The meeting room was densely populated, it was clear, upon Ezekiel’s late entry that Estrada was waiting for him. There was a thin haze of cigar smoke hanging overhead as he made his way towards a seat in the front of the room. The room itself was far too open for the couple dozen people scattered about its dusty halls.

Estrada wasted little time getting things started, he stood behind a church window as the dawns light poured in through the stained glass behind them. This was the Cathedral back in the day, now it was town hall. The general consensus around the frontier was that whatever god was watching over the old ones died with them and as a result all their holy books were purged from the area long ago. Estrada once told Ezekiel that their was enough kindling from the books that as a young boy staring into the flames he felt like he was he was in front of a great burning tower, like one of the buildings in the great cities that could no longer be reached and existed only as a memory suddenly manifested before his eyes to burn as it sure had in the cataclysm.

There was a time, Ezekiel mused as he took a front row seat and placed his boots on the hardwood guard rail that curled around the podium in a semi-circle, when Cestria was conducting all town meetings herself and left Estrada out of the loop; mostly to prove she was capable of handling it on her own. She was the type of woman that was always trying to prove something, whatever that was exactly, well, even Ezekiel didn’t know for sure. Estrada was a man who, in spite of appearances, ruled the territories only in the the loosest possible definition of the word.

In reality it was the three of them running the show. Ezekiel was mostly brought in for his military prowess, though he rarely gave orders and when he did they were very terse. He’d simply walk up to a guard captain or a sergeant and issue a brief command. There was an incident once where a brash young commander ignored his orders, Ezekiel might have bothered to learn his name in time if the man wasn’t so quickly killed at night, when he watched the valley by himself. Ezekiel’s order? “Take five men with you tonight.” That’s all he said, and those were the last words anyone spoke to the man. The next day they found his body stripped of all valuables and strung up from the guard hut that overlooked the rocky passage that led further southwards. Ezekiel got the heads up bandits had operating in the area and had been scouting the outlying guard towers at night for easy pickings. The word got out after that, and from that point on his commands were never ignored by anyone who had a lick of sense. The mantra of the Territories was simple, ‘learn from the past.’ It was how they lived. It was how you had to live, lest you end up sand and dust like the old ones.

Cestria handled local problems, and the like. She was more of a people-person, per say. People complaining about price gouging, or a legal dispute. She was generally regarded as the most-fair minded person in the entire area, though she was mostly a loner. Sure she had a gift for understanding people and their problems, but that also made her more reclusive when not doing her work. Mostly Cestria preferred to be on the outside of town, looking for signs of life or eminent attacks, though none of either had been seen in some time. Many times Ezekiel would follow her out of town late at night or early in the morning and watch her. It might have been regarded as odd by most people, but their relationship was one of respect and understanding. He knew she needed her space, and he wanted to be there in case something happened to her. Both are happy and both get to give the other what they want in these strange arrangements. Ezekiel gets to guard her, which is what made him happy in these uncertain times. Cestria gets to have her moment’s peace undisturbed by others.

Estrada though? He was a charisma machine, everyone in the town loved the man to death, and with his analytical and progressive ideals he was very much the mind behind the territories. Ezekiel, the eyes. Cestria, the ears. Estrada was always the front man, he was the mouth, the voice, the mind, and many other things. The man forged the territories along with his family until they died in the wastes to the twisted disease simply referred to as the madness. He has worked tirelessly since that winter long ago to create a place where people could live decent lives and be happy again. He knew more about the world before then anyone else here, and he often told the children at night of great cities of lights and great towers of glass. He said it was a place that would never exist again for a very long time. The children all loved his stories of the old times, and he would always tell them they would bring those days back after he was gone. The older children would get the tale in the same way, great glass cities and comforts galore. Then he would tell them about the dangers too, about the wars and the great weapons that could destroy places as big as the Territories in one great explosion. The older children would always react with a bit of shock at first, but they would start to understand over the course of time what happened and why they need to know it. When people became adults, then he would tell them of the greed and destruction that caused the end of it all. How they destroyed themselves and how they would have to work as hard as he to ensure that people don’t rebuild so much as ‘get a fresh start.’ He was certain with proper conditioning we could avoid the atrocities of the past.

Ezekiel knew better, or at least he thought he did; however, he did understand that the people needed to hear these things because if you didn’t let them believe the future could be better they wouldn’t try. Still, he couldn’t help but wonder how Estrada knew these things, and if they were even accurate. The thought of people flying into space and landing on God’s Eye just to prove to another group of people they could do it sooner seemed insane. Why spend all that time and money to leave the Earth instead of spending it making life better on the surface? It seemed like idle curiosity of that nature shouldn’t exist if things were as bad for people as Estrada said it was, but Ezekiel had the sense to take things with a grain of salt when it was about the past. In his mind such things didn’t matter anyway. You couldn’t patch up a dead history with a few old folk tales and educated guesses and then say that’s the and the where and the why for the way things are today. If anything it’s best to move on, Ezekiel reasoned, because it’s clear the old world is gone for good.
Estrada looked over the audience making brief eye contact with all in the room, before proceeding to speak.

“Gentlemen,” he began, and after his eyes did a slow sweep through the room, followed up with “and women.” Giving a slight nod to Cestria he continued, “we are in the midst of a very dangerous situation. As some of you are aware of many of the typical shelter-borne groups have come out of their bunkers within the last few years. The estimated number could be anywhere between five to ten thousand men, women, and children. Some have opted to join our Territories and help us re-establish order after the cataclysm that seems to have hit the proverbial reset button on humankind. This; however, is not about those that have joined us, to them we are grateful. This is about those that have not.”

Estrada paced back and forth as he spoke, slowly surveying the room.

“You see, many of the ‘independents’ have taken to the easier route in rebuilding society. They have decided to simply take the resources from those that are unable to defend themselves. This normally would not be something that would be cause for much concern to us, as we cannot police the entire frontier, whither we’d like to or not. The cause for concern is that the resources scattered throughout the frontier are slowly diminishing and this will doubtlessly result in many of these large groups from turning their eyes towards us…”

The door at the end of the hall opened up, revealing a large man with a club slung over his shoulder and sporting a wide-brimmed hat. The bulk of his frame was hidden underneath a dark serape with a red checker pattern near the frills. It was not the large man that caught Ezekiel’s eye; however, it was the smaller man that followed behind him. The man’s face was twisted in a grin that slowly faded away after he stepped into the room from the outside, there was something unsettling about it. The man was wearing leather boots and a long brown jacket. Under which a leather jerkin and black pants were visible, he did not appear to be carrying a weapon. The way he conducted himself almost indicated he didn’t feel he needed to.

Slowly he guided the larger man towards a seat in the middle of the room, and leaned back to listen to Estrada’s speech. The large man though, never once took his eyes off Ezekiel his mean narrow eyes burning a hole in the back of his head.

“… with all the obvious ramifications to follow.” He cleared his throat and leaned on the podium, ceasing his back and forth movement. “So, quickly my options become rather limited. War does little more then make us all slaves to chance, but I am afraid there are few options left at this point. The attacks on the outlying villages and patrols have become more frequent. The supplies, fewer. It is with these ill tidings that a disturbing piece of information has been passed into my hands. The original ledger has already been slain, as per my understanding. Many more men have died to bring this information to me, and now with that in mind I shall share it’s contents with you.”

From his pocket her produced a yellowed sheet made of some kind of parchment, possibly hide, and began to dictate its contents:

“We have patrolled as far out north as we could, arriving at a great ruin of a city. Whatever wrath intended for this place seems to have missed it’s intended target. Where once the great cities stood there were always craters, here the city is mostly in tact, with the crater located on the outskirts. At first we thought we were alone, and stayed the night in one of the old buildings to avoid the chill of the frontier’s nights.

It was then that a strange thing occurred, the building lit up. Not all the lights worked and many were damaged or dying, still there was no mistaking it. This place was still alive with the power of the old world. The lighted nights, though a beautiful blessing to look upon as we peeked out from our shelter, also served as a curse. For the city still had people in it. We managed to make flight from the building we were in, but on the streets two of our five man group was gunned down by powerful weapons. They made no sound, but a column of blue fired from a nearby rooftop dropped them both in two successive shots.

From behind us, we heard shouting, all of it hostile. Cones located around the city blared demands for us to surrender in the name of the Disco King. Knowing full well that to stop meant certain death, we have pressed on near the edge of the city. We have decided that, with the sounds of them closing in all around us the best chance we have is to transcribe all we have seen and then each of us go in separate directions. Should this message reach you please give our names to our loved ones.”

He folded the document up and put it back in his shirt pocket, then continued. “This message came from a city located in what used to be called ‘Nevada,’ we figured that out from the old road signs. This city’s name is Las Vegas. We have been tracking activities for the various war bands, tribes, and factions that have rejected the notion of starting a beneficial society and have been acting in a manner that is inherently hostile towards us. It seems that this city is starting to act as some sort of mecca for them and their ill-begotten gains.”

“In other words, gentlemen, these groups are starting to coalesce into one, I hasten to say, nation. As of right now their alliances are only temporary, but it is my understanding that this Disco King is planning on making this temporary alliance more official, by any means necessary. With this in mind, I have called you all here today, given you all the information I have, and have placed the highest bounty in our brief and tumulus history of 4 million shards on the table to make one request.” He took a deep breath, as if momentarily pondering the gravity of what he was about to utter.

“Bring me the Disco King. Dead or alive.”

The room suddenly erupted into chaos, a few of the gangs apparently already having dealings with the unsavory forces in question attempted to start brawls and were dragged out of the room by the volunteer security forces. At this point everyone was standing on their feet, yelling and demanding more answers, more details or more money. Estrada merely smiled, and said. “I know no more, you know the offer and I leave it in your hands to pursue it” he then added after flashing a sly grin, “or leave it.” With that he walked off the stage and disappeared in the back of the building.

By this point the chaos that had appeared to only be a temporary simply escalated. Ezekiel, having enough of the commotion, rose to his feet and yelled into the roaring mob, “ENOUGH!” The crowd responded in a big way, with Braxshil knocking two of the brawlers out of the way and taking a wide downward swing at Ezekiel letting loose a guttural roar that echoed through the room. In that moment Ezekiel was aware of three things:

1) Sergio was doing nothing to discourage Braxshil, but watching intently.
2) Braxshil was wearing the same insignia on his serape as the Dusk Cloaks did.
3) The club’s end was knotted with a spike sticking out from the rounded edge of the top and aimed right for his head.

A few members of the crowd, hearing Ezekiel’s yell followed by the loud noise of Braxshil’s battle cry turned their attentions towards the two men. The club was in mid swing when Ezekiel moved, shifting down and turning his back slightly towards Braxshil. His hand reached back and grabbed the hilt of his sword, and with a twist of the hilt the leather scabbard swung open like a hinged door. The hilt looked like gears and cords all converging in the center of the blade, the blade itself had three parallel lines running down it lengthwise displaying that it was actually comprised of three separate blades. As Ezekiel drew the blade over his back he depressed a button on the left side of the handle that sent the rightmost blade flying outwards at Braxshil striking him in the throat. As the blade crossed over his shoulder with another flick of the wrist the leftmost blade swung outwards with a chopping motion, severing Braxshil’s hand at the wrist. Once he was holding the sword in front of himself, Ezekiel turned to stab ….

… whatever he was planning to stab at didn’t matter. With two thunderous blasts from Cestria to Braxshil’s head the body dropped to both knees and slumped over, quite dead. The room was totally silent at this point. Whoever was fighting had ceased at the moment gunshots could be heard. Ezekiel casually tapped the bottom of the sword’s hilt. The left blade swung back into place and a thin line attached to the bottom of the right blade reeled it back in, both sides snapping into the hilt.

Cestria addressed the crowd. “Now ya’ll have done made up enough of a commotion ya’hear? It’d be best if all ya’ll amscray before you make us mad. Ya’ll should save yer energy fer huntin yer bounties, not each other.” Most of the people in the room knew the drawl was forced and possibly only being used for ironic purposes. With blood already spilled most of the crowd dispersed, the rest were ushered out by security. Throughout all of that Sergio merely sat and stared ahead, as if trying to solve an elaborate puzzle. He didn’t speak or move for some time, until Ezekiel approached him.

“That man was with you, and he just tried to kill me. So, unless you desire to be cut down, you may want to explain to me why.” Ezekial spoke slowly, his sword still in his hand. Cestria stood behind him the rifle she just used to take down Sergio’s companion slung over her shoulder.

Sergio did not turn or ever look at Ezekiel as he spoke. His voice flat and emotionless. “He was supposed to kill Estrada, not you, but he was an extraordinarily stupid man. He came to me looking for advice on how to get revenge against you, it seems, for killing his brothers. I had heard rumors of your strength and convinced him to come to this meeting and kill Estrada now and you later under the pretense your inability to save him would have shamed you. Knowing you’d be here and knowing his intent was to harm you; however, it wasn’t too difficult to foresee that he’d forgo the plan and make a b-line for you.”

“Is this how you get off? Tricking you allies into fool’s errands for your own amusement? I should kill you right now for the sheer cowa –“ Ezekiel didn’t get a chance to finish that thought, as Cestria placed her hand on his shoulder, and whispered softly into his ear. “I don’t think he’s the one pulling the strings. We kill him now and we lose a potential lead.”

“Whatever advice that woman has just whispered to you, you should probably take it. I have told you what you have asked of me, and my intentions were to lead a dangerous man to his just desserts, not manipulate an ally. Frankly I find the assumption that I would ally with someone so simple-minded extremely insulting; now please, leave me.”

“Very well, but watch yourself. If I catch you involved in another incident like this one I swear I will kill you without hesitation.” With that Ezekiel turned away and walked out with Cestria.

The body was still on the floor, though doubtless the undertaker would be along shortly to pick it up, with that in mind Sergio stood up and crossed the new empty room and gazed upon the lifeless husk formerly known as Braxshil. “Well, well, looks like I was right all along. You asked me to aid you in a doomed task. All the good advice in the world is useless when the person asking for it refuses to heed it.” He knelled down and examined the body, under the serape he found a gun, semi-rusty but still very much usable. “You had a gun and yet decided to use a melee weapon on an opponent whom you knew was excellent in melee combat. Arrogant and stupid, no wonder you’re in the shape you’re in now.” Tilting his head he noticed the pin holding his serape in place was actually a family emblem, with his name engraved in it. Sergio took it, so that the undertaker would have to put the man in an unmarked grave. Just in case he had any more brothers out there that could catch wind of this.

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