Shortly before first dawn, Razorback and Bluefang arrive on the edge of a crater in the depths of the Sand Mother Desert. Within the crater is a walled outpost consisting of a few squat but sturdy buildings and a transmission tower. It does not appear to be occupied at this time.

The Cliffwalker’s nostrils twitch as he cautiously approaches the wall. “Did you intend to scale this?” he asks, “or should we ring the bell?”

Bluefang tilts his head as his eartips perk. He starts down a trail toward the outpost inside the crater. The wall is about ten feet high. “Sounds deserted.” He glances back toward his companion. “I’ll help you up and over. You can make your call from the radio dome.”

“You intend to wait out here?” Razorback asks, somewhat incredulously as he looks around at the desert sand.

The assassin hefts his rifle. “Keeping watch.” He nods toward the sky with his snout. “Staying in the shadows, when I can. Eyes in the sky.” His eyes narrow and his fangs clack. “Why? Forget how to work a transmitter?”

“I would not consider it my strongest suit if it is in less than perfect working order,” Razorback asks with a chuckle, “But my concern was for your safety. If I return to find your corpse, this will have all been a waste of time. Still, if you are confident…” He prepares to make his way up.

“I appreciate the concern,” Bluefang replies. “If you return to find I’m dead, you’ll hardly be the one most disappointed by such a turn of events.” He takes a hand off the barrel of his rifle to give a casual wave at the climbing Razorback. “I just hope someone answers when you call. I want off Demaria, Soon.”

“May the Mother accept you with open arms when the sun falls,” Razorback calls down, an ancient idiom to be sure, of a less hopeful time, perhaps. He scales the wall quickly, still cautious of what he might find as he seeks out the radio dome.

Inside the compound, Razorback finds a veritable ghost town. Everything still appears to be in working order throughout the camp – as if someone from the Demarian militia makes regular visits to keep equipment operational and clear of sand.

Bluefang paces into a pool of shadow along the western wall, eyes up toward the rim of the crater.

The big Demarian seems puzzled to find an apparently abandoned outpost in such good condition. He makes his way to the radio building and tries the door, his tail twitching nervously.

Inside the radio dome, a grizzled old Demarian hears the rattling of the door handle. His fangs glisten in a snarl as he draws a pulse pistol from the holster at his side. He pushes the swivel chair back, gets to his feet, and stalks toward the door. “The sands take these tribal savages,” he growls to himself before pressing his back to the wall just right of the door. Loudly, he shouts: “Get lost or get shot!”

The ex-noble shifts quickly to one side of the doorway as his ears swivel towards the building to pick up the faintest sound. “Lost is right, my friend!” he calls to the other Demarian, “Have you any water you could spare?”

The comms operator grimaces, eyes narrowing. If it was some bad actor, they probably wouldn’t bother trying the door – they’d shoot through it. Tear it off. Kick it in. He sighs, then asks through the door: “How long you been lost?”

“If I’m honest,” Razorback says with a faint smile, “I cannot rightly say, though it feels like centuries. I mean no harm to you, that I can promise.”

A grunt from the comms operator. “You know you’ve trespassed on property of the Demarian militia, yes? Civilians can’t just walk in whenever they please. We’ve got protocols.”

“And had I other options, I would never have found my way to your door,” Razorback replies, “If you still feel the need to afterwards, you could always arrest me, no?”

The Demarian inside the dome shrugs. Hard to argue against that. He keeps the gun at the ready, but uses his free hand to trigger the door lock. “Come on in. Hands where I can see them.”

Now, the big, armed, and armored Demarian warrior reeking of the inside of a sand eel might not be exactly what the old Demarian was expecting to stride through the door. The Cliffwalker steps through with his hands before him. “I thank you,” he says, “As you can likely tell, it has been a hard journey.”

The comms operator gets a whiff. “Be damned. Don’t think we’ve got enough water to help you. Slake your thirst, maybe.” He has his pistol aimed at Razorback with one hand. The other hand waves toward the water dispenser at the opposite side of the dome. A few consoles and tables take up positions around the perimeter, where militia personnel can prepare, send, receive, and review messages.

“My name is Razorback,” the ex-noble says as he moves towards the water dispenser, “And yours?” His eyes, ears, and nose all work their upmost to determine if the old one is alone.

“Comrades call me Brash,” the comms operator replies, eyes tracking Razorback’s progress toward the dispenser. He seems quite alone here. He puffs himself up a bit as he continues: “Outside the militia, I’m Longleg Brashword.” A shrug. “Used to be an assistant groundskeeper for the Sandwalkers.”

“The Sandwalkers, I see,” Razorback says as he takes a disposable cup and sips some water with a grateful smile, “How did they treat you?”

“Well,” Brash growls with another shrug. “*Used to be* an assistant groundskeeper.” As if that explains it all. “What brings you out to the middle of the desert, anyway?”

“Helping a friend,” Razorback says, sipping more water, “The Sandwalkers have never been great allies of my folk. Though I have met some who were honorable.”

“Yes?” the older Demarian replies with a grunt. “Tell me the ones you met so I can get them to the Museum of Absolute Rarities.” He lowers the gun barrel, then moves to stare out the door. “Is your friend outside?”

“He is just outside the wall. Right over …” Razorback says, moving casually to the doorway to point towards the place, “Right over…” As swiftly as possible, a paw snakes out to the pistol to snatch it from the older Demarian while the other draws a sword.

Brash is way too old to defend against the theft of his weapon, let alone counterattack the younger Razorback. He eyes the drawn sword and steps back from the doorway, hands going up in the air. “Should’ve gone with my first instinct, I see.”

“Perhaps,” the Cliffwalker says with a sigh, “But nonetheless, I mean you no harm. A man who gives mercy to a stranger is one I would sooner not kill. Please, have a seat.” He indicates a chair that is visible from the comm panel as he approaches the device.

The elder Demarian growls, clenches his hands into fists, but doesn’t resist the order. He settles into the chair. “Your friend fled a hospital after killing someone, right? You helped him escape to the desert.”

Razorback does not answer the question right away as he keys up a secure comm frequency, and hopes for the best as he taps in a long-unused contact id. “You have every reason not to take me at my word,” Razorback says, “But it was a matter of honor.” Not wishing to speak his message in front of “Brash,” he types the following: “URGENT: In need of quick transport off-planet. Call attached # upon arrival. My thanks, Razor.”

Once this is done, he turns to Brash again, “How long until you get resupplied?”

“A few days,” Brash answers. He edges forward in his chair. “You don’t have that long, though. Our commander got wind of an off-books op using drones to track the two of you. He put a stop to that. But one of my nephews sent a message this morning saying he was mustered for a top-secret detail. They’re coming here first as a staging area. Should be here inside of an hour.”

“Very well,” Razorback says with a nod, backing towards the door, “I expect you to allow them the task of following us and do not attempt it yourself. I do not wish to kill you, but I will if I must.” He sheathes his sword and draws out his own pistol, opening fire on the comm equipment from both. Once he is satisfied that trace of the message will take some time to recover, he backs out of the door. “I thank you for your kindness,” he says before closing it and firing again in hopes of rendering the door inoperable.

The old Demarian shakes his snout, snarling. “Maybe I can get my job back in that glorified dirt garden.”

On the other side of the wall, Bluefang waits with his rifle for whatever trouble might be coming.

Razorback is back over the wall again in moments, dropping down beside the assassin. “We need to move,” he says, pausing to catch his breath, “A Special Operations militia team will be here within the hour.” He thinks for a moment. “How long ago did we pass that bumbler herd?” he asks, tilting his head.

Bluefang growls. “About an hour and a half.” He looks up toward the crater’s edge, as if expecting a squad of heavily armed and armored militia fighters to come hurtling down at them. “How do you know about this militia team?”

The Cliffwalker begins moving up towards the crest. “With any luck, we shall get our call before they catch us,” he says, “There was an old warcat manning the comm center. I destroyed the equipment, but he told me they were coming. No reason for him to lie about it.”

The assassin starts to follow Razorback, but then stops and looks at the wall of the compound. “You didn’t leave him alive, did you?”

“There was no benefit to killing him,” Razorback says, “He was able to work out who we were, which means that when his friends arrive, they will also.” He does not even break his stride to turn around. “Come, there is no time,” he says.

Bluefang shakes his snout, frustrated but unable to defy the facts. Still, as he stomps after Razorback, he argues: “If you had killed him and disposed of the corpse, no one would even know we were here! Why did we fake our deaths and walk around inside a dead sand eel all night just so that old bastard can identify us to the enemy?!”

“They would have suspected something when he was missing and dug through the communications logs, revealing the content and recipient of my message,” Razorback counters, still moving, “Also, I think there is more at work here. It would seem that those hunting us are not in collusion with the militia. It was the local militia that rerouted those drones which were attacking us. We owe them for that at the very least. At any rate, he lives, so either stop whining about it, or risk capture to go back and end him.”

Bluefang huffs. “Fine. He lives. Can’t say the same for us. Did you speak with your allies? Are they coming to help us?”

“We will know soon enough,” Razorback says, pulling an unregistered comm from his pocket and waving it in the air for a second, “I did not wish to wait around for an answer, under the circumstances. If we are fortunate, they are already here on Demaria. If not… we shall have to make do.”

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By Brody

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