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Paradise: Every Journey

Novel By: Suicide Att3mpt
Action and adventure



In a world where mankind has finally brought about its own destruction, a war to end all wars has reduced the planet to a barren wasteland. The earth is smothered in pockets of radiation from the weapons of mass destruction that countries turned upon one another, the flame of humankind flickered and dimmed, but was not quite extinguished. Mankind managed to shelter itself from the atomic fires and clawed its way back to the new world where it must now reap the consequences of its destructive nature.
The post-war Wasteland is overflowing with radiation, twisted mutants and gangs of bandits that scuttle through the dust in search of people to rob, torture and kill. Pirates, kidnapping innocent lives to sell as slaves and a corrupt military force that, despite its noble intentions, now spreads more harm than peace, using its superior firepower to bully entire towns into serving them. This is the new world - the world in which I was born. Since I took my first breath, I have been living in a world where the weak and innocent are exploited by the evil of the Wasteland. This is the story of my journeys, of the people I’ve met and the friends I have made. This is the story of how we work against the odds to build a better world. This is the story of how we try to make a utopia from hell. This is the story of the construction of paradise.
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Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Submitted:Apr 26, 2013    Reads: 21    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   


Prologue:

War was always inevitable. Since the beginning of time, when humans first developed weapons made of wood and stone, humans have killed each other over every imaginable reason. Maybe it's human nature. As humans evolved and multiplied, spreading across the world, expanding small wooden villages into enormous concrete and metal cities, all that changed were the weapons. Humans were so consumed by their nature, their impulses to kill others, that they spent inordinate resources and time developing better weapons. It started with spears made of flint and stone, then moved to metal swords and arrows. It soon progressed to guns and explosives, and didn't stop there. Biological weapons, chemical weapons, bigger guns and much bigger explosives. All of this progress built up over thousands of years until the creation of our weapons of mass destruction. But this was the final addition to the rickety stack of cards that was the human race. Those bombs were the final nail in our coffin, the coffin we had built unknowingly around ourselves.

The world changed, but it didn't. Same shit, different toilet. For years there was political unrest between nations, countries at each other's throats. As usual, there were the crazies that roamed the streets, warning everyone that the end of the world was soon approaching, that the earth would be purged clean of humans by our own bombs. As usual, no one paid them any attention; after all they had been wrong every time that people actually believed. The funny thing was - they were right.

The tension built up between nations was palpable. One day, it just snapped. This day would become known as D-day. Bombs fell across the land, hurtling towards cities and towns. Atomic fire swept over the planet, reducing four and a half billion years of human progress to rubble and ruin, decimating the human population to a shadow of what it had been. Society collapsed, the leaders of the world turned into something less than dust. With no one to organise the police forces it soon disbanded, former officers of the law joining everyone else in the search for food, water and any other supplies that survived the bombs.

After the initial explosions created by the bombs, people thought that the worst part was over. They were wrong. When the bombs went off, they released choking clouds of smoke and sent dust and debris hurtling into the air that blotted out the warm light of the sun. As post-war scientists had predicted, this resulted in a sudden drop in temperature, snow and hail fell in place of rain and homes were buffeted by gale force winds. This nuclear winter lasted for several weeks, the cold killing off even more of the dwindling population.

Because of the destruction of hospitals and medical supplies, over the months following D-day, epidemics of disease tore through the population. Diseases like cholera, diphtheria, typhoid fever, influenza, whooping cough, and a dozens more that were never properly identified spread like wildfire. All of these factors came together, almost completely extinguishing the already flickering flame of humanity. Almost.

The majority of survivors took to looting the ruins of buildings as their main source of supplies, these people were known as scavengers. Not everyone had the stomach for it though; scavenging old buildings often resulted in the discovery of the bodies of people killed by the bombs, rotting corpses or, if you were lucky, the skeletons of the D-day bomb victims that were far enough from the initial explosions for their bodies not to be completely disintegrated, but not far enough away to escape death. Those that couldn't handle the sight of the dead either relied on allies to do it, or died.

Despite all of these factors - atomic explosions, nuclear winter, disease epidemics, starvation, fallout - there were survivors, innocent people that adapted to the new world and struggled to re-build their lives. Years past, but humanity was never completely overcome, survivors still fought out their lives in the wasteland. Some had even built towns out of the scraps that they found, building walls and using scavenged weapons to defend themselves from the dangers. A new generation was raised by survivors that passed on the skills required to live in the wasteland, Children born in a world of death and struggle, children of the apocalypse.

Chapter 1: My Story Begins

Well, if you're interested in hearing my story, I should probably start by telling you a bit about myself. My name is Alex Kothorne. I was born in the Wasteland town of Euria in a small medical bay made of corrugated tin. My mother died giving birth to me so the only family that I had was my Dad, Josh Kothorne. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, he was well built with dark hair, a well groomed beard and dark green eyes. My father was born pre-war, he and my mother had met six years before D-day and had been married for three of them when the bombs fell.

From what I have learned, my dad loved my mother very much, and everyone that had met them together thought the same. He always used to tell me stories about her, sharing some of the moments they had before the war. My dad used to tell me that I had my mother's eyes. He always told me that from the moment he saw her piercing blue eyes, it was love at first sight. I guess I must have inherited her hair as well; my scrubby light brown hair was much fairer than my dad's.

I was never as big as my dad, just bordering on six feet tall I didn't have his strong build, but I was faster, more athletic than strong. For a while I felt guilty about having the same eyes as my mother, I didn't like to remind him of her. Eventually though, I realized that reminding him of her was not a bad thing, that calling forth her memory kept him thinking of all the best times they had shared together.

My dad had been in the Army for years before he met my mother. He had loved his life in the military, but he loved my mother more, and when they were engaged he left as soon as he was able, taking up a job as a bouncer for a local pub in her home town. In a way, it had been my mother that had saved them both from D-day.

Dad didn't often talk about the events leading up to D-day, but what he did tell me was that all of the talk about the coming apocalypse had been getting to her, but dad just disregarded it. After all, it wasn't the first time people had ranted about the end of the world. But something about it didn't sit right with her, and eventually she got so stressed out about it that he took her to his family's lake house out in the country, planning to spend the fortnight there. That's where they had been on D-day.

He used to tell me about the day the bombs fell sometimes. They had been inside the wooden cabin by the lake, preparing a picnic lunch, when blinding lights blasted through the curtains and they ran outside to see what was happening. They crashed through the front doors onto the patio and watched as enormous mushroom clouds rose from the ground and punch into the sky like a giant fist of smoke and light. He said that it was one of the most beautiful and terrifying things he ever saw.

It was forty minutes before the sound reached them. They were both still standing outside when the shockwave hit, blasting the leaves from the trees surrounding the house and making the windows rattle in their frames. My dad was knocked to the wooden boards of the patio, my mother managing to cling shakily to the railing separating the house from the wilderness. Neither of them had been able to hear anything properly for almost an hour.

They had stayed there in the wood cabin together for days, shell-shocked and unsure of what to do. They waited as long as they could, but their food supply began to dwindle, and they were forced to travel back to their home town. They had scavenged supplies from the buildings there that had not collapsed completely before leaving again. From there they had moved around the wasteland that was left, travelling to nowhere in particular until the cold of the nuclear winter became too much and drove them into a kind of hibernation. When they finally emerged from hiding they continued travelling together, wandering through the wasteland in search of somewhere safe to call home. In only a few days, their entire world had changed.

One day in, they came across a group of scavengers that had built large walls around a pre-war storage shed, claiming it as the town of Euria. My parents helped them build their first houses, and finally chose to stay there rather than continue their travels through the wasteland, my dad taking on a job as a guard for the town. The town's population grew, as did the number of buildings within the walls. One day my mother fell pregnant with me and... Well, you know the rest.

I always knew that there was much more to their stories than the way my dad told them, no one was lucky enough to travel for days without encountering the Bandits that plagued the wasteland, but I never questioned it. Some memories are better not thought about.

My dad had started teaching me about the wasteland from a young age, when I was only a few years old he started training me with survival skills like navigation or water purification, disguised as games. On my eight birthday he bought me an air rifle. My dad was not an irresponsible father, but he was not naive either. He knew that as I grew up I would become more dependent on guns to survive, everyone did. He was just getting me used to the idea.

When I was twelve my dad got me my first real gun, an old Remington 700 VTR rifle with an internal magazine that could hold five .308 rounds and a low power scope. The rifle was not in perfect condition, it was a bit grimy and the dark green plastic stock of the gun had some minor scratches in it, but it shot straight. My dad didn't even let me hold it unless I was under his supervision, always keeping it locked in a case in his bedroom when I was home alone.

He spent some time teaching me to shoot, but his job as a guard for Euria meant that he had to work early in the morning until late in the afternoon, so he didn't have much free time to take me to the range. In the end, it was Gaz that taught me how to shoot.

Gaz was pre-war, like my dad, but a bit younger. He had served in the army too, and was one of the town's main sources of fresh meat, going on hunting trips twice per-day and bringing back meat from wild dogs, rabbits or even goats. Out of all the citizens of Euria, Gaz probably had the most shooting experience, and he agreed to teach me everything he knew. Every day at one o'clock in the afternoon, Gaz would take me through the warehouse in the centre of town that served as a town hall and guards quarters, an lead me into the grounds used to train the guards. It was a large area, separated from the rest of the town by a six-foot-high wall made of tin. There was an assault course with various obstacles next to a large pit dug out into the ground, which I later learned was called 'The Shithole'. It was used by the guards to train their hand-to-hand combat skills, perfectly circular, about twenty feet wide and five feet deep. When it rained, the bottom of the Shithole would flood and turn to mud, the slimy brown layer was usually there all year round, which is what gave the Shithole its name.

But what I was more interested in was the shooting range, a flat strip of dirt that stretched on for over eight hundred meters, with metal silhouettes and targets of various sizes hanging from iron frames placed at various distances downrange.

The first time I went shooting, Gaz instructed me to aim for the eighty meter target, guiding me through the process of taking the shot. The first time, I peered down my iron sights, just trying to 'get a feel for the weapon' as Gaz put it. Aiming at the target Gaz identified and firing. The loud rack of the gun took me by surprised, it was much louder than I had expected, and my bullet few several feet above the target. I pulled back the bolt action of the rifle, sliding another round into the chamber.

It took me three rounds before I finally hit the target for the first time, the bullet ricocheting off the piece of metal cut to resemble the head and torso of a man, making the target swing wildly on its hinges.

I quickly took to shooting, and within a few months I could hit most of the targets within two-hundred-and-fifty meters consistently, only the farthest away ones used primarily to train sharpshooters managed to evade me. By my thirteenth birthday, I was able to hit the small targets three-hundred meters away. It was the day of my birthday that Gaz invited me to go hunting, making it clear that I would not be doing any shooting and that it was strictly for the experience.

Before we left he threw me a military style backpack that we would use to carry the game that he shot. He had offered to carry it, but I had insisted that I take it, determined to help out in some way.

I remember being embarrassed at the time, walking through the wasteland next to Gaz made my footsteps feel clumsy and loud in comparison. Gaz had a strange way of being able to move through the wilderness like a cat, like he was more comfortable here than in Euria. Gaz was a bit shorter than my dad, and much more nimble. He had sandy blond hair that fell in front of his face, getting in the way of his dark eyes as he crept silently through the wasteland, a gentle smirk on his lips.

Throughout the trip, I concentrated most of my effort on trying not to scare away the wildlife while Gaz and I had whispered conversations. Each time we drew close enough to prey, Gaz would hold up a hand, signalling me to keep still and stop talking while he took the shot. After he was done, we would slink to the dead dog or whatever it was, and he would teach me how to skin and gut it, cutting away the meat and storing it away in my backpack.

After that, I started accompanying Gaz on all of his hunting trips, carrying the game in the backpack and keeping him company. Occasionally he would tell me stories as we walked, stories about heroes who would fight against all odds and emerge triumphant, dragging their friends to safety while shooting one-handed back at the enemy. The hero's wounded comrade always spouting some emotional speech to go on without them, drawing out a pistol to take their final stand and stuttering a few words of endearment to the hero before ordering them to leave.

Soon Gaz was my closest friend in Euria, as I spent most of my time with him and there were no other children my age in the town anyway. Every morning we would enter the wasteland, arriving home just a few hours before midday, then we would leave again at dusk and return home to sell our meat at the town market before going to bed, the whole process beginning anew the next day. There were a few others in town that hunted, but none as frequently or reliably as Gaz and I.

On my fourteenth birthday, I woke up in my bedroom and headed into the living area of our house. When I entered the spacious living room, I was mildly surprised to see Gaz sitting opposite my dad in one of the patchy armchairs that encircled the coffee table in the middle of the room. They both smiled at me as I walked in and sat down next to me, there was a plate on the table with several slices of toast with butter that made my mouth water.

"Good morning birthday boy." My dad said to me cheerily as I stuffed a slice of the toast into my mouth.

"Gugh moging." I tried to reply with my mouth full.

"Gaz has been talking to me," He continued "and he's managed to convince me that with the help you have given him hunting and all the time you spend practising your shooting, you are responsible to go hunting with him for real."

My eyes widened and I quickly swallowed the chewy toast before asking "You mean-?"

"Yes." Gaz interrupted, clearly almost as excited about it as I was, "This morning we will go hunting and you can have a shot at the first game that we come across."

I was ecstatic, an enormous grin broke across my face and I felt like throwing myself across the table and hugging both of them.

"But..." my dad added "You have to listen to all of Gaz's instructions and don't do anything unless he tells you to."

Eventually I couldn't hold it in any longer, I jumped up from my chair and ran across the table to hug both of them, thanking them over and over until eventually my dad told me to go get dressed. I was like a blur as I pulled a shirt over my head, slipping on my camouflage jacket and pants that I used for hunting before racing back into the living room. My dad had left now, probably to go to work, but Gaz stood there, the beaming smile on his face mirroring my own. He was wearing his hunting gear, patches of greens and browns similar to the style on my own. His rifle was strapped across his back with the shoulder strap, I had always been slightly jealous of it. It was a beautiful weapon, a Springfield M1A with a wooden stock. Unlike mine, his was semi-automatic, with a powerful scope fitted to the top of it that let him hit targets eight hundred meters away with ease; it was his pride and joy.

"Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your gun and let's go!" he said, stepping to the side to reveal the rifle case sitting on the coffee table behind him. I walked over to it and flicked the clasps, lifting up the lid and releasing my own rifle, lifting it into the air and admiring it for a moment before strapping it around my shoulder like Gaz. I savoured the moment for a second, it was the first time that I had been allowed to carry the gun around town, normally Gaz would take it with him to the range and give me it once we arrived. It was a small gesture by both my dad and Gaz, but it made me feel responsible, like an adult.

With that, we left the house, locking the door behind us and heading for the gates of the town, the only way in our out. Euria was not a small town, but it wasn't enormous. It was divided into two sections, the civilians spent most of their time in the front side of town, where the main gate was. The back half of the town was walled off from the rest, that was where the training grounds for the guards was kept, the only way through was via the town hall that stood at the exact centre of town.

The first thing you saw when you entered Euria was the marketplace, it was just a stretch of road with wooden stalls at either sides that competed for buyers attention. Beyond that were the larger shops, the ones that sold wares to valuable to risk flaunting around in the market. The shops were each two stories tall, the actual shop itself on the bottom floor with a living quarters for the shop owners in the second floor. After that, the road split two ways to form a large square, with houses lining every side where the civilians or market workers spent their nights. The houses stretched all the way around the square until the other side where there was only the town hall.

All of this was encircled by great walls built of metal plates and concrete slabs that reached over ten feet into the air. The wall had been the first thing that the founders of the town had built, they had stumbled across the warehouse in the middle of nowhere, finding it full of building materials, food supplies and even some weapons. They quickly built the large walls around the warehouse to protect themselves from Bandits or wildlife before erecting their own houses. Soon other travellers started to arrive, like my parents, and the town had gradually expanded over the years.

Gaz and I walked through town and round the corner heading into the market district. The stalls were already open, selling everything you could imagine. There were large slabs of meat hanging from hooks, containers of water in sizes varying from bottles to barrels, weapon stalls selling guns and ammunition. All of the stalls were made of wooden planks nailed together to form benches behind which sat the stall workers.

There were already some people walking about the market, eager to find the freshest meat and vegetables before they were all sold. Some of the people stopped and watched me as I passed, clearly unnerved by the sight of a child with a rifle on his back. Occasionally Gaz would stop to have a friendly chat with a passerby or a stall vendor, shaking hands or smiling as they exchanged pleasantries before moving on.

Eventually we arrived at the town Gate, a guard standing on either side with their MP5 submachine guns cradled in their arms. Gaz said hello to each of them, it seemed to me that Gaz knew everyone in the whole town. Soon they stepped aside and pushed the heavy metal doors on their hinges, swinging the gate outwards with a loud screech and revealing the wasteland.

From what I have heard from my father's stories, the wasteland has many different landscapes, from deserts to mountain ranges to great forests or swamps. But the wasteland that Euria sat in the middle of was a great plane, just flat land stretching into the far distance as far as you could see in any direction. The only thing to break the horizon was the dead forest which Gaz and I hunted in, rows of burnt lifeless trees that reached into the sky like twisted fingers. That was where the game was.

Gaz said goodbye to the guards and signalled for me to move forward. I stepped out into the wasteland, followed by Gaz, and we walked together away from the town, changing direction to the dead forest in near distance. The early morning sun was casting a pale yellow light across the landscape, making the blurry patch in the near distance that was the forest seem even more grey and uninviting.

"So," said Gaz, turning to look at me. "are you excited?"

"Sure am!" I replied, enthusiasm dripping from my voice.

"Well, let's go see if we can't find you something to shoot at." And with that we marched towards the forest, chatting idly as we went.

***

It took us twenty minutes to reach the fringe of the forest, talking together about nothing in particular the whole journey. As we rested briefly against the trees, Gaz passed me five bullets, which I loaded the rifle with before we stepped with him into the darkness of the forest, cradling my rifles in my arms.

I had made a huge improvement on how I travelled through the forest, being careful to avoid stepping on dead twigs on the floor, but I was still nowhere near as quiet as Gaz. As usual, Gaz lead the way, he knew his way around here like it was his own bedroom. Soon he gave gestured for me to stop, both of us crouched silently while he scanned ahead. After a few moments he waved at me to join him, and I tiptoed up to his side.

"There." Gaz whispered, pointing into the forest ahead. About a hundred and twenty meters in front of us was a wild dog, it's shaggy brown hair making it stand out against the burnt husks of the trees.

"It's pretty far away, so we can try to get a bit closer if you want you could shoot at it from here but I think it might be a bit of a long shot for your first time." Gaz continued to whisper to me. I observed the dog for a moment as it padded through the wasteland ahead before replying.

"I think I can get it from here." I said.

"Cool, just treat it like shooting at a target, try and wait for it to be still before you take the shot." With that, he shuffled back, giving me some room to fire.

I lay myself down in the dirt, bringing up the rifle and holding the butt of the gun gently against my shoulder and watched the dog as it sniffed around the trees, almost lazily. It stopped, positioning its body next to a tree and raising its back leg to relieve itself against the charred bark.

I felt Gaz tap my ankle from behind me, signalling me to take the shot while the target was still. I lowered my iron sights on the unfortunate animal, making a final adjustment and taking a breath before gently squeezing the trigger.

The crack of the bullet echoed through the wasteland, a bird somewhere squawked before taking flight, frightened by the sound of the bullet. The dog was thrown onto the dirt head first, bouncing once across the ground before coming to a stop, unmoving.

Suddenly Gaz was beside me, slapping my shoulder and laughing. I stood up, brushing off the dirt from my front and beamed at him as he walked towards the dog, glancing back at me and grinning. I pulled back on the bolt of my rifle, ejecting the hot empty case of the bullet into my hand and stuffing it in my pocket before following Gaz, practically skipping with pride. We crouched down by the body of the dog, Gaz examining the shot in the dogs back.

"Nice!" he said, "Right between the shoulders!"

"What was that about a long shot?" I asked him, smiling wryly.

"Yeah, yeah." He said, smirking back at me. "Don't let your head get too big 'Longshot' or you won't be able to aim down the rifle." He joked.

After cutting the meat from the dog we continued hunting, managing to shoot two more dogs and a rabbit. It wasn't too difficult, after D-day domesticated dogs had taken to the wasteland with zeal, soon they could be found readily almost everywhere.

When my backpack was full we turned back and headed back to town, I gushed at Gaz the whole way about how spectacular I was. Eventually we arrived back at town to find my dad relaying orders to the guards manning the gate. Gaz wasted no time in telling him all about my 'lucky shot' with the dog and the conversation we had shared afterwards. After that, the name in Gaz's story stuck, I was known as 'Longshot' by everyone in town.

Later that day, Gaz sold the meat from the dog I had killed at the market and gave me the small pile of coins that it had raised. Since D-day all of the paper currency had been destroyed, so the survivors had taken to bartering with the metal coins that survived or swapping goods as a way of trading. I had immediately gone out and bought my rifle a cheap scope. It wasn't particularly powerful, or in tip-top condition, but it was something to symbolize my first kill.

After that day, dad became much more comfortable with me carrying a weapon, he let me take it out whenever I wanted, let me store it in my own room. It had always been my gun, but now it actually felt like I owned it. As always, the novelty eventually wore off. Gaz started asking me to bring my own rifle with us hunting every day, always letting me get at least one shot each time we left, giving me all of the profit that my kills would raise.

***

Two years passed. I was sixteen, still going hunting with Gaz twice per day, but things were starting to hint at change. The mayor of Euria had been headhunting Gaz as a sharpshooting trainer for the town Guard for several years. The mayors name was Cyril Gengus, a short balding man, easily pre-war. Cyril was one of the original founders of Euria, I had only spoken to him a few times, but he seemed enough.

After the word spread of what a good job Gaz did of training me, Cyril had been intent on drafting him as a trainer for the guards to teach them and train their overall accuracy. He had first offered Gaz the position two years ago, but Gaz had resisted. Being the main source of fresh meat in the town he was reluctant to just stop, his game was already in high demand every day, if he suddenly stopped it could cause all sorts of trouble for the town.

Cyril had recognised this of course, and had not asked him again for two years. The day after my birthday he approached Gaz again, telling him that I could easily take over his role as a hunter if he took the job as an instructor. At first, Gaz and I had thought that this was absurd, that I could never manage his job on my own. But after that, I knew that both of us were aware of how equal my hunting skills were coming with Gaz's own.

"Do you think that you could handle my job?" he had asked one day as we sauntered around town.

"I don't know..." I had replied hesitantly "It's a lot of responsibility..."

"I've been watching your shooting... You are almost as good as I am now, I have already taught you everything I know, within a few months you will be practised enough that you and I will be equal."

"I don't think that I will ever be as good of shot as you Gaz."

"You will be for a while, then you will be better." He said, smiling at me, "You will perfect everything I have taught you, then you will learn some of your own tricks and surpass me, as I did with my own mentor."

"Really?" I asked, smirking back at him, "You consider yourself my 'mentor'?"

"Okay, fine. "He replied, grinning good-humouredly, "Maybe 'mentor' wasn't a strong enough word. You probably regard me more highly than that... How about 'God'?

With that we both burst out laughing, attracting a lot of attention from the shoppers that passed us. After that we never really spoke of it again, but even just the next day when we were out hunting, I was aware of how close my skills were to Gaz's, and I knew that he was noticing it too. A few weeks after that conversation, inevitably I suppose, Gaz accepted the mayors offer and began helping train the guards, leaving me to go hunting alone for the first time in my life.

I had been very nervous about it as I was packing and getting ready to leave the town, but my father was certain that I would do well, and Gaz even stopped round to wish me luck. By the time I had marched to the forest, I was sweating and my nerves were on edge, but with every step I took into the tree line I was feeling more relaxed, more at home. After all, over the past three years I had spent more time in the forest than I had spent in Euria. It was just me, the forest and my rifle. I crept through the underbrush as silently as I was able, my eyes scanning the landscape ahead for any signs of movement.

Soon enough I had spotted a pack of wild dogs slowly padding through the forest ahead of me and I went into autopilot, lowering myself to the floor and setting up the shot before pulling the trigger and quickly sliding back the bolt in time to send another round towards the pack. I had already hit two of the wolves before the other reacted, bounding away into the forest and disappearing between the trees.

I smiled, satisfied with my performance so far. Soon I had skinned and butchered the game, and their precious meat was safe in my backpack and I was heading deeper into the forest to see what else I could find.

Soon my game bag was full and I was heading back home. As well as the two wolves I had found three rabbits to sell when I returned. When I arrived back at Euria and walked through the gates, there was Gaz standing there waiting with a friendly smile on his lips.

"So, how did it go Longshot?" he asked as I approached, holding out his hand in greeting.

"It went fine, beginners luck." I replied, grasping his hand as I drew up in front of him. I pulled my bag off my shoulder and opened it to allow him to peer inside.

"Not bad." He said, examining the meats within, "I'll admit, I was worried that you would come back empty handed."

"You actually thought that your best student would come back with nothing?"

"Of course not, I knew he would be fine. It was you that I was worrying about." He replied, smirking as he ruffled my hair patronisingly. I shoved away his arm as we walked together towards the stalls.

"So how was your first day training the grunts?" I asked.

"Not bad. None of them could hit a target over thirty yards if their life depended on it. But I'll admit, it's nice to be training people that actually do what I say." He said, shouldering me good-humouredly.

"Hey, I did what you said until I was old enough to realize that you don't really know what you're talking about."

"Fair point. But you have to admit, I'm good at looking like I know what I'm talking about." He chuckled as we drew up to the first stall vendor, an overweight bearded man named Derrick who was one of the first citizens in Euria, and had always been a good customer to Gaz.

"Evening Gaz, Longshot." He said, his jolly voice easily carrying over the general din of the market.

"Hi Derrick." I said, "I'm afraid that you'll have to forgive the shortage in meat, I was shooting by myself today."

"Yes, I heard. Gaz finally too old for the game then?"

"I'll have you know that I was headhunted by the mayor himself, to train the guards." Gaz replied, flicking his hair in an attempt to look pompous.

"Is that so?" asked Derrick, winking at me and turning to Gaz, "Cyril never did have good judgement. He should have gone with your star student here." gesturing in my direction as he spoke.

"That hurts Dez." said Gaz, doing his best to look offended. "Just for that, we will only accept the best price for this meat!"

I chuckled at them as Derrick smiled innocently back at Gaz "Why, I meant no disrespect. Besides, you always get the best prices from me." He said, pouting his lips. And then I couldn't hold it in any more, I burst out laughing and was quickly joined by Gaz and Derrick. Everyone in the market was looking at us, some smiling, some glowering.

When I was done, I straightened myself up and pulled the rucksack off my shoulder before opening it and offering it to Derrick, who peered inside.

"Wow!" he exclaimed, whistling his approval, "You've certainly done better than Gaz did the first time he went hunting."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I just smiled thankfully at the compliment. He pulled three large strips of meat out of the bag and, as he had promised, payed top dollar. Soon we had visited our usual stalls and the meat had been replaced with a reasonable bundle of coins that Gaz and I counted out at my house.

"Fifty eight coins, nice work!" He said when we had added them all up.

"Not really." I replied, a little embarrassed "A lot of it is from people paying extra on account of it being the first time on my own."

"Don't be silly." He dismissed, "That was a good hunt." I was about to argue before he continued "I do miss banknotes. It was a hell of a lot easier to carry them than it was hailing a bag of these damn coins." He complained, lifting up the coin purse and dropping it back to the table.

"Banknotes?"

"Paper money."

"Money made of paper? That's stupid, wouldn't it just tear?" I asked confused.

"It's strange how you miss the little things most..." At this, his smile faded and he looked down at the table. I had seen that expression on the faces of many people, men and women, as they thought of all that they had lost after D-day. I didn't know what to say, but I knew he was thinking of something he had lost that was much more precious to him than 'paper money', so I just sat with him quietly.

"But you won't know about that." He spoke suddenly, his expression quickly changing to his normal happy smile. I smiled gently back at him, knowing that I knew nothing of what he had been through. The conversation went back to normal and we talked and joked until my dad got home, when he stayed and celebrated my first day hunting on my own with us.

***

Two more years passed uneventfully, I grew physically and emotionally as I got more and more confident in my own hunting skills. I was now eighteen and officially an adult, but I was forced to continue living with my dad until I could afford to buy my own house. Not that I was complaining, I loved the house, and it was right next door to Gaz's own, so I was free to visit him any time.

I was now one of the only supplies of fresh meat to Euria, and worked every day hunting and selling. Gaz worked hard to train the guards to be better shots, but the only time their knew skill was put to use was when the occasional lone wolf would wander too close to town.

Whenever I wasn't hunting, I was buying food and supplies at the market, hanging out with Gaz or my dad when they weren't working, or shopping for houses. House hunting in Euria was fairly simple, the town was small, so there were only ever a couple of houses for sale at one time, so the pickings were slim. I was content to settle down in town and live out a peaceful life as a hunter, maybe get a chance to follow in my dad's footsteps and become a guard when I was older or, more likely, follow in Gaz's and help train them. I was content with my future in the town, but soon I would learn the first rule that all survivors of the Wasteland should learn: You're future is never certain. Anything can happen.

***

I came home from selling my meats at the market, dumped my profits on the table, dropped my game bag at my feet, and propped up my rifle against a wall as I fell heavily into a chair. I noticed a piece of paper sitting on the table next to my pile of coins, undoubtedly a note from dad. I picked it up and realised I was right, the note read:

I'm working a late shift tonight, so I won't be home until after you have gone to bed.Remember to set your alarm tonight! Gaz and I will be there in time for breakfast, so I will see you in the morning.

Dad

I looked around at the inside of the house and noticed that the floors needed to be swept, I had gotten lazy in cleaning my boots and had been traipsing dirt around the house. I considered getting up and getting the broom, but I quickly dispelled the idea and kicked off my boots, leaning further into the chair and closing my eyes.

When I opened my eyes, I realized that it was dark and had slept through the last rays of sunlight until morning. I mentally kicked myself for not sweeping the floor and made a promise to myself that I would do it in the morning. Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of the chair and into my bedroom, where I dressed in my sleep clothes and dumped myself into bed, burying my way deep under the covers. I allowed my mind to go blank as I lay there, my eyes closed as I slipped into the comfortable blackness of sleep.

***

I was woken by the sound of my alarm clock. I groaned my disapproval and rolled over, dragging the bedcovers with me, the morning light burning red behind my eyelids. But something at the back of my head told me that something was amiss. But what was it? My alarm, I hadn't set it before going to bed, so how could it be ringing?

I sat bolt upright in bed, suddenly very awake. I glanced at my clock and, as expected, it was silent, so where was the alarm coming from? A thought hit me, the town hall housed an emergency bell that was activated to alert the guards and citizens, but I refused to believe that it had actually been activated. I rushed to the bedroom window, and the sight below froze my blood and caught the breath in my lungs. Bellow was a scene of absolute chaos, the citizen were running wildly through the streets, all of them brandishing guns or any weapon they could grab in the panic. Whole houses were engulfed in flames that licked against the roofs of the buildings, sending choking plumes of black smoke twisting into the sky like it was desperate to escape the horror bellow.

There was a desperate knocking at my door, someone was shouting my name. I whirled round in time to see Gaz kick the door open and charge in, his rifle held ready to fire. As he saw me, he lowered the gun and hurried closer.

"What's going on?" I asked

"Bandits! They're attacking the town as we speak!"

"What?" I couldn't understand why anyone would attack the town, there were few things here Worthing killing over.

"We have to go! They're working their way around the town!"

"Then let's get to the town hall!" I realized that I was shouting to be heard over the ringing of the emergency bell and the panicked screams outside.

"No! We have to get away, the town hall will be their final destination!"

"But we can make a stand! We can beat them!"

"Almost all of the guards are dead already! We have to go now!"

"Dad!" I suddenly remembered that he would still be there, protecting the mayor and fighting the Bandits.

"He's the one that told me to find you and get out! He said he would meet us at the forest! Now get dressed and arm yourself, we're leaving!"

Without another word, he turned and hurried towards the front door. I immediately got dressed in my hunting clothes, picked up my game bag, stuffing a box of ammunition into it and headed back to the living room for my rifle. Gaz was crouching at the door with his backpack on, aiming his rifle out into the street. I picked up my rifle and was about to join Gaz by the door before I was struck by a thought and rushed to the kitchen, cramming as much food and water into my bag as I could.

"Get your riffle ready! And have some spare ammo close at hand!" I heard Gaz cry over to me, and I quickly dropped to my knee and dug out the box of ammo, loading my rifle and stuffing a handful of spare rounds into my pocket before packing up, slinging the bag over my shoulder and joining my friend.

"We're going to run," Gaz instructed "No stopping, we're heading straight to the gate and leaving."

I could only nod at him, my arms, still cradling the rifle, were shaking with shock and adrenaline. He nodded back as reply and we burst out into the street.

We were running against the crowd, flanked on all sides by panicked citizens that were all charging in the direction of town hall, brandishing guns and improvised weapons. The noise of the alarm was loud, drumming into my eardrums and the metallic smell of blood hung in the air. Everywhere there was smoke, making my eyes water, blurring my vision. Everywhere, houses were burning, the roaring fires reaching high into the air like the glowing fingers of demons, clawing at the sky. The sound of gunfire was struggling with the noise of the alarm, faded out by the screams of people, but always present in the background.

Suddenly Gaz had stopped running and was approaching someone in the crowd. I saw his mouth move as he shouted a name, but no sound reached me. Then he was grabbing a man by the shoulder and leading him towards me. As they drew up I realized who it was.

"Gaz! Longshot!" Cried Derrick "Thank God you're safe! But why are you not at town hall?"

"There's no point, there's too many of them, we need to get out of here!" Gaz shouted, barely audible over the din.

But then I was struck by a thought, as though I had just woken up.

"Gaz!" I howled, "What about everyone else? All of the other citizens, they're going to town hall!"

"We can't!" Gaz roared, turning to face me. It was then that I saw the pain in his eyes as he spoke, "If we start telling people to flee the city, the bandits will notice and just follow us into the wasteland! They would hunt us down and we would be dead anyway!"

"He's right Longshot." Derrick confirmed.

"We either leave," continued Gaz "or we stay and die with everyone else."

It was clear from his face that Gaz had been hurt by his own words as much as I had.

"But my dad is still in there!" I screamed "We can't leave him! I have to find him!" I started to turn, to follow the masses to town hall and reunite with my dad, but Gaz spun me round, his face close to mine, his eyes torn between anger and deep sadness as tears slowly ran down his cheeks. I had never seen him cry before.

"You're dad told me to find you, to get you to safety! I promised him that I would make sure that you get out of this town, and I will be damned if I break the last, most important, promise that I ever make to that man!"

But I couldn't leave my dad. I shrugged his shoulder off and turned to run for my dad, but an arm was wrapped around my neck and suddenly I couldn't breathe. My feet scrambled, trying to run as my fingers clawed desperately at the sleave of a jacket, Gaz's jacket. I tried to cry out, but only managed a quiet, rasping wheeze. Why was he doing this?

I looked around the crowds for someone that might help me, but they were too focused on making their way to the town hall to notice. And then I saw Derrick, smiling sadly at me. He said something, but the words were distant and I couldn't understand it. My vision was starting to blur and I could feel my attempts to get free loose strength, getting weaker. Blackness was creeping into my vision as my arms fell limply at my sides and I saw Derrick rushing forward to help support my weight. Then it all went black.

***

I woke up in bed, my head throbbing in pain and there was something sharp digging into my leg. I must have been drinking or something... But then I remembered, the attack, my dad, Gaz. I shot up to my feet, still fully clothed, I was in the forest outside of Euria.

"You're awake." Said a voice, a voice that, right now, made my blood boil just upon hearing it.

I whipped round and saw Gaz sitting by a small fire, carving a small piece of wood with a knife, his rifle and mine sitting opposite. Before I knew exactly what I was doing, I had charged at him, throwing myself onto him and sending us tumbling across the forest floor. We scrambled together, he tried to push me away but I managed to shift my weight and ended up on top of him.

"You bastard!" I shouted in his face, he struggled for a moment, but I pressed my arm into his throat and he looked into my eyes. "You kidnapped me! My dad! "You-"

Did what I promised your dad I would do!" he interrupted, "I was there with him at the beginning of the attack! We fought with the guards, we tried to defend the town, but there were too many! We retreated, the bandits surged through the gates, killing everyone and setting fire to all the shops! By the time we got to town hall we knew that we were finished, that there were too many of them! Your dad told me to get you and flee Euria! He made me promise that I would get you out at any cost!"

"My dad would tell everyone to evacuate! He wouldn't have wanted us to leave everyone lese to die!"

"He knew!" Gaz was shouting too now, "He knew that if everyone left, the Bandits would follow, he knew that only a few could get away, so he chose to make sure that the person he loved most was safe!"

"All of the others are dead because of you!" I could feel tears rolling down my checks and falling onto my friend.

"They're dead because of his decision!" He continued, "He knew it was hopeless, but he chose to save you! If we had stayed we would have just died with them! If we had evacuated them, the only difference is that we all would have died in the wasteland! He saved those he knew he could! Do you think I would have left him there if there was anything I could have done?" His voice had softened now, and tears of his own were starting to form in his eyes, "I didn't want to leave, I wanted to stay there and fight with him, die next to him knowing that we had tried, but he told me to get you to safety, he made me promise."

I released my hold of Gaz and rolled over, my face still wet with tears. It was then that I noticed something was missing... Where was Derrick, why had he remained silent? I looked around me, searching for the familiar figure of the bearded man. Bet he was nowhere to be found.

"Derrick?" I asked, turning to Gaz. But he just looked at the ground sadly, shaking his head in confirmation of what I already knew.

That was the last straw, I collapsed forward, my face buried in the dirt as I sobbed. My dad, Derrick, everyone in the town would be dead by now. I was alone, my home would surely have been burned down, I had nowhere to go. Gaz stumbled over and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder, and I realized that I wasn't alone. I suddenly felt rotten, I had been so selfish, thinking about how much I had lost when Gaz had lost just as much, probably more. I had been weeping for my own suffering, but now I started to cry for them all, Gaz, Derrick, my dad, every citizen in Euria.

I sat there for what felt like an eternity, a tear for everyone that had lost something. But eventually the tears dried up and I couldn't cry any more. Quickly my sadness was replaced with hatred, hatred towards the only person for whom I had not shed a tear - The bandits.

***

I had heard people talk about bandits often enough, none of the stories were particularly nice. After the bombs first fell and people emerged into the new world for the first time most people took to scavenging supplies from old buildings. But, as always, there were people who took to crime, looting weapons and using them to take what they want for their own selfish needs, their entire existence dependant on the suffering of others. Gangs were formed and theft, murder and rape spread like a cancer through the wasteland. About the same time, the army showed up, using their firepower in attempts to weed out the gangs and restore some kind of law to the wasteland. Soon full scale wars were being waged between the army and those gangs, but the gangs had an advantage. The army had supreme firepower and training, but the gangs had the advantage of sheer numbers. When a soldier was killed there were no more to take their place, while the gangs were constantly replenished with new members - people that were once scavengers but had fallen on difficult times and chose to join a gang instead of starve. The army slowly trickled out of existence, the soldiers that survived the fighting disbanded into the wasteland.

During the fights between gangs and the army, most civilians fled the cities where they were most concentrated, braving the wasteland to escape them. When the fighting was over and only the gangs remained in the cities, they quickly realized that they could not continue to live by murdering and stealing supplies from scavengers unless they were there to exploit. So the gangs followed them into the wasteland, breaking up into small groups, ambushing travellers and murdering them, taking the supplies as their own. These gangs became known as bandits. Brutal thugs that roamed the wasteland like parasites living off the suffering of others.

Usually the groups they travelled in were small, about five of them roaming together, preying on travelling merchants or scavengers that they found in the wasteland. But occasionally, several of the groups would join forces, expanding their numbers to allow them to attack larger targets like towns. Stories have been told of bandits join forces and building whole townships, like Euria, but full of Bandits.

Of course, there are also stories of men that stood up against the bandits, heroes that hunt them down in attempts to purge them from the world. But I always knew that those stories really were just that. Stories.





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