|Chapters||On the Prowl - Stray Pup - Taming of the Beast|
Taming of the Beast
“You’ve got a name?” she asked.
The dog-man turned around as they crossed the ridges, but never stopped in his stride. They had been walking for hours with the sun constantly burning at their backs. But she found the trip to be rather dull. He barely spoke or anything, just odd noises: panting, huffs, snorts, low growls, and wheezes.
“I’ve told you my name”, she said. “But you never told me yours.”
“Why would you care about what my name is?” he laughed. “Soon you’ll either be dead or back at the hands of a new adoptive family in Diamond City. I’ll just be an unpleasant memory by then. You don’t need to know my name.”
“But what if I want to know?” she asked.
“Rudiger”, he replied.
She furrowed her brows. “Really?”
“No. Now shut up about it. Consider yourself lucky that I am taking you with me. Because the idea had crossed my mind to just tie you up and stuff you behind that billboard back there while you were still heavily asleep. Send someone to fetch you after my business with these killers is done and over with.”
She fell silent for a moment and stared at her own feet as they walked. Her eyes were still red from crying last night. She remembered having some nightmares about the Tanner family, and the guilt she had felt. Though she didn’t remember much of it, by the time he had kicked her on her feet to wake her up, she could recall that it had been a horrifying one.
“You talk in your sleep, meat”, he scoffed. “Did you know that?”
“I didn’t”, she said somberly.
“Well, now you know. You better keep that whimpering down while you are here with me. I don’t want you to give my position away.”
He glanced over his shoulder for a brief moment, catching a glimpse of what he deemed to be the most miserable child in the Commonwealth. “The name is Shanks”, he said.
She looked up back at him. “Shanks? As in … the part of the leg?”
He shrugged. “Hell if I know, meat. It wasn’t my idea of naming me that.” He sucked some leftover molerat from one of his sharp canines. “Now that I think of it, I don’t think that’s my name at all. I guess it’s just something that has stuck with me, like many other things. Wain is my surname though, at least I remember that much.”
“Shanks Wain?” she said askingly.
“Aye, that’s my name. And I reckon you’ll be wearing it out soon, just to spite me.”
She reflected for a moment whether or not it would be a good question to answer, but before she had stopped to gather her thoughts the words had already left her mouth. “So why … why are you a dog?”
He stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and stared her down. “You ask me that, meat? You’re really fucking asking me that?”
Shannon swallowed hard, afraid to meet his sharp, unsettling gaze. His dark grey, canine eyes seemed to cut right through her like a rusted, jagged knife. “Sorry”, she said.
“If you weren’t a girl, I’d say that you have the biggest set of balls out of all these sad losers in the Commonwealth so far.”
She wasn’t quite sure what he meant by “balls”, nor if he meant it as yet another insult or a compliment. Possible a mix of both.
“Fine then”, he said. “A wizard turned me into a mutt when I was but a small knee-scraping asshole selling lemonade down the neighborhood’s lane, and peeking under the skirts of the neighbors’ daughter.”
Shannon grimaced. “Are you joking with me?”
“No, I am being totally serious. I lived in a spiraling tower that touched the clouds and rode unicorns to work as I grew up. Of course I am joking, meat.”
“So … what is the truth?”
“The truth”, he began, flicking her on the nose with one of his clawed fingers much to her disdain, “was something we never agreed upon, meat. I don’t have to tell you shit, and you don’t ask me questions. That was the deal: you get to follow me, but only as long as you keep quiet and don’t ask me any questions.”
“That wasn’t the deal at all!” she objected angrily.
He groaned with frustration. “No questions, meat. Or else I will gag you and drag you behind me with a rope.” She opened her mouth, but he stopped her right there by opening his jaws first. “Think really carefully of what you want to say to me next, meat. I’ve got some rope and a rag right here in my belt.”
Shannon exhaled furiously, crossing her arms. She grinded her teeth, once again cursing herself for not being strong enough like all the grown-ups. If only she had been as hard as Melanie Tanner. She would’ve told this dog to shut up. That would’ve showed him.
“Good girl”, Shanks said as they began to walk again. “You behave back there and I might just tell you my story. A made up version of it, anyhow, just to keep you entertained and quiet.”
“I don’t care”, she muttered.
Her anger seemed to amuse him. “Aren’t you going to bawl your eyes out like last night, meat? You certainly seem eager to.”
“S-shut up”, she told him, though it didn’t come out as strongly as she had wanted to, which only seemed to spur the enjoyment he got out of her.
“Oh, I will be silent as the grave, meat. You won’t hear a single word from me. Tell me, why don’t we play that game? The game of who can shut the hell up for the longest? I can tell whom of us is going to break first though, and it won’t be me. Starting now.”
And as soon as he said that, he just kept on his path, striding over the hills and the ridges. She found the trip to be excruciatingly boring. She was used to conversations, and jokes, and stories. The silence was killing her. And the environment looked all the same in every direction, except far off into the distance behind them where she could see the ruins of Boston, though it didn’t seem to shrink no matter how far away from it they walked.
Finally she broke down. “Could you tell me about yourself, please?”
He laughed at her. “I knew it. Pay up, meat. That’ll be 20 caps.”
“Didn’t you hear me? We had a bet.”
“We … we did not!”
He smirked at her. “Yes, we did. Now pay up. That’s only fair and square.”
She was getting flustered and her blood started to boil with restrained anger. “You are just trying to trick me!”
“You tricked yourself by not paying attention, meat.”
“But … but I don’t have any caps!”
“Well, then you should’ve done a better job at the game”, he grinned: two wide rows of gleaming fangs showing in his jaws.
“I hate you!” she yelled, lunging at him. Though she just barely reached up to his chest, she thought that maybe if she put some strength into her pounce she could at least topple him to the ground, and show him that she meant business.
He sidestepped, watching her fall flat into the dirt by his side. “Nice try, meat.”
She whimpered and spat out some sand that had gotten into her mouth. She felt the need to cry again. Somewhere inside her mind, she began to agree with his original statement: staying with her dead foster family seemed like the better option than putting up with this … evil figure.
“Alright, that’s enough”, he sighed, crouching down by her side and extended a fuzzy, clawed hand for her to take. “Even bullying you is boring.”
She slapped his hand away with an angered grunt. She wanted to punch him instead. When he reached out for her again, she reluctantly accepted and took his hand, getting herself up. She spun around to face him. Her first intention had been to punch him straight in the stomach, to take him by surprise now when he had made her so furiously angry. But she found that her arms fell limp against his sides. Instead she could feel both of her arms reaching around his waist, burying her face into his torso. She was crying and sobbing heavily. She first reflected of why she was all of a sudden crying, but then it just occurred to her that she hadn’t been crying for the Tanners properly. She hadn’t completely gotten it out of her system yet. And once she had begun, she couldn’t stop.
Her entire body felt weak, and tears streamed from her eyes as she bawled and pressed her face tightly against him. She didn’t care if he laughed at her at this point, or if he intended to shove her away from him. It just felt good to hold someone. To have some she could put her face to and cry against – be it a person or an animal.
She soon felt something stroke her over her hair and soon realized that it was his hand. “So emotional, meat. Damn. I guess that you’ve still got some luggage there to deal with?”
She sniffed and just nodded, squeezing the end of his back tightly.
He groaned and rolled his eyes. “Alright, you’ve made your point. Leaving you behind there at that farm might not have been the brightest idea, if you wanted to go on living a somewhat normal life without having to see fucked up shit. But at least you’d be safe, meat. I don’t want your life on my conscience for the sake of you being just plain stupid and refusing to see that I didn’t want you to suffer a similar fate.”
The way he spoke to her reminded her again of farmer Tanner. Though Shanks’ voice was harsh and rough, like a rock breaking, it was the words he spoke that soothed her, even more so now that he stroke her over the head. She seemed to remember someone else having done so a long time ago. Was it her real parents? Whoever they were, and wherever they were? She didn’t know, but the feeling of being comforted was one she knew that she’d never be able to live without.
“You done crying, meat?”
She exhaled a couple of times, brushing the tears off on his coat. Though he still reeked of all kinds of various odors, she didn’t mind them as much now when she could finally have a good cry.
Shanks reached for something in his belt. It was a rag. She half expected it to be the one he intended to gag her with, but instead he reached for it and dried off her tears. “Much better”, he said. “At least you’ll leave a beautiful corpse if those killers get to you.”
“Don’t say that”, she said, her voice slightly hoarse from all the crying.
“Well, if you wouldn’t be as stupid as to disobey me, when I am giving you the advice of staying put, then maybe you don’t have to become a corpse at all?”
“I couldn’t”, she said faintly. “I couldn’t stay there. I couldn’t bear to look at them and … and…”
He sighed and gave her a gentle slap at the back of her head. “I know, meat. If it was up to me, you wouldn’t have had to see that. Nobody should. But I am just a mutated prick on whom fate likes to kick in the balls, without having the decency to call it petting. What we wish and what we want, matters for shit, meat.”
He rubbed her hard at the back of her head before strolling past her. “Come now, meat”, he said. “We still have some time before we catch up to them, judging by these tracks. You want to avenge your family or not?”
She wiped the last tears off on her sleeve and turned to follow him. She didn’t know what to make of him. One moment he was being cruel, no better than the people who had killed the Tanners, the next he was all gentle, but firm. Her feelings hadn’t changed though. She still considered him to be one of the nastiest persons she had ever had the misfortune of meeting, but considering the alternatives, she knew it in her guts that he would keep her safe. Maybe this was what the grown-ups called irony?
“You know … kill? As payback for what they did to yours and your own?”
“I know what avenge means”, she said, still bearing the sense of grudge. She decided not to let him make fun of her again, and so immediately seized the last word. “I just don’t know what you expect me to do? I am just a kid.”
He scoffed. “At your age, I was beating up kids twice my size for trying to steal my lunch money. You’ve got to start somewhere, meat. Why not start by brutally massacring those who have wronged you?”
Like you? She thought of saying, but held herself back. She knew better than to start something by now. He seemed to have mellowed, and she would rather keep him that way. She liked this version of him better.
“Tell you what”, he said. “If you stop being such a royal pain in my ass, I might let you finish the killers’ leader off when I catch him.”
Shannon didn’t know how she felt about that. She had never killed anyone before. She had never even harmed an animal of any kind that she knew of. She just gave him a short nod, not really believing that he would keep true to his word. Not that she wanted him to. He seemed to be comfortable with getting his paws bloody, while she was not.
“We are close now”, he said. “You do as I say, when I say. Understood?”
“Good. Keep your head low and you might just survive to have a story to tell your next family.” He sniffed in the air. There was something foul in the wind. Piss, shit, cum, blood, booze, and gunpowder, all mingled into one foul odor.
Shanks grimaced. “Oh, fuck me. That’s nasty. Is there a garbage disposal around here somewhere or…?”
Shannon sniffed as well, but couldn’t feel anything. “Do you have like … a dog’s senses?” she asked carefully.
He stared her down from over his shoulder. She just wouldn’t shut up, would she? Her damn curiosity was as annoying as it was endearing.
“Sorry”, she said. “I am just interested. I have never met anyone like you before.”
“Must have left a good impression on you, I take it?” he rasped. “But yes, this ugly mug of mine does come with some benefits. The fleas, however, I can live without. I can hear things from far away, track scents over mile long distances, and my sight is somewhat more decent than that of the average trained human eye.”
That was indeed fascinating to her. He appeared to her to be superior in almost everything except for manners – almost like the superheroes in Melanie’s old pre-war comic books. “I am sorry for asking you all these things”, she said. “I know you want me to shut up.”
“Then why don’t you, meat?” he scoffed, but as soon as he saw the vexed expression on her face he made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Alright, alright. Fine. Ask me anything, but I can’t promise that I will answer.”
Shannon made a short pause. “Were you always like this? I mean … err...” She didn’t know where she wanted to go with her sentence. “Were you a dog who got turned into a man … or the other way around?”
“Huh”, he said. “Now that is a good question, meat. A bit of both, I assume. I won’t go into details, but I was a man once, believe it or not. A human from before the war.”
“Before the war? Which war?”
He shook his head. “You daft, meat? The war. The big one. The one that got us to where we are now. The Great War.”
She couldn’t believe it. “But … that would make you … No, you are bluffing again, aren’t you? You are just making fun of me.”
He stared her down with an exhausted glare. “Meat, do I look to be in the mood of making fun of you? I like challenges, and pissing you off is way too easy.”
She stomped into ground. “Hey!”
Shanks smirked. “But I am not shitting you when I say that I lived before the Great War, meat. That’s the truth of it.”
“But that would make you over 200 years old!” she exclaimed.
“I am an old pooch indeed”, he grinned and pounded his chest. “Built to last.”
She eyed him from top to toe. It was hard to imagine him as a human. Even more so: a human from before the bombs dropped on the world. The lifestyles of that time seemed like little more than a fantasy to her. Even though there were Ghouls that served as living proof that there had indeed been a time and a place when the world hadn’t been in ruin and people weren’t killing each other over scraps. She just lacked the imagination to fully picture it – to comprehend it.
“So why exactly are you a dog?” she asked bluntly, recalling that she had asked him that before.
“It’s a long story, meat, and I particularly don’t feel like talking about it. Especially not with you.”
Shannon felt insulted. “Why? Am I that obnoxious? Is it because …”
“Meat, shut up and listen to me for a moment”, he interrupted her with one of his clawed fingers raised. “I don’t want to tell you because I don’t think it would be healthy for you to hear it. I am doing us both a service here, got it?”
“But I want to…”
Shanks rolled with his sharp canine eyes. “Maybe another time. Let’s just say that it involved ‘serving your country’.”
“You mean to tell me that you were like a soldier of some sort?”
“Spec ops”, he corrected her. “Let’s leave it that.”
She wasn’t sure what that meant, but did not inquire further as he had suggested. “And your magical healing?” she said, pointing at the shoulder where the bullet had struck him. “Is that somehow related as well?”
He raised a curious eyebrow as he eyed her. “Inquisitive little fucker, aren’t you? Yes, my metabolism stems from the result of me being …” He groaned as he rolled his neck, a loud crack emitting from it. “… A ‘dog’ as you would call it. I’d prefer freak of nature, but Mother Nature had shit to do with this transformation.”
“And you live long enough as a result as well?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I have no idea for how long though. Might just be that I am just some other form of Ghoul or Super Mutant, only much better looking, and a hell of a lot smarter.”
“You don’t look like either to me”, Shannon said, increasing her pace as she noticed that he had started to get ahead of her, walking alongside him. “You look like…”
The girl furrowed her brows. “Like a friendly family dog.”
Shanks suddenly burst out laughing, though it was a strained one. “I do, eh? That’s cute, meat. Real cute. Now you’ve put me in a good mood.”
She couldn’t tell if he was making fun of her again, but if he was in a good mood maybe he would be less inclined to berate her. So if he was happy, she guessed that she was happy.
“Alright, meat”, he said as his ears shifted. “We are here. Keep your head down from here on out.”
She nodded. He signaled for her to lower herself as he did, crawling up to the edge of a sandy cliff overlooking a small valley below. A building complex was located in the center. Shanks’ eyes wandered over the area, scouting potential dangers. The origin of the complex seemed to have been for military purposes, maybe a boot camp or the like. A crudely made makeshift watchtower had been established at the southeastern end, guarded by military folk.
These aren’t Raiders or slavers, the Barghest reflected as he furrowed his brows. Far too disciplined and heavily armed.
Nor were they Gunners or Brotherhood outcasts. Though there was no doubt about it that these people were responsible for the death of the family on the farm. Their stench was all over the place. He had halfway expected that they would be heading for another farm, but instead they had stopped here, in the middle of nowhere, at a military base that not even the Diamond City security seemed to be aware of.
Security, he thought. A fucking joke. How that shithole is still standing uninvaded is beyond my expertise.
This wasn’t a group of runaway ruffians. These people were soldiers, or at least what soldiers would be in this new world of theirs. What he had on his hands was that of a potential army. Things were starting to get a bit complicated for his taste, and he wasn’t altogether sure that the reward would be worth it in the end – to whatever end. He was just as likely to end up as a bullet-ridden corpse along with the girl, unless he played his cards right.
“There are so … many of them”, Shannon stated.
“You some kind of psychic or something?” he grumbled as she disrupted his focus. “Why don’t you use your incredible gift of foresight and tell me that they are heavily armed as well?”
“Sorry”, she muttered.
Though she was right. They were many. More than his sense of smell had anticipated. Though it could be that this was the main force and that they had merely sent out a raiding party to terrorize the southern Commonwealth.
“You want to make yourself useful?” he asked.
“Ehm, sure? Happy to help.”
“No, you aren’t. Or at least you won’t be when I tell you what you need to do.”
She winced. “Will I be in danger?”
“We are in danger as we speak, meat. What I need you to do is to head down to the building on the center right there. The smaller one. The one that looks like a garage.”
She lined herself up with where he was looking and pointed. “That one?”
“Yeah”, he nodded. “That’s most likely their armory. You ever seen a grenade or explosive before, meat?”
“In books”, she said. “I think I have the basics of them in my head.”
He wasn’t sure that he could trust her knowledge, she was only a kid after all. An annoying one at that, but she seemed well-versed in things he knew that he wouldn’t have at her age. But then again these were different times than when he grew up. And she had volunteered, so he would simply have to rely on her the best he could.
“You are smaller than me, so you will be more able to slip by their parameters unnoticed.” He pointed at a rock further down some dusty slopes. “First make your way down there, and then make your way over to the building. Grab whatever crate you can find and then drag it over to this corner of the complex that we are facing.”
She whined, not comfortable with this plan, but she knew that she only had herself to blame for following him. As he had told her: the chance existed that she could get herself killed. She had to prove him and herself that she could pull this off.
“I drag it out to this end, and then what?” she asked. “What if I am spotted?”
“Then I’ll pull plan B out of my asshole and rain hell down on the fuckers as you make a run for it. You drag whatever explosives you can find out to that corner and then make your way back up this ridge, preferably undetected. You can use that big rock down there as your temporary base of operations. I don’t think they will be able to see you from any angle down there.”
“I’ll … try my best then?”
“That you will. I have you covered, meat. If you were to be spotted, make a run for my direction: lure them out into my line of sight, and I’ll see if I can keep you alive for just another day or so.”
She nodded and then started to make her way down towards the rock. Thanks to her small stature and soft, subtle moves she was as discreet and silent as a squirrel. The fools in the watchtower didn’t even seem to notice the girls quietly slipping into the center of their midst. He kept a watchful eye over her, right up to the point where she rounded the corner of the armory and disappeared out of sight. Shanks had counted up to nine guards so far. Two in the watchtower, while the rest were on patrol perimeters all around the camp. Everywhere except for the corner of the compound Shannon had slipped into.
How convenient, Shanks reflected as he started to check how much ammunition he would need to spend. No doubt that there were more of these people lurking in the nearby buildings. He estimated there to be at least twenty people, give or take. He needed to make every shot count, and not die in the meantime. He wasn’t sure he would be able to keep the girl alive, but she seemed to handle herself well so far. No alarm had been sounding and no ruckus had been caused to alert nearby soldiers to her location.
Upon closer inspection Shanks realized that there were banners flying from the watchtower. A group of soldiers with their own banner? That wasn’t unheard of. But here? In the Commonwealth? Who were these people?
The banners depicted what appeared to be a white snarling wolf’s head on a black field. He didn’t know if he should feel insulted by their usage of canine imagery. Not that it would matter in the end, he still intended to brutally murder them all. He flinched when he saw the girl appear from out of the armory. Though they were clearly too heavy for her, she struggled to push them through the dirt in stacks: crate upon crate. He was surprised to see her succeed, he couldn’t help but to crack a wolfish smile. She opened the top crate for him to demonstrate its contents. The girl was truly more insightful than he had first given her credit for. It was loaded with grenades of various types. She wasn’t stupid, that much was for sure.
He gave her a sign from his sniper spot, urging her to get out of the way and join him from where he was sitting.
She shyly made her way back up, never alerting her presence to the tower guard. “How did I do?”
“Terrific, meat. I will give you a cookie if we make it out of here in one or more pieces.”
“Thanks?” she said quizzically. She had yet to catch on to whether or not he was insincere all the time, but she would definitely like a cookie.
Shanks cast a glimpse at the guard in the tower. No doubt that the bastard would give him the most trouble. He would need to take him out first as soon as all hell broke loose.
“Alright”, he said. “I think we are ready to go. You should probably hide further down the ridge, meat. You don’t want to see this.”
She shook her head defiantly. “They killed my family. I want to watch them get what’s coming to them.”
The mutant raised an eyebrow. “Damn. I knew there was something I liked about you, meat. Very well then. But at least cover your ears, or else your eardrums will pop like a virgin’s maidenhood at a frat party.”
She grimaced, choosing not to dignify that with an answer. Mostly because she didn’t understand what he meant, but it sounded nasty. But she guessed that he was right. She crept up behind him and covered her ears.
The dog-faced assassin laid himself prone where he a nice view over the entire area, watching how the soldiers in the makeshift encampment strolled about from the left and the right, occasionally stopping to engage in some idle conversation with comrades-in-arms. None of them had taken notice of the crates stacked upon each other, and if they had, they most likely just assumed that the storage was under some cleaning or sorting.
Shanks glanced over at the tower guard again, before he drew breath and took aim on the top crate. He then pulled the trigger.
He could feel the heat of the pressure wave singe his fur as the explosion sang through the loud and clear throughout the night, shredding away the entire storage shed and a big chunk of a bigger building to the left. The tower guard let out a terrified yelp as he saw the firestorm and the plumes of smoke rising from the center edge of the encampment.
“What the hell was that?!” shouted one of the soldiers.
It would appear that the deafening roar of the explosion had claimed more than he had bargained for. Two soldiers lay dead with one or more members missing from their charred corpses. As the group had gathered where the explosion had been triggered, he decided to pull the first move while they were still in shock and disarray. He flipped the pipe of his rifle to the far left, taking aim and popping the tower guard, causing his head to burst into a mass of various physical components.
“Attack!” gasped one of the soldiers. “We are under attack!”
Shanks didn’t relent. He immediately placed his sniper rifle back into its original position and from there started to take down soldiers to the left and the right before they even had a chance to react to their comrade’s warning. Before they even had the opportunity to launch an assault in the direction from which the gunfire came, seven men lay dead.
As soon as they started to fire at Shanks’ direction, the mutant slid down the ridge. Hearing how their bullets flicked up clouds of dust and sand. Shannon sat still with her ears tightly covered. The mutant grabbed her arm to get her attention and aggressively motioned for her to head further down to the right, circling around the camp. These bastards would soon make their way up to where they were sitting, and he needed her to be out of harm’s way by then.
He carefully stuck his head up just enough to catch a glimpse of their counter-attack, as they advanced up the sandy slopes with automatic carbines. Ten men all-in-all were already dead, and about ten more were coming for him now. He hesitated for a brief moment before he resumed his position, laying heavy fire on them. He managed to make yet another man bite the dust before they retaliated and forced him to withdraw as they came closer and closer.
Shannon was already on her tiny feet and started to make her way around the ridges. He followed suit. Their defensive position would soon be overwhelmed, and even he couldn’t take on all of these men in close combat.
He flinched as he heard gunshots and could feel a bullet pass him by a mere yard as they had finally breached his sniping spot, now firing on him from behind. Shannon had already made her around the encampment, now overlooking the site from the other side. And as the soldiers kept firing Shanks realized that they would have to head down there and take cover in one of the buildings.
He grabbed Shannon by the waist with one strong, fuzzy arm, grunting in pain as a bullet grazed his side, and then jumped straight over the ridge’s edge, sliding down the slopes all the way to the encampment as the soldiers, now above them kept firing.
“There they are! Keep shooting!” commanded whomever was their leader at the moment.
The mutant groaned as slammed his way into a mess hall, coming upon the sight of one startled soldier who was still making himself ready to head out and investigate the ruckus. It would appear as he had miscalculated their numbers. Shanks had one kid in one arm, and his rifle in the other. He was sort of in a bad spot here. And the soldier and he just stared at one another in confusion. What was this dog-man doing here? Was it the cause of the attack? Why did it have a girl underneath its arm? And why the hell was it armed?
Shanks was just about to drop Shannon to the ground and seize the moment to blow this soldier to kingdom come, but the man had gotten the upper hand by quickly grabbing a pistol from his belt and fired three rounds into the mutant’s stomach.
“Shanks!” Shannon exclaimed in disbelief as the mutant was taken in a completely painful surprise by the soldier’s reflexes.
The dog-man dropped to one knee, still holding the kid in one arm and the rifle in the other. Three fresh bullet wounds in his abdomen kept gushing out blood.
“Fuck”, he wheezed in agony.
The soldier steadily approached with his gun drawn, ready to empty the magazine.
“N-no!” Shannon whimpered.
Shanks couldn’t tell what happened as he tried to focus on not dying. The pain was so excruciatingly bad that it took all his inner strength just to remain conscious. He spaced out for a moment, and by the time he opened his eyes again. Shannon had gotten herself between him and the soldier. Her hands were squeezing the handle of his revolver. Smoke was still rising from the pipe as the soldier lay dead upon the floor before them. He hadn’t even heard the shot go off, or felt how she had yet again managed to snatch his weapon from him without him noticing.
“Shanks!” she exclaimed worryingly. “Are you okay?!”
He took a few seconds to try and stabilize himself. The wounds in his guts were aching really badly. He would need some more patching before this day was over and done with. He just nodded and forced himself up with a pained grunt.
“There”, he motioned for her. “Get behind there. The kitchen. We will take the rest of them by surprise.”
She ran ahead. He barely had the time to move before he felt another bullet pierce his shoulder from behind. He spun around and pulled the trigger of his rifle by hip fire, hitting the intruding soldier in the neck. Blood erupted and the man clutched to his jugular in desperate attempts to breathe as he drowned in his own fluids.
Shanks staggered backwards. Another soldier made himself visible and fired a round that pierced the right side of Shanks’ chest. The mutant shouted in pain and retaliated by quickly raising his rifle, taking aim and shooting the man in the head, sending it flying off into every direction at once.
As more men forcefully made their entrance into the mess hall, Shanks let himself tumble backwards over the counter where the chefs would have been serving food a long time ago. Shannon sat there with her hands shaking as a bullet storm rained over them, hitting the walls right over their heads. The girl was scared out of her wits. And he reckoned that it wasn’t because of the situation they were in. She had killed a man. Presumably her first.
“Hey, kid”, he groaned, lying back with his shoulders resting against the cold, rusted steel that was the counter. “How many of them are there?”
The terrified girl, just barely stuck her head out. “S-seven”, she whimpered. Her hands were shaking, still clutching his revolver tightly.
Guess I owe her big time now, he reflected. She had exposed herself to killing for the sake of saving his sorry ass.
“You said you knew about how explosives worked?” he said askingly. “Or at least the basics?”
“Uh-huh”, she mumbled, flinching with a startled yelp as five bullets hit the side of the counter.
Shanks flicked open the inside of his trench coat, pointing to his belt. “Grenades”, he said, his wheezing become more and more intense for each sentence. He decided to be brief, they didn’t have much time. “Three of them. Grab one. Pull sprint. Fuck them up.”
Shannon hesitated. What if she did something wrong? What if she accidentally blew them up instead? She even tried to drop the revolver she clutched so tightly, but her hands just wouldn’t stop shaking.
“Hey, kid”, the mutant said calmingly. “You’ll be fine. Drop the gun.”
As if his voice somehow hold some unexplained power over her, she did as he said and let the revolver fall to the ground. She struggled with getting one of the grenades from his belt, fearing that she somehow would pull it loose and cause them all to self-detonate. Once she had procured one safely, she examined it closely for three seconds, until she found the sprint. She gave out a terrified squeak as she pulled the sprint and blindly threw it over the counter in the direction towards the approaching soldiers. She covered her ears and closed her eyes hard as the cacophony became nothing but a faint mumble.
Then there was a dampened boom somewhere in the distance. The ground trembled for a brief moment followed by a shrill ringing noise. Then it was completely quiet.
She hadn’t noticed Shanks getting back up on his hind legs by the time she dared to open her eyes. But when she did, she was taken by surprise of the mayhem she had inadvertently caused. The seven soldiers lay dead with tables and benches scattered all over their remains.
Shanks stared her down and gave her a gentle slap at the back of her head. “Don’t ever throw a grenade in blindness like that again, meat. Nevertheless, you saved our asses. At least now I can get some time to heal up and…”
The mutant was once again interrupted by sudden pain as a bullet pierced his hip and forced him to collapse against the counter. The last soldier, apparently the group’s leader, judging by his outfit, had entered through the backdoor. Another bullet whistled and pierced through Shanks’ left shoulder-blade.
“Don’t fucking move, freak, or I will…”
“NO!” Shannon cried out again. She dropped down and rolled over the floor to avoid any potential shots from the soldier, grabbing the revolver in the process. “You will not hurt him!” Once she got up she took a steady aim at the soldier’s head. “Leave him alone!”
The leader furrowed his brows in confusion, before bursting into a nervous and confused laughter. “What the hell is this?” he chuckled, steadily approaching the two. “A mutated freak and his little fuck-toy? Or what the hell am I supposed to make of this?”
Shanks was in pain, groaning lowly, as he slowly turned around with his back against the counter.
“Good”, the soldier declared. “Now I can have a closer look at that ugly snout of yours.”
“You wouldn’t like it”, the mutant wheezed. “It has a tendency to chew faces off.”
The soldier stood still for a moment, observing the mutant as if he was inspecting him, completely ignoring the kid with the loaded gun. “So you are the same as the boss, huh? Him and all his underlings.”
Shanks clutched to his wounds. “What?”
“Killing you would be a waste. That white devil told us so. But then again…” The soldier took aim with a smirk. “The Demon Dogs specifically ordered us to leave this area clear of all survivors if we couldn’t locate the package. So…”
Shanks had no idea what this man was on about, but before he had a chance to react; to lunge himself at the man and protect the kid, most likely killing himself in the process, Shannon had already unexpectedly pulled the trigger before the soldier had.
The man stumbled backwards, dropping his rifle in the process as he clutched his hand tightly to the exposed, bleeding hole in his stomach. “W-what?” he mumbled in a daze.
Shanks took the opportunity the launch himself forward, kicking the man further backwards as he seized the rifle from the ground, aiming it at the soldier’s head. “What are you on about? Spit it out, meat. Or I will shove this pipe so far down your throat you’ll be shitting bullets for days.”
The soldier spat blood and coughed. “Spare me your threats, freak. I am already a goner.”
Shannon’s hands trembled, just like they had the first time she had fired the gun on Shanks. Only this time she hadn’t been told to shoot. She had done so out of her own free will in an act of desperation. The survival instinct…
She will never live that trauma down, the mutant reflected.
“I don’t know if I can make your passing any easier for you, meat”, Shanks sighed as he stumbled forward to the soldier, showcasing his sharp claws. “But I can certainly make it worse. Now spill the beans, or I’ll spill your guts.”
The soldier just smirked and shook his head, his face getting paler by the minute as the pool of blood under his knees grew larger by the second. Shannon’s shot had certainly gotten him where it wanted to.
“Who is this boss you are referring to?” Shanks inquired. “Who are the Demon Dogs? What package? Tell me now!”
The soldier wheezed, his eyes beginning to wander. They seemed to fix on Shannon. “You certainly look like it. Yeah… you must be it. ” His gaze soon enough met Shanks’. “Keep her by your side, freak, and you will learn all about it soon enough. They will find you in due time.”
A cruel, but dazed grin appeared on the soldier’s lips before he ultimately fell backwards as hard and lifeless as a rock. Then everything was completely quiet.
Shanks just stood there, confused as to the meaning of it all. This whole assignment hadn’t made him any smarter. Demon Dogs? Package? He couldn’t help but feel a chill run down his spine, as if he had interfered in business that would have been better left alone. Almost as if he had committed some sort of grave mistake that had unknowingly dragged him into something far greater than himself.
“Shanks”, a voice said under the loud ringing in his ears. “Shanks! Shanks, you are bleeding!” He felt someone shake him aware. The girl stood before him and desperately shook him with all the might her thin little arms could provide. “Wake up!”
“Uh?” he mumbled, coming out of his confusion.
“Are you listening? We need to get you out of here!”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry”, he said. “I’ll heal. I am just…” He took a deep breath, hurting all over. “I am just dead tired, kid. I want to sleep.”
“No!” Shannon insisted. “No sleeping yet! We need to both get out of here!”
He sighed, feeling his lungs hurt as the air left his body, as if they collapsed on themselves. With a pained grunt he just nodded weakly. “Let’s go then, meat”, he said, limping forward, but not before he tossed the rifle back at the dead soldier. “Lead the way out then. I am tired.”
As his own willpower died off, Shannon seemed to have regained hers, as she struggled to support his entire weight. There was definitely more to this bundle of meat than had first met his eyes. She holstered his gun in a back pocket of her pants and began to drag him by the arm out of there: dead soldiers lying all over the place as they passed. He was impressed, and he hated to admit that he had underestimated her. She was indeed a little trooper.
It was true that he had caught a couple of bullets for her, but she had been the one to save his damn life, at least momentarily. Things were beginning to feel a bit hazy. Sounds and visuals started to meld and he soon found himself facing the dirt, while Shannon desperately tugged at his trench coat and screamed something unintelligible at him. It was quite alright, he reckoned. To just lie down for once and get some well-earned rest, albeit eternal. He didn’t mind it. He had always imagined that this was the way he was meant to go. Not by his own hand, but by saving someone else as was expected of a soldier.
“Shanks!” Shannon screamed in desperation as her voice began to fade. “Shanks!”
It was quite dark. There wasn’t a sound to be heard; they were all drowned out by an eerie silence and a low rumbling somewhere in the distance. Was this it? He had certainly not expected it to be so … tranquil – so serene.
“Shanks”, a voice called to him.
He tried to respond, but not a single word would leave his sore throat.
“Shanks”, the voice said, rising stronger in tone.
And before he had a chance to reply a forceful slap tore him right out of that bliss and he found himself looking straight into the face of Gerald Batters.
The man breathed out upon seeing some life signs return to the mutant. “You owe me, you ugly fuck”, he muttered.
“Huh? Wha-?” Shanks shook himself awake, feeling quite unwell. This rude awakening had ripped him out from a blissful state of being and his first thought was to ruthlessly beat the man who had done so. “What the hell happened?”
“That’s what we’d like to ask you, Barghest”, Gerald said, standing with his arms crossed, surrounded by his fellow Diamond City Security guards.
“The girl … “ Shanks cleared his throat, some yellowish residue dripping out. “Is Shannon alright?”
“The girl is fine, albeit shaken”, Gerald assured him. “You’d be a dead dog now if it weren’t for her. While you were bleeding out in the dirt, she ran out on the ridges to call upon a nearby scout patrol who had spotted the explosions from afar. You are luckiest bastard in the world, did you know that? Not only that there was a scout patrol in the vicinity close by to see the fire and the smoke, but also that they happened to have a skilled surgeon with them to remove the bullets in your wound, allowing them to… uh… close on their own.”
Even with the bullets removed, his whole body ached, and he grunted with discomfort and shifted ever so slightly as he felt sinews and muscle tissue bound together once more.
Batters seemed almost disappointed. “I’ve met better men than you, Barghest”, he snorted. “Good and honest men. They are all dead now though. They never had the damn luck that you seem to have.”
“It wasn’t about luck”, Shanks wheezed and straightened his back with a sickening crack. “I had her by my side.”
“Don’t make a habit out of it”, Batters said. “We’ve found a place for her to stay at the schoolhouse. She’ll be well taken care of, I assure you.”
Shanks nodded in understanding, leaning forward. “That’s good”, he said quietly. “That’s important.”
“As for your payment”, Batters said as he brought out a satchel of caps. “600 caps for the killing of their leader, and an additional 50 caps for each goon you brought down with him.”
Shanks observed the satchel under silence. It didn’t feel quite right of him to take it. Shannon had been the one who had killed the leader. And to top it all off, he didn’t seem to even have been the leader. There were too many loose ends and none of them sat right with him. Who were the Demon Dogs? What was their purpose? They said that they had been clearing the area of any survivors in case they couldn’t locate this ‘package’. Though there were few things in life that he truly feared, he began to have the creeping, unsettling sensation in his bones that he had stirred something up. Some old grudge that would’ve been better off left buried.
“Hello? Your reward?”
“Uh?” Shanks blinked, lost in his thoughts. “Oh… tell you what, meat. I think I will settle with 300 caps.”
Batters looked as if he had swallowed a fly and was completely taken aback by the mutant’s response.
He regarded him suspiciously as if he expected some sort of foul play. “What’s the meaning of this?” he grumbled. “You’ve got your 600 caps straight up and now you tell us that you don’t want it?”
“In fact, I think I will settle with 150 caps, meat”, Shanks said, brushing his knees off from some dust as he stood up. He almost collapsed out of exhaustion had it not been for the kind soul of a nearby guard to catch him by the arm.
“I want 150 caps. Give the other half to Shannon… and as for the rest: use it to re-supply those defenses, meat. Secure your perimeters. You might need it.”
Gerald observed the dog-man cautiously, still expecting the assassin to burst out laughing at his face, but when he saw the sincerity he raised his eyebrows, did a quick counting of the amount of caps that Shanks demanded, and handed them over without saying another word.
He just gave the mutant a short nod and then signaled for his men to move out. “That’s … a good thing you did, Barghest. You hear me?”
“I don’t care about good, meat”, Shanks rebutted, still perplexed by the enigma of the situation. “Look after Shannon, would you?”
Gerald nodded. “We will try our best to make sure she feels right at home. You are not planning to stick around longer, are you?”
Shanks shook his head. “Not at the moment, no. I need some … some time to reflect on things. I learned some things back at that base and well …” He made a short pause. “None of them sit right with me. It’s almost as if …”
Batters furrowed his brows. “As if?”
“I don’t know”, Shanks groaned with frustration. “It feels as if I should though. Their leader mentioned something about Demon Dogs and a ‘package’? And their banner … Fucking Christ, it feels as if there is some red thread here connecting them all. And I can’t help but feel that I am personally attached to it all somehow.”
“Look, are you implying that you know these people?”
Shanks shook his head. “Well, yes and no. Ugh, forget it, meat. Let’s just say that I think that there is something I think I have missed. It feels like I am somehow connected.”
The words of the dying soldier came creeping up on him as he remembered them piece by piece: So you are the same as the boss, huh? Him and all his underlings. Killing you would be a waste. That white devil told us so.
The same as their boss? And his underlings? Shanks felt at once uncomfortable. What were the implications of this? Were there others just like him out there somewhere? It was too early to say, but right now he knew that he needed some time to be on his own and reflect upon these matters.
“Just say hi to Shannon from me, alright? Tell her that I am sorry that I behaved like a piece of shit. The little runt saved my life after all.”
Gerald nodded. “Will do. Thanks, Barghest. For your services provided.”
Shanks just dismissed the gratitude with a wave of his fuzzy hand as Gerald Batters left. He had no time to be basking in glory and praise if it was undeserved. Not to mention he needed to stay sharp and clear now. He had a mystery on his hands … and he wasn’t altogether sure if he would like the answer to it, but nevertheless he felt it as his own responsibility to find out as he doubted that he would’ve have heard the last of these enigmatic Demon Dogs.
As the night began to settle over Boston, Shanks had already left Diamond City and made a makeshift camp in the ruined outskirts of a market district not too far from Diamond City’s scrap yard. He stared out into the darkness, his eyes adjusting accordingly to spot any trace or shape that moved his way. He would’ve lied if he had told anyone that he wasn’t being paranoid. It was just something about those short bits of information the dead soldier had told him that had rubbed him the wrong way.
Demon Dogs. The white devil. The package.
What did it all mean? And if his suspicions were true and there was somehow more like him alive out there in the Wastelands, then maybe he would be able to uncover more of his own shrouded past. His eyelids began to feel heavy however and soon enough he had a hard time keeping them up. He had barely gotten any sleep since he had set up camp with Shannon. In a way he missed the little shit, and he felt indebted to her.
He shot his eyes open. Something wasn’t right. An ambush? No. He couldn’t spot anything moving in the darkness. It didn’t take long for his scruffy ears to adjust and catch the familiar sound of light and subtle snoozing coming from his side. He turned his elongated face only to become aware of the child curled up next to him, using his tail as a pillow. Even he had been unable to take notice of her following him through the alleys of the city ruins.
She does indeed move quietly, he reflected.
His first impression had been to angrily scream at her: to tell her how stupid she was for leaving the safety of Diamond City, and for following him. How she would not be safe with him. And that she would the Diamond City Security to worry about her well-being and as to where the hell she went. Although he hoped Gerald Batters would be smart enough to put two and two together. But the moment he saw Shannon sleeping next to him, he felt a sting in his chest. And his eyes began to twitch. They all of a sudden felt wet.
Tears again? he reflected wiping them off on his sleeve.
He then proceeded to subtly pull off his trench coat, laying it over Shannon for her to use as a blanket, although the girl seemed already too deep asleep to notice. He put a comforting and protective paw over her as he leaned backwards with his back against some uncomfortable piece of metal. He would gladly take it. Right now he only took comfort in that he was no longer alone.
“You really are hopeless, meat. You know that?” he asked her softly, knowing fully well she wouldn’t be able to respond.
He smiled slightly and then adjust himself ever so carefully as to not wake her up. A couple of more hours before sunrise…