Mordecai had trained himself to notice details. He saw the gunman hiding on a perch, the flash of metal in the underbrush that concealed a man with a grenade. He saw the things his companions missed, and because of this, he saw the form twining about on a rope against the backdrop of one of the turbines at Zephyr Substation. The hunter cursed and threw the runner into a tight turn, dragging it off the remains of the road and into the rough terrain, sending a dust cloud billowing behind the rear tires as he jammed the throttle and roared it through a narrow gully between rock ridges towards the figure. Noisy entrances had their advantages and disadvantages, and Mordecai was in such a mood that he preferred to draw anything hostile out by the roar of the engine and then deal with them in a more direct manner, such as with the wheels of the runner, or his revolver should it come to that. Scooter made a bit too much noise about the last time he came home with the remains of a grenade lodged in the axle for Mordecai's liking.
The surrounding area remained still, even with two passes in a tight circle around the turbine in question. Satisfied, the hunter brought the runner to an abrupt stop. He drove it rough, he knew, but in his mind the machine was designed for such things and there was no one in the gunner seat to bitch at him. He so rarely got to drive. In the minds of Roland, Brick, and Lilith; a sniper belonged in the gunner's seat, always. However, today they were not here. Today they were off dealing with some problem elsewhere and Mordecai was left at home to guard the fort.
It was because he couldn't keep up. Suppressing an irritated snarl at that thought, he unbuckled himself and gingerly levered himself out of the seat, past the roll bars, and landed himself lightly on the ground. His ankle flared in dull pain at the movement, a reminder as to just why he was here roaming the outskirts of Fyrestone by himself. He'd taken a nasty tumble on their last outing – a grenade had exploded just below the ledge he was perched and the resulting minor avalanche had taken him down along with the shelf of rock he was laying on, belly down in the dirt, sniper rifle against his shoulder. He'd yelled and cursed for what felt like an age until the other three came to dig him out, and then his yelling had turned into a stoic attempt at muffling any sound of pain as Roland probed at his chest and leg to see the extent of the injuries.
"Shields aren't meant to survive a cliff being dropped on them," Lilith commented, watching the scene impassively.
"Ankle is broken," Roland announced, "Probably some ribs too."
And with that, he jabbed Mordecai in the arm with a health vial to keep him quiet and left him there for Brick to shoulder and carry. Lilith carried his sniper rifle and walked in the rear, glaring at Mordecai the entire trip back, as if he had deliberately planned for the cliff to collapse on him or something. Mordecai, for his part, only hoped that the health vial would wear off and he'd faint in pain before they got back to Fyrestone, just to make her hawk-eyes go away.
It took a few days, but he was back on his feet now. The three had left him behind anyway and privately, the hunter had to admit this was wise. While he waited to heal he spent his time sniping at skags for the fun of it, but one could only stare down the gullet of those abominations across the barrel of a rifle for so long. That was when he borrowed the runner, and now he stood leaning heavily on its side with one hand, gazing at the figure affixed to the rope.
It was a man, stripped naked and badly beaten, the rope wound about his chest and strung around a bolt in the metal surface of the turbine. Astonishingly, he was also still breathing, which was a surprise for someone that had most likely been caught by the bandits. He wasn't a local as far as Mordecai knew, but Dr. Zeb would be able to tell for certain. The first task was to get him down, which wasn't as easy as it sounded as the man had been hung well out of reach for someone on the ground. Normally, Mordecai would just climb the turbine. He was agile enough to get a short way up, just to the point where he could have cut the man down with his sword. With his ankle as it was, that was out of the option. Sighing, Mordecai drew his revolver and took aim. At this range the shot would be impossible to miss, but it seemed like cheating somehow. Perhaps that was just the frustration at his busted ankle speaking. Mordecai exhaled, almost casually, and at the pause between breaths he pulled the trigger. The recoil rocked the weapon back in his hand with an easy familiarity. Some thought him weak, on account of his lean frame. His muscles were like cords of metal though, wound tight over narrow bones on a body that allowed for no fat to take residence. He had the metabolism of a shrew, burning through fuel at a phenomenal rate and leaving only a lean strength behind. Pandora suited him well. They were both stripped down to nothing but the essentials of life.
The man hit the ground with a heavy whump and Mordecai bared his teeth in a hiss. Knowing his luck, he'd just broken the bastard's ankle as well with that fall. There was no helping it. He couldn't be expected to catch, after all. The hunter limped over, eying the man's injuries with a critical eye. The bruises were mostly on his torso, centered on his chest, stomach, and the space between his shoulder blades on the back. They were darkening to black and purple with hints of green at the edges, like some sort of moss growing under his skin. His face sported a busted nose, the lips were crusted with dried blood, and both eyes were swollen black. More blood was flaking off the rope where it was bound about his chest and Mordecai stooped to cut this free. The lines of the cord was imprinted on the man's skin and it had cut through the flesh where it sat over the ribs. The man groaned, moving his head weakly, and Mordecai reached for a water flask at his hip.
"Steady now," the hunter said brusquely, "Give it a moment, then get the hell up. I'm not carrying your naked hide back into town."
By now his eyes were open, wincing at both the pain and the light. He took the water flask and drank eagerly. After a moment Mordecai took it back. There was no point in letting the stranger make himself sick with too much too quickly.
"Bandits?" he asked the man.
"Aye. Jumped me at the gate."
Mordecai frowned severely. He thought that had been dealt with already. Dealt with, and then some, to encourage the bandits to not try blockading the road ever again. Apparently they needed another lesson.
"Get up. Let's go."
Mordecai rose, limping back to the runner and hauling himself into the driver's seat. He watched out of the corner of the eye to ensure the man got the point that the sniper was not going to wait around for him. He did, and gingerly drug himself upright and wove an unsteady path towards the vehicle. Mordecai averted his eyes then, he had no desire to stare at some random naked stranger in the middle of the forsaken desert. He merely waited until the weight shifted to indicate that he was secure in the gunner's seat, and then gave a vicious smile. He threw the throttle open and drove like there was hell at his tail, with absolutely no regard to his battered passenger.
"He's not staying here," Dr. Zed said flatly, seemingly oblivious to the morose look on his 'patient's' face.
"Don't be like that," Mordecai replied, his tone easy and conversational. He stood a short distance away, leaning against the wall just where the tin roof of the building ended and the arid sand began.
The man in question was named Hetter, he said, and he was simply trying to reach Fyrestone and see if the rumors that the town was reviving was true and if there was a life to be made here. The bandits had other ideas and had jumped him, robbed him, stripped and beaten him and then left him to die in the reflected sunlight. Zed hadn't been happy to see Mordecai dropping the stranger on his doorstep, complaining that the med vendor was right there and they didn't need to be involving him at all, what with his lack of a medical license and all.
"We got bandit problems again," Mordecai had hissed in response, and that was enough to gain the doctor's sullen assistance. Now Hetter was tended to – for what little he needed – and sat wearing some spare clothes from Dr. Zed as Mordecai's much-repaired spare outfits were far too small.
"Look, there's plenty of empty buildings round here," Zed retorted, jabbing a finger for emphasis, "Put him up there."
"How many of them are habitable?" Mordecai replied. Hetter was just looking increasingly desperate, having the two men argue over his head like this.
"I share quarters with a beserker the size of a truck, a psychopath witch, and a man that won't stop talking in military slang and leaves grenades littered around like candy. I found one under the pillow of my cot the other day. Hetter, you want to bunk with us?"
Hetter seemed thrilled to be included at the conversation, but that dissolved into a frantic shake of the head for 'no.'
"Fine," Zed growled, "He can bunk with me." Mordecai smiled. "For a price."
Mordecai stopped smiling and frowned dourly at Hetter.
"I ain't spending my hard-earned money on this son-of-a-bitch," he said, "Already spent enough for that health vial."
"I can work for my board," Hetter said hopefully, "At least until I get one of the spare buildings cleared out."
"You'll need a gun to do that," Mordecai said, "I'll bring one back when I get done putting bullets in those bandit's skulls. The gate, you said?"
He was turning to leave. Behind him, he heard Hetter shifting nervously on the table.
"Yeah," Hetter replied, "At the gate."
That was all Mordecai needed to know. He whistled for Bloodwing as soon as he was in the light and a shadow flitted from the roof of the building to perch on his shoulder. He'd walk. His ankle was feeling better and he needed to strengthen the quickly-healing bone. The runner was too noisy and Mordecai wanted to be discreet. His companions were out in the field without him and he needed a reprise – laying on his belly in the dirt with a hostile loitering in the cross-hairs of his sight should do the trick.
Author's note: I've just barely started playing this game, but I absolutely adore Mordecai so far. This was going to be a short story originally, but I am incapable of keeping things actually short apparently, and in the interest of staying within typical chapter lengths I'm breaking it into pieces. Enjoy.