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What was left of the old world was strewn around the wastelands as nameless ruins, but the ruins around the Highwaymen city of Boondock [1] were different. They were known as the thunderheaps.

There was a story behind the name, one whose origins began twenty years ago. Then-demonhunter Arcturus Cloude fought a terrible foe here. Some claim it was a demon, others say a nightmarish monster. There were some claims he stood alone against a whole wasteland army. Whatever the case, it was clear a terrible battle occurred.

The story goes that Arcturus called three thousand bolts of lightning upon his enemy in one fell sweep. With the definitive show of prowess, he won victory. Word spread, and Arcturus began to be called first of the demonhunters. Since that day, the governor never again brought his full power to bear in combat. Demonhunters were not normal warriors, however. They did not become weaker the older they became. Now at nearly sixty years of age, Arcturus was likely even stronger than his legends portrayed. But the truth of his strength remained a mystery.

There were few situations that required Master Arcturus to become directly involved. It was widely accepted that if the master had lived during the demon wars, he would have been revered today as one of the greatest demonhunters in history.

Boondock was a city in the thunderheaps, though it was not a city in the typical sense. In the early years their crew had numbered only about a thousand strong. If you counted the slaves and women, that drove the number to about three thousand. They lived a largely nomadic lifestyle, keeping their belongings on mounts and going where the wind willed.

The Boondock of today different. With so many new comers and a rapidly growing catalogue of slaves and women, its population had swelled to more than ten thousand. As those numbers grew, the Highwaymen couldn’t be as agile as they once were forced into a more sedentary living arrangement.

However, Boondock still retained the style of a nomad camp. It had no walls, not even a simple fence to mark its borders – exposed fearlessly to the wilds it inhabited. Its outskirts were ringed by the terrible beasts they raised, from wolves to enormous lizards, pack animals to creatures larger than elephants. All told their menagerie was probably two or three thousand strong.

As for the people, they lived in makeshift tents of leather and burlap.

Naturally a settlement of this size, with so many beasts and people, was difficult to provide for. Boondock would have crumbled under its own weight long ago if they relied on plunder alone.

The Highwaymen didn’t have the power of an organization like the Dark Atom. But what it lacked in influence, it more than made up for in barbarity. Entering Boondock one was greeted with the common sights of gambling, drinking and ravenous eating. Beyond that, though, were crueler scenes of blood and violence. Slaves who disobeyed their masters’ orders were publicly hacked to pieces and fed to the beasts. They were beaten like dogs and tied to posts by tents, or viciously tortured for pleasure. In one case a horse galloped through town with the broken remains of a slave tied behind, dragged to death. Cheers rose up wherever it passed.

The denizens of Boondock were your typical wasteland brutes, covered in tattoos and masked, with iron helmets and improvised prosthetics. There were a number of ogre-like men easily three meters tall lumbering the streets as well. In the deeper recesses of the wastelands mutants like that were common, but were far rarer the closer you got to Skycloud. Reaper must have reached into the far reaches of the wastes in order to bolster his ranks.

Clang! Clang!

Burly men stripped to the waist worked in open-air forges. They poured sweat while hammering strip of angry red iron. People came by with groups of slaves, offering them for goods and services like currency.

When three strangers wandered into the camp, it didn’t take long for them to garner some attention. There were three of them, two women and a man. The man’s face was covered in a demon mask and was covered in an unassuming grey cloak. In one hand he held a rope tied to the throats of the two women, tugging them toward a rugged tent like a pair of dogs.

“Hol’ it!” A large man with an equally large sword and missing front teeth barred the way. Glimmering eyes dragged over the two women. “Where you comin’ from, eh? I don’ reco’nize you.”

The masked man looked up at his accoster and replied in an even voice. “I’m from the wastelands, looking for shelter with the Highwaymen. These girls are a gift to one of your bosses.”

“O’ly two? Sorry offerin’. You fink it’s easy to get in fis crew? What feckin’ dope told you to come ‘ere?” The toothless brute practically hollered at him. He looked again at the women and notice one was covered in horrible burn scars. The other one was covered in tumors and other signs of mutation. Neither were the least bit appealing. “Look at these feckin’ dregs. We got plenty o’ rotten goods ‘round here already.”

“Don’t get caught up with their faces. Look at these legs.” When the masked man saw the goon’s displeasure, he yanked one of the girls over. Lifting her raged skirt he revealed a pair of flawless legs, thin as twigs. The girl, visibly upset, grabbed the hem of the skirt and yanked it back down. She glared at him in quiet fury but the masked man paid her disobedience no mind. He gave her tight arse a slap. “Check out this rump. Grade-A meat, you can tell. Wasteland women are rail thin, where are you gonna find something this juicy? Who looks at faces these days?”

The gap-toothed brute had been taken off guard by their hideous faces, but at the man’s urging he looked over the rest of them. Their enticing curves were clear under their shabby clothing, especially their pert chests. He had to hold himself back from grabbing a handful.

“Well well, dem ladies might be worf sum’n. Dis one ‘ere don’t bother bringin’ in. You can jus’ give ‘er to me.” The brute wasn’t going to stand on manners. “Take it easy, though. I ain’t gonna leave you wid nuttin’. All you gotta do is mention my name and no one’ll give you no trouble.”

Both women began to shift uncomfortably.

“I’m afraid that won’t work.”

“Whatchu say? Dese bitches are gifts, you said. Now you won’t give ‘em up? Whatchu playin’ at?” The thug towered over Cloudhawk menacingly. “You think hard now, runt. ‘Member the rule ‘ere is Boondock is off limits to scum like you.”

“You misunderstand. It’s not that I don’t want to, but these girls are already spoken for. They belong to a guy called Cyclops – he wears a red eye patch.”

“Well feck, shoulda said so. What a feckin’ waste o’ time. Off you go, find a place for yourself. Some’n will come by in a few days to put you in a crew.”

Finally the man and his two offering managed to make their way into Boondock. When they got into the city itself, suddenly things became much more crowded. These days it was a common thing for new faces to appear, so no one gave them more than a passing glance. That worked just fine for Cloudhawk, and the two disguised women by his side.

Most of the city’s population were slaves, mostly women. That made sense, since women were easier to control. Ones with pleasing figures were also good as gold out here, too, and bought their weight in goods. Next in terms of worth were young handsome men and those with special skills.

Here among these bandits, the number of slaves one controlled was a direct display of influence, ability, and wealth. Slaves required food and drink, maintenance costs were high, so the more slaves you had the more you were willing to give up for them. As such most bandits didn’t keep many slaves, but that didn’t stop them from comparing themselves to others.

Slaves skittered around the city, living lives of perpetual fear. They had no status here.

It wasn’t just their masters they feared. Everywhere they went they had to be careful, lest they were captured by someone else or murdered in the street. Slaves were chattel, treated with all the care and affection one might show a sack of coins. What’s more, that was just threats from the outside. At any time their master could come back with a better slave.

There was only so much a single bandit could provide, and a limit to the number of slaves they could care for. So what do when that limit was reached? 

For those slaves that have outlived their usefulness, the lucky ones could be traded elsewhere and continue to live. The unlucky ones were culled outright and fed to the animals. They weren’t offered any compassion.

Begging for one’s life was a natural instinct, and that lead to servitude. If someone wanted to live they would do whatever it took. Outside of doing their master’s bidding, slaves did everything in their power to make themselves more useful. They looked after the animals, took care of equipment, women learned tricks to please their masters, or secretly traded with other slaves in better conditions. Those with some measure of professional skill looked after themselves, or helped their masters run their businesses.

Such was life in this wasteland shanty town.

Rag-tag tents were strewn everywhere, aside beast pits for domesticated animals. Bandits were gathered in groups, eating and drinking together while emaciated slaves served them.

“Yall new?” A thin slave woman approached with a bitter expression. “You want a tent? Cheap, but you’ll need to wait a while. We’ve had a lot o’ people coming here lately. Wait’s pretty lengthy.”

The tents were a hodge-podge of animal bone and scraps of leather, gathered up by these women and stitched with whatever materials were on hand. Poor as they looked, it was obvious they required a lot of effort to make. Cloudhawk only had a small bit of food, and it wouldn’t be wise to fish out a bunch of money here to pay for her services. He offered her a dagger instead.

The slave woman looked it over with a look of surprise. “Elysian?”

Cloudhawk was likewise surprised at her keen eye. “If you can recognize elysian craftsmanship at a glance then you’re no simple slave.”

“I was caravan leader for a group of borderland merchants years ago.” Her scarred and beaten face twisted into a bitter smile. “This dagger’ll buy you few days’ stay.”

Barb watched the woman leave with a dumbstruck expression. She was assailed by a pair of young children, who wrapped themselves around her legs. They were only three or four years old. The slave women leaned down and picked one up, then walked back into her shoddy accommodations. For the first time, Barb recognized that there was no difference between an elysian and a wastelander.

1. The name is literally ‘thug city.’ It evokes the idea of Tortuga or other pirate cities. Keeping in mind Reaper’s penchant for understatement, I went with Boondock because it sounds like a nothing backwater, and not a bandit stronghold. It is also a distinctly American phrase I imagine would hold over after the world was destroyed. Interestingly, did you know it is actually a loanword from Tagalog? Pretty cool that something so rednecky sounding comes from so far away.

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