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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2. The Meeting

 

 The courtyard outside the Arena was just as insane as the one indoors, with a tide of people ebbing and flowing as the day wore on. Tomas threaded his way through the throng of people and emerged in one of the town's many streets, the buildings on both side of him leaning inwards, as if swallowing him whole. Bastion was a hole, to put it nicely. Like most settlements, the houses and buildings were built on the foundations of the pre-war ruins. The red brick of yesteryear were patched up with wood and corrugated iron. Wherever there was space, there was a building, sometimes stacked perilously on top of another building, to make space for the mass of people seeking refuge from the cruel wastelands beyond. Bastion was not really a city, but it was certainly a large enough town that it smelt like one, with human smells mixing in with the hot odour of waste and the tangy, bitter smells of a hundred people's cooking blending in to one toxic cloud. 

Bastion was built on top of huge plateau, and as such thousands of people flocked there to seek refuge from the horrors of the world, being as it was so defensible. A reasonably unpolluted river lay nearby which provided most of the town with water through a series of complicated pulleys and mechanisms, and the plateau was big enough and fertile enough for a few farms to exist. The rest of the food came from a series of livestock farmers down below, who were staying clear of the pollution and grime of the chaotic town above. Most importantly, however, was that the Red Wastes lay far to the East, and the people living here would hardly notice the effects of the potent blood-red dust that influenced the lives and mindset of so many people.

Tomas meandered through the streets until he got to his destination, a two storey building comprising mostly red brick, supported by several wooden beams and rusted metal poles. He unlocked the door and entered the building, where he was accosted by the overpowering smell of smoke and sizzling meat. 

"Tomas! If you've come back from the bloody arena without my money I tell ya' now I'll be hangin' you from your privates an' roastin' you over that bleedin' spit like the pig you are!"

The man behind the bar was looking at Tomas with the same disgruntled look he wore every day of his life. Short and fat like Tino but with the pasty complexion of a local, Geraint ran the Black Boar Inn where Tomas had been staying for the last 4 months, and was constantly on his back should he be a day late on his rent. Considering Tomas was one of the only people to stay at the Inn, he felt that this treatment was a little unfair.

"Here's your damn money. Two weeks." Tomas threw the man a couple of coins from the pouch and went to go upstairs.

"Rents gone up."

"Since when?"

"Since I said so. Since the price of meat has gone shootin' up 'cos of the bad weather. Since the number of visitors we get has gone down 'cos the bleedin' bandits and thugs everywhere. I can't make a livin' off this no more, Tomas. Now either pay or get out."

Tomas turned on the man with eyes ablaze, but Geraint was too stupid to notice his anger and stared back defiantly. Walking over to the man slowly, Tomas went to reach for the long curving knife strapped to his back, thinking that perhaps Geraint was in possession of too many of his fingers, when the door behind the fat man opened.

"Ah Tomas! Good to have you back. Good day, dear?"

"Evening Irena. Very good, thanks. I just gave Geraint my rent for the next two weeks. I  assume you don't mind the usual rate in advance?"

"Of course not, dear. That will be fine. Did you want your supper in your room or should I leave it down here?"

"I'll take it down here, thanks" Tomas gave Geraint a sideways glance as he turned and left. Luckily for him, the appearance of his wife was enough to quash the flames of anger which had sparked up so violently within Tomas so quickly. Turning, Tomas climbed the stairs to his room.

It was, like most of Bastion, plain and bare. A straw-stuffed mattress rested on a creaky bed in the far side of the room, and a plain wardrobe leaned menacingly against the wall on the left. Tomas had very few possessions and therefore wasn't overly concerned by the size of the room. It was warm and mostly rodent free, and it kept him out of harm's way.

Sitting on  the mattress, he leaned back against the wall, sighing. If he was to believe Tino, he would be leaving here soon.  It would be a nice change in some respects, but he wanted to know who the men were and how they found him. Perhaps it was luck, or perhaps it was research. Either way, without the network of the Guides to rely on, he couldn't be sure if these men were genuine or not. Hell, he didn't even know if they existed yet.

After a short while, he got up, changed his shirt, and went downstairs. The smell of roasted meat was getting to him now, and the succulent aroma made him realise just how hungry he was. He descended and went past the bar into the main guest area. A handful of men smoked and played dice in one corner, whilst in another a young couple were deep into their tankards. Tomas signalled to Irena and sat himself by the fire, withdrawing his pipe from a pocket and tapping out some foul-smelling tobacco into it.

A moment later, he was sat enjoying his pipe with a chunk of sizzling pork with bread and cheese and a tankard of ale. Gazing into the fire, it was as if he were a normal man enjoying a lazy day at the local. He had heard of such days in tales, told to him by his father. Before the world ended, it was a way of life. Now, it was a luxury. Every day spent not fighting for survival was one which Tomas never took for granted.

As the minutes passed and the plate of food diminished, Tomas was aware of a presence behind him. The footsteps alluded to two men and the reactions of the others in the inn suggested that they looked out of place. So here we go. It hadn't taken them long to find him, but Tomas wasn't complaining. A moment later, the men had sat themselves across from Tomas.

"Can I help you?"

"Mind if we sit here?" The man who spoke was wearing a fine dark-brown suit and matching trousers. It was by no means luxurious, but in these parts he stood out like a sore thumb. He was a slight man with a shock of ginger hear on his head matching the finely trimmed moustache on his lip. The other man was the reason this gentleman had presumably survived without trouble so far. He was a hulking, miserable looking brute, middle aged with the face of a veteran. He held himself like a soldier and was also in a clean suit, this one of dark blue. The bulges on his body suggested he was armed, and Tomas wasn't surprised. Nobody with money came here unprepared.

"Suit yourself" Tomas carried on tearing into his food, ignoring the odd looks from the locals as they watched on with curious eyes.

"Quite a show in the Arena earlier on. My companion and I were suitably impressed."

"I'm flattered."

"Tell me, how did you learn to fight?"

"I practised on strangers asking too many questions."

"Oh come now. I am merely an admirer."

"Admirers at the Arena don't wear suits. Most of them haven't even seen one."

"And most fighters at the Arena can't beat five men in a row without taking a real hit. If you want to cut the pretences, we can, but I thought maybe we could talk first. I take it you knew we were coming?"

"I may have had an inkling."

"I asked Tino to give you a heads up. Didn't want to scare you, did we?"

"Consider me eternally grateful."

"You really are the ray of sunshine we had been told of."

Tomas stopped at that. So someone had been talking. This was probably a bad thing. He stretched his back, feeling the reassuring weight of the blade strapped there, and continued.

"Whatever it is you came here to say, say it."

"I'd rather speak somewhere private. Do you have a room here?"

"Usually when admirers of mine ask to visit my room I would be doing back flips. I do hope your proposition is slightly different?"

"I can assure you it is. After you I suppose?"

Tomas  could have made a fuss, could have refused to see the two men, but he didn't. He didn't know who they were or what they wanted, but clearly, they were after a Guide. For Tomas, constantly moving was key to his survival. Not only that, it meant keeping him busy. He could always say no after he had heard these men out, but he was too curious to sayno straight away. Grabbing his plate of food, he headed up the stairs with the two men in tow.

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