that feel like that, though a lot of them are plain, stark crazy. But c'mon, surely we've deserved some rec time? And what about the conferences?"

"We're leaving after first light tomorrow." When Clover gave a little groan, Arta added. "I'm sorry, but there's another reason to hurry which I'll explain when …"

There was a hammering on the door.

Clover shouted quickly, "Hold on a bit, until we're decent!"

There was some giggling from outside while they searched for and put on their underwear. With modesty partially restored, Clover opened the door on Bryan and Butch, with Wadsworth bobbing up and down behind them.

The robotic butler spoke in tones of suppressed outrage, "I'm sorry, madam, but these gentleman insisted that you'd want to see them. I hope I haven't acted incorrectly."

Arta said, "No, it's fine, you can return to your duties." She observed with amusement the obvious interest of the pair in the semi-clothed state of their hosts. Bryan's only eight, so its simple childish curiosity rather than hormones.

With the opposite thought in mind, Clover asked Butch sweetly, "How was your time at Gob's?"

He made a sour face. "Not one that I'm gonna forget in a hurry. Those broads had some very peculiar ideas about …"

Oblivious to the byplay, Arta broke in impatiently, "Another time might be more appropriate for your whore house tales." Then speaking deliberately to the boy. "Bryan, I've got some good news. We'll be taking you to see your aunt in Rivet City. Then you can decide if you want to live with her."

"Gee, thanks Arta! I mean I'd love to stay with you, but it seems like you've got so many things going on. So maybe it'll be best that way, and you can come and visit me any time."

Mussing his hair, Arta said, "You can absolutely bet that I will whenever I can!"

Butch stroked his chin. "Rivet City, eh? I'll certainly be tagging along if that's where you're going."

Clover said sharply, "You'll need to be up early then. We're leaving at dawn."

"Jees, what's the hurry, dude? At least let's get the right amount of shut-eye!"

Arta said carefully, "I need to go to the Citadel first, to visit the head of the Brotherhood. After that it's not so far to Rivet City."

Clover seemed to be thinking hard. Then she said, "Talking to Owyn Lyons is so urgent? Surely not until the conferences are over? So long as Rothchild's here …"

Butch likewise furrowed his brow. "Hey, even Clo don't know what's going down. How 'bout you spill the beans, Arta?"

Damnation! I'd rather have left off discussing this for now. After some hesitation, Arta said, "Once we've got Bryan to Rivet City, then I'm looking for my dad in the Jefferson Memorial. It was the last place anyone's seen him. But it'll be dangerous, there's probably gonna be Supermutants there, and I'm not asking anyone to go with me."

Butch began, "That's dandy, because I ain't intending to …" he stopped abruptly. "Look, I need to go outside for a piss."

Clover gave Arta a reproachful look. "Why didn't you tell me about this before?"

"I suppose I hadn't fully made up my mind." But that's a lie. I knew, straight away, what I had to do.

There was a moment's awkward silence, before Bryan said, "I know its a little past my bedtime, but I sure am hungry!"

Welcoming the distraction, Arta said cheerily. "Guess what, Bryan, so am I! I'm sure a last meal before sleeping won't do us any harm."

"Supper, Aunt Aggie would call it," Clover put in.

Supper? "Yeah, a … last supper. We've got some Mirelurk cakes in the fridge, or some iguanas on sticks as light bites."

Bryan said greedily, "Mirelurk cakes for me!"

Hovering helpfully in the doorway, Wadsworth boomed, "And I do believe, Madame, there's a bottle or two of Chateau Margaux 2077. A good year." After a pause, he added, "Well, for vintage wine, anyway. Perhaps a trifle … too warm."

You can say that again! "An excellent idea, Wadsworth. We'll go downstairs to eat. Though Bryan's a bit young to be drinking wine."

"Aw, Arta!"

Clover said, "Maybe as a special treat he can have a little watered down. They do that in some places."

"I guess he can." Arta glanced at Butch. "Are you gonna be joining us after you've … done your business?"

He looked evasive. "Perhaps I'll stay out a while, take a smoke too. And it so happens I just ate."

Bryan said, "C'mon, man, you can't miss the party!"

Butch shrugged. "Well I guess I wouldn't say no to glass of wine or two when I come back. If its gonna be a celebration."

Clover said with enthusiasm, "Yes, we should make it into a house-warming party! We could put some boxes together for a table …"

Catching the festive spirit, Wadsworth said excitedly, "And I could find something to drape over them, even put out some old candles! Oh, it'll be a marvellous occasion!"

Jenny Stahl frowned in the darkness. The door to Jericho's shack was locked, and her knocks echoed amidst the mocking silence of an empty dwelling. He wasn't at Moriarty's, so where else would the drunken prick go?

Her eyes automatically sought out the formerly empty house, and she took a dozen strides in its direction, stopping puzzled when she heard the unexpected sound of music and raised voices, and saw bright light through the cracks in the walls. A party? If Jericho intended to screw his supposed ex, surely he wouldn't go about it like this? In any case, she could hear the piping tones of a child rather than his familiar cynical growl.

Maybe he figured I was pissed with him and wouldn't come to his house. He could be waiting for me at the Water Processor. She paused irresolutely. Why was she even doing this, chasing after a man she didn't love or respect? A tingle between her thighs told her the answer. Sexual excitement! After years of suppressing her lusts, she'd no longer been able to resist the lure of danger that Jericho represented. Why had she kept up a façade of respectability for so long? Deceived herself along with the world in general?

There were commonsense reasons, of course. It wouldn't be nice to have people laugh behind her back and call her a Raider's moll, in exactly the way she'd gossiped about so many others. It might not even be good for business. People didn't easily forget your past in Megaton. Nova would have a field day, whatever Lucy had promised. She ought to stop this now, before it was too late.

There had to be other better ways to do things. She'd previously shunned the idea of a family, being more concerned with establishing her business, in the face of the addiction of one brother and the surliness of the other. But it was another obvious route to fulfilment that needed to be chosen soon before her fertility diminished further. Lucy had spoken of Simms's attraction to her, and she was sure he would be willing … if she didn't appear shop soiled. He even had his own well-behaved, adorable son in case she was unable to give birth. It absolutely made sense.

The wetness seeping into her panties contradicted all reason. Just one last fling! One more wallow in the mire of filth! Cursing her weakness, she walked quickly in the direction of the water plant.

She was expecting to hear only the clank of machinery when she opened the door. Instead it was punctuated by the sound of two people moaning to an all too familiar rhythm. The bastard! He's brought his little whore here, to our own special place! Infuriated, Jenny marched in the direction of the backroom, then halted in astonishment.

Sonora Cruz was facing away from her, completely naked except for her Stetson and fringed brahmin-skin boots. These remaining items of clothing were especially appropriate, as she was riding Sheriff Lucas Simms in the Cowgirl position, her bronzed buttocks and breasts moving sensuously above the deep ebony of his well-muscled thighs and chest. The ecstatic sounds issuing from their lips indicated both were enjoying the ride immensely.

Sonora was leaning slightly backwards rodeo style as she thrust forward her bosom, blocking Simms' view of Jenny for the moment. She stepped back quickly into the shadows, thinking furiously. There had to be a way to take advantage of this unexpected circumstance. Meanwhile she was regarding Sonora critically. The Regulator looked in reasonable shape for a woman of her middle years, though Jenny cattily concluded there was a pronounced scrawniness to her frame that reduced the attractions of her womanly features. Also her uncompromisingly short, dark hair had already gained a sprinkling of grey. Jenny was convinced that her own feminine assets were curvaceously fresher and altogether more attractive to a man of Simms' maturity. If she played her cards right, she could easily outmaneuver this upstart, overripe gunslinger.

Sonora Cruz had turned around to face away from Simms, presenting him with a close up view of her rear end. Pushing back the brim of her hat, and patting her bottom cheeks, she drawled, "C'mon, Lucas, I want you to finish by shooting your load in my tight hole."

So you like to talk and play dirty! So much the better! I'll come across as the pure but temptingly fertile wife and mother. Jenny decided to wait a little longer. She could appreciate now how Lucy had enjoyed her own voyeuristic opportunity, and figured she could risk a little self-pleasuring. And the poor things had clearly been dying for a good fuck. Best let them get it out of their system.

Wadsworth was right, there's something special about having everyone gathered together like this. Arta felt a warm glow, both from the excellent wine, and from seeing her companions assembled around her. Leo had joined Clover and Bryan, and Butch had returned at the same time. That makes six for supper, including Wadsworth, even if he can't eat, and Leo can't sit. The 'table' itself looked attractively laid out, the promised candles casting a romantic light over the stained white cloth, actually an old sheet stretched over wooden boxes. The food was laid out on plates, with the wine in a mixture of glasses and cups, and there was a pleasant hum of conversation. Her pipboy, set to speaker, was picking up one of the old GNR tunes from Agatha's station.

I'm tickled pink that things are rosy,
And skies are blue once again.
Let the bygones go bye-bye,
No more will I sigh or cry.


I'm tickled pink the moon is yellow,
And I'm your fellow tonight.
Soon we'll greet that red-letter day,
When I will pop the question and you'll say okay.
Say then we'll be married in the month of May.

"That one goes out specially to my dear husband Leo," the old woman was saying, causing the Supermutant to brush at his eyelids, and sneeze.

Perhaps this is a good moment for 'a few words' from the host.

Her face beaming and flushed to a rosy tint, Arta got to her feet and spoke, a trifle tipsily.

"I'd like to say how wonderful it is that we're all here together. Especially considering what we've had to go through to make it to Megaton alive. In fact it's probably the greatest miracle of all, and definitely deserves a celebration."

Arta's little speech was received with drunken cheers and table thumping from Clover and Butch, clapping from Bryan and cries of "Bravo!" from Wadsworth.

Leo added, with a trace of wistfulness, "I only wish Agatha could be here too in person."

"And Dogmeat, of course!" put in Clover.

"And let's not forget Katrina." Arta suddenly felt a little maudlin. What about Jericho? Or Mei Wong? What about those of her friends and companions who hadn't survived, or had met some other miserable fate? They had helped her on her way, and deserved to be present as well.

Even some of her enemies, alive, dead or presumed dead, might have made interesting company. Allowing her imagination to run free, she mentally transformed the table into a long oak one, set with silver cutlery and white bone china, surrounded by twelve tall-backed, elaborately carved chairs. In her mind's eye, Amata, a vision of loveliness in a pink pre-war ball gown, was flirting with Sam Walsh in white collar and tails. On one long side of the table Billy Creel was entertaining Jericho and Silver with tricks and jokes, while Caleb and Mei Wong were chatting seriously and intimately together. And at the head, Burke, attired in a freshly pressed and laundered suit, held Eulogy Jones, Gob and the Antagoniser fascinated by his table talk. With a slight smile, he raised a glass in her direction.

She shook herself and the vision faded. To daydream about never-could-have-beens was harmless fun perhaps. But it contained a serious reminder.

Banging her spoon on the table for attention, she said, "I think the time has come to remember our friends who can't be here. Alive or dead, we owe them much, and we should drink to them now." She raised her wine glass.

"To the Companions!"

Sonora Cruz was down on all fours, her rump pushed upwards, moaning urgently. Lucas Simms was kneeling to pump vigorously into her from behind, also wearing his Sheriff's hat. He had one hand on Sonora's buttocks and another fondling her breasts.

That animal-like position really suits you, my dear, Jenny thought. Seeing as you're bellowing like a lovesick brahmin! These uncharitable reflections didn't stop Jenny enjoying her voyeuristic role to the full. She felt completely in command of herself and the situation, sure that she could make herself come whenever she felt like it. She'd seldom had this sensation of total control, and it was absolutely wonderful.

"Jees that hurts so good!" Sonora gasped. "Just a little deeper!"

Jenny had observed the size of Simm's ramrod-like organ as he'd put it in, and judged that he would be stretching Sonora in a most satisfying manner. Let me get some of that inside me, she thought, wriggling her fingers, and I'm not gonna miss Jericho very much.

"That's it! Keep going! I'm gonna come!"

Thus encouraged, Simms accelerated into a frenzy of thrusting which had Sonora bucking like an out of control brahmin. It also prompted Jenny to speed up her own self-stimulation to the point where she was riding surging orgasmic waves in time with Sonora's cries of pleasure, allowing herself to reach her own quivering peak just ahead of the Regulator's final shriek of satisfaction. It was important to time this exactly right. Wiping the moist evidence from her fingers on the front of her panties, she quickly zipped up her jumpsuit, and prepared to make her entry.

When she sauntered into the room, Simms was just unleashing powerful ejaculatory spurts deep inside Sonora, accompanied by a series of heart-felt groans. Perfect timing! Catching him right when he's spilling his seed should guarantee the maximum level of embarrassment. Jenny did her best to combine an expression of shock with excitement and a shade of amusement. She didn't want Simms to think she was a complete prude. The excitement was easier to convey; her eyes were still shining from the climax she'd undergone only seconds before.

"Lucas!" she exclaimed, putting a hand to her mouth. "What in the world are you doing?

Simms' face showed precisely the right amount of guilt and shock. "This ain't what it looks like, Jenny!" he protested.

It was much as Jenny could do to avoid bursting out laughing. His instinctive denial despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary showed his brain was not yet engaged … unsurprisingly. It was also exactly the response she was hoping for.

"Why what else could it look like, Lucas? Though I can scarcely believe my own eyes!"

Sonora Cruz, to her credit, had recovered much more quickly from her surprise, even though the physical situation of Simms having to withdraw his fast softening member could hardly have been more blush inducing. Getting rapidly to her feet, she seized hold of the front of Jenny's jumpsuit and slammed her against the wall.

"Who the fuck's this, Lucas?" she shouted.

"It … its … er…"

"Sorry, didn't get that." Sonora shook Jenny fiercely. "First thing I wanna know is what in tarnation you're doin' here at this hour of the night. Next thing is how you two are on such cosy first-name terms."

Simms finally managed, "She's the local food stall owner."

"For real? I don't see many catering opportunities in this place. Just what kinda Peeping Thomasina are you?"

Jenny wasn't much scared. Sonora was a Regulator, which meant she wasn't supposed to harm the innocent, and she was hardly likely to do that in front of Simms. The younger woman remained composed enough to reflect that being roughed up by a female gunslinger wearing only a cowgirl hat and boots would probably take a top place in Nova or Lucy's fantasies.

Doing her best to sound outraged, she protested, "I only came here to see Walter about some trouble with our pipes!"

"Oh yeah? You sure you ain't been playing with your own pipes while ogling other folks private affairs? Sneaking down here in the dead of night don't seem very natural to me. Maybe I oughta pay your business a visit and shake it down."

That did give Jenny a momentary chill, but Simms said, "Sonny, you know you can't go harassing respectable local traders like that! C'mon, calm down. She didn't mean no harm, and we should be apologising to her. Why don't you let me deal with this?"

"Because I don't think she's quite so virtuous as she pretends. Whatever, you sort it out." Sonora reached for her Regulator long coat and shrugged it on. Strapping on her gun belt, she gave her pistol a meaningful tap. "I'll be watching you, Little Miss Innocent."

By the time she had strode forcefully from the room, Simms had put on his own duster, and with it regained some of his dignity.

He said in apologetic tones, "Jenny, I don't know what to say."

He's gonna fall into my lap like a ripe mutfruit!

"Lucas, you don't have to say anything." She regarded him from under her eyelashes. "I understand how men get … urges. It's only natural when you've been without a woman for so long. And I know how much you miss your wife." She stepped forward to place an apparently consoling hand on his arm.

He met her eyes with his own dark ones. "It's so good you understand. I do miss her… very much. And Harden does too."

"Of course he does." She leaned in a little closer. "He misses having a mother. But you know, Lucas … " she moistened her lips just a trifle; "If you don't mind me saying, what you and that boy deserve is someone who's there whenever she's needed. Not some fly-by-night that's gonna be chasing folks across the Wastes half the time."

"Thinking about it, you're absolutely right. But … " he scratched his head. "Where am I gonna find someone so devoted?"

Jenny moved to lean back against the desk, carefully positioning herself to make sure Simms could see all her most attractive features to their best advantage, especially the prominent curve of her breasts through the yellow jumpsuit. She half-closed her eyes in a sultry fashion, and stroked her hair.

"Why don't you try hanging out around my stall some time? I'm sure you're bound to come across someone who'll take a fancy to such a fine-looking man as yourself."

It's all come together perfectly.

He smiled. "You know I might just do that."

"The Angel of Death came to us out of the Great Darkness. And we knew her not. Therefore did she strike us down with many … dive … divers aff … afflictions, until we believed."

Katrina half-listened while Friska, one of the few of her Holy Whores with at least some ability to read, declaimed a passage from the first chapter of The Book of Souls. In fact it was the first and only chapter, until Agatha wrote some more. Although the old woman had perfectly captured the scriptural style, it meant that semi-literates like Friska had to wrestle with the vocabulary. Nevertheless Katrina was content to let Friska struggle, as for the most part her audience were more concerned with the way she paused to cross and uncross her shapely legs, or slowly and sensuously licked her finger to help turn the pages, or leant forward to let her breasts dangle over the book, than with actually attending to what she was saying.

Agatha might have been disappointed, but as far as Katrina was concerned, it was all part of the performance. The Holy Whores had been the second best idea she'd had, next to the Spartan Phalanx, of course. They really spiced up potentially dull religious ceremonies, and Katrina was at a loss to think why they hadn't been more popular with the people of the past. More importantly they provided essential motivation, especially for the Phalanx.

That had caused some serious disagreements in her discussions with the others. Leo and Agatha had argued that the whole Holy Whore thing was degrading. Arta, though, had backed her point of view. Katrina had noticed that the Vault woman was usually prepared to let her have the final say over most matters pertaining to religion. The logic of that was to Katrina irrefutable. She knew her own people, and had an instinct for what she could get them to accept, and what she couldn't.

The Spartan Phalanx, now providing the crowd with additional entertainment via marching displays and mock fights, was an illustration of the kind of compromises that had to be made. To expect its members to entirely emulate the austere lifestyle of their historical namesakes was completely unrealistic. However there were other ways to make them feel part of a special group with a tradition. Their spiked hair resembled the nodding crest worn atop a Spartan hoplite's helmet, a style that would henceforth be forbidden to all other Raiders.

More significantly every member of the Phalanx had to renounce the use of any seriously addictive drugs on pain of death. In this Katrina was in full agreement with Leo and Agatha. While drugs could be effective in combat, and were an essential form of recreation for most Raiders, the Phalanx was intended to become the elite force that had been at the heart of most successful armies in history. Napoleon had had his Guard, Alexander his Companions, the Persians their Immortals. As well as being looked up to by the rest of the army, the Phalanx needed to be controllable and disciplined, to remain steady and ready to act decisively at vital moments in a battle. Crazies who were drugged up to their eyeballs couldn't be relied on to do that. The withdrawal symptoms would also usefully serve as an initiation through ordeal, and as a mark of toughness and shared suffering.

But there had to be compensations, and it was here that Katrina had put her foot down about imposing any further kinds of abstinence. The Phalanx would get first choice of sexual partners, including from the Holy Whores. They would be given better food, the best weapons and, for leaders only, supplies of Radaway. So far there had been no lack of recruits, and Katrina intended to steadily increase their numbers, the initial target being three hundred, to represent the most heroic of their historical counterparts.

That would be necessary with the challenges ahead. The first, and perhaps least difficult, was to unite all of the Raiders of the Wasteland under one banner, wiping out any who refused to join. With several major tribes, including Evergreen Mills and the remnants of Bethesda already converted, the Angel of Death's Army had a significant numerical advantage, but the Phalanx could give them the edge to decisively crush any resistance. Katrina was so confident this would be the case, she'd sent out agents to infiltrate and encourage some potential enemies to join together. It would be easier to defeat them en mass, and better training for her army, than to fight sporadic guerrilla actions.

The second phase, the extermination of feral ghouls and mutant wildlife, Katrina was less convinced about, though Arta had insisted it must be attempted. Apart from giving the army the thrill of participating in the ultimate hunting expedition, there were obvious benefits for both Raiders and ordinary Wastelanders if it succeeded. But Katrina doubted that it would. Nature, whether mutated or not, was very resilient and able to renew itself. And the casualties and expenditure of ammunition could weaken her army more than the potential gain in experience and combat training. She suspected Arta had ordered this near impossible task as a distraction, to stop the Raiders reverting to plundering the innocent. The Deathclaws in particular she was determined to leave alone

And after that … everything would get a lot tougher though more exciting. She turned her mind back to the climax of the ceremony.

"Bring forward the prisoners!"

A line of naked men and women, marked with the signs of abuse, shuffled into the torchlight, casting terrified looks around them. They were herded by their guards towards the grim objects awaiting them. Pits, gallows, stakes. And some specially captured Molerats.

Brandishing the sword and flag, Katrina screamed, "Death to the Unbelievers!"

The crowd responded hysterically with a chant of "Death, death, death!"

As she watched the proceedings unfold in all their horror, Katrina felt not a smidgeon of guilt about keeping Arta and the others in ignorance of this part of the ritual. The Raiders' other addiction, torture and murder, wasn't likely to disappear overnight. And there were inevitably going to be prisoners who would have to be dealt with somehow. Arta would be appalled if she knew, but perhaps she might acknowledge in some corner of her soul the brutal logic behind it.

Feeling the sweat running down her body, Katrina regulated her breathing in an attempt to keep familiar urges under control. There was no doubt this kind of power was an aphrodisiac. She would need the attentions of several of her Holy Whores afterwards. Friska's sparkling eyes, rosebud mouth and long, lithe body looked particularly appealing.

Clover looked at the empty wine glasses, dirty dishes and guttering candles left on the table, and sighed.

"The party's over. It's time to clear up and turn out the lights."

"Wadsworth can do that." And if he can manage to avoid breaking anything, maybe I'll let him trim my hair sometime.

"He can't set up a time loop so the party never ends, can he?"

Arta hugged her disconsolate looking companion. "Got the post-party blues? Well, I haven't, I'm completely exhausted. It seems like the day's gone on forever."

"I know what you mean. Let's hit the sack then."

They paused at the top of the stairs to view Bryan peacefully asleep in the spare room, his chest rising and falling softly, his expression angelic.

Clover asked, "Does it make you want to have your own?"

Arta shook her head. "Yes … and no. I've chosen a hard and dangerous path. The Wasteland already has enough orphans. Let's go to sleep."

*How come this chapter has come out later, and is shorter than usual, you may be asking? Especially when I said last time it would be out even quicker. And hardly anything much happens except they have a party. What the hell is going on?

Yes, I know, I know! After careful thought I've split one mega-long chapter into two shorter ones (again). However the difference from last time is that the next one in line is actually finished (it may need some minor editing and perhaps I'll add some odd bits, but its essentially complete). So my decision is purely editorial, making them both more manageable in size. And frankly so that I get more hits and opportunities for people to notice the story.

The bonus though is that I can say with confidence the next chapter will be out within a week, (probably on Friday) short of my unexpected death or some other huge and terrible natural disaster. In fact I will take precautions so that even if some awful calamity occurs (short of a major asteroid strike) someone will bring the next chapter out. And you will thank me for doing this, as its one you really won't want to miss!

And so on to the notes proper:

Bend sinister: a term in heraldry for a device, such as a shield, with a decorative bar across it sloping from top right to bottom left (sinister derives from the latin for 'left'). On the flag, it represents the flaming sword, of course.

Phalanx: a formation developed by the Ancient Greeks and Macedonians, consisting of ranks of armoured hoplites with spears. Fights well only to the front and at a huge disadvantage in the age of firearms. So despite the success of Caesar's Legion with melee weapons in NV, probably intended more as a ceremonial nod to tradition, and for the purposes of discipline and drill, than as a serious battle tactic.

Chateau Margaux: a famous wine of Bordeaux. I admit the chance of even one bottle remaining intact and unconsumed after two hundred years is pretty remote, but couldn't resist the opportunity for some dark apocalyptic humour.

They do that in some places: notably France, where giving children watered wine is considered harmless. Maybe the French imported the practice to the US along with their Freedom Fries.

Renounce the use of any seriously addictive drugs: it's interesting to reflect which drugs might be excluded from the ban. Many armies have permitted or even encouraged them in some form. British soldiers were traditionally allowed a tot of rum, American troops were provided with Luckys, etc. Getting Raiders to give up any drugs, let alone all of them, looks a tough one, but remember the motivations of religious fanaticism and the prestige of being part of a chosen elite. The conversion of the Arab tribes to Islam is one historical example of the transforming power of religion.

The brutal logic: it's also a kind of (admittedly harsh) justice, in that captured Raiders have inflicted such cruelties on others. Although offering them a last opportunity to convert or die would have been a more humane (and even practical) alternative, humanity is not a notable Raider characteristic.*