Cloudhawk, Autumn and the mysterious drunk made their way toward Fishmonger’s Borough atop their sandsharks. As ridiculous as riding fish through the desert sounded, it was even more amusing to witness. Amusing, but not easy.
The quicksand sea was a deadly place. It was a barren hell that would take their lives at a moment’s carelessness.
An endless sandstorm had raged over this land for years, covering ninety percent of it in scouring winds. In many areas it was impossible to see your hand in front of your face. Without the masks from Bonobo they would surely die as the sand filled their lungs.
Aside from the weather, the terrain itself was a threat. They were surrounded by quicksand with dangerous undercurrents that followed no pattern. A feather falling on the surface would be dragged under in an instant. Put simply, veteran demonhunters couldn’t press through this dire environment unaided and make it to the other side.
Of course, sandsharks traversed it without issue.
They were born in this place, lived their whole lives in the tempest. Instinct guided them through the dangers. Quicker than a horse or even car on a clear day, as well.
Still, after half a day of fighting the wind and sand the group was exhausted, to say nothing of their mounts. Through some unknown means, the flows of sand continued endlessly, increasing in intensity the deeper they went into the quicksand sea. The undercurrent tugged at the sandsharks, pitching them left and right. Dangerous pitfalls surrounded them on all sides.
A fierce gale surrounded them at all time, with wind that cut like knives. Grit struck exposed flesh like bullets. The briefest lapse and the riders could be pushed into the churning sands below.
The old man did not appear to be struggling at all.
It was becoming more obvious by the day that the cripple was more than met the eye. Not only did the winds and sand give him no trouble, on several occasions he actually uncorked a bottle of wine and helped himself. Cloudhawk found himself tiring, but he was strong enough that the environment didn’t trouble him too much. Autumn, on the other hand, was a frail and weak thing. She was only managing because Cloudhawk used the gospel of the sands from time to time to shield her from the elements. The brief respites gave her a chance to breathe, and the perseverance to keep pressing forward.
Cloudhawk was starting to worry she didn’t have the strength to make it through.
The sandsharks were fast, but already exhausted. He was sure they couldn’t keep up this pace. What if one got too tired and died? Where would that leave them? Their corpse would be sucked into the quicksand and lost forever. Even the old man wouldn’t be able to claw his way out.
As he struggled with these anxieties, something rose from the horizon ahead of them.
Oddball saw it first and warned its master. A silhouette emerged through the dim light, like a mountain standing tall in the middle of an ocean. The perpetual sandstorm made it invisible to the naked eye, and even Oddball only saw a hazy outline.
But what was a mountain range doing here, planted in the middle of a quicksand sea and a constant storm? It seemed more than likely the constant sands would wear it down or bury it eventually.
So a mirage, maybe? No… no it couldn’t be. Tricks like that could fool human eyes, but not Oddball.
Cloudhawk shouted over the howling winds at Autumn. “Hang in there, we’re getting close!”
Autumn was elated. The old man squinted his eyes, but before he could pick out the city’s outline a pair of figures suddenly rose up around them. Looking closer, they were revealed to be a group of sandsharks moving their way.
One… two... three of them. At the same time the sandstorm was finally beginning to let up.
Much to Cloudhawk’s surprise, he found that there were suddenly sandsharks all around them. Only two at first, but after a few moments there were ten. They were also able to see the mountain clearer now, and the fact that the sandsharks were being ridden. Some were being used as pack mules.
The mountain range in the middle of the quicksand sea had to be none other than Fishmonger’s Borough.
Years of assault by the surrounding sandstorm had eroded the mountains, and now they were smooth and rolling terrain pockmarked with caves. Denizens converted these naturally-occurring features into homes and other structures. The city they made was large enough to accommodate over a hundred thousand people. Banners caught Cloudhawk’s eye, fluttering in the wind, and among them men carrying heavy machine guns. Defense against the monsters that lurked beneath the quicksand, he figured.
It wasn’t uncommon for cities in the wastelands to move. They did it to avoid threats from groups that meant them harm, or roving mutant creatures. Fishmonger’s Borough was no different. The question was – how? It was the most incredible fact about Fishmonger’s Borough, because the eroded mountain range it was built on moved with the current of the quicksilver sea.
It was impossible for the outside world to track it. Between the kilometers of quicksand and constant sandstorm, even the greatest demonhunter tracker would be confounded. That meant there was only one way in and out of this place! Find a suitable place and hope you got ahold of some sandsharks.
Sandsharks had lived in this roving mountain range for generations. They’d been laying their eggs in the caverns below the sands for a thousand years. Once domesticated, Fishmonger’s native population made for excellent transportation, highly precise, and rarely lost to the sands.
However the terrain and environment shifted, they knew the way. Like homing pigeons, they could pick out the mountains they called home no matter where they floated to. It was safe to say that without them, there would be no Fishmonger’s Borough. They were reliable, safe, and integral to life here. Since the sandsharks that traveled outside were mostly under the city’s control, they had a stranglehold on the one way in. It was an ingenious method of keeping them safe.
Autumn was overjoyed at feeling the sun on her skin once again. She desperately clawed the mask off her face and took deep, grateful breaths of the clean air. However, while comparatively clear of sand there was still dust abound. She quickly paid for her impatience with a series of coughs. Soon, though, she recovered, and her watery eyes leveled on a scene that left her speechless.
Hundreds of sandsharks surfed the quicksand. Everywhere she looked they charged ahead, leaving plumes of fine sand in their wakes. Schools of them moved together like salmon fighting upstream, and all of them headed toward the mountains ahead. It was nothing short of incredible to witness.
Eventually the small party reached the foot of the small mountain range. Upon arrival, the specifics of the city were clearer to them. For instance, the upper regions and lower regions were each unique. The higher elevations rose like castle spires, making a naturally-forming fortress. At its base were scores of caverns, with hundred more sandsharks shuttling back and forth.
The sandsharks guided them through a tunnel several hundred meters long.
Autumn was still discovering the world outside her valley, and the more she discovered the more surreal it all seemed. Fishmonger’s Borough was like an anthill. The city was a series of tunnels and caverns, carved and repurposed throughout the interior of the mountain. Natural dens and burrows were converted into homes. Crude suspension bridges crisscrossed the empty spaces between them.
The caverns weren’t dark as one might expect, but what was curious was how it was light. Wood fires were rare, and most of the light came from fuel lanterns. Fuel was, of course, a rare and expensive commodity in the wastelands. What’s more, getting any resources into the city had to be an arduous process. However, this didn’t seem to affect the city in the least. Electric lights kept it bright as day even in the bowels of the mountain.
This was Fishmonger’s Borough?
As they passed through the city they saw its populace coming and going. Most, of course, were wastelanders judging by their garb.
One the sandsharks carried them inside, they made their way to an underground lake and stopped. Water was the motivating force that made the sandsharks run so quickly through the quicksand. The accumulation here was like a feast for them.
“These are probably their breeding grounds. There must be a thousand sandsharks in this lake, and more coming. Incredible, what a way to get around. No wonder Fishmonger’s Borough is so successful.”
Fishmonger’s Borough was a model wastelander settlement, in many ways.
Built in a mountain, it was peppered with a combination of ancient machinery and jerry-rigged tech. Rusty pipes slithered along the mountain walls like old arteries, while stuttering machines powered lifts. The sound of engines and squealing metal was everywhere, lit by electric lights of all sorts of colors all over the walls.
Cloudhawk turned to speak to the old man. “Well here we are, chief. Fishmonger’s Borough. Why were you so eager to get here? If you need help let me know and I’d be happy to do what I can. Call it a favor.”
“Oy, plying people for favors is my shtick.” The old man pulled out the cork of his final bottle of wine. “My business is my own, don’t you worry about it. But seeing as you kept me stocked with booze for the trip, feel free to ask me whatever you like about the city. I’ll share whatever I can.”
Autumn immediately took him up on the offer. “I came here to find something. If you have reliable information then I need to know. This item is here somewhere, in the city. Where would be the best place to start looking?”
“Fishmonger’s Borough has the largest black market in these parts. There’s nothing you can’t find there. If whatever you’re looking for is still here, that’s where you’re most likely to find it. Check the showroom.” The old man paused to polish off the bottle of wine. “Try your luck there.”
“Thank you, grandfather!”
Autumn continued to ask several more questions, and the old drunkard gave willingly of all he knew.
“Alright, all that needs be said has been said. Here’s where we part ways, I have my own business to deal with.”
The old man irreverently flung the empty wine bottle into the quicksand, gathered up his cane, and hobbled away.
He was leaving, just like that? Cloudhawk was still filled with questions. What was this old man’s connection to this place? But they weren’t important right now. What he needed to know was when the Crimson One was supposed to arrive. Autumn’s little quest also needed to be seen to. After all, Cloudhawk was counting on making the rich woman’s pockets significantly lighter.
“Okay. Off we go.”
Cloudhawk lead Autumn away from the subterranean lake shore and into the wharf. There they found a lift that would bring them to the city. As they rose up and away from the docks, the veil of mystery hiding this unusual wasteland city was pulled away and revealed to the travelers.