Night settles over the Boneyard — cloaking the red sand desert in shadows. The night sky, unobscured, deep midnight blue and black with blazes stars. The nightly red borealis fades in and writhes along the sky, dancing above their heads like fire set to the heavens. Kadar lifts the scarf of his long cape draped beneath his modified, armored biker jacket to cover his mouth and nose. He pulls the hood up next, fingers skimming the half wolf skull sewn into the peak of the hood. He lifts it one handed as the lead ranger lights the torch Kadar holds in the opposite hand at arms length away. It sparks to life and for a brief moment he is mesmerized by the lick of the flames as it moves down and engulfs the cotton wrapped around the end of the wood: soaked in sulfur and lime. Over the embankment of the tall dune they stand upon they can see the flickering lights of the small village below. Kadar looks to the rangers.
“Mirza…” Artemis cautions him, addressing him by his title as Kadar takes a step forward. She has more to say to him, he can see it in the worry of her gaze.
“At least shift into your other form.”
“No,” The words fall from betwixt his lips harsher than he meant and he softens his gaze as he reaches out to touch her face, fingertips tracing the scars along her jaw as light as a brush of a butterfly’s wing. The metal alloy beneath her skin hums at his sensitive touch, glowing a neon blue beneath her light brown skin. “It would have the opposite effect of what I seek here tonight. They fear the namur. They will take my coming as anything else but human,” he offers a slight shrug of his shoulders in a ‘you know what I mean’ manner. “—as an act of war. They have one chance.” With those words Kadar turns on his heel in the sand and assumes the lead with Artemis close behind. Kadar can feel her disapproval emitting off of her body in waves as she prowls close behind him, her hands wrapped firmly around the hilts of her daggers. She doesn’t need them to kill but the Ravager Clan doesn’t know that and every single ranger behind him, including himself, has a part to play.
A guard, armed to the teeth, makes his way towards the group as they near Ravager turf. Their gate is wrapped in rusted barbed wire and Kadar can’t help the small wrinkle of his nose at the smell that wafts from above the stone walls of their village. They are an unpleasant clan, thieves and murderers alike and cannot help but think that it only makes sense that they would be unpleasant in every aspect.
“Look men,” The armed guard sneers as he saunters up to Kadar as he pulls his scarf down to reveal the full of his face. “Bonemongers sent us gifts.” The guard sneers at Kadar, revealing rows of yellowed, broken teeth. He grabs Kadar’s lower jaw in a large, meaty hand.
Quickly, Kadar flashes his hand out, ringed fingers pressing against Artemis’s warm arm in a silent command to stand down. “Mmm, the things I’d make those lips do.”
“Lockjaw,” The command was quiet and full of authority as a second man joins the gathered entourage of beefy guardsmen. “you harass the Mirza of the Bonemongers, you stupid baboon. Release my honored guest and consider yourself lucky that your hand still remains attached to your body.”
The man, when Lockjaw releases Kadar’s jaw and moves aside, that strides towards Kadar is elderly. He moves with a slight limp that would betray his age if the snow white hair, thin bony body and thinning, veiny skin didn’t already do that. Kadar cannot help but be taken aback. They have heard of one another, of course, but the rumors of this man is nothing like the truth that stands before him.
“Mirza.” The elderly man bows as low as he can manage. Kadar exchanges a side-glance with Artemis who has inched to his side, her small and lithe shoulder overlapping his. It’s a subtle gesture but it speaks volumes, assuring him of what he already knows: she will protect him with her life if that is what it costs. He hardly feels threatened; a bit off put, certainly, but not threatened.
“The King of Thieves.” Kadar responds, pressing his right fist to his left bicep as a show of respect.
“Please, call me Snapjaw.” The King of Thieves waves away the formal title with a veiny, frail looking hand. Lockjaw and Snapjaw …Kadar considers the naming tradition and almost cringes but catches it last minute.
“Come, come. Break bread and salt with me at my table and we’ll discuss why you’ve come to my humble abode.”
Filthy and run down but humble? Nah. This is plain old neglect. It would have been startling to hear Vespa in his mind, her thoughts invading with a slight disorientation to her inner voice, like a song over auto-tuned, if he wasn’t used to it by now.
These poor people. Chakra climes in and Kadar can almost feel her compassion as they pass home after run-down home. Kadar’s eyes skim the doorways and windows where ragged bits of cloth are twitched back so they could peek at the small party of visitors as they walk past. If he wasn’t careful Chakra’s bleeding heart would take hold in him. Kadar focuses on his resolute albeit cold resolve. They were here on a mission and could not afford to be distracted. The atmosphere of the rangers within his head shifts in silent obedience. He is aware with a slight pressure at the back of his head as Vespa withdraws her ability.
The building they approach is easily the tallest: it’s bell tower converted to a watch tower. Four guards, he counts, on either side watching as they shift around the giant fire pit each holding a crossbow angled downwards in a relaxed position. The building must’ve been a church at one time but it’s stained glass windows are all broken out and hastily boarded up, it’s valuables no doubt gone. Artemis falls in step in front of Kadar, her daggers out and crossed before her in a show of grandeur that doubles as a warning. Their procession stops as Snapjaw climbs the few steps up to his rickety throne of wood that groans beneath even his frail body’s weight.
Artemis slides to Kadar’s right and tucks her daggers back into their scabbards, Vespa standing to his left across from Artemis as Jinx, Chakra and Ekho take their places a step behind him.
“You are younger than I anticipated,” Snapjaw admits, breaking the silence first and subtly encouraging Kadar to speak.
A small smirk tugs at the edges of the Bonemonger’s lips. “And you are older than legend would have believe.”
“Bah, legend,” Snapjaw waves his hand errantly, as if legend is rubbish. Legend is everything. Legend and notoriety keep clans alive. Legend inspires hope in those who are desperate and lost and it inspires fear in those who would seek to conquer.
The war to end all wars tore the Earth asunder and left most of it a barren wasteland of ash and shadows seared into the walls and broken sidewalks of those whom had come before.
The war to end all wars had created generations of war.
The war of survival.
“You’ll find, Kadar, that legends are never what they’re made out to be.” There is a shiver of something that slithers unpleasantly up Kadar’s spine as the man leans forward, giving a thin lipped smile that reveals teeth sharpened to fine points. “Neither are appearances,” He draws and smiles like a fox. “but you know all about that, don’t you Bonemonger?”
Kadar says nothing. Simply lifts his chin and stares the other clan leader down, gaze unwavering.
“I know you are stealing from my Boneyard, Snapjaw.” If Kadar would have been in his panthera tigeris form the fur at his nape would have bristled. As it is, his hair prickles at the back of his neck and Kadar resists the urge to rub at it. “It is going to stop.” The command that spills from betwixt Kadar’s lips is resolute and unyielding. He will not negotiate the terms in which he has to offer Snapjaw. “You may keep what has already made it to your village as my token of peace. Any man, woman, or child who is caught with salvage in or near my territories will be killed. If cost of our merchandise is an issue I am more than willing to bring in your blacksmith and have him apprentice beneath one of ours to learn how to work the salvage into clothing for armor and you may buy raw salvage which sells for a lower cost.”
“And if I refuse?” Snapjaw asks, reclining back.
“If you choose to refuse then nothing will change between our trading agreements but know that if you do refuse my offer and you continue to steal and trespass I will personally wipe your clan from the face of this ravaged earth. I will spare none, not the elderly, not the mewling newborn babe.” Kadar smiles then. It is a mirthless thing. It is cruel, it’s only purpose to show his teeth, a gesture he’d have used as the tiger. It’s a threat, a warning …a promise. He has been nice, he has broached it civilly but in this world diplomacy only goes so far and less are inclined to operate with peace at their core.
They are always at war. With the world, with one another. That is what mankind is good at, Kadar thinks as he waits for Snapjaw’s response. Waging war. Perhaps that is why they survive even in the most impossible of circumstances.
After a long moment Snapjaw leans forward, tapping the curved metal claws he wears on each finger of his left hand — of Imperium design, Kadar notes with a studious sweep of his eye — on the armrest of his throne.
It is a good offer. A great one and certainly more than any other clan would offer the thieves and while Kadar had been confident that Snapjaw could be swayed at first now he sees the error of his arrogance. He has misread the king of thieves.
“I refuse.” Snapjaw’s brittle voice reverberates around the crumbling walls of his crumbling empire. Kadar catches the soft murmurs of discontent and displeasure that ripple through the crowd gathered in the church at their leader’s decision. “You are a cub. You play at a game much older with opponents much smarter than you. Remember that, young mirza.”
“Your time has passed old lecher.” Artemis rankles, spitting her words like venom into the chamber they stand in. “You are an old man playing a young man’s game. Remember that.” Another ripple of murmurs from the gathered crowd disturb the ugly and thick silence heavy with anticipation that hangs in the air between the five Bonemongers and the thieves gathered.
“Artemis. Enough.” Kadar commands her quietly, grabbing ahold of her wrist and applying subtle pressure, not unlike the manner she’d grabbed his own earlier.
“Muzzle your woman, Kadar, before she chokes on that sharp tongue of her’s.” Kadar releases her wrist but grabs her waist, steering her out, his grip tightening on the curve of her hip as she makes to protest, her steps reluctant.
Kadar got what he came for. He’s an itch beneath Snapjaw’s skin now and while it would have been optimal to have Snapjaw accept the genuine offer Kadar had made him; one chance. Snapjaw refused and Kadar did not and could not feel apologetic for what would inevitably come next.
It was what always came next, after all.
Kadar pulls his scarf back up to conceal his mouth and nose as he and his rangers exit the gate and climb the dune where their horses waited for them at the top. He slams his torch into the cold sand as if it is the head of a spear piercing the heart of an enemy, shrouding the small party in the shadows they’d came from.