Tales of the Shattered World #2

Varan City Concept

The Trials of Yorick: Part 1

When the bombs fell, everyone acted in their own way. Some panicked, letting their instinct carry them into destruction. Others accepted their fate gracefully, waiting to be blown into oblivion by the death raining from the skies. And still others refused to go quietly into the night, and descended into the earth…

The desert of Midway was never the easiest place to live, unless one was a cactus or a sand worm. Once a barren wasteland, it became a sprawling desert settlement during the Age of Trade, when a small trading post “mid way” between the city-states of Valther and Afrein decided to become its own entity. While a good idea in practice, living in the desert was not without its problems, and the territory of Midway frequently found itself the victim of famine, drought, or rampant crime. Still, if one wanted to find a bounty or a job where no one asked many questions, Midway was where you went. For others, it was where you went to disappear.

It was a particularly hot day in the month of Embron, and most of the population of the desert colony had fled indoors to escape the oppressive heat. In most of the living areas, it was quiet and still, while the loud raucous pounding of pianos, drunken singing, and the occasional gunshot rang out from the bars and honky-tonks. Inside one disreputable dive, known only to the locals as “Blind Jeb’s,” the interior was hot and crowded, and rank with the smell of sweat and stale beer. At the old and well-worn bar, a tired-looking figure in a shabby armored duster coat was staring down at a piece of parchment and looking especially disgusted. “Another beer for ya, son?” the bartender, a jolly grandfatherly figure, asked him. “Nah,” the man said, barely lifting his eyes from the note in his gloved hands. “I’m sorry for the bad news, sai,” the bartender continued, “But the kid what gave me the letter told me to give it to you.” The man didn’t say anything, but looked briefly from under the brim of his hat, acknowledging he heard the words. “Can I ask what it is?” he asked. The man gave a sardonic smirk. “Just another job. Might be hound duty, might be a hit. They weren’t clear.” He turned his eyes back down to the note, searching the flowing handwriting for some meaning:

“To Mister Lucian ‘Tombstone’ Yorick,

Your reputation precedes you, and we here have taken notice of your skills and record. We would like to request your assistance with a special mission, which will be undertaken by a small group of specially-chosen operatives. More will be revealed in time. At 13:00 tomorrow, an escort will arrive at your location to collect you and transport you to to the Legion Fortress, where you will be formally briefed. Rejection of this assignment will not be tolerated. Until further notice,

Director Lydia Feathertail, Last Legion”

He became aware that the bartender had leaned over and was reading the note along with him. The man whistled in surprise. “Whew! The Legion, huh? Yer movin’ up in the world, son.” Lucian didn’t think so. “I prefer just being a low-life sellsword. When the Legion gets involved, it’s never good. Last time I helped them on a job, I couldn’t show my face in Deadbush ever again.” The bartender nodded, pretending to understand, but Lucian knew he didn’t. “Thanks fer the beer, sai,” he said, slapping a silver piece on the bar and getting up from his stool, pushing his way out through the crowd of rowdy drunks. As he pushed through the swinging doors, the sun hit him like a blow, but he pressed on, pulling the brim of his hat over his eyes and crossing the dusty thoroughfare to the motel on the opposite end.  Ignoring the looks he got from the patrons in the hotel lobby, Lucian sauntered past the desk and up the stairs to the second floor, pushed open a door into a cramped room, and fell face-first into a rough bed that smelled of mothballs. Why now did the Legion come knocking? he thought to himself, further crumpling the piece of parchment in his fist. He’d only been in Mercy for two days, after working as a guard on a bank train from the northern regions, and that was for a quarter of what he usually charged. Now he had barely gotten the sand out of his boots, and the central peacekeeping authority of the Shattered World was dragging him off on another assignment.Slowly, and with a popping of joints, Lucian pulled himself into a sitting position on the bed, pulling off his boots, hat, coat, and gun belts, throwing them into a pile on the floorboards. He paused, then let his gaze drift downwards to his clenched fist with the parchment still crumpled in it. Slowly, he let his fingers open, still glaring at the ball of paper, then with a casual movement, threw the ball onto the pile of discarded clothes and gear. Lucian tried to relax and let his mind go blank, but the thought of the Legion summons was buzzing around his mind like a swarm of bees. Why now, or, why at all? In the past, when he wasn’t tracking bounties, he’d worked as a hired gun for militia companies and mercenary syndicates all over the western lands, but the one time he tried to go professional and work for the Last Legion still haunted him. He’d fought and killed plenty in his time, but that one time in Deadbush…the eyes still haunted him… He gave himself a mental slap to clear his thoughts; letting his mind drift wouldn’t solve anything. If he had a job to do, he needed to be prepared for whatever was coming. Reaching down to the pocket of his discarded coat, he pulled out a strip of dried beef and leaned back on the bed, chewing contemplatively as he stared at the cracks in the ceiling. Eventually, even though it was still early, he closed his eyes and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Lucian was abruptly woken by a banging on his door. “Mr. Yorick?” a voice said from the other side, “Are you in there?” He pulled himself upright with a grunt. “Yar, I’m here,” he said, “What is it?” “There’s a Legionnaire down here asking for you, sir. He says its urgent.” Lucian was fully awake in a minute, throwing on his coat and hat as he pushed open the door and past the disgruntled hotel manager. “How long’s he been here?” Lucian asked as he stomped down the stairs. “Just got here, sir,” the manager said, trying to brush dust off of his jacket as he followed the gunslinger. Lucian landed on the floorboards with a thump and rattle of buckles and cartridges, squinting around the hotel lobby with the manner of a hunting cat. His gaze finally settled on a figure sitting on a worn chair in front of the cold fireplace, staring at him with a steely intensity that matched his own. The kid was barely out of his teens, and probably hadn’t seen action once in his life, but was still seated in front of him, garbed in thick plates of green armor, trench coat, and a look that suggested he was ready to fight the world. “You Tombstone?” the kid asked, trying to exude an air of bravado. “Yar. What is it? The note said tomorrow,” Tombstone shot back, not letting the kid think he was in control. “Circumstances have changed. We need you at the Legion fortress right now. There’s a train waiting at the town station.” “What do you mean ‘circumstances have changed?” The young Legionnaire said nothing, but kept curling his fingers as though he wished he was holding a gun. Tombstone shrugged and straightened up, moving his hands away from his gun belts. “Alright kid, yer the boss. Lead the way.” The kid seemed to relax, but never lifted his gaze. “Follow me,” he said, gesturing towards the door. Tombstone slapped a gold crown on the hotel desk to cover his expenses, giving a good-bye wave to the manager, and f0llowed the impatiently foot-tapping soldier into the main street.

Clouds had drifted across the sun, granting the people of Midway a brief respite from the heat. The Legionnaire was striding down the main street with his head held in a sense of purpose, while Tombstone shuffled behind him, hating the kid with every step. It didn’t help that every eye in the town seemed to be watching him, but he kept the brim of his hat pulled down over his eyes so he wouldn’t see them. Being a bounty hunter hadn’t exactly gotten him in the town’s good graces, and the local constabulary wasn’t too keen on the Legion’s presence either, so all he could do was keep his head low and keep moving before someone threw something at him. It was only a short walk to the train station, and Tombstone could hear the train before he saw it. Quite at odds with the ramshackle wooden building that served as a station, a thing like a massive iron dragon lay sprawling on the rails. The engine was clearly off a Legion war train, its flanks studded with angular green armor plates and gun ports, while the cars linked up behind the snorting beast were made for cargo transport. It definitely seemed like the situation was dire, as it would take a lot of time and resources to re-route a cargo train all the way to Midway, just to pick up one man. Looking around, Tombstone noticed his escort had disappeared, and was near the side of the train, pulling open a heavy door on one of the boxcars near the front. “Get in,” he shouted, gesturing towards the opening. The gunslinger had to have a snicker. “What do ya think I am, a box of old laundry?” “GET IN,” the soldier said again, gesturing more aggressively. Tombstone put up his palms in surrender, walked over to the train, and hopped inside the darkened boxcar, pulling up a seat on a tarp-covered crate. “Shall we go?” he asked the soldier, sarcastically. He said nothing, but pulled the door shut with a loud metallic bang, shutting Tombstone in darkness. All was silent for a moment, until a loud hissing and roaring from outside, coupled with a tiny arclight on the ceiling guttering into life, heralded the train’s departure. “‘Bout time,” Tombstone said to himself, as the train began to shudder forward. Scooting another crate around to put his feet up, Tombstone leaned back against the crate pile and stared up at the arclight. “Hope this doesn’t take a turn,” he mused, the memories of the past still raw in his mind.

BANG BANG BANG!!! Tombstone lifted his head from the pile of crates, cracking his neck as he located the source of the sound. Someone was pounding on the door, and the absence of noise and light told him they had finally arrived. With a loud metallic grating, the door slid open, flooding the chamber with a bright, white glow. Squinting into the glare, Tombstone could make out a massive arclight outside, with several Legion soldiers carrying heavy rifles walking around. “Y’all right in there, sai?” someone called over the din from outside. Standing up and looking into the glare, Tombstone could just about make out a heavyset Legionnaire standing outside the door, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. Unlike the soldier that brought him there, this one seemed more easygoing. “Yar, I’m fine. Just a bit shook up. Wasn’t expecting such a luxurious ride.” The man let out a deep, hearty chuckle. “‘Spose not. Sorry about the accommodations, but we needed ya here as soon as possible. Smoke?” he added, proffering him a pack of cigarettes. “Thanks,” Tombstone said, taking one and lighting it with a match from his bandolier. “Now, would ya explain why I’m even here?” The man pointed him towards the large castle in the distance, dwarfing the buildings surrounding it. “Sorry sai, I dunno. Classified. But if ya go up to the main building, Director Feathertail will be there to meet ya.” Tombstone gave him a quick salute and hiked off towards the building, ignoring the looks sent his way by confused soldiers. He couldn’t tell if any of them were the troops he had worked with in Deadbush. Then again, he didn’t really want to. It was the first time he had been inside the Legion Fortress proper, and the weight of the place was pressing down on him like a giant thumb. Soldiers, war golems, and even steam tanks filled the complex, and every empty space was taken up by squat buildings and piles of crates and equipment. The sky, which was now darkened, was illuminated by large arclights mounted on tripods, and through the clouds of smoke coming from the war machines, Tombstone could just about make out the colossal shapes of armored airships floating overhead. The castle, which Tombstone heard was a relic from the Dark Times, made up the central headquarters, where the directors and generals of the Last Legion lived, worked, and deployed troops to different sectors of the Shattered World. Dodging a supply truck idling outside, Tombstone arrived at the massive wrought-iron portals of the castle. Two soldiers with bolt-action rifles were waiting outside, and when he showed them the parchment he had been sent, after spitting his cigarette into a nearby puddle, they unlocked the door to let him in.

Despite the heavy atmosphere outside, the interior of the castle was much different. The vaulted ceilings seemed to stretch off into the heavens, and the stone walls were decorated with murals and paintings depicting battles of old, as well as heroes of the Legion. At the end of the entry hallway, a large bronze statue of a soldier with an entrenching shovel and revolver stood vigilant over the corridor, and a long wooden desk stretched out in front of it, where several women in Legion uniforms were working on typewriters. Walking down the long threshold, Tombstone stopped in front of the desk and thumped on the surface with the flat of his hand. One of the secretaries looked up at him with a miffed look. “Can I help you?” she asked. He produced the piece of parchment from his pocket and showed her. “Tombstone Yorick. Director Feathertail sent for me.” The woman paused to hit a few keys on a keypad near her typewriter, then turned and pointed towards a lift to her right. “Fourth level, on your left. Room number 401.” “Thanks,” he said with a wave, and stalked off towards the lift. With a few quick strides across the carpet, Tombstone reached a gated brass door set into the wall, and pulled down on the lever mounted next to it. The lift arrived with a loud grating and clattering of poorly-greased chains, and as the gate creaked open, Tombstone walked inside and jabbed the inlaid “4” button with a calloused finger. The gate closed, and he became aware of a lurching sensation as the lift ground upwards.

The lift ground to a stop and creaked open on a floor lined with wooden doors and worn reddish carpet. The gunslinger gingerly stepped out, scanning the numbered doors with a marksman’s eye and trying to ignore the oppressive stink of furniture polish. It was a short stroll down the hallway, and after skirting a maid who glared at the trail of sand he was leaving behind on the rug, he stopped in front of a door with a gilt “401” set at eye level. He rapped on the door with his knuckles, turned the knob, and stepped inside the dimly-lit room. It took his eyes a second to adjust to the light, as most of the illumination in the dim room came from a dying fireplace and a small arclight desk lamp. The room was bigger than it seemed from the outside, and it took Tombstone several strides to arrive in front of a rough and pitted wooden desk and a set of mismatched armchairs. The fireplace was behind the desk, which gave the scene a nightmarish red glow, and the large portrait of King Winston Slughorn over the mantle didn’t do anything to lessen the oppressive feel. There were three chairs in front of the desk, with one behind, and three of them were occupied. As the gunslinger walked closer, he became aware of the sounds of muted talking, as well as what sounded like someone sobbing softly. He put his gloved hand on top of the vacant chair and pushed it aside, intruding upon the scene. “Am I late?” he asked drily, surveying the room’s other occupants. Behind the desk was a tired-looking young woman wearing a pair of wire-frame spectacles and a baggy green cardigan, which matched her oddly vivid green hair. That was odd enough, but what threw Tombstone was the pair of triangular cat ears protruding from the top of her skull, and the green-furred tail swishing irritably behind her. A Catkin working in the Legion? he thought to himself. The other two occupants were just as unusual. On the furthest armchair from him was a hulking ape-faced orc clad in dented green Legion battle armor and trench coat, with a bandolier of what appeared to be artillery shells slung across his chest plate. Next to him was a young woman with golden hair wearing a white linen dress, who held her head in her hands, crying softly. She too had a pair of triangular ears on her head, but had a fluffy white-tipped tail which marked her as a Foxkin, and the tusked, red-eyed brute next to her seemed to be trying to comfort her to no avail. The Catkin behind the desk shot him a glare that seemed like she reserved it for very unpleasant insects. “Yes, you are,” she intoned, barely trying to mask her irritation, “Now please sit down. The sooner we get to business, the better.” The gunslinger sat down in the seat and fixed his attention to the woman he assumed was a high-ranking Legion official, given her no-nonsense attitude. “Alright. So, what’s the job Miss…uh…” “Lydia. Lydia Feathertail. But you will refer to me as Director Feathertail, Mr. Yorick.” Tombstone cringed inwardly at the use of his surname, but maintained his stoic expression. “Director Feathertail then. You’ve dragged me out of bed after a particularly busy job, drove me over here on a cargo train, and you haven’t even told me why I’m here or what I’m doing. Not to mention I missed dinner for this.” Lydia returned his glare. “I apologize for the urgency and secrecy, but we have a serious problem on our hands, and we’re running out of time. Now, to answer your question, the job is finding a missing person. A missing child to be precise.” She indicated the Foxkin sitting next to him, who had paused in her moaning and was now looking at Tombstone with a large pair of red-rimmed golden eyes. “This is Miss Junko Inari, from the 102nd Kiranese Refuge. Junko, please show him your arm,” she said, now talking to the Foxkin girl. Turning to Tombstone, Junko rolled up the voluminous sleeve of her dress to the shoulder, indicating a series of black runes that seemed to be tattooed on her upper arm. The gunslinger hadn’t seen the markings before, but he could guess their significance. “Let me guess. She’s a Keeper, isn’t she?” Lydia nodded. “That is correct. Young miss Inari here is the latest Keeper of the Foxfire for the Inari clan. As you can imagine, this makes her quite a powerful mage.” Tombstone nodded in response. The Foxkin of the land of Kira communed with powerful elemental spirits called Foxfire, and the Keeper was a female responsible for holding the clan’s spirit inside her to contain its great power. Keepers were some of the most feared fire mages in Lore, but were also the most targeted. “So why’s she here?” Tombstone asked. Lydia sighed as she recounted the story. “Miss Inari here turned up only a few days ago, with a report that a group of raiders had attacked her clan’s settlement and stolen her child, a 4-year-old female kit by the name of Keiko. With our forces as stretched as they are, we couldn’t exactly spare the manpower to investigate a kidnapping, but when she explained she was a Keeper, everything became more serious.” Tombstone scratched his bristly chin and nodded in agreement. “Since she’s a Keeper, if she carried the kit while the Foxfire was in her body, the kit would be even closer to the spirit, and would be an even greater Keeper when it was her time,” He said. Lydia was evidently surprised by his grasp of the situation, but tried to keep her annoyed glance all the same. “Y-Yes, that’s right, Mr. Yorick. If the raiders, whoever they may be, are able to unlock Keiko’s power, they could have a weapon more powerful than anything in our modern arsenal. We’re not just doing this to help Miss Inari, we’re trying to keep the world safe.” Tombstone kept his gaze downcast, mulling this all over. Something still didn’t add up. “The entire world’s at stake. This could mean the end of everyone and everything. And you have access to the greatest array of soldiers and mercenaries in the Shattered World. So why spend the time and resources to pick up one ordinary gunslinger from the frag-end of nowhere?” The already-tired-looking Catkin knuckled her forehead in frustration. “In case you haven’t noticed, Mr. Yorick, we’re a military institution, not a private detective service. We can’t spare the troops to go ferreting out one little Foxkin while the Iron Reich and Imperial Corporation are breathing down our necks. If you’d like to go sit down in a trench in the middle of an Imperial gas strike just so one of our men can go on a wild goose chase, be my guest.” Tombstone looked up at her from under the brim of his hat, meeting her eyes with a steely blue gaze. “I’ve fought and killed plenty in my time, but it never sits well with me. How can ya dismiss one life like that? ‘Specially one whose life just got started.” For a second, the tense visage of Lydia Feathertail softened, and Tombstone caught a glimpse of the harried woman under the facade. “I’m surprised a man of your reputation would feel this way.” “Just ‘cos I’m a gunslinger don’t mean I don’t have morals.” Lydia removed her spectacles and rubbed the bridge of her nose, evidently trying to ease the headache brewing in her skull. “I’m very sorry, Mr. Yorick. I should have expected nothing less from the grandson of the great Malcolm Yorick.” For a moment, Tombstone was taken aback himself. “You knew my grandpa?” “Well…no. Not personally. But I knew he fought in the Great War alongside the Founders. I read all of the files upon my indoctrination into the Legion.” The gunslinger had never known the man from whom he inherited the name of Tombstone, but he had heard the stories his father passed down to him. “You’re the kin of the great Tombstone the Gravedigger?” a timid voice said from his left. Junko had lifted her head and was looking at Tombstone, regarding her with a pair of large watery eyes. Tombstone had to smile at the young mother; he felt nothing but sympathy for her. “Yeah, I am. Y’all heard of me?” “Well, s-stories mostly. The stories of the heroes of the Great War have been told and re-told in my clan for years.” Tombstone let out a frustrated sigh at the whole situation. “Alright, I guess I haven’t got much of a choice. I’ll be yer hound.” Junko let out a small squeak of pleasure, but quickly slapped her hands over her mouth in embarrassment. Lydia too was looking more pleased. “Thank you, Mr. Yorick. You are doing a great service not just to Lore, but to the Legion and especially to me.” “Now, when do we go? Yer callin’ the shots now.” Tombstone said. The director opened a file on her desk, and flipped through a series of earmarked parchments. “Well, we can’t have you leaving right now, travel’s not safe this late. For now, we’ll have Sergeant Eadsplitta here escort you to your temporary quarters, and from there you can walk to the mess for a bite.” The gigantic orc sitting next to Junko looked at Tombstone with his glowing red eyes and gave him a thumbs-up sign, with what the gunslinger assumed was a smile. “I don’t need an escort,” Tombstone said to the director, somewhat annoyed. “I read about your campaign in Deadbush, Mr. Yorick,” Lydia said, tapping on the file on her desk and drawing attention back to her, “I respect you, but I think it best if we keep an eye on you for the time being. I’m sorry, but I hope you’ll understand.” At the mention of Deadbush, the gunslinger sighed in defeat. “Alright. Yer the boss.” He tried to trust that Lydia was making a good move in seeking his help to find the lost kit, but the thoughts of his last job with the Legion gnawed at his mind like a hungry rat. Lydia snapped her fingers, and at that, Sergeant Eadsplitta stood up from his chair, lumbered over, and dropped a slablike hand over the armored shoulder of Tombstone’s coat. “Time ta go,” he rumbled. Tombstone cast one last glare at Lydia, then stood up under the weight of the orc’s massive mitt, turning towards the door. With a small creaking of springs, Junko stood up as well, and joined the gunslinger and soldier, her fluffy tail bobbing along behind her. Tombstone noticed her out of the corner of his eye, a hopeful and optimistic expression on her soft features; she trusted him, and believed wholeheartedly that he would save her child. She was looking at him like a hero. The thought filled the gunslinger with a bitter, sickening feeling. He was no hero. “Wakey wakey, gunslinga,” the hulking orc growled next to him, giving him a hard shake and bringing him to reality. “Oh. Sorry.” Tombstone pushed open the door with the arm not encumbered by an orcish hand, and stepped out into the hallway, the odd party following closely behind him. Turning, the gunslinger closed the door, and briefly glimpsed Lydia giving him a friendly wave from where she sat behind her desk, and then she was hidden from sight behind the rough carved wood. “We ain’t got much time,” Eadsplitta said, giving the gunslinger and Foxkin a scowl, “Oi needs ta get ya to yer quarters, an den we’s got time fer grub.”

The inside of the fortress seemed as though it was designed to disorient, in order to keep intruders from fighting where the important centers of the building were. After piling into the lift with his new client and escort, the orc had taken them down several levels into the building, and led the gunslinger and Keeper through a series of door-lined hallways, passing large open bays filled with machinery, until they finally stopped in front of a metal door in what Tombstone assumed was the troop barracks. “In ‘ere,” the orc said, gesturing towards the door with an oversized digit. Tombstone turned the handle and swung the door inward, exposing a small cell-like room with a bunk and foot locker on the left, and a small basin and faucet on the right, lit by a tiny arclight bolted into the ceiling. “Dis is yer room.” Not much else needed explaining. “Not bad. Nicer than I expected. When do we eat?” Tombstone asked, examining the interior of the small room. “Whenever,” Eadsplitta grunted. The gunslinger stepped inside, and removed his coat and hat, throwing them in a pile on the bed. The Foxkin jumped slightly in surprise, as Tombstone’s ugly and scarred features leaped out at her in the dim light like a grotesque mask. His face was gaunt and vulture-like, with a prominent nose, sunken cheeks, and dark rings underneath his eyes. Coupled with his steely grey eyes and the wide number of jagged knife scars on his face, he looked more like a ghoul from the lost lands than a famed mercenary. The only thing that marked him as such were the series of bandoliers and gun belts crossing his chest and hips, and the dusty, worn clothing he was wearing under his armored coat. Noticing her discomfort, Tombstone retrieved his stetson from the pile and placed it back on his head, the brim cloaking his features in shadow. “Sorry, l’il lady. I didn’t mean ta scare ya.” He caught what sounded like a loud growling, choking sound coming from the hall, and he realized that the bulky Legionnaire orc was laughing. “Yeah, real funny,” Tombstone grunted in response, not quite wishing to join in the merriment. He pushed his way past Junko and Eadsplitta into the hallway, and made an elaborate “Lead the way” gesture down the hallway, not wanting to spend any more time in the lair of people he deeply detested than he had to. Evidently not pleased at being pushed around, Eadsplitta let out a low growl and stomped off down another hallway, beckoning his charges to follow him.

Junko stared at the metal tray of food with what she hoped was interest, but she could feel nothing but an empty sensation inside her chest that nothing could really fill. Ever since she had come to the fortress seeking aide, she had barely eaten, save for a few bowls of egg broth that Director Feathertail had convinced her to eat in order to keep her strength up. Since the day which her kit was taken away from her, Junko had felt as though part of her had been torn out, and had all but given up on keeping herself healthy as worry gnawed away at her psyche. Looking down at the soggy sausage roll and bowl of steaming stew set before her, she could only feel a detached need for food. “Y’all right?” Tombstone said across the table from her. The gunslinger had acquired a bowl of grits and two pieces of toast for himself, while the Legionnaire orc had fixed her a plate as best he could, though she suspected the orc had just gotten her the exact same things as he had. She looked up at Tombstone with a weak smile and nodded. “Yes, I’m okay.” She picked up the sausage roll and took a small bite, trying not to grimace at the bland flavor. Junko had heard tales of the clan of Yorick very often, mostly from old war veterans that had fought alongside the first Tombstone and his brother in the wars of old. Now, she wasn’t so sure if this scarred, brutal-looking man was the key to saving her lost kit. “Yer a bad liar.” She looked up in surprise to see Tombstone fixing her in his steely gaze, having paused in scarfing down his corn mush. “I can tell yer not too keen on me.” Junko blushed, remembering how she had reacted when she saw his face for the first time. “Y-Yes, I’m a little unsure about you. I didn’t want to say anything, but…” “Ya were expectin’ a knight in shinin’ armor that would hunt down the fraggers what stole yer kit.” The Foxkin was speechless. “Yes,” she said with her eyes downcast, trying to avoid Tombstone’s eyes, “I admit I was expecting a…hero. I remember all of the tales of the great Tombstone Yorick…” The gunslinger slammed his hand down on the table with a loud thump and clattering of cutlery that nearly caused Junko to jump out of her skin. “Fergit what ya’ve heard about my grandpa. He weren’t no hero, he was a low-life fragger like me,” Tombstone growled. “Didja ever hear how he got that name in the first place?” Junko had to pause. She hadn’t really thought about that. “Um…no, I don’t really know. My clan always said that he was a great war hero, and that he lead the Allies to victory in the Great War.” Tombstone let a growling sigh escape his lips. “First off, his name’s not a badge of honor. When he was a young’un, Elder slaughtered his entire village in Midway, but he survived. He buried every man, woman, and child in that town all by his lonesome. After that, he turned sellsword, trying to find out who led the Elder to his home. That’s why he was known as ‘Tombstone the Gravedigger.’ No one treated him like a hero. To them, he was a freak, that had thrown in his lot with the Elder to avoid being killed, and then buried what was left to cover his shame.” Junko could only look at him with wide eyes. “Second, he weren’t a hero. The High King’s guards caught him for being a merc, and gave him the choice of death or a sentence in a penal legion.Y’all can guess what he chose. True, he fought alongside the Neo Kittens in the Great War, and he helped liberate Kira, but he was just as much of a scumbag as I am.” Junko felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under her. Was all this true? Had the stories she been told from her childhood all been a lie? She felt even worse knowing that it was SHE who had requested Tombstone be brought when Lydia had mentioned that they couldn’t spare the Legionnaires to find her daughter. Seeing how the Legion held him in high regard, she was expecting someone like Markus Brisbane or Coleman Stryker, not a shabby Midwayan gunslinger who looked like he’d shoot her in the back. “Roight! Scootch ovah!” Sergeant Eadsplitta had returned, and pushed himself onto the bench next to Tombstone, plunking down a heaping tray of food on the tabletop and messily tucking in. Trying to be polite, Junko took another bite of cold sausage roll, but her mind was off elsewhere, still wondering if she had made a terrible mistake, or even if she had put her poor lost kit in more trouble. She felt a few fat tears beginning to squeeze out of her eyes, and quickly closed them, lest her companions see how much pain she was in. The rest of their impromptu meal passed in relative silence, with only the background conversations of other Legionnaires in the room to break the peace. What had she done, and what would come of her choice?

Tombstone lay on the rough wooden cot, staring intently at the arclight hanging from the ceiling of his quarters. Despite having had the best meal he could remember, and the soft breathing coming from the other side of his room, Tombstone still felt like his brain had been switched on and refused to shut down. After their meal had ended, the Legion orc had ushered them back to the room, and had offered Junko his bedroll, thinking that being in the same room with the gunslinger would help to put her at ease. He must have been joking, thinking Tombstone would try to have his way with her, and given how she protested with her huge eyes, she must have been thinking the same. It was only after Tombstone had laid down on his own cot and assured her that he had no such intentions that she seemed to calm down, and had curled up on the orc’s bedroll, fast asleep. He turned to the side and looked at her, remarking at how young she was, and yet how the ordeal seemed to age her beyond her years. Curled up now, looking tiny in her white linen gown and with her plumy yellow tail covering her nose, she looked barely older than a kit. The gunslinger turned his attention back to the arclight, now swaying slightly as a group of Legionnaires tromped past. He could feel her pain; a kid, forced to grow up too soon, ending up pulled into events that encompassed the whole world. The first time he had held a gun was when he was eight years old, using his father’s guns to shoot rusted cans off an old fence on their land. The first time he had killed a man was three years later, when raiders ransacked the ranch, and he was forced to put a bullet between a man’s eyes to save his life. His entire childhood crumbled up and blew away in the pull of that trigger, and from that day he was no longer Lucian Yorick II, but Tombstone the Second, taking on his grandfather’s name as a warrior and a keeper of peace and law. Tombstone’s eyes began to sway back and forth with the swinging light, and he could feel his mind becoming fuzzy. What would it have been like, if he had a normal life? he wondered. He had tried, many times. But friends drifted away, or turned against him. Women couldn’t bear to be with a man that killed for a living, or were killed by those around him. Danger seemed to follow him like a bad penny, no matter where he went. His tired gaze drifted once more to the peaceful dozing Foxkin, her tail twitching slightly as she dreamed. Still so young, he thought. He only hoped he could give her back a normal life, as much as he could. Pulling his hat down over his eyes and settling onto the lumpy pillow, Tombstone slowly drifted into a deep sleep, his dreams filled with the visions of the endless wastelands, and the hidden treasures beyond their borders, he could only imagine. It would be day soon, and the wastelands, vast, barren, and dangerous, beckoned to the grieving mother, and her war-weary protectors.

(Whew! This was a long time coming. But here it is: the second installment of Tales of the Shattered World, and the first part in a mini-series I’m entitling the Trials of Yorick, named for our wonderful protagonist. This is only the beginning, and our three heroes have a long and winding journey ahead of them, with untold dangers, discoveries, treasures, and horrors yet to find. What awaits them? Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out! Stay tuned for more Raging Goblin Reviews, and the third installment, which will be coming soon. If you want more fiction, check out Tales of the Shattered World #1: Deal with the Devil, which you can still find on the main page. I do apologize for the void in-between postings; school hasn’t been easy for me as of late, and I haven’t had much time for fun writing. I can’t give you an ETA on my next review or story, but I will try to have it up as soon as I can for you. Also, I have plans for a small spin-off with my characters, complete with hand-drawn artwork, called “Ask the Cast.” If you wish, you can leave questions for any of my characters, such as Tombstone Yorick, Ulgar Eadsplitta, Junko Inari, Lydia Feathertail, Jacob Lynch, Ludwig Van Ness, etc., or even characters you have yet to meet, such as Sophie Scrapper, and they will answer them in a hand-drawn comic panel. I know it’s a bit ridiculous, and will be a little time-consuming for me, but I think it will be a fun way to get you all involved in the story, practice my art, and immerse you more in this world I’ve spent so much time creating. But for now, enjoy the story and leave any questions you may have, along with the character you want to ask. God’s blessings on your week, and I’ll talk to you all again soon!)



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