Authors: V. Moody
“What I said about killing to survive is true. I know it’s not what anyone of us wants to do, but pretending we can get through this by being decent, reasonable people isn’t going to work.”
They all looked at me like I was telling them they had to kill puppies and strangle kittens. Which I was.
“If we come up against anything like that ogre, we’re dead. We can run away, but eventually we’re going to have to fight, or starve to death. We have to learn how to kill. None of us is particularly strong or even sporty which means we have to use a different approach.”
“What approach?” said Claire. None of them seemed to have any idea what I was talking about.
“We have to be ruthless. And mean. Monsters aren’t going to want to talk things over and find a compromise. There won’t be any trade negotiations on Naboo.”
Flossie raised her hand. “Ah don’t know what you’re talking about. What the fook is a Naboo?”
“You’ve never seen the Phantom Menace?” said Maurice. “I’m so jealous. Wish I could mindwipe that memory.”
“Can we stay focused?” I didn’t want a half-hour rant on the failings of George Lucas, and I could feel one about to erupt from Maurice. “What I’m saying is, back home people solved problems by asking the UN to apply sanctions. Here they hit things with sticks.”
I waved my stick about for emphasis.
“Frankly, I don’t know which is more useless, but at least with sticks you get a winner and a loser. If we don’t want to be the losers, we need to fight. Do you see what I’m saying?”
They all nodded. They had no idea what I was saying.
“We’re going to kill things. Some of them will be quite cute-looking. Weaker than us. Outnumbered and wanting to surrender. It doesn’t matter. We can’t afford to take prisoners or give them the benefit of the doubt. If they put their hands up, stab them in the face. If they wave a white flag, stab them in the face and use the flag as a scarf. We can’t hesitate or take risks or waste anything. Nobody is going to help us and everyone is going to try to fuck us over.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” said Claire.
“Look at us. Why would anyone think we’d be anything but a pushover? That’s our only advantage, that they’ll underestimate us and give us the chance to strike first. And when we do, we have to go all in. No doubting halfway through. If you agree on a plan you have to commit to it, no matter how shitty it makes you feel. Afterwards, you can refuse to do it again, or make changes or whatever, but in the middle of a fight you have to do your part or you’ll just get the rest of us killed.”
They seemed to be sort of getting it now, but at the same time, they also seemed less keen on the whole ‘kill everything’ murder-frenzy I was advocating.
“I know it won’t be easy, and nobody has to do anything they don’t want to. You can go off on your own if you want. Or all together and leave me on my own. But it won’t be any easier. You’ll still have to kill stuff one way or another. Try to think of it as a game. You’ve all played video games, right?”
Flossie raised her hand again. “You mean like Candy Croosh.”
“No, not really. More like…” I tried to think of a more appropriate phone app. “Clash of the Clans? You know it? You fight people weaker than you, take their stuff, build up your strength. We have to do that.”
“But this isn’t a game, is it?” said Claire.
It was hard to say. I still felt like everything was too much like an RPG for it not to be a game, but I still hadn’t found any proof.
Claire started poking the fire again. “We might even have to kill other people, that’s what you’re saying, aren’t you?”
“Ooh,” said Flossie, getting animated. “It’s like
The Hoonger Games
“Yes,” I said. “A bit like that.”
“I fookin’ love Katniss.”
“Those films were terrible,” Maurice insisted vigorously. “Absolutely shocking.”
A ‘book versus movie’ debate broke out.
I looked over at Jenny sitting quietly while the rest of her group chatted away and a thought popped into my head. Who would die first, me or her? I turned my attention back to my group as they discussed the finer points of Peeta versus Gale and the answer to my morbid question stared me in the face.
I got to my feet and said, “Bathroom,” by way of explanation to the inquiring faces looking up at me. “The thing about
The Hunger Games
, though, still a better love story than
, right?” I dropped that literary handgrenade and walked away.
The truth was I didn’t need to use the loo—quite possibly I’d never have to ever again if the feeling of my intestines solidifying was anything to go by—I just wanted to get out of there and be on my own for a bit.
I walked through the shed, out the other side and made my way back to the main street. It was hard to tell the exact time but I’d guess around lunchtime, maybe a bit later. The sun was high and exceptionally warm. I felt relieved not to have anyone with me, just a stick in one hand and the waist of my trousers in the other to stop them falling down.
The blacksmith wasn’t in front of his place banging away. The forge still burned fiercely but nobody seemed to be about, or so I thought until I saw a young guy sitting on a stool near the back, dozing. I really wanted to have a proper look around the place, but the guy looked pretty beefy and I didn’t fancy getting caught snooping.
I moved on to the leather store a little further along. This place also seemed deserted. Maybe everyone was off having lunch, or possibly they had a siesta type culture like Spanish people, afternoon nap and then back to work in the evening when things cooled down. Either way it was very quiet, although I suspected the girls who had been working in the back were probably still around.
What I was interested in didn’t need me to go inside. I casually walked closer, scanning the floor for any off-cuts or strips of discarded leather. There were actually quite a lot of them. I took a brief look around, dropped to one knee like I was tying my laces (hard to do on boots without any) and quickly grabbed everything I could off the dusty ground.
My haul consisted of around a dozen leather strips of varying lengths, and a bunch of scraps. I got to my feet and speed-walked away to the other side of the street, desperately hoping not to hear someone shout, “Stop! Thief!”
The first thing I did was to use the longest piece as a belt for my baggy trousers. My hands shook so much from my little heist, it took a number of goes to tie a knot. I slipped my stick inside the belt like a wooden sword hanging at my waist. Once I got that sorted, I waited for my heart to stop hammering and then checked the rest of the pieces.
They were strong and supple, if a little hairy. I was sure I could make some sort of sling, maybe a couple. The larger pieces might even be enough to make a sap. From what I could remember from a YouTube video I had came across during my wasted youth, all you needed was some lead encased in leather, with a strap to give it some whip. By all accounts a ridiculously effective weapon for breaking bones and knocking people out.
I looked across the street at the smithy, wondering what I might find lying around on the floor over there. Before I knew what I was doing, I had wandered closer, my eyes glued to the floor. Old nails, broken handles, rusty keys—it was like a treasure trove of scrap metal. Surely nobody would mind if I took one or two bits of junk?
My hand was on the verge of reaching down when a clatter made me look up. The guy dozing on the stool was now standing and holding out a knife. He looked terrified.
I whipped my head around to see what was freaking him out, but there was no one behind me. Slowly it dawned on me the thing scaring him was me.
I raised my hands. “Hi. I was just looking around.”
“I know what you are,” he said in a shaky voice. “You people come here, take what you want, kill for fun.” His voice gradually got higher-pitched until it squeaked. “Just leave.” The knife trembled in his hand.
“Er… I don’t kill for fun. I’ve never killed anything, not even the stuff I eat.”
He looked confused.
“Where I come from, violence is considered a crime. People get locked up for hitting each other.”
His confusion turned into disbelief. “You lie. Your kind loves blood and death. You-you-you love it!”
He looked about my age, maybe a little older. He could easily take me in a fight, for sure. His arms were all puffed up with muscles. And no, I’m not gay, so stop thinking it.
He was probably the blacksmith’s son or his apprentice (maybe both), which gave me an idea.
“Listen, I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to fight and I don’t want to kill anything, but I don’t want to be eaten by monsters either. Nobody’s explained anything to us and I can’t even read or write your language. That sign over there.” I pointed at the board in front of the leather place. “Those pictures of animals with numbers next to them, does that mean if I bring dead animals, the guy over there will give me money for them?”
He nodded. “The tanner will pay you for skins.”
“One bit for a rabbit?”
A smile broke out on his face. The kind of smile reserved for when you hear something really stupid. “One bit? No, one chob.”
“What’s a chob? Is it less than a bit?”
“Ten chobs, one bit.”
Damn. That mean a five bit dagger would take fifty rabbit skins. Were there even that many rabbits in this place? Still, that meant only ten pig skins or five dogs. That didn’t seem so bad, assuming they were the kinds of pigs and dogs we had back home.
“What about the triangle for fifty chobs. What animal is that?”
“Rabbit, pigs and dogs aren’t beasts?”
He shook his head. “They’re vermin. They ruin crops and worry cattle.”
“So beasts are…”
“Wolves, bears, elk…”
Right. Stuff that could actually kill you.
He still had his knife out, but not in such a threatening manner as before.
“The only weapon I have is this.” I took out my stick. “So I don’t think you need to be scared of me.”
“I’m not scared!” he squeaked.
“I don’t have any money, so I can’t afford to buy anything yet. But when I do get some money, do you think I could buy stuff directly from you?”
The question seemed to confuse him. “What do you mean?”
“The stuff the blacksmith makes is good, but it’s expensive. You’re his assistant, right? I thought if I buy the weapons you make, it might be cheaper.”
He lowered the knife and shook his head. “I do not have hammer. You can’t forge iron without a hammer.”
“Can’t you use the blacksmith’s?”
He looked at me like I’d suggested he use a dead baby to make a hat. “A blacksmith’s hammer cannot be touched without his permission. Master trains me once a day in the use of the hammer, if he’s in a good mood. I only make what he allows.”
Sounded like a bullshit system to me, but I was getting good information out of this guy and didn’t want it to stop.
“So how do you get your own hammer. You have to pass a test or something?”
“There are only two ways.” He sounded quite bitter, maybe even sorry for himself. “Either you inherit your master’s when he passes on, or a weapon you created is used to kill a superior beast.”
“A superior beast?”
“One that is able to speak.”
“You mean like people?”
His eyed me suspiciously. “People are not beasts.”
“No, of course not, I just meant…” I don’t know what I meant so I changed the subject. “Wait, if you need a hammer to make a weapon, but you need a weapon to kill a superior beast in order to get a hammer… how does that work?”
The bitter look returned to his face. “It’s not meant to be easy. Otherwise there would be too many smithies and not enough work to go around.”
I started to understand. It was clearly in a blacksmith’s interest not to let his apprentice get too good, too quick. If the guy you trained sets up shop nearby, you’re going to end up losing business to him.
“Look, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be any good at monster hunting. Probably, I’ll be one of the first to get myself killed. But if you make me a simple weapon, something that doesn’t require a hammer to make, I’ll use it. And if I manage to kill a superior beast, I’ll come back and you’ll be able to claim your hammer.”
My suggestion took him aback. “Why would you do that for me?”
“Because you’ll owe me, and sell me weapons for half-price for the rest of your life.”
He grinned. Finally, I was speaking a language he understood.