The Red Wastes

Tomas is one of the toughest, most experienced Guides on the Continent, having visited the Red Wastes more times than any other Guide since the Breaking of the World. In a land plagued by lawlessness and violence, Tomas is recruited to journey into the Red Wastes, a sea of unrelenting arcane power and incredible danger, searching for something that, if it exists, will change the landscape of the world forever.

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3. The Deal

Tomas sat on his bed as the spokesman pulled up a chair and sat opposite him and the hired muscle leaned on the door. Tomas was not going to be intimidated by the two men, and reclined leisurely, making a show of setting his blade across his lap and re-fitting the grip on the hilt. It was a small gesture, but one he hoped was not lost on the two men. He trusted them so far, but that meant very little in this world.

"I suppose you might have some questions." It was the man in the brown who carried on talking, so Tomas addressed his queries to him.

"We can start of with names."

"How very civil. My name is Mr Halsmere and my companion is Mr Ellings. You, of course, are Tomas Catori, fabled Guide and warrior of the Red Wastes." 

The fact they knew of Tomas' past was not surprising, given that they had hunted him down to this backwater settlement, so no alarm bells rang yet.

"What do you want with me?"

"Employment, of course. Mr Ellings and I have a need to be guided through the Red Wastes at some considerable speed. We heard you were the best."

"I was, but I think you may have missed a vital piece of information."

"Your expulsion from the Guides? Why, it is what makes you so perfect."

The alarm  bells that were laying so silent were starting to jingle ever so slightly. That piece of knowledge was certainly less common than Tomas' reputation, and few knew of the circumstances which ended in him being kicked out from the legendary Guides. Still, if one spoke to the right people, it wasn't too hard to find out.

"I don't see how me getting kicked out of the Guides makes me perfect for anything, except one day getting a knife in my back for my troubles."

"I want you to know that I really do not care of your past or what you have done. Of course, I'd rather have had the full force of the Guides behind me on this, but I hope the fact that we came to you at all is an indication of how desperate I am. No offence, of course."

"None taken."

"You see, the Guides wouldn't accept my offer of employment."

The alarm bells were in full voice now. The Guides, a group of mercenaries established after the Breaking of the World, never turned down a job, as far as Tomas knew. Nothing was too dangerous or suicidal or crazy for that select few, and for them to have turned Halsmere away was astounding.

"I can see what you're thinking," he continued, "that they turned me away because what I proposed was utterly stupid. I assure you that is not the case." How very reassuring. "It will make sense soon, I promise. I would like to tell you of this proposal, if I may? Then all will be revealed."

In his time, Tomas had never been approached so brazenly, or met a man so calm at having being the first individual to have ever been turned out by the Guides. This man, sat in his chair with his brown suit and red whiskers, cool as anything, talking to Tomas as if he were discussing the weather, when in fact he was surely about to propose some lunacy that Tomas would probably soon become a part of. He nodded, and sat back further on his bed, preparing himself for whatever was to come.

"After the War, the Arcane energy that was released in the atmosphere not only destroyed most of the living matter in the Continent, it also reshaped the land. Deserts, mountains, sink-holes, eternal storms, you know the type. You may also be aware that it destroyed the entire ocean within minutes. From what I gather, the entire body of water was turned to ice, and nothing could break it."

This, of course, Tomas knew. The Arcane weaponry used during the War reacted so violently with the environment, that the whole Continent was changed, and Tomas knew all too well that the great expanse of ocean had completely disappeared in one way or another, and with it went the best way of escaping the Continent to parts unaffected by the holocaust that followed that fateful war.

"For years, I have tried to find a way of controlling the maelstrom of magic in the Wastes, and I have failed horribly. It seems that only time will temper the storm, and I think that time is now. You see, I am a man of considerable influence within the bigger cities. I have money and I have connections, and these connections are very powerful themselves. Recently, word has been sent to me by several of these connections telling me that the storm is subsiding, and that the ocean is returning to its former splendour."

"These rumours have existed for years and nobody has ever been right."

"These are men I trust with my life, Mr Catori. They say it is so, and I believe them. Besides, we have more...concrete evidence than just their word, but that is another story."

Halsmere adjusted himself, clearly peeved about the interruption, whilst Ellings stood stock still at the door. Halsmere continued.

"I need you to take me and Mr Ellings through the Red Wastes and the Ruins and to the coast, where we will see what lies there. It could, as you say, be nothing. If, however, it does exist in some...cleansed form, I will stay there and you will be free to return, without having to ensure my safe conduct back. Regardless, I will pay you for a two-way journey, and expect no more from you."

"The path to the coastline is easily the most dangerous, you understand? When the War ended, the arcane energy changed everything. The more energy there was for it to alter, the more radical the changes. The more people there were in one place, the more energy, the more changes. This route will take us through the Wastes and the ruins of the biggest cities to ever exist."

"I've heard you have done it before."

"Once, and it was the worst experience of my life." 

Tomas rubbed his temples. Outside, the murmuring of the crowd kept his thoughts company. This town was full of crap, sure, and the people were mostly degenerates. But he was safe. His mind hearkened back to the endless plains of red dust and sand, the shrieking of the inhuman creatures living there, shaped and mutated by limitless power. It would be a hell of a journey, and not one he would take lightly. As if reading his mind, Halsmere dangled a giant carrot in front of Tomas' face.

"20,000 coins. Half before we leave, the rest transferred to you when you return, either with me or my letter of safe conduct. I don't think you need to negotiate that, do you Mr Catori?"

20,000. 20,000. That was enough to retire on, and live comfortably for the next 100 years. He could truly get away from the hellish nightmare that had been his life, and set up far away where nobody knew him. He looked at Halsmere.

"It sure is a tempting offer, but I need a crew. Nobody goes in to the Wastes alone, not since-"

"Not since you did it."

The alarm bells had been blazing forever, but Tomas ignored them. This man knew things nobody else should, but was offering stupid money for Tomas to do something he had done plenty of times before. If his money was good, he'd take the job, and he told Halsmere as much.

"Excellent news. As for your crew, it was actually one of them who mentioned you. You see, once the Guides said no to my idea, I enquired around, to see if anyone knew of any alternatives. After a few weeks, your name got passed back to me and here we are. I trust-"

"Wait. Before I hear anything else, and before I say I'll do it, you need to tell me why the Guides said no. With that kind of coin for that kind of job, they'd have to be mad to say no."

Halsmere smiled at Tomas, a smile that did nothing except make him more nervous.

"I understand. You see, they had only just accepted a similar contract offer from someone else before me. This someone happens to have the same idea as myself, and indeed is acting on the same information. He paid a substantial fee to have the Guides reject any offers from anyone else. That, my friend, is why they rejected me, and partially why I have offered you double what I offered them. You see, they made it clear that whilst I was able to seek other ways of getting to the sea, they would view me and whoever was guiding me as a direct enemy. Still, that won't matter to you I'm sure."

He was wrong.

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