Chapter 7: Ups and downs
"Stevens is not giving me any rest with those raiders from now on, is he...?"
Ruth mumbled to herself with a sigh, then took a big swing of water from her canteen. They had just stopped for a short rest along the way and she took out the map given to them for reference, going through the aims of their mission in her head. The most recent raider activity has been discovered east of Camp Imperial, the place presumably serving as one of the local gang's dwelling place. There was "a loud scuffle with lots of bullets", as their intel informed, and the mission was to investigate and bring more details. The news of a possible mass shooting didn't ease her mind about this, and she's been nervous as to what they could find once they'd reached their destination. Or maybe it were just the events from the past few days that still kept her on edge. Ruth memorized the map and told the other two soldiers to move out.
Traveling with the other team was so much different as compared to the hours of walking in judgmental silence. She's had a fair share of solitary travel in her past, and as much as keeping quiet was perfect for staying low and out of trouble, it was painstakingly lonely. Having a person behind your back whom you never knew whether to treat as friend or foe did not make this experience any better. With her current companions, a change of pace and a change of humor was a very welcome difference. Both men seemed to never run out of new topics to talk about, while still keeping a close eye at their surroundings. Or, at least, one of them was looking around, since Private Billy Mook just didn't want to shut up. Ever. Ruth realized how much she missed that kind of energy and felt better this way, if not a little concerned about losing focus while listening to the other soldiers ramble on.
"It wasn't the worst of it." Mook smirked, continuing a story of their time in the boot camp. "Remember when I got those extra hours for telling the sergeant my uncle could shout louder than him?"
"Oh yeah, served you right that one." Private Derek Lee, the team's usual first in command, rolled his eyes at the other soldier.
"So, how did you all meet?" Ruth asked, stepping onto a boulder and helping Lee up. "It seems like you've known each other for a while." The part of land they were traversing through was not particularly mountainous at this point, but they chose a rougher trail in order to avoid the radscorpion-infested dunes below. The oversized monstrosities crawled slowly from place to place, before disappearing into the hot, yellow sea of fine sand, broken locally by stone or larger patches of dry bushes.
"Oh no, that's all Dale's fault. I don't think we've seen each other before she happened." Mook scrambled up onto the rocky knoll and followed them.
"Well, now I'm interested." She cracked a smile and continued along a small ridge, leading them.
"Dale somehow managed to piss off all three of us, all in one day, then we kinda started a bit of a brawl and got to do a couple of hundreds of push ups together and it somehow stuck." Lee sighed theatrically, as if fed up with that memory.
"Pissing people off is something she's pretty good at." Nodding, she gained a chuckle from Mook, who then chimed in with the rest of the story.
"So imagine that. We've just arrived at the training camp, at least a few dozen recruits, standing in line for their gear. I got really bored of waiting, so I tried to skip the queue, but chose the worst place to do so. Can you imagine? You step into the queue, a little too rowdy-like, but my shoulders are huge. I can't help it, alright? And then this redhead looks up at you with a death stare and turns you on the spot. Before you know it, you're laying face-first in the dirt, wondering how many teeth will fall out of your mouth if you even attempt to move." He rubbed his chin, probably remembering the punch. "I didn't want to make it worse coz there were guards all around us, so we agreed to sort out this little misunderstanding a couple of days later. I arrive, and suddenly there are four of us, all willing to throw down."
"So what the hell had she done to you?" She turned to Lee, who's been listening with mild satisfaction.
"There was this one pretty girl in the boot camp that both me and Dale were hitting on. She wanted to eliminate the competition and dared me for a challenge, too." He leaned in a bit. "I dare say, ma'am, I had better chances, but none of us was blessed with that chick's privilege in the end."
Ruth snickered, shaking her head. "Alright... What about Private Vasquez? He doesn't seem like the kind of guy to go throwing fists."
Mook laughed, a little too loud, having to cover his mouth with his hand. "Oh, ma'am, for that one reason? He would, with anyone, trust me. Somehow, none of us really knows how and when, Dale got her hands on his prized bottle o'moonshine and emptied it before he could figure out what happened. I haven't yet seen him more furious than that one night. Falling into a hole was pretty close, though."
Ruth shook her head. "I hope we'll have a chance to all sit down and have a drink so I can hear more of where that came from. But do try to stay focused now, alright?" They all nodded and continued along the ridge.
A pang of anxiety hit her as her thoughts wandered off for a moment, disobeying her own orders. What if they wouldn't have a chance to meet up again? What if they wouldn't... come back? They were just on a simple mission, but so were the RMS7 team when they were ambushed by the wasteland's worst living nightmare. Ruth shrugged off the sudden dread and refocused on the task at hand, leaving behind the shifting dunes below.
The next leg of the journey they took with caution and mostly in silence, as the rocky hills were also the home of coyotes, geckos, and nightstalkers. They passed by a few creatures on their way, not drawing their attention, but had to tear through a handful of geckos which didn't take kindly to trespassers on their territory. Some pistol shots and one relatively harmless bite later they continued on, looking out for any signs of nightstalker packs having a daily rest in their dens.
"What about you, ma'am?" Lee stepped up next to her. "What were your beginnings? We met only a few days ago and you've already outranked us by a couple bars. You must've been good from the start."
"Oh no, no, believe me, I was a total wimp when I started." Ruth admitted, scoffing at that assumption. "I was a wasteland rat and I never before imagined the level of strength and self-discipline that they asked of me during training. It was so bad I had to train twice as much as most of the other recruits who were far more capable than me at the time." She felt herself cringe, remembering the first months in the army.
"Oh I know." Lee chimed in. "It wasn't my strongest suit, either, but physical strength is just a part of it all."
"Yeah... " She scratched the back of her neck, thinking of all the additional mental challenges that followed the recruitment process.
"I went through an additional course to rank up to First Class." Lee continued.
"So that makes two of us." She sent him a respectful glance. "My first promotion happened after I jumped in on a mission up north as a combat medic with two other soldiers. There was a clash with the Legion in the area and they were running out of medicals. One of those soldiers fell while dragging away the wounded. We saved some important guy from bleeding out, and I came back to an envelope with a promotion. In short, a few more of such similar trips and I eventually ranked up to Specialist before deciding to transfer to recon."
"That's so cool!" Private Mook exclaimed, his eyes shining with excitement, then he saw their confused glances and the excitement died down. "I mean, not the dying people, ma'am, but it sounded intense."
She nodded at him and turned back to the path, only to freeze in place.
Ruth took a second to confirm her thoughts and held up her hand, motioning for them to duck behind a nearby boulder. They scrambled up to it and held their breaths, listening. With great caution, Ruth peeked out from behind the rock.
A huge radscorpion had just paced its way onto their path. Bigger than any they'd seen before, its long and pointed tail was raised into the air. It must've sensed them somehow and was now slowly circling the area with its wide, haired pincers hovering in front of it, ready to strike. Ruth pressed herself to the side of the stone, holding a finger to her lips. The mutated arachnid paced, creeping up close to their hiding spot. It stepped partially onto the boulder and froze. They could see the carapace was scratched and healed over in multiple places. Mook shot her a glance, his hand firmly on his gun, but she just signalled him to wait. The creature slowly, but surely, crawled onto another stone, moving away from them. Eventually, the radscorpion let its tail trail low to the ground and the monstrosity soon disappeared somewhere behind a stone wall. After what felt like eternity, they all took a deep breath and cautiously stepped out onto the path again.
"And we know what the Corporal was for. Congrats, ma'am." Lee picked up on the subject after they'd left the scorpion ravine behind. "Not much luck to show off our skills on our missions so far. We got important intel, but only got to negotiate it out of some sketchy travelers, nothing crazy." He shrugged, but did sound slightly disappointed. "We do patrol most of the time. And, well, Vasquez managed to put himself in a wheelchair, so that's an achievement." He rolled his eyes.
Ruth had to admit, what she and Amber have managed over the last days was truly something to congratulate for. Still, thinking about yesterday has only filled her with dread. A heavy sigh escaped her, together with it, the good mood.
"Let's just say... Stevens needed a new Corporal in his paperwork. That's all. But thank you." She turned around and climbed up a small wall of rocks and dried grass, letting Mook help them up to the top from which they could see a wide section of the surrounding desert. They were getting close to their objective, and she chose to shift her attention entirely on that.
The chilly afternoon was creeping up on them when they made it to their destination. Looking at the camp from a vantage point on one of the rocky knolls, Ruth surveyed the place through her binoculars. It had once been a spacious camp, taking up a portion of a small, pre-war airport with one two-storey building and two short runways. Now, a few makeshift buildings that had probably once stood around the main structure collapsed and burned, and parts of the camp were scattered around its original borders. The two story building itself was mostly just a blackened, deeply eroded concrete skeleton, although that was more than likely how it's looked like for the past 200 years. Remnants of wooden planks and rusted sheets of metal were still attached to its nine crumbling columns, suggesting that the raiders attempted to turn it back into a functional structure at some point. However, most of that was now scattered around and in shambles. A few faint smoke columns lifting into the air became a clear marker for them to follow, in result becoming a huge welcome sign to any other interested individuals and beasts as well.
"People." She reported, squinting her eyes when she saw movement around the destroyed structures. "Three or four, don't look like raiders."
"Scavengers, most likely." Lee joined in with his own pair of far-seeing equipment. "Might be useful for information, we shouldn't scare them away."
"There are a lot of bodies all around... Shit, it looks like an entire gang could have been wiped out." Ruth focused and counted well over ten bodies from her perspective, scattered across the campsite in various states of dismemberment.
"They weren't kidding, huh. Let's go down there before they take everything and run." Mook suggested and began heading down the hill, the rest of them following shortly after.
Before they even reached the edge of the camp, the first people to see them ran away, clutching tight whatever they were holding. In spite of Lee's attempts to make peace with them, the scruffy individuals did not look back and soon disappeared from their view. The team entered the camp with caution, stepping over bodies and the general filth covering the majority of this space. The battleground smelled of blood, dust, and burnt wood and fabric. Taking a quick look at one of the corpses of a fairly young, raider woman, Ruth saw many bullet wounds across her torso. Anything of worth she might've had on her was already taken. The same scenario applied to other bodies around, some of them torn apart by grenades or other explosives, looted to the bone. However, the Vultures gang markings remained on their clothes or skin, as a few of them had the symbol of a bird's clawed foot engraved straight in the flesh. What remained of the wooden buildings was not worth looking into.
Ruth heard Mook's voice behind one of the burned structures and hurried back up to her team. There were two scavenger men, dressed in simple clothing, their hands dirty, holding makeshift tools. They were standing above a pit in the ground, freshly dug. She peeked past Lee's shoulder and saw the top portion of a corpse, still half-buried under the loose soil and sand.
"Gentlemen! Is your hunt successful this fine evening?" Mook stepped forward, holding his right hand up, open palm towards them while his left arm was held to the side, open palm towards the ground. His bright smile and the overly nonchalant tone rightfully met with suspicion and both men grasped their tools tighter, taking a step back.
"We, uhh, claimed this find!" One of them said, trying to look intimidating in the face of the towering man before him.
"The Refinery recognizes your claims, hunter." Billy replied with a wide smile and a moment later both scavengers lowered their tools, clearly relieved.
"Is there a problem with our claim?" The other man asked, looking at them all. "We didn't see any other companies nearby, this is a fresh site."
"No, we are not judicators. We are here to investigate," Mook replied, leaning slightly forward, "and to ensure that certain rules are respected."
Ruth's eyes darted from one man to the other, trying to read them, but she had no idea what they were talking about. She knew of the Refinery; a prominent settlement up north that dictated prices of most resources that could be scavenged in this area, ruled by Mook's uncle, but she had no idea of any rules or traditions having never been there herself. The two scavengers seemed to have understood they were of no threat and soon came back to their digging.
"Rules are rules, we ain't gonna break them." The first one replied and spit on the ground under his feet. His eyes were reddened and he kept wiping them with his dusty arm.
"I'm glad to hear that. Anyway, my fine men, we come for information. Do you know what happened here? Other than everyone being dead by now." Billy seemed to have relaxed, too, but kept eyeing them as they worked.
"Well uhhh." His accent was very strong and there were a lot of pauses in his speech. "We were camping, uhh, in the nearby rocks when the shooting started. Came down to, uhh, see what was up. The Vultures have been here for a long time, you see. Uhh, and then these guys came to fuck ‘em up, apparently." He pointed at the corpse they were digging out. "Several of them, uhh, big guns, strong armor, lotsa noise. It was quick. The uhh, Vultures here had little chance, wiped them right off the map and left."
"So... they killed everyone?" Lee chimed in, looking over the battlefield once more.
The old man's reddened eye turned to him, then to Mook, then back at him. "I don't know. We came when the shooting already started. It was uhh, it was quick." He snorted loudly, clearly not wishing to elaborate.
"Then who buried these guys?" Mook gestured at the disturbed ground. It seemed there were only two shallow graves beside them.
"The, uhhhhh, swirly guys did, before they left. Didn't even take anything! Just grabbed em' bodies and popped them in the ground, you see." The man pointed at the corpse with excitement and reached in, unearthing what looked like a satchel. Something that sounded like caps turned inside and the satchel quickly disappeared in the man's shirt pocket. The other scaver grunted some words of disapproval and started looking over the body himself.
Ruth listened to the whole exchange, her confusion growing. Who were these people and why would they waste resources leaving them all with the dead? Burial was of course not uncommon and quickly dug, shallow graves were nothing new to find out in the wastes. However, burial sites with full equipment were a surprising novelty.
She walked up to the other grave. "This one's ours."
"Hey!" The other scavenger stopped searching the corpse and looked at her with a frown. "We were here first, the rules say it's our stuff!"
She was reaching to her side to grab her pistol when she heard Mook's stern voice again.
"Rules say the Refinery gets the first pick on finds under our law." He said, pointing at the buried corpse.
"You recognized our claim!" The man argued. "You can't take that back!"
Ruth looked up and saw hesitation on her large companion's face as the scavenger loudly complained about the rules and claims they were apparently breaking.
"We have to investigate this site." She replied, resting her hand on the grip of her gun. "This might be a new gang we have to learn more about. Whatever we don't take you can have. Do we have a deal, old man?"
He stepped back, grunting under his breath, took the rest of his share and left. The other man did the same, taking the tools with him, nodding at Mook before darting off.
"Good save, ma'am." Billy said, lowering his voice.
"This feels wrong, but... I think that's our second best bet at finding information." She looked at the two soldiers before kneeling down, looking into the open grave. "What do you make of this?"
"Last week we found an affiliated gang all wiped out and left cooking in the sun, full of bullet holes." Lee said, scratching his very short beard. "They were fewer than the Vultures. Do you think it was a warning before they took care of this gang?"
"Possibly." Ruth shrugged, frowning.
"The swirly guys." Mook looked closer at the partially uncovered corpse and ran his hand along the front of the fallen man's armor chest piece. It was made of a sturdy, thick metal plate, with a few indented places where the bullets must have hit. The piece was painted in a white-ish colour, with dark, possibly blue swirling patterns on top. The evening light and the quickly setting sun made it hard to say for sure. They quickly uncovered the rest of the body and found the same scheme on one of the shoulder pieces and one leg piece. The rest of the armor was mismatched and the clothes underneath reminded them of raider fashion. Surprised, they also discovered two weapons by the corpse's side, with ammo still loaded, and a satchel with personal belongings that did not give them much information of the person's allegiance. Their head was a bloody mess and was not worth disturbing. They began unearthing the other grave, but upon seeing the same chest piece pattern, although the metal on this one was cracked and caved in, they left the body alone. They agreed to be only if a bit more respectful than the scavers, though it felt odd to do so. They were raiders, weren't they? Mook, however, insisted on taking one of the better weapons from the first grave, a semi-automatic combat rifle. They all agreed.
"These people seem to be raiders, but... different, somehow." Ruth kept looking at the patterned painting, scratching the side of her neck. "With a sense of something more than just greedy existence. Do you think we have a new threat to worry about?" She looked to her companions, who exchanged uncertain, but concerned glances.
"They kill other raiders, so maybe they're the good guys?" Lee suggested, looking intently at the pattern.
"Raiders kill other raiders, too, on a daily basis." Mook replied with a shrug. "Just like wild dogs, they're fighting for scraps."
"Either way, that's less dogs for us to put down." The other man nodded after a brief moment of silence.
"It's getting dark. Let's take one piece for reference and make camp somewhere, we'll leave at sunrise." Ruth commanded and looked over the campsite, taking in the dreadful image of the chaos that remained after the attack.
They made their beds in the remnants of the main building. The whole construction was barely standing, the main framework of the building rocked slightly when Mook attempted to push it.
"Look, it could fold in on itself, like a sandwich!" He pressed all his weight on one of the pillars with amusement, a few small bits of concrete falling off in the process.
"A... sandwich? Why would you say a sandwich?" Lee squinted at his friend.
"I don't know, but it would be fun!" He looked to Ruth for approval.
"Please don't." She said with defiance. "Tomorrow you can do whatever, but let's use it one last time."
Climbing up a ruined stairway they made very careful steps wherever they moved. It was a risky idea, but the building was nonetheless a good vantage point and provided more shelter than anything else in the area that was already submerged in darkness. They made their camp on the second floor and ate something before bedding down.
Ruth offered to take the first watch and climbed up to the next level that might've once been an attic or just another floor, but the majority of it had long since collapsed. The smoke around her was still rising, the very faint breeze sometimes pushing it right into her face before changing direction. The sky was clear and dotted full of bright stars. She sighed, taking in the view, then took out her rifle and surveyed the horizon through her scope. The majority of the surrounding desert was quiet and empty at this hour, only the high-pitched howling of coyote packs carried on the wind from the direction they arrived from. She spotted a couple bighorners on the top of one hill and a passing flock of late evening birds. A couple figures in the sea sand, then nothing again, and then...
Ruth snapped her attention back to the figures on her left. Holding her breath, she tried to make out as much as she could. There were several moving shapes, roughly humanoid, a few minutes away from them. After a longer moment of focusing she was certain they were beelining to the old gang site. She quickly jumped back to her team, waking them up.
"Someone's coming, get up!" She grabbed her things and urged the others.
"What's our plan?" Derek asked, putting on his heavy combat boots.
Ruth looked around them, then past the campsite and at the gear they had with them. "I think I've got one. Listen now, quick..."
They heard and saw them coming up to the campsite. There were eight raiders in total, all looking rugged and tired. The group slowly approached, their guns ready, inspecting the post-battle scene. Some of them commented loudly on the state of the buildings and the fallen people around them, cursing under their breath, clearly not even attempting or not knowing how to keep low. Ruth watched them from the highest point of the main building, hidden behind one of the structure's remaining pillars, her rifle at the ready. She squinted her eyes through the scope, trying to see whether they had any visible gang insignia. One of the raiders turned their back to her and on the jacket she recognized the taloned bird foot that resembled the Vultures. Not everyone has fallen in the latest shooting, apparently.
"Pieces of shit! I told you it'd look like that!" A short-haired guy standing at the smoldering house adjacent to the main building hissed, kicking a pile of ash-covered, empty cans. They rolled out and the sound echoed in the night.
"Well so what!" Another man came into view, a bit farther away, heavy chest armor weighing him down. "They ain't coming back here now, we can make something new here."
"You? Building something?" A woman on the opposite side of the campsite laughed hysterically, shaking her head.
"... Maybe!" The heavy-weighted man replied, visibly frustrated. "I told you. The old Talons got what they asked for. This pile of shit will now be under new management!" He held his hands up in a triumphant gesture as the rest of the raiders walked up closer from between the rubble.
"Aw shit, they killed Lucky." Another male voice sounded from the opposite side of the camp. "I sooo wanted to fuck that bitch."
"You still can." Someone else commented with a laugh. "At least now she won't fight back."
"Fuck off Jay." The disappointed raider replied. "Besides, her boobs are all messed up now."
"More holes, more fun, boy." Another raspy voice added with a chuckle. "Anyone seen what's left of Ness's body? His skull has an appointment with my boots!"
"Shut the fuck up, morons!" The self-proclaimed leader exclaimed. "I'm trying to make this a fucking moment!" All the other raiders gathered around him laughed, but allowed him to continue. "New Talons will... will spread their wings! Or something. Stronger, sexier, and-"
That was all she needed to hear.
The raider's head leaned to the side with a puff of red staining the nearby rocks. He swayed on his legs, but the armor pulled him to the ground with a heavy thud. Almost immediately following the sound, another loud shot pierced the air, shredding the neck of another armored raider next to him.
"Fuck! Move!" They all sprang into action, running away to find cover and readying their weapons again, looking around in a craze to find the source of the gunshots. Ruth reloaded and was quick enough to take down one more guy who did not manage to find shelter from her sights in time. She jumped fully behind the pillar, reloading again. Movement on the lower floor told her that Lee was changing position.
"Crawling away already? You're not gonna rebuild shit with that attitude, cowards!" Ruth shouted towards the camp to get their attention. A few bullets whizzed past her or hit the concrete, debris filling the air around her shortly. The woman kneeled down and crouched up to the next pillar, using a makeshift wooden and metal wall for cover. She turned onto her back, ripped a grenade she got from Mook from her belt, removed the pin, and threw it roughly in the direction of one of the fallen structures where a few raiders jumped to hide. Using the panic she caused as a distraction, she leaned out from behind the wall and sent a few shots where she saw movement. Two raiders were almost at the edge of the main building, closing in on her. The grenade exploded, sending chunks of wood and dirt all around. Ruth got up to her knees and moved further along the structure's upper framework. There were hurried steps somewhere underneath her. She prepared her next move and waited.
"Come on down, come on down!" A hoarse voice called out and she saw a glimpse of someone moving. "No way to run now!" The concrete underneath her responded to their anything but careful movement up the old staircase.
Ruth pulled on the pins, waited a second, then released two grenades down the stairs, quickly ducking behind a slab of concrete. There were alarmed voices and then another loud, almost deafening explosion. A cloud of dust and debris shot up from the lower floor, obscuring her entire field of view. The whole skeleton of the building shook and seemed to sway a little before coming to a stop. She shook some sand and debris from herself and listened, preparing herself for the next step.
"Hah! Stupid bitch!" The two raiders were still present. A big chunk of one of the pillars was now missing, exposing bent metal rods inside. "Thought that would work twice, did ya?!" She saw them running up the stairs, looking around before seeing her on the top. The woman leaned back with a gasp, dodging a bullet, then ran along one of the concrete slabs, leading the raiders further into the structure.
"MOOK! SANDWICH!" Ruth yelled as loud as she could.
If it weren't for the adrenaline pumping in her ears she would probably hear the faint sound of heaving and cursing coming from the ground level. What she heard very well, though, was the creaking and rumbling of the building starting to collapse underneath her feet. The raiders screamed and scrambled back for the stairs.
Trying her best not to slip and fall, she made it the closest she could to the edge of the building and when the pillars began to fold, she felt the massive slab of concrete she was standing on start to escape from under her feet. Her whole body began to fall with it, so she jumped over the edge using her momentum to push herself as far as she could. In that brief moment of falling she was floating in the air, the drop seemingly endless and continuing for eternity. Clutching her weapon in fear of losing it, the massive structure around her collapsed, enveloping her in a thick cloud of dust and rubble. She lost her bearings, didn't know which side was up, and which was down, all that mattered was to get away from the closing jaws of concrete and metal that chased after her.
Ruth hit the ground, her shoulder taking the first blow, then rolled over several times before coming to a stop at a burnt, wooden house. The world was spinning and made no sense for the first few moments, before her head cleared and the pain hit with crushing intensity. She took a deep breath, patting herself down. Miraculously, there was little blood and almost everything seemed to be in place, but the shoulder was probably dislocated, judging by the white-hot pain around her joints. She scrambled up to her feet, felt about the ground finally finding her rifle, and holding it clumsily in one hand she ran back into the fray, hearing gunshots still being fired from beyond a small mountain of rubble.
Mook and Lee were covering behind a pile of rocks and wood when she joined them.
"Thank the rust, you're alive! That was so stupid yet so cool!" Mook said and shot her a smile, or so she could guess in the darkness. "Those bastards had no chance."
She nodded, still a little dazed, as Lee sent a few shots into the campsite beyond.
"They're running!" He turned to them briefly before coming out of hiding.
Ruth peeked from behind the cover and saw the remaining three figures hastily limp away into the desert. The last warning shots from Derek were enough to make sure they would not be coming back.
"Holy fuck." She whispered in relief and leaned against the pile. "Are you guys ok?"
"Mook is bleeding from the arm, I'm fine." Lee set his rifle aside and rubbed his neck.
"Hey!" Billy snapped at him as if offended, but then sighed. "Fine... I got too excited after that demolition and forgot to watch my back. But it's just a scratch."
They waited for a couple more minutes to make sure that there were no hostiles left. Lee quickly blocked Mook's wound and helped Ruth to the ground when both men held her flat as she told them how and where to pop her shoulder back into place - a procedure she performed herself a couple of times, but never on herself. Once her aching shoulder was bandaged and all the scratches cleaned she took proper care of Billy's wound. Derek, in the meantime, gathered some more valuable belongings of the freshly eliminated Vultures, at least those he could reach, and prepared another camp site. None of them had too much luck sleeping that night, but there were no further attacks and they were up and ready to go as soon as the first rays of the rising sun illuminated the western peaks of the valley.