Drake's Sword Part Two

Exchange of Blood

 

Drake tensed a bit, but kept his sword at his side. With a slight glance in Raymond’s direction he gestured slight compliance.

“How about a trade?” Drake asked, keeping his focus on Ely.

There was a moment of silence as Ely placed one hand on his hip and rubbed his beardless chin with the other. Drake used the moment to notice that his friends-flunkies?-were awaiting his command.

“What kind of a trade?” Ely asked, curiously.

“Raymond’s dagger and his tie, which you could use for kindling, and my sweater. Someone here could use one for the cold nights, assuming there are any on this planet. For a little food, or at least the place where we can find it.”

Ely rubbed his chin in further thought. Under other circumstances Drake would have laughed, knowing this was just a part of the kid’s self image.

“Fair deal,” he said finally. He turned to the largest of the three flunkies, a heavyset man with tight military fatigues. “Grover, add the boy’s dagger to our arsenal.”

“Yes sir.”

Raymond handed the dagger over and removed his tie. Drake used his one free hand to remove his sweater from around his waste, but refused to let go of the handle of his sword just yet.

“I don’t kill people who make a fair trade with me,” Ely insisted, placing his arm around Drake’s shoulder. “Come, sit with us by the fire and tell us your story. We’ve got plenty of food, and we all fell victim to injustice at some point in our lives.”

Drake went along without resistance and Raymond followed suit. Some of the men who remained by the fire spread out to set a place for them, and Drake drove his sword into the dirt by his side.

Another man handed them large pieces of flat green food, which they recognized as pieces of the coral bushes.

“So those are edible?” Drake asked, staring at his piece curiously.

“Only the green ones,” the man explained. “The rest have poisons or some other deadly defense mechanism. It don’t taste like much but it gets you by.”

Raymond took a bite and made a face.

“Tastes like card board,” he said, grimacing as he swallowed it.

“Well we’d have the local equivalent of trout, but the river’s off limits to us.” Ely explained, crossing his legs and leaning back. “The people who own City 5 took hold of the bridge and any one of us who crosses risks getting torn to pieces.”

“They’re that dangerous?”

“Everyone in Acheron is dangerous, didn’t they tell you? It’s where the gang runners and violent criminals get sent. Be thankful you weren’t sent to Hades though, there are insects that will devour you alive there.”

“So is that why you’re living out here like Robin Hood and his Merry Men?” Drake asked, ignoring the faint sound of Raymond’s gulping.

“Pretty much. Although I prefer the beggars and vagrants of Mark Twain’s the Prince and the Pauper to any of the Robin Hood tales.”

Why wouldn’t I be surprised if this guy ever read Catcher in the Rye? Drake thought wryly.

“Is that why you lot were sent here?” Raymond asked, fighting down another mouthful of coral. “You were all in a gang?”

“Most of us,” Ely gestured to some of the others. “Grover was sent here because of an unfortunate accident which lead to the deaths of four hundred civilians on a transport carrier to Mars. Myself, well…I’ve said it a dozen times so lets not be too judgmental. I’m one of those kids you always heard about in the news, so intelligent and quiet until the one day the pressure got to him.”

“You opened fire on your school?” Drake asked.

“I blew the fucking thing sky high. My dad sold natural gas for a living and I was able to get a hold of a few containers of methane. Took out the school and half the city block.”

Raymond’s mouth hung open, but Drake didn’t show any reaction. He was watching the newscast when the Nebraska high school was blown up. But he never thought he’d get to meet the one who did it in person. Now it was only a matter of getting himself and Raymond out of there alive.

“I’m surprised you didn’t get the death penalty for that,” He stated bluntly. “Funny how all I did to get sent here was skip the draft.”

Ely shrugged. “After all the years of people protesting the death penalty I imagine this was the only alternative. They could easily have loaded me into a rocket along with half a dozen other murderers and shipped us out to the sun, but that would have cost money. In the end, the only alternative was to use this planet as a place of exile and write off all the people they sent here.”

“Why else would they start sending orphans, heretics and other people they didn’t like?” someone spoke up. It was one of the other men who had flanked Ely, a red haired kid, only a little bit younger. “My name’s Wren. Me, I got sent here for stealing a few copies of manga from a bookstore. No parents and none of my extended family would take me so I was nothing more to them than a loose cannon. Write me off, send me here, government doesn’t have to pay a family to foster me.”

“Like I said,” Ely added. “We all have our stories. I’ve met countless others who were sent here on minor technicalities. And I’ve even met the occasional fellow who pulled a stunt similar to mine. But you know what, we’re better off here than we were on Earth.”

Of course, Drake thought. With no laws or consequences to keep you in check.

“So what do you say? Join us?”

Drake took a good look at Ely and his companions. Neither of them looked like they would take no for an answer. With Raymond as his unofficial responsibility, the burden of decision rested squarely on his shoulders.

“I don’t know about this.” He said finally. “The fact is I have way too much of a problem with authority to ever join a gang. Perhaps as allies’ maybe, after all you did help us find food and I’d be happy to return the favor at some point. Come on Raymond.”

Grover made a motion to stand, but Ely raised his hand.

“Let them go. Like I said, I never kill those who make a trade with me.”

Drake picked up his sword and with Raymond at his side they left the campsite without another word or a look back.

“Don’t look back and be ready to run when I say so.” He whispered as the sounds of movement picked up.

As he expected, Ely had sent his men to chase them down. Drake gave the order and they ran towards the river. The forest was behind them, and Ely, Grover, and three of the others were still behind them.

Drake stopped dead in his tracks, when he noticed a girl dressed in a black uniform and examining a burrow. She looked up at him, then at the sword, and reached for a blaster in a holster at her side. Before Drake could react he realized Raymond had fallen behind.

“Like I said,” came Ely’s voice tauntingly. “I never kill those I make a fair trade with.”

Drake turned around; forgetting the girl for a moment and to his utter horror saw Ely, Grover, and three of his men each with their weapons drawn. Grover’s sword was longer and made of traditional steel. One of the bigger men kept a single overly muscular arm around Raymond’s throat, and a knife poised and ready.

“Ah, Sherry. Nice to see you again, but of course you know this is our territory.”

“We agreed that this part of the land was neutral Ely,” Sherry replied. “The forest is all yours.”

“Nevertheless, the visit is a pleasure. Although Grover here is a little pissed that two of his men in arms were killed by your pet banderlats last week.”

“Than his men shouldn’t have been trying to sneak over the bridge into City 5 again.”

“We’ll get to that in a minute.” Ely gestured to Raymond. “I assume your self righteous enough not to let an innocent boy die. But just incase it isn’t pain stakingly apparent if you fire one shot, his neck gets broken.”

Drake risked a glance at Sherry. She looked to him uncertain and placed her blaster on the ground. He mouthed a silent thank you and returned his attention.

“So, what do you want this time Ely?” He asked, keeping his arm tense but not lifting his sword.

“Well, now that we have a new situation, I’m willing to make a fair enough trade. Sherry and her blaster, for Raymond.”

Thinking quickly, Drake raised the edge of his blade an inch from Sherry’s neck, and gestured her to get in front of him. With a quick move he picked up the blaster, keeping his sword at Sherry’s throat.

“Follow my lead,” He whispered into her ear. “I have to make this look real. When lover boy releases Raymond I’ll hand you the blaster.”

Sherry nodded quickly as the man stepped in front of Ely, with Raymond in tow. They approached one another slowly, while Grover flanked the man’s right. Drake kept his eye on Grover, hoping Sherry would take care of the one in front.

“Let them go on the count of three!” Ely shouted. “One…Two…”

Sherry pretended to struggle as Drake thrust the blaster into her hand.

“Three!”

The man shoved Raymond out of the way as Drake shoved Sherry towards him. With one swift move she pressed the blaster into his exposed stomach and pulled the trigger.

Grover raised his sword as the man fell back. Blood splattered on impact, and the man’s organs burned to a crisp from the close range heat blast. With both hands Drake parried the blow, allowing Sherry to get of the way. Getting in front of Raymond she held the others at bay with her blaster.

Drake and Grover exchanged blows, swiping with each chance and missing by inches. Grover was stronger, having years of military training backing him up. But Drake learned a few tricks from Manhattan’s street life…they were evenly matched as far as he was concerned.

“Get Raymond out of here!” Drake yelled, circling Grover and trying to hide his fatigue.

“But if I leave they’ll kill you!”

“Forget about-whoa!”

Drake brought his sword up just in time to block a direct blow to his stomach. Grover wasn’t expecting the block and fell back a few steps.

Sherry fired another blast at a man who tried to accost Drake from behind.

“You filthy whore!” Ely screamed. He drew a dagger from beneath his Kevlar vest and tried to run her down.

Grover swipe and missed. With his side exposed Drake made a quick swipe, tearing the cloth and flesh. Sherry fired her blaster and hit Ely directly in the vest. Though he was sent sprawling, the blast was not close or powerful enough to penetrate the armor.

With Grover wounded Drake took advantage and pulled Ely to his feet, holding him in place with one arm and pressing the blade of his sword to his throat. Sherry held Grover at bay as he glared at Drake.

“Rules change, drop your weapons now!” Drake commanded.

“They don’t care,” Ely said, loud enough for them to hear. “If I die they’ll choose another leader.”

“Then why aren’t they attacking now wise ass?”

“Maybe Sherry’s blaster has something to do with it.”

“They could rush us easily, and the other half of your gang is still in the forest. Don’t try to bluff me.”

The others refused to budge, confirming Drake’s hunch.

“I said drop your weapons.”

“Do it.” Ely said defeated.

When they complied Drake started walking backwards. “This is the deal. Me, the girl, and Raymond are going to walk away. You four will carry your dead back to the forest and leave us alone. We hear footsteps and Ely here gets a brand new mouth right below the chin.”

“Take them to the burial grounds,” Ely ordered.

Only when Grover and the remaining two lifted the bodies of the fallen men did Drake turn his back, keeping a strong grip on Ely as they marched forward. Sherry turned around every few seconds to make sure they weren’t being followed. Raymond was a few steps ahead of the group but kept his eye on Sherry as she led them to the bridge.

They were quiet most of the way. Raymond also made nervous glances at Ely, as if he expected Drake to lose his grip at any minute. Drake couldn’t focus on much of anything except for the raging pain of exhaustion in his arms and legs.

As they walked along the side of the river Drake could make out the buildings a little more clearly. City 5 more closely resembled the coastal cities of Maine than New York or Boston, with only a few towering buildings standing out in the center.

“What’s this river called?” Raymond asked Sherry.

“That would be Styx. The bridge is called Cheron.”

“Appropriate,” Ely spoke up. “Considering what happens to people who cross it.”

“Only those who wish us harm.” Sherry shot back.

“Oh spare me the-ouch!”

“Did anyone give you permission to speak?” Drake asked, exhaustion and irritation in his voice.

“We should let him go.” Sherry said. “Ely, I’d start running if I were you because the minute we set foot on the bridge I’m spraying it down.”

“And what of the innocent people who come to your city looking for help? Will you blink an eye for them if the banderlats tear them to pieces or will you drown your guilt in petty self righteous doubletalk?”

“Like you would give them a chance to get here in the first place?”

Sherry withdrew a small clear spray bottle filled with a pinkish red liquid.

“Let him go.” She told Drake. “Don’t worry, he’s nothing without his gang.”

Drake lowered his sword but kept his eye on Ely as he stepped back. Ely delivered him one last glare before bolting in the other direction.

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