Second To One
A man trudged from the rock-riddled shoreline drenched in salty foam, his right side soaking in blood. Tossing his right arm onto the sandy shore, he sat beside it, clenching at the bandages that struggled to hold his blood in. He looked out into the water as his boat sank, the rain chilling him to the bone.
“Fucking amateurs cost me a boat.” Blood squirting through his fingers his eyes started to droop.
“Oh, and my arm, let’s get that sorted.”
The man picked up his arm and headed inland, leaving behind a trail. The stink of weakness sunk deep into the soil of Hollow, alerting all nearby that prey was near. A shadow rabbit took its opportunity and lapped up the still-warm blood from the coarse sands, its tongue scratching with every lick. The blood from the ground now mixed with the shadow rabbit’s blood through its cut tongue.
The shadow rabbit’s form started to change drastically, where once a small form huddled over a small puddle of blood to a now towering beast with a deep heave in its breath.
The man stopped in his tracks, leaning against a nearby rock to balance his woozy mind. Sliding his arm across the rock till he found himself sitting, he let his head follow the flow of shakes until his eyes aimed back to the shoreline. In the distance, he could see a shacking lanky beast facing away from him, its long ears twitching from side to side as it raised its nose into the air. It convulsed as its nostrils flared; a deep breath and the scent was found. It lurched backward towards the man, leaping with a blind fury towards its prey. Landing on the rock, it felt bone snap underfoot; diving face first, it ripped skin from muscle and muscle from bone, snapping any resistance with ease as its large front teeth cut through all with ease.
The man looked back as he continued running for safety, his mind sharpened through necessity and fear. It did not matter how much blood he had lost or how hard he ran; he continuously found more energy to flee inwards. The monster looked down at its prey, crushing what remained in its claws as it realized it had a snack of what should have been a meal. The man looked back to see the shimmering eyes of the rabid rabbit monster that now had eyes on its target. Its body shook with anticipation as it watched its next meal stumble through the open plains. Once again, it started to bound and crawl its way toward him, gaining pace with each move it made.
“This is Ash Gol, code 1c-4d. Open the damn hatch.”
The beast continued its pursuit; it followed at a constant speed refusing to slow no matter how close it got. Ash gave all his effort to a slide, and he disappeared into the long grass before him. The beast leaped clear over, clawing towards him as he seemed to sink into the planet.
Ash fell into a small room through a metal door that opened at the perfect time to consume him unscathed. As he fell in, he watched as the hatch door closed on the arm of the rabbit monster, severing its arm clean off. Ash lay on the cold hard ground beneath him as the severed arm wormed next to him.
“I thought you were off the conquer the seas. Did not expect to see you anytime soon, Ash.”
“Well, the funny thing is. I hired some men to help me, all of them a top suggestion. Yet they lasted one day; in addition to their lack of skill and resolve, they also caused me to lose an arm. So seeing as you suggested them, Elper, you have to fix my arm.”
Elper wandered over to Ash, helping him up from the ground.
“In order for me to fix an arm, there needs to be an arm.”
Ash grabbed and raised the severed nightmare arm, “I have an arm; patch me up, doc.”
Another set of footsteps approached from behind Ash and grabbed the severed arm from his hand.
“You would have an arm, but I decided I need the money from nightmare meat. Better luck next time, Ash.”
“Cole, Ash lost his boat today and nearly died. Twice. I wouldn’t fuck with him.”
“The guy can barely stand, and he is missing an arm, technically two now. I think I will be fine.”
“Not today cunt; drop the arm and walk away.”
“You want to try me? Your eyes are drooping already. I would kill you.”
Ash threw a blind punch with his left arm into Coles’s side, dropping him to the floor in winded pain.
“You are a filthy piece of rat shit Cole; I am done with you.”
Ash mounted Cole and started to send an unrelenting stream of punches directly into his head until he was laid back on the ground. As each punch landed, another portion of Coles’s nose descended into his own skull. He continued until his fist started to contact the ground beneath him.
“Damn Ash, the guy was a cunt but did you really need to kill him? He was a good trader.”
Ash stood up and reclaimed the splendors of his efforts.
“If he was picking fights over stock with people he could not beat, he was a terrible trader.”
Ash handed over the arm to Elper and walked out towards the operating room.
“You know, maybe I won’t do the operation.”
“You should have thought of that before you gave me a shit crew. Hurry up, I have lost a lot of blood.”
Both Ash and Elper disappeared into the operation room while others in the guild cleaned up the mess that Ash left behind.
“How is it that Ash can kill someone with no repercussions from the guild?”
“Are you serious? Do you have any idea who he is?”
“The jackass who caused the mess we are cleaning up?”
“I don’t know you; hear that microphones in the wall? I do not share views with this man.”
“You’re being fucking paranoid; who the hell is he then? Who is this almighty Ash that has you so scared?”
The second man buried his head in scrubbing the floor, ignoring the chatter of his friend.
The first man tossing his scrubbing brush down in frustration, stormed off.
“Well, stuff this, I ain’t doing the bidding of someone who does not even follow the rules of the guild. I am going to confront him.”
“Well, going to have another body to clean up soon.”
As the first man disappeared down the hall towards Ash, the second one waited patiently on a nearby seat. Just as he was certain that he had miscalled the situation, his friend came bursting through a wall back into the room.
Ash, now fully limbed, he was making good use of his new arm. He grasped the foolish man by the throat and pressed him against the wall with his new shadow rabbit arm.
“You know what, this fucking arm does look stupid since it nearly touches the ground as I walk. But in saying that, it sure is much stronger than my other arm. But you know that, don’t you.”
Ash watched as the man started to turn blue under the pressure of his grip; he let him slump to the floor and walked from the room.
“To the guy sitting, you can have the rest of the day off; your mate, though, has to clean this mess up solo. No help, no discussion.”
“Well damn, he actually let you live. But that arm, though, that shit is terrifying. I am going to go to sleep, seeing as I no longer have to help with this; heads up, though. Don’t insult the founder of the guild you work in.”
The first man choked at the impression left on his neck from the freakishly strong hand, which just about collapsed his windpipe. He took a small moment to regain the ability to swallow, then started to scrub the floor again.
“I swear, Elper, each year, these merchants get softer and more disrespectful.”
“Look, they are all traveling merchants, so you know they are the strongest around. But you keep on insisting on taking on the damn sea. It is an endless plane of waves which destroy and disorientate, then you know, the massive monsters that lurk beneath them.”
Elper picked up the tools he used to stitch Ash’s new arm into a sink of hot water.
“No one can survive them for long except you, you insane bastard.”
Ash looked down at his new arm, blood seeping from the stitches holding it in place.
“I guess I should not have used this straight after you had finished, right?”
“That would have been fine; it was when you used it on that idiot while I was trying to finish that probably fucked it up.”
Ash stretched out his new arm feeling at the connection and the peculiar muscle mass.
“Will it last? As in permanent.”
“It won’t rot off if that is what you are asking. Nothing on Hollow is permanent, but it will last as long as any other arm. I am not some kind of hack.”
Elper finished disinfecting his tools. “But I would let it settle; I can only do so much with what I have. I don’t have access to the hospital plane.”
“None of us do; if we did, we would never go to you.”
Ash left the room, heading towards the gym.
“Hey, I said let it rest. Are you deaf?”
“My room is this way; trust me, I can barely stand. I am going straight to bed after one speech.”
Ash walked out into a main hall which was full of traveling merchants. They stood around bartering between each other, making trade and sales to one another.
“Listen up, everyone; it has come to my attention that some of you don’t know who I am.”
Ash looked at the individual he had strangled earlier.
“My name is Ash; I am the sole founder of this guild. I started the first guild back in Rem nearly twenty years ago when I was only fifteen.”
Ash climbed on top of a nearby table, putting himself in a position of vocal power.
“I stand before you to address an issue. We travel the entirety of Nyil-Vispyr, either by foot, beast, or vehicle. We are respected by all as one of the strongest guilds on this planet but only the second-best trade guild behind the Runners.”
“What makes the runners better than us ae? We do far more than those drugged-up fools.”
“Those drugged-up fools, as you describe them, are the fastest travelers on this planet. They enhance themselves with a plethora of drugs to travel at incredible speeds, delivering millions of dollars worth of drugs every day. We don’t deliver anywhere near that in goods.”
Elper wandered in with a small box.
“With this branch’s leader aiding me, I ask, and he orders you to hand these sigils out.”
Elper opened the chest to reveal a collection of flash drives.
“The only way to be faster than the Runners is to use the seas around us. They have fast-moving winds and swells that will carry us around our continent in a fraction of the time. Give these drives to those who are willing to be my first crew.”
The room fell silent; everyone looked around at each other with concerned looks.
“That is madness; no one can master the seas. It eats everything and everyone who tries to even wade out.”
“Wrong, the tribal men off the west coast can. I have seen the blue glow they cast, their war drums taming the seas around them. They will be our first stop; we are going there to claim their power and dominate the seas around us. We will be unstoppable.”
Elper spoke out after Ash finished his speech.
“This is an order; as leader of this branch, you are to hand out or take these for yourself. The order is not to follow this man. Only those who choose will follow; offer these to all you deal with. The other branches of the guild have been given the same orders. With this, we will coordinate and be the first organization to have a navy.”
The men and women of the room took a small handful of drives each before heading on their way.
“Do you think I will get enough people to make a crew?”
“Ash, if I have learned anything about it’s that you inspire people to want to do crazy shit. I have no doubt you will have enough for a fleet.”
“A fleet won’t do us any good till we either conquer or ally ourselves with the Aza’Roe. I need to get rest, though. I can barely stand; I will head out in the morning.”
“A bed is yours; live long and work hard.”