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Chapter 1 - The Arrogant Store Owner

 Magistrate Seacrest called back the patrols. They hadn't found anything out of the ordinary. However, as they were preparing to return to barracks, the sounds of an argument arose from behind. Two soldiers came staggering their way, covering bloody noses.

The Sandbar was well known to have more than a few characters hidden among the populace, but there were few with the gall to assault elysian soldiers. This was especially true after the surveillance outpost was established. It was no wonder, then, that some onlookers watched the scene with gloating expressions on their faces.

Fuck! Who did this?

This was a clear slap in the Magistrate's face!

Hammont was so angry all three hundred pounds of his doughy body shook. Only, his pudgy face and bald head, along with his round body, made him seem more comical than indignant. His wide green-bean eyes were even more amusing. He howled at the crowd around him. "What the hell are you all looking at?! Disperse!"

He turned his attention back onto the soldiers who'd embarrassed him.

"What happened? And don't tell me you got in a scuffle with some mongrel."

"Magistrate." The men saluted, cowing beneath their superior officer's severe gaze. One of them honked a report through his battered nose. "We were following a lead from an informant. There's been word of a suspicious person new to town transporting a bunch of illegal goods. When we get to investigate this guy wouldn't cooperate. He even hit us! His people are more than we could handle."

"What? Who would dare be so arrogant?" Hammont's already beady eyes almost disappeared when he narrowed them. He put one hand on the hilt of his sword and pointed at his patrol with the other. "You, you, you, and you. I'll give you five minutes to gather the others. You two, explain everything to me from beginning to end. Now what happened?"

"The suspect was openly purchasing guns, ammunition and banned substances. He then turned around and started a black market stall. We followed up on a tip from an information that led us to him. We found that aside from trafficking contraband, he also sells army materials and even fragments of relics."

Hammont's mouth trembled with rage.

The Sandbar wasn't the place it used to be! Who didn't know that he was in charge now? Even the stronger ones hiding among the people had to bend the knee or suffer harassment from his soldiers. But even if they didn't respect the authority of the inspection force, they had to fear the forces stationed at the nearby border! What about the whole Skycloud army?! Who would dare spit in the eye of that?!

Sandbar Station was still mostly lawless, where petty crimes remained rampant. There wasn't anything they could do about that, really. After all, this wasn't Skycloud. Nothing they did was going to change that fact, nor was Hammont going to completely shut down the supply chains that kept black market dealers in business. But whoever this guy was, he dared to do it right in front of their faces?!

But what was most unforgivable was selling elysian military supplies! And relics! Crimes like that were not small infractions. If someone used these goods or weapons for evil it would be traced back here. As Magistrate, Hammont would be held responsible and all his work would be destroyed. He didn't care that this criminal would burn at the stake, the problem was this man was going to ruin all of the Magistrate's career goals!

He was furious. A dozen more soldiers arrived as he was learning the rest of the story.

The Magistrate was anxious to learn who would have the gall to piss on his head like this and not fear retribution. The two soldiers, after being thoroughly embarrassed, were ready to exact vengeance as the Magistrate gathered their people.

Over the last few years, Hammont had done well by the Sandbar.

Things were cleaner, more orderly, and the streets reflected that. The population here had increased by a hundred percent since his days as a patrol captain and all manner of shops have sprung up to meet the demand.

They came upon a nondescript corner in a poor part of town.

"Is this it?"

"Yes sir, this is the place."

"A group of you stay here and surround the exterior. Don't let anyone through, in or out. You, you and you, with me!"

A dozen soldiers cordoned off the corner as instructed while Hammont led three men inside. The entrance was only wide enough for one person to pass through at a time, and narrow enough that Hammont had to struggle to squeeze his girth through. But before he even managed to shuffle in, his nose was assailed by a peculiar smell.

Gunpowder. Mixed with engineering oil. There was also a noise, too harsh in tone to be elysian made. Clearly it had to have been made by some other technology.

Contraband! A trove of illegal goods!

It was strictly forbidden for any old technology to be dug up, researched, or sold. It was even more illegal for it to be sold.

When Hammont finally managed to trundle inside the shop's contents were revealed. All sorts of items were hung on the walls and laid out to peruse. Various gun parts, oil-fueled mechanics - clearly a sort of taboo general store. To establish a place like this is so short a time was nothing short of conceited.

The place was illuminated by an old electric lantern, covered in grit.

The melodies were coming from a gramophone. A slightly warped record spun slowly on the turn table. It was obvious by looking at it that the tech wasn't old. Some wastelander must have dug up the plans and built one themselves. Not the most difficult task, but still a rare find. Hammont hadn't expected to find one in this place.

A pretty girl with long legs and a round bottom served as the shop's clerk. She was tinkering with the equipment.

Hammont rumbled a demand at her through his meaty throat. "Where's your boss?! Get them out here this instant!"

A slurred and languorous voice answered from the back. The words were slow and easy, with stretched out syllables. "What's with aaall that sshhouting! Can'cha see I'm busy?"

The presumed store owner was lounging on a rattan chair. Two more attractive young women were kneading his shoulders. He seemed perfectly happy, even despite Hammont's rude interruption. The man rolled his head up to look at the Magistrate, an act which seemed more exhausting than it should have.

Another one of the shop assistants snorted awake from dozing in the corner and rose to his feet.

This one was the only man. He was a big and lithe fellow with blond hair and blue eyes, and skin white as milk. He was handsome, especially with that constantly bashful expression pasted on his face. He was an impressive sight but otherwise seemed pretty delicate, even his voice wasn't very loud. All in all he seemed like an unexceptional bookworm.

However the blonde man was not the least bit perturbed by the men in armor, nor their combative postures. He even yawned impatiently and slurred at them as he neared. "Hey there officer. See anything ya like? Take a look around! Any questions, just ask."

The Magistrate was half a breath from blowing his top. These criminals were peddling their contraband right before his eyes, like it was the most normal thing the world! It was open contempt for his authority!

"What hole did you rats crawl out of?" Hammont pulled his sword from its sheath. "I don't have time to play with you. Keep up your games and see if I don't kill you were you stand!

The women stopped with anxious looks on their faces.

Yet, the owner remained in his chair completely unconcerned. One hand rested on the small of a woman's back, and with the other he waved toward the shop assistant. "Another mutt making noise? Gabby, get rid of him!"

The golden haired young man turned to the soldiers, then threw his hands up and shrugged. "I'm very sorry, it seems like the boss doesn't feel like entertaining. I think you should leave. To avoid any unnecessary trouble."

Hammont raised his sword to hack at the upstart. He stopped when he heard a rattle, and the blade of his weapon tumbled to the ground in several pieces. The tip lodged into the ground with a thud.

The Magistrate pulled his hand back and looked at the hilt of his weapon with wide eyes. His expression was one of utter disbelief. He didn't understand - it was like his sword just decided to fall apart on its own. His attention snapped back up when he felt a gust of wind, and suddenly the feeble-looking blonde man was right in front of him. Quick as a specter, his hand latched onto his throat and began to squeeze through the many layers of fat.

The shop assistant was faster and more cunning than anyone Hammont had come across before.

But the former guard captain was no slouch either. He swung his arm around and broke the blonde man's choke-hold, then stumbled back a few meters.


The blonde man looked surprised that the fatty had slipped from his grasp. There weren't many low-level footpads that could, after all. It looked like there was more to this meatball than rolls of lard.

Hammont took several steps back. His face was a mix of blue and red and he gulped for breath. It was already very clear who was the superior fighter between the two, and he was afraid today he might have met his match. Still, he adopted a tough posture. "I am Hammont Seacrest, Magistrate of Sandbar Station, under the protection of Skycloud domain. You are trafficking in illegal materials and breaking the law, and you've just assaulted an officer. Do you understand the consequences of what you've done?"

The blonde assistant idly rubbed his nose. "Don't scare me like that. This is the borderlands, there's no use using the elysian boogeyman here. Out here its fists that do the talking, and you seem to know a thing or two. Come on, let's see what you got."

The assistant rushed at him again, but every movement seemed erratic and hard to read. It left Hammont confused, unsure how to defend. He was sure this fight was over before it even begun, but suddenly it was stopped by a languid call from the rattan chair.

"Wait a minute. What did you say your name was?"

The blonde haired man's fingers were inches from Hammont's eyes. If the shop owner had been half a second later his assistant would have plucked them right out of his skull. It'd been a very long time since Hammont had encountered someone with this sort of skill. Sweat was pouring off his forehead.

The shop owner waved the girls away, rose to his feet, and slowly walked over to the Magistrate.

The man's face was completely unfamiliar. Black eyes and hair, a black beard, tanned skin. He bore a rather sardonic expression and a handsome enough face. Hammont figured he had to be around twenty years old. A small pudgy bird with golden feathers hopped up and down his shoulder. There was a strange air about him - a sort of untamed, feral dignity. Like a proud alpha wolf. Or a hawk, just come of age, with its wings spread and spirit free.