April 10th, 2285

Montpelier, Vermont

9:57 P.M.


            The Danielson family never really bothered anybody. They were decent folks. Husband and Wife with one daughter who was just under five. They had a plot of land just north of the ruins of Montpelier, former capital of the former Vermont state. There, they ran a farm and made a living off of what they could grow and sell. The Danielson’s made enough crops to survive, and enough caps to get by. Who could ask for more?

            Unfortunately, they grew too well, and their success attracted the attention of a nearby raider camp, half-starved and running low on their patience for weary travelers to come by and fork over their possessions. Desperate times called for desperate measures, and those raiders decided to be more aggressive. So instead of setting up ambushes, they invaded. And invasion number one had begun at the Danielson’s abode.

            But the timing of this invasion was dreadful. The invasion was easy enough, as all the Danielsons had to defend themselves was a rusted axe and a pipe pistol. But, what the invaders had not anticipated was something lurking in the shadows…

            Henry Danielson, the patriarch of the family, sat defeated with his knees digging deep into the moist dirt and the makeshift handcuffs digging deep into his wrists. His wife, Mary, was right next to him, starring in horror as those wretched men stormed up their wooden steps, with their lead pipes and shotguns in hand. They could hear them tearing apart everything they owned, searching every drawer, every box, every closet, every crevice for caps and food. They left no stone unturned.

            Neither one of them knew where Lily was. When they had seen the raiders coming up the hill, they had told her to hide in the cellar and wait for them to give the all clear. But it never came, and the only thing that they could do now was pray to God that Lily remained unfound long enough for these raiders to get what they needed and go.

            Three raiders stood watchfully over the couple, with shotguns pointed at their skulls. One wrong move, and their brains would be scattered all over fields. One of them, a ghoul in the average caged leathers, smirked. “Y’all should’ve been smarter,” He teased. “Coulda just run, but you had to be the hero’s, didn’t ya?”

            “This… is our home…” Henry trembled. He had to look away as his livelihood was ripped to shreds right in front of his eyes.

            “You can have your home back after we get what we need.” Another one of the raiders informed them.

            After a while, one of the raiders came out of the house, dressed in Road Leathers and holding a hunting rifle in one hand and a bag of caps in the other. “We’re cleaning ‘em out!” He announced with a wicked grin. “These bastards got ‘nuff caps to set us up for the next month!”

            “Nice…” The Ghoul said, before glancing down to the couple again. “Speaking off these bastards, what are we going to do with them?”

            The raider dropped his bag of caps down and laughed. “The boss said he wants to take ‘em with. Said he could probably put him to use. Or sell ‘em to the nearest slaver.”

            It was at this moment that fear truly began to take its horrible hold on Mary Danielson. Life as a slave was something she could not fathom. And her daughter! How would she survive out here? How could she live with herself knowing that her five year old girl, her little ball of joy, was alone against what this awful world?

            “You can’t do this!” Henry protested, struggling against his cuffs. “Please, you’ve gotten what you needed! Just let us go!”

            “Sorry, man,” The Raider shrugged. “I ain’t got much say in what the boss decides. But don’t worry, we’ll take real good care of ya. ‘Specially you, miss,” He said to Mary, with the obvious implications showcased by his grin and laugh.

            With tears welling up in his eyes, Henry attempted to stand and fight back, but was quickly put back on his knees by the Ghoul’s forceful boot. “Don’t you move now, bud. I don’t think you wanna die now, do you?”

            The raiders chuckled in unison, seemingly satisfied with their work here, until the raider with the bag of caps suddenly gasped and stiffened up. A look of dread filled his eyes for a moment, and he simply stood there, unmoving.

            “What’s wrong, man?” The Ghoul asked. The raider did not reply, instead choosing to sink to his knees and fall face-first into the dirt. In the back of his skull, there was an oddly shaped knife wedged into it. A red line of blood and brains was splattered across the metal, and was slowly leaking down into the soil.

            “Jesus fucking christ!” The Ghoul shouted in shock. The other two raiders jumped back, and raised their rifles, searching for the assailant.

            “Spread out!” The Ghoul growled. “Find whoever the fuck did th-“ He started, but the Ghoul was cut off by the sound of a sword swinging gracefully through the air. It was all silent for a moment, before the two raiders looked to the Ghoul and shrieked in terror.

            From what Henry and Mary could see, the ghoul collapsed in front of them, and he had seemingly been relieved of his head. Blood began to gush from the hole in his neck. The Danielsons had to put their heads down and shut their eyes tight, but the image was burned into their eyes.

            As they cowered, the sound of a swung sword returned, followed by a hideous gurgling noise, a gunshot, and two more bodies hitting the ground with an ugly thud. Then, it was all quiet. Mary whimpered, and strained to keep her head down and eyes shut.

            Henry, however, managed to look up for a moment. All of the raiders holding them hostage were dead. Their heads were removed, or there were many stab wounds in their chests. There was, however, one man standing. He wasn’t a very tall man, no, but he was sure as hell intimidating. A katana drenched in raider blood was in his right hand, and he was dressed in a red and yellow armor, the likes in which Henry had never seen before. He also wore a mask, that resembled the mouth of a demon, smiling down upon the couple as if they were its next victim.

            “Get up,” The man commanded them. Henry rose slowly, not sure whether to be grateful that this man showed up or whether he should be terrified of him. Mary reluctantly stood after Henry

            In a quick motion, the swordsman was behind the couple and was cutting through the ropes that held their hands together. While he did that, one of the raiders who had been looting the house had decided to open the door.

            “What’s with the Gunsho- Shit!” He gasped, before quickly shutting the door and calling out to the rest of the house. “They’re dead! Some dude’s out there with a fucking sword.”

            The swordsman in question sighed and tossed the ropes aside. “I need to get you away from here,” He said, sheathing his sword. “We must act now.”

            “We can’t leave!” Mary blurted out. “Our daughter is in there! I won’t leave her to the raiders! I won’t!”

            With this information, the Swordsman looked back at the house. Through the window, he could see the raiders loading ammunition into their guns and setting up barricades with the furniture. There appeared to be around 6 or 7 men in the living room alone.

            After a moment of thought, he spoke through his mask. “Wait at the bottom of the hill. I will return soon.”

            “Sir, Please-“

            Henry’s plea was voided by a bullet being fired into the dirt at his feet, forcing everyone there to jump back.

            “Go!” The swordsman shouted, and the couple obliged. Henry grabbed Mary by the hand and started escorting her down the hill.

            “Please! Save her!” Mary called out one last time, and the swordsman simply nodded.

            Another shot was fired, and it missed the swordsman’s head by a few inches. He bolted forwards now, striding elegantly and quickly towards the wall with his sword clenched tightly in his fist.

            “Kill that motherfucker!” A raider shouted, and the bullets came non-stop. Shotguns, rifles, and pistols all worked to send forth every bullet they had in a storm of metal. But the figure, with the agility and grace of which none of the raiders had ever seen before, he maneuvered through the storm and the ammunition dove harmlessly into the dirt.

            Eventually, the raiders all heard that fateful clicking noise which meant they had no firepower left. The figure took advantage, and flew through the large window. While he did, he swung his sword quickly and instantly eliminated two of the raiders by severing head from the neck.

            He landed softly on the ground, and the two bodies behind him fell with a thud. Another raider attempted to stop him by swinging the butt of his gun down on the swordsman, but that attack was dodged and the raider met the same fate of a headless death.

            The Swordsman pointed his sword at the remaining three, who had backed up against the walls and put their hands up. They stood on weak legs, and had no way of defending themselves. The raiders winced and shut their eyes, expecting the swordsman to cut them down to size

            However, he did not make a move. Instead, he said “I will spare your lives if you tell me where the little girl is.”

            “Little girl?” One of the raiders spoke in a shaky voice. “We-We don’t know nothing about a little girl…”

            The swordsman, not satisfied with that answer, reached behind him and launched a tiny projectile forwards. The projectile in question was a kunai, and it embedded itself in the thigh of the raider. He cried out in pain and fell to the ground.

            “Where!” The swordsman growled.

            “Downstairs!” another raider squealed, not wanting to suffer the same fate. “She’s in the cellar!”

            The swordsman grunted and proceeded to walk off towards the cellar door. He heard two of the raiders scramble out of the window and flee down the hill. However, the other pair of footsteps were coming towards him. So on instinct, he ducked down and swung his leg in a circle. The move took out the legs of the third raider, who had attempted to plant a dagger in his back, and ended up with the sword in his chest instead.

            With the raiders dispatched, the swordsman approached the cellar door, which had been smashed open. He quickly descended down, electing to slide the down the ladder instead of taking each step at a time.

            The cellar was not in any better shape than the upper rooms. Boxes and barrels that had stored their surplus of caps and food had been torn asunder, and sucked dry of anything that the raiders deemed necessary to take.

            He looked around the placed, feeling a slight hinge of regret as he saw the widespread destruction. He had seen the raiders storm this place and take this family hostage, and he acted as quickly as he could, but it would appear he was not fast enough to save the house, their food, or their wealth.

            While he pondered this, he heard a whistle the grabbed his attention. He turned to see a ghoul in cage armor, pressing a 10mm pistol against the head of a young girl, who was breathing rapidly and had tear trails staining her cheeks.

            “That’s far enough, fucker,” The Ghoul rasped. His thumb moved up and pulled back the hammer. “You take another step, and she’s dead. You hear me?”

            The swordsman, though reluctant, complied with his demands and stood in place. It was all quiet for a moment, minus the wretched breaths of the Ghoul.

            “I worked really fuckin’ hard to build that crew up,” He hissed. “And what the fuck was it for? You just took all that hard work and smashed it to bits.”

            “You should have pursued a different objective,” The swordsman said, conveying no emotions in his voice.

            “Drop your sword!” He shrieked

            The swordsman was still for a while longer, before he dropped the sword and raised his hands up. As he did, however, another dagger that was concealed slowly slid out of his sleeves, and the hilt stopped just where his hand could reach it.

            “Let the girl go,” The swordsman commanded. “Last Warning.”

            “Don’t fuckin’ threaten me!” The Ghoul shouted. “You say one more thing and I’m putting a bullet in both of your fuckin’ heads! You can-“

            Whatever he was to say next was lost. In a quick motion, the swordsman grabbed the dagger and slung his arm downwards. The weapon was sent flying across the room like a tomahawk, and landed in the skull of the Ghoul.

            The boss’s head snapped back in surprise, and the rest of his body followed backwards as his heart stopped beating and his brain stopped working. Blood began to pour from the open wound as the little girl ran from him and towards the swordsman.

            “You are safe,” He assured her as she quickly hugged his armored hide, and stared in horror at the dead man.

            The Swordsman knelt down to console the traumatized child, who buried her head into his shoulders and simply tried to breath. She began to silently weep, her whimpers stifled by her mouth being buried into her own arms.

            “It’s over,” The swordsman assured her. He felt heartbroken as the girl’s pitiful cries struck his eardrums. He had saved her, yes, but perhaps not fully. This would undoubtedly haunt her. Just the thought of someone so young having a gun pressed against her head and watching her family and home be nearly destroyed unsettled the swordsman.

            However, the girl’s cries suddenly stopped, and her hands drooped down lifelessly at her side. Her head rolled to the side, and she was silent.

            “Little girl?” The swordsman panicked, grabbing her and gently shaking her. Her eyes were wide open, but she was taking in no breath and her limbs were simply dangling in the air, like a puppet cut loose from its strings

            Before the swordsman even had time to fear the worse, a door at the opposite end of the cellar opened. It was a secret compartment, as the wooden wall slid out of the way to reveal a sterile and bright white compartment. In the door way, was a man in a lab coat and spectacles, with two other masked men in black bullet-proof armor and holding assault rifles.

            “Please, put the girl down,” The man in the labcoat asked, stepping forward. “She’s fine, I assure you.”

            The swordsman gently laid the girl down and reached for his sword. “Who are you?” He demanded.

            “Steady now, Mr. Ketseuki…” The man said in a soothing tone. “Don’t do anything you will regret…”

            “How do you know my name?” Saishu asked. “What is this?”

            “This, is a simulation,” The man explained. The guards were hauling the dead ghoul out of the room.

            “Simulation?” Saishu grunted in frustration. “This… wasn’t real?”

            “Well, no. It was real. As in, the men you killed were real raiders. However, there was no real hostage situation. No real danger” He said, nodding towards the girl on the ground.

            “This girl is a work of modern technology,” The man explained. “She’s quite something, isn’t she?”

            “She’s… not human?”

            “Not in the same sense of you and me. She is human, yes, but of synthetic design.…”

            Saishu stood there, glaring down at the unmoving Synth. Henry and Mary must have been Synthetic humans, too. This whole situation was a set-up, he realized. A set up to draw him in… and for what? To observe him? To analyze him? To trap him?

            In a fit of outrage brought on by the confusion, Saishu grabbed the man by the throat and flung him up against the wall. He held the sword to his throat. “Why…” He growled.

            The man coughed and hacked, struggling to get the iron grip of Saishu off of his throat. “Gah… please, Mr. Ketseuki, don’t-“

            His grip tightened. “I want answers! Now!” Saishu spat.

            The guards dropped the ghoul and approached the Samurai, aiming their rifles. “Drop him!”

            Saishu glanced back over his shoulder and, reluctantly, let off of his grip. The man gasped for air and rubbed his throat.

            “I want to know why you did this,” Saishu motioned to the entire room. “You set up a course for me to run. Why?”

            The man took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “You’ve attracted the attention of someone very powerful, Mr. Ketseuki,” He said. “Your reputation proceeded you, and so we felt the need to see your skills for ourselves. We anticipated it’d be hard for us to formally invite you due to your constant country-wide movement, and so we set up a makeshift hostage situation…”

            “Knowing I wouldn’t hesitate to help…” Saishu finished bitterly. “Who is 'we'?”

            “’We’ are Salvator Industries. A corporation dedicated to the eradication of hostile forces nationwide and the establishment of long lasting societies.”

            I guess that’s a fancy way of saying Mercenary Squad, Saishu reflected.

            “And so this… corporation wants to use me as a hired gun?”

            “Not a hired gun, per se…” He shook his head. “Mr. Ketseuki, we are currently building a team of the most brilliant minds, tacticians, and combatants that are still in the remnants of the United States. This team will be our agent of sustaining order and peace in this chaotic world”

            The man smiled. “We want you on that team, Saishu. After today’s events, I think it would be safe to say that a man of your morals and skills would be a welcome addition…”

            “You expect me to believe that the intentions of this team are all good and pure?”

             “I expect you, Mr. Ketseuki, to realize we share a common goal,” The man frowned. “Salvator Industries wants to eradicate mutants, radiated abominations, raiders, mobsters, and anything else that poses a threat to the future of this world. And you want the same thing as well, I know. You want to see the world rebuilt, like we do. To rise from the ashes and stand tall once again…”

            Saishu was silent.

            “Now, I will ask… will you join this team?”

            The Samurai stood for a moment, looking from face to face for a while, and just thinking. After a moment of silence had past, he sheathed his sword, and removed his helmet to look the man dead in the eye.

            “I don’t trust you…”

            “You don’t have to yet,” The man shrugged

Saishu sighed. “Where do I need to go?”

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