A young woman slyly smiles into the camera. She flips away a strand of dirty blond hair and shoves it back under her green wool hat, then clears her throat.
I know you don’t like that kinda stuff, but seriously, tell that old punk inside your head to shut the hell up.
In that very sense: happy anniversary, partner!
Been four years to the day now. Time flies by when you’re having fun, right?
A musing pause.
Ah, look at me, all walking down nostalgia lane on ya…
They had their doubts first, Screech and the boys, but I knew you had it in you. Finest carrion bird material!
You have this rare gift and I am certainly not talking about your magic here. No matter how hard life smacks you, kicks you in the balls when you’re down or whatever dirty tricks it has in store for you…there’s no quit in this Kyldrasic.
She silently laughs.
You’d take on any challenge, no matter the odds if only you’d think it’d be worth it.
That’s why I called you Fog, you know?
You may noticed that I fancy a book from time to time, and there’s that one I like a lot. It’s about this guy called Phil Fogg taking on a pretty stupid bet that involves traveling around the world. He has no clue, just enough skill to make shit up as he goes and a lot of serious attitude.
What, you thought that was because of your little smoke trick?
Come on, Kiddo, how lame would that be? Give me some fricking credit, will you?
She sighs, still smiling.
You came a long way since I pulled you out of the gutter. That boy with no home, no family, no hope has found all this and more with wits, guts and mabe a little luck and a helping hand here and there.
What I’m, the uncrowned queen of words of our beloved Barrens, try to say here is:
I’m proud to call you ‘partner’, Lukas.
Alright, enough with the cheese: you probably noticed that your comlink is gone and this little jewel took its place.
Enjoy your new Sony Emperor!
It’s the Industrial Worker’s Edition with some nice hardpoints for all kinds of gadgets and mods, so knock yourself out. Don’t even ask what fucking song and dance Screech made before I could talk him into letting go of this thing for a good price.
Anyway, have fun with your new toy, I’m gonna get some cake or something.
Make sure to have soykaf ready when I’m back!
How to Kill a Crow (Lost Loved One)
[no time stamp]
Won’t stop riding my back.
Wouldn’t want that to happen, anyway.
We were as close as it gets out here, went through fire and brimstone.
Guess it’s on her that I keep the balance between survival at any cost and staying a decent human being. Well, most of the time.
We’re a good team, weathered anything these rotten ruins threw at us and walked away, alive and our pockets stuffed with Nuyen.
Hasn’t been that long ago, but honest to all spirits?
One year on this dump equals a lifetime, wading through shit and the worst this world has to offer.
Or so you’d think.
She followed Crow, I followed her.
Sometimes…fuck, sometimes I just wish I paid better attention to what she said…
[no time stamp]
She always had a knack for the shinies, gauging a good raid and for cutting a fair deal.
What she didn’t get with magic or mind, she got with fast words springing out of that always slyly smiling mouth of hers.
This wandering, tousled bird’s been around.; forgot more about the Barrens than I’ll ever know, I’d wager.
Never knew what made her pick me up and dust me off, back some years when I was a kid about to spiral down the drain along with the Barren’s other waste.
But Rook did.
The shaman dug a lot of trash out of this heap. But I’m among the few things, she actually kept.
She reached out with that grazed and dented metal arm and showed me even scorched ruins held treasure under a scarred surface.
[no time stamp]
To me, it was like this woman was part of the Barrens. Her presence was seamless, natural.
Unlike the weather or the murderous critters and Metas, I very much appreciated her.
She never left, though I was pretty sure she could; that even, sometimes she wanted to.
I could hear the weariness in the raspy timbre of her voice from time to time and see how she frowned in frustration underneath the thick wisps of dirty blond hair, when she looked at the misery around her.
If there was a life before she became Rook, she never told me; not even how she lost her left arm.
Slow dealing with loss is a luxury hardly affordable at our end of the food chain.
Actin’ tough and all that, keep going, see what the next smog and stench ridden sunrise brings.
It’s almost funny how this now backfired at me, huh?
[no time stamp]
To get a gist of the whole story, and the fucking irony of it, you probly’ need to know the following:
Crow is a quite easygoing totem.
Rook had two simple principles she went by:
Don’t let anything go to waste. Life throws stuff at you, so friggin’ use it.
Family first. If you’re committed to your partner, you’re in till you drop.
Good concept, effective in its simplicity.
There are plenty of survivors out there. Hell, we’re all built to survive, after all. The best are usually on their own, ‘cause, no liabilities, y’know.
But get this: when was the last time, you’ve seen a dead crow?
Dogs, pigeons, rats…yeah, dead rats you got lots of…but no crows.
They’re careful, clever and stick together.
Pops the question: How d’you kill a crow?
[no time stamp]
Shit, I needed that break.
Still hard to talk about this, even to a machine.
Karma has this way of smiling right at you, so you don’t see its swift kick square into the balls coming.
We already made some good loot and were on our way back to Touristville.
Almost dusk as I remember it. The skeletal remains of buildings and street canyons were drenched in thick orange and red light that slowly crawled back, leaving the Barrens to the shadows.
No bikes. There was some good old B&E involved and Rook wouldn’t risk to ditch our rides if things went south, so we’d rather take our chances with the ruins than an open road.
We split and scouted for trouble and a safe place to camp. You hear gunfire most of the time, but sometimes it just seems a little too close. And camping in a war zone is one of those things best avoided.
Two hours rest and two more for a stroll till we’d be back in the ‘Ville.
But this day was far from done with me: Right on the road, blocked by debris stood a van. In plain sight, no less. The shadows had already swallowed the dead hunk of metal halfway as if claiming their share of everyday’s misery.
I zoomed in, checking the streets. The car was in relatively good shape. Bullet ridden, looked a lot like spray from automatic weapons. Front tires were flat…nothing my partner couldn’t fix on the spot.
Behind the rear doors knelt a guy, looting a corpse. Prolly the poor bastard who drove the van. Or the one he ran over.
Saying these were not my brightest moments is a serious understatement…but nevertheless, without much thinking I sent Rook a pic, my position and a message. In my defense, a car like this is a huge thing. Mobility, no more fucking rent, lots of storage room. Seemed worth the trouble I was about to get in.
Slick and silent as oil, sticking to cover, I approached the looter. Was an Ork. Bright red jacket and a face that made you wish for some acid to burn your eyes out. He never saw me coming. Being able to summon thick poisonous smoke’s a big fucking help in close quarters combat. Most people tend to try the whole struggle and heavy breathing thing when you put’em in a sleepers hold. He went down after a few seconds of painful coughing, unconscious. Didn’t much care he may killed that other guy, I just wanted his stuff.
Spirits, I violated our principles all over the friggin’ place in less than a minute:
Wait for your partner.
Stay away from open roads.
Reconstruct what happened before if you want to play carrion bird.
Check your motion tracker.
Because: If it’s valuable and well guarded, it’s a risk. Be smart or be gone.
If it’s valuable and unguarded…well it’s a trap.
Checkin’ that tracker would’ve been pretty damn helpful.
Guess I was too busy sifting through the ork’s belongings, or too tired to act on anything but greed and opportunity.
Didn’t notice the heavy footsteps and new shadows till it was too late and the Barrens exploded in vibrant colors and pain.
Three of’em. Ugly as fuck. That’s all I remember after metaphorically kissing the express train.
After the ork’s buddy gave my head a good shake the pieces kinda came together.
Seemed like my brain was in again, jaw dropped in face of the mess I caused while it was out for a minute.
So, red jackets and appearances that make even the most loving mother puke until she passes out.
You know, a lot of people in glow city are deformed. Radiation and all that.
Those Rusted Stiletto fuckers would even give Picasso seizures.
I’d never blame the muties for the hard time they’re going through, but Stiletto gangers’re always trippin’ the heavy stuff, replacing pain and misery with the burning wish to dish out pain and misery instead.
I wondered why I was still alive…
’Where’s ya partner, punk?!‘, one of them wanted to know, waving my comlink in front of me. Prolly the asshole that knocked me flat. ’Seen yall linked up and shit.’
Question answered, I guess.
Even if I had any desire to answer..it was kinda hard to talk with the boot of the third ‘The Hills have Eyes’ reject in my face, so I made do with groaning in agony for now.
The other Stiletto was on his feet again, coughing and cursing. He suggested, between spat out chunks of black mucus, to make me scream a bit.
At least the few brain cells the muties hat left still worked so they didn’t attract every critter and wastelander around us by torturing me. Instead, they just waited, making fun of their chummer, how they couldn’t even take a piss without him getting his ass handed by a rag tag kid.
Earned me another passionate kiss from the handle of his gun.
Seconds stretched into minutes with callous patience.
Not my number one if I’m nailed between three trigger happy cranked up orks with cable straps around my wrists and ankles.
They seemed to have their doubts, but I knew she’d come for me.
Crows don’t leave their kin behind.
And in case you didn’t figure: that’s the way to kill’em.
’Don’t worry, I gotcha.’
Just the faintest whisper from the astral space, but I’d recognize that beautiful raspy voice anywhere.
I proved to be more eloquent with this machine than I’d be with people, but right now…
Can’t describe how much that hurt.
She’d go down for me and against three Stilettos she would.
Glow City and our trip had taken their toll on her magic and she wasn’t of the spellslinging combat mage kind anyway.
And suddenly, shit went down pretty fast.
’C’mon guys!’ I heard Rook call out of the ruins. ’Let’s pretend we’re all grown up. Gimme my boy back and nobody needs to go to sleep with a bullet in their heads.’
‘Alright, Come and gettim. No reason to cut no deal here.’
And there I thought I’d suck at lying.
A lean shadow in a camouflage suit carved herself out of the shadows, hands in the air.
Even the ork seemed stumped for a second that this shit actually worked.
Good thing my face was swollen enough to keep my jaw from dropping.
‘Stupid bitch.’ , the ganger commented and on his mark he and his chummers opened fire, filling the air with bullets and flechette.
My magic reflexes kicked in, making all this seem terribly slow in a streak of sadism.
Two quick slices later, right before the ammo harmlessly passed through Rook’s illusion, I was freed, thanks to the original. She knelt right next to me, her outlines still blurred by a camouflage spell.
I was pretty roughed up, but survival instinct took the wheel and Rook dragged me into the adjacent shadows before the gangers turned around and fucked up the air/lead ratio in our direction.
She dropped her stealth spell and I instantly saw why she passed on the cheesy on-liner when she saved me.
Pale as a ghoul and breathing like vader.
Heavy boots behind us.
We’re on unfamiliar terrain, outnumbered and in no shape to fight.
This moment’s still haunting me.
You’re always aware it could end like this. Denial’s such a blessing.
The moment she said ‘Split’…I knew that’s game over. Even when she added ’I’ll catch up.’ We both knew that lie was even worse than the Mutie’s a minute ago.
We split anyway…
My com was gone, so I couldn’t keep track of her. I just stumbled into the ruins, pressing on, trying to block out the noise of the gunfire shattering the darkness in the distance.
I don’t know if they got her.
If she rots in the corpse of a former city, waiting for someone like me to scavenge her gear and her arm.
If the Stilettos got her…or if she’s still out there, alive but lost.
I’ve been searching all that time. Threw money at every chance, every hint I could get, but they all were dead ends.
Frustrates the hell outta me…
But I owe her that. And so much more.
You know, there are many things in this dump you can hate, things you can deal with, even things you like.
Finding something you truly care about is a one in a million thing.
And a certain crow taught me to keep precious things.