tagNovels and NovellasThe Warlord's Physician Ch. 08

The Warlord's Physician Ch. 08


Warcry could not recall running faster in his whole life, even back when his leg worked. Luckily, he only had to run about two feet, into the pickup truck.

"I'll drive," Snake said as he sprinted toward the driver's seat.

"No shit," said Warcry, who could not have driven even if he wanted to, due to the nature of gas pedals requiring working feet.

Needle found a strength that allowed him to easily sling the duffel bag over the side of the cargo and climb inside behind it, his arms screaming all the while. his heart pumped so loudly in his ears, and he started to wonder what sort of medical complication that could lead to. Then the truck pulled forward more quickly than he expected, so he held onto the duffel with one hand and the side of the truck with the other. His chains rattled loudly as the cars rode over worn asphalt.

The heavy metal music blared as they drove down the hill. Snake had entered an altered state of mind when he saw those headlights. It was the same protective spirit that saw him build a fort around his palace and raise an army and buy a doctor-slave. He couldn't even bear to look at his son, for fear that he might see the weakness on his face.

"You jinxed us," Snake said, as the truck barreled down the curve of the hillside. "You willed this into existence." He had to yell over the crash and scream of the music blaring out the radio.

"How?" Warcry asked. The sun had nearly set and he was cradling the rifle in his lap.

"You said that people were always trying to kill me. If you didn't say that then this wouldn't be happening."

"Oh, come on." He really should have been used to his father's unique brand of psychosis, but the old man still had the power to surprise him. "This was a stinger and the trailer was bait."

"See, you're looking at this rationally. I'm not."

Warcry wanted to offer a reply, but his chest got tight all of a sudden, and breath just wouldn't come. He coughed and choke, and sucked in what little air he could, but his chest felt like it was being weighed down by a dumbbell. He gripped the door as he coughed violently, throwing his head forward as spittle flew out.

"Shit," was all Snake could say, though he wished to say how disgusting that was.

Warcry banged on the back window of the truck, getting the attention of the slave in the back. Needle was trying to hold on as the truck barreled across the road, but he managed to open the window. He expected someone to bark orders at him, but all he heard was coughing and choking. The confusion wore away when he realized his owner was asthmatic.

He rummaged through the duffel bag as the truck rattled around his, sending him flying across the cargo as he tried to stay still. Water canteens, bread loaves wrapped in foil, cases of ammo forged in the factory, and more than a few knives. Then he found it, at the bottom the sack. A little grey inhaler. He held it through the window and waited for Warcry to take it, frightened that it might not be enough to stop the attack.

Warcry took the inhaler just as the first shot rang out, just as they reached the highway once again. But they were all too awake and adrenaline-fueled to be startled. Needle was relieved to see his master breathe clean again.

Snake found focus in the escape, with the knowledge that his son was safe for now, but only if they got away from the highwaymen. He wished he could stand his ground and engage in epic combat with the idiotic gang, but that would be a tactical mistake. He would walk out the fight fine, obviously, but Warcry wouldn't. No matter how good he got with that rifle, he wasn't taking down any highwaymen.

Stray bullets occasionally connected with the armored hull of the truck, but never pierced glass. Needle kept his head down and hoped he didn't get caught by one of those bullets. They sent sparks across the rusty truck.

Snake looked through the rearview and counted the cars. At least six, all armored. Headlights shining bright, and possibly closing in."

"Probably Bronze Bullets," Warcry noted as he regained his breath. His head felt light, like he was floating someplace quiet, but the world was filled with noise.

"Not likely," Snake said. "No flags on the cars. Besides, they don't have the men or cars for something like this. I'd bet their mercs."

"Fuckin' mercs," Warcry added, though all he knew about mercenaries was what the highwaymen had told him. Highwaymen for hire, usually former soldiers, paid for by loners with resources and ambition who don't want to associate with ordinary highwaymen.

It was a long chase, with surprisingly little violence, considering that it began with an assassination. Every time it seemed like the enemy was getting close, Snake managed to pull forward. They didn't have to leave the highway, and they didn't stumble onto any traps. Only a few bullets managed to embed themselves in the truck, and the attackers seemed blissfully unaware of the painful death that they were riding toward.

"Who hired them?" Warcry asked as they got a little distance.

"Fuck if I know. Bronze Bullets? Heritage? Fucking God? Maybe all three of them. Better yet, it could be some traitor in the Overdogs. Fuck."

Before they could discuss the complex political strata of the Overdogs, they came upon the outpost where Chef was holed up. It was well into the night, and electric lights shined across the fortified gas station. The gate opened for the truck and highwaymen in defensive towers scurried into position.

The battle was not one that would go down in history, and disappointed the great warlord of the Overdogs. Bullets tore against the open air, explosions crashed across the desert, and highwaymen died for the same reasons they always had: because someone told them to.

The mercenaries could not have known what a foolish battle they were riding into. They had the numbers to attack Snake, but not nearly enough to assault his most critical outpost. Overdogs numbering in the dozens fired against the cars as they encircled the wall. They fired from the makeshift rooftops and defensive towers and the cracks in the wall, and the mercs failed to return fire in any meaningful way.

The world was noise and fire and smoke Needle and Warcry found themselves alone in the garage of the gas station. The room smelled like oil, and they hid beside the damaged hull of a car in need of repairs. Warcry felt a great shame come over him, so he hobbled away to join the fray. "I'll be back," he told Needle. He wanted to kiss the boy, but couldn't find the stomach for it.

Needle felt the same way. But instead of saying so, he simply said, "Don't die."

The battle was over before Warcry could fire a single shot. He hobbled out into the dying sounds of those last few bullets, as smoking trucks came to a halt, as tires melted, as men died. The enemy vehicles were all burnt-out husks, damned Molotov cocktails and exploding gas tanks. Smoke curled toward the sky and Warcry was careful not to breathe it in. His chest was still tight, though not nearly as bad as it had been.

He saw his father standing beside wounded men, insanity in his eyes. "Is that it?" he demanded, screaming over the wall to the dying mercs. "I didn't even cum! Goddamn weaklings."

Snake saw the gun in Warcry's hand and the tired look in his eyes, and seemed to think that his son had fought in the battle as well. The battle had only last a few moments, and he could not know if his son had even killed a merc, but pride swelled in his chest. He did not tell his son how proud he was, but they both knew. Warcry would never confess that he actually missed the battle.

The Overdogs brought in a few wounded enemies. The rest were dead. Snake and a few veterans got to work interrogating them in the garage, while Needle treated the wounded. Slaves, those invisible servants who lived and died for the highwaymen, cleared a space for Needle to work, in a small shack beside the old gas station. Moonshine became anesthetic and sanitizer, and the few medical items in the duffel bag saw extensive use.

The Canyon Crazies had taught Needle about triage, but only in very abstract ways. He had never been forced into a situation where he had to prioritize wounded highwaymen. And yet, it came with surprising ease.

Neither the least nor most severely wounded received first treatment. The men who had simple cuts and bruises could wait, though they had likely not seen a doctor since the war. And the men who had been torn to pieces by shredding bullets or shrapnel, they weren't going to make it no matter what Needle did. They would just waste time and resources, both of which were extremely limited.

So, he focused on those middling highwaymen who had a fighting chance, but needed to be helped as soon as possible. Warcry watched over the operations, waves of exhaustion washing over him. Still, he presence of the Overdog prince kept the slightly injured from fighting their way into the shack. They knew better than to piss off the son of the warlord.

Injured highwaymen drank to numb the pain, especially as their own moonshine was poured on wounds to sterilize them. Needle washed his own hands with moonshine, and the smell was nauseating.

"Fuck that," one highwayman screamed, as Needle poured alcohol on his bullet wound. "Stop that! Just pull the fuckin' thing out."

Even filthy and wearing chains, Needle commanded a certain respect from those around him. it was nothing to do with his figure our personality or pleasant facial features. In a way so different than ordinary highwaymen, he held the power of life and death. So, in view of the highwaymen who waited for their own treatment, he became a stern medical professional. "If I don't sterilize your wound, you'll die from an infection. It will hurt, you will beg for death, and then it will be granted. I don't mind this. I like thinking about all the painful ways you could die. Unfortunately, if I let you die, then your boss will invent new ways to kill me. So shut the fuck up and let me work." He pushed a rag into the highwayman's mouth so he had something to bite down on. it barely numbed his screams, but they were overshadowed by those of captured mercs.

It was the opposite of bedside manner and Needle would not have gotten away with it had Warcry not been standing nearby, chuckling at each insult. Such disrespect was unheard of, and Needle was keenly aware that he was mostly acting so rude because it impressed Warcry. They shared a brief smile at one another, while the physician was wrist-deep in an injured highwayman.

Most of the injured were suffering from bullet wounds, but a few had burns. They were reluctant to remove their armor before a slave who was holding a knife, even though it was thin and small. Still, they all stripped well enough for him to examine their wounds and provide what meager help he could. For all his knowledge and training, he was simply unqualified to be handling wasteland injuries. Maybe he would quit and become a pediatrician.

His efforts saved twelve lives that day and taught him the meaning of triage. Only four Overdogs died from their injuries, and they were untreatable anyway.

"Good job," Warcry offered in a private moment behind the station, while his father was away and interrogating mercenaries. They screamed so loud that conversing highwaymen had to yell over them to be heard. "I'll have to find you some kind of reward."

Needle giggled, and he could not recall the last time he had done so. He smiled so wide that his cheeks hurt almost as much as his worn-down wrists. "Thank you, sir."

A very different operation was happening as Needle healed the injured. In the dimly lit garage, beside the skeleton of a damaged car, mercs were bound with chains and lined up, waiting for their interrogation.

There were only three survivors, a woman and two men. Snake sneered at them in disgust as they were forced to kneel in the gravel and stripped of weaponry. They looked up at him with the same disgust, but they were the ones bleeding all over the floor.

Most of the Overdogs left, but they sent for Chef. He was a fat man, tall as Snake but not nearly as defined. Most of his teeth had fallen out long ago, and twisted hairs poked out from the holes on his clothes. He was covered in dirt and dust and had chemical stains all over his clothes. The only thing about his appearance that indicated he was a chef was his white apron, but he wasn't the sort of chef who needed one of those. He carried a metal toolbox.

"Hey, I recognize these guys!" Chef said before even greeting his newest boss. He almost seemed enthusiastic to see them. "Yeah, they're mercs alright. And this lovely lady is in charge."

She wasn't as scarred and dirty as her men, but she was every bit as tough. Her hair was blonde with brown highlights, chopped short with bangs. Steel earrings dangled and shook whenever she turned her head. Her makeup was smudged, and she was likely the only one in the wasteland who bothered to wear something so ridiculous. And this was not the only way in which she was ridiculous. She rode into battle not on a great rig, but in an armored minivan. The very same minivan she used to drive her children to soccer in. The only thing that had really changed since then was the few wrinkles she'd developed.

"My husband will hear about this," she spat, staring up at her captor.

"Ha!" Snake said in reply. "Laugh with me, Chef! Laugh at the idiot!"

Chef offered a halfhearted chuckle as Snake roiled in his own comedic genius. It did little to intimidate her.

"Oh, let me guess, you want to talk to the manager? Do you have some complaints you'd like to take up with the PTA? Did your son do poorly on one of his tests?" The odd part about these questions was not their content, but the fact that he did not wait to hear their answer. He wasted the two captives beside her.

The mercenaries fell dead beside their commander, but she didn't seem even slightly rattled. She didn't even deign to look at her dead subordinates. They were simply beneath her.

"You know, I was going to ask who hired you, but I don't care all that much," Snake confessed. "See, the way I see it, you're going to confess no matter what happens. But I want to have my way with you first. I mean, you have to be some kind of dumbass to go after me. And for what? Probably a few kilos of some shit meth that'll just rot your teeth. Didn't those fuckers tell you? I have a higher kill count than the goddamn war."

He kicked her over and she fell onto the floor, but made no attempt to get back up. He tore the back of her worn-out blouse, revealing the fair skin beneath. She didn't put up a fight. There wasn't much he could do to her that she couldn't endure.

"Chef, you bring what I asked?"

"Right here, boss," Chef said, setting down the metal toolbox and opening it up. "Man, your shrink has a lot to answer for. Why do you even have a box for this shit?"

"Enough with the dumb questions," Snake snapped.

"Which one you want first?"

"The long one," Snake said. He didn't even have to think about it. He turned to the bound bitch on the floor. "Treating you like a highwaywoman isn't going to get me very far. It would be far too kind. So, I'm gonna treat you like the slave you are. Chef, string her up."

This garage was often used to punish slaves. The thick walls were effective in blocking the screams of pain, to an extent. The highwaymen outside would still hear them, but they'd be able to have a conversation over all the noise. Because this place was used for punishment, there were already chains hanging from the ceiling. They dangled ominously, clanging against one another as Chef bound them to the woman's wrists.

She hung from the ceiling but still looked defiant, standing on her own two feet. The back of her blouse cut open and her back bare, Snake showed her exactly what had come out of that metal box.

Ten feat of twisted black leather fell from his hand. The whip gently caressed the concrete floor, and Chef wisely took a step back. The garage was spacious, so there was plenty of room for Snake to swing as freely as he liked.

He did not ask questions. He did not even grunt as he swung with all his might. Crack! The whip cut across her back.

She cried out in pain as each strike tattered her back. Every strike sliced across her skin like the claw of a tiger. Pins and needles replaced the sting as it faded, only to be replaced immediately by another strike. Each time, she yelled out like a useless slave being beaten into submission.

The break in between strikes was oddly pleasant, as the pain settled into an odd buzz of numbness. But that numbness, like static from an old TV, was always interrupted by the shock of another hit. At least the constant whipping took some of the pain away from where the bullet had grazed her, though it did little to stop her slight bleeding.

Her back was striped like a tiger, but red against white instead of black against orange. Some of the earlier marks were turning pink and rising as thick bumps, and the earlier marks were still red and flat. They went all the way from the nape of her back to her shoulders.

"Fuck!" she screamed as the latest of many strikes came across her back. Blood pumped in her ears and she gritted her teeth, but something stirred down in her khaki pants that she couldn't quite understand.

The last strike brought her head down in exhaustion, or in submission, and Snake knew he was almost done. He'd done this exact same thing before with countless captives and dissident slaves. He'd even beaten his own men in a similar fashion.

He lifted up her lolling head by her jaw, fingers wrapped onto her cheeks, gripped firm. Her bulging eyes stared into his with pain and determination, but the latter was faltering. "Tell me your name."

"All you had to do was ask, prick," she spat even as he gripped her face. "I'm Martha. And you're the pissant warlord Snake." She breathed raggedly as the pain of her tiger-marks surged, then waned, with the cool desert draft.

"I never understood the word 'pissant,' Martha," Snake said, letting her head droop down again. "What does piss have to do with ants? Are people just trying to latch these two insults together? Chef, what do you think? Good insult or bad?"

"Bad insult, boss," Chef said. He had never felt less comfortable in his entire life. Like he was third-wheeling on a date and the happy couple was fighting over something important.

"Chef says it's a bad insult. Know what that means?" He snapped the whip between his hands, pulling it taut.

"What? Want me to beg for more? Maybe call you Daddy? Don't pretend like you're some hot shit just 'cause you got a gang."

The insult should have made his temper flare, but something else happened. "Oh my God. You like this." He jammed the pommel of the whip under her jaw to force her to look up at him. Her hair had grown disheveled and her brown roots were showing. "No, I don't want you to beg. I want you to tell me who hired you."

She laughed. Never once in his years as a warlord had heard someone laugh while being flogged. Not even a sarcastic laugh meant to incite him. No, it was an honest to goodness laugh. "What's in it for me?" she asked, and she seemed to be serious.

The warlord leaned in and wrapped a meaty hand behind her back. She gasped as he pressed against the pink stripes. His mouth was just before hers, but she couldn't lean in close enough to get what she wanted. "Overdog Enterprises always rewards its allies. You might even find some gainful employment."

The smell of his musk and sweat overwhelmed her. "Heritage hired us," she confessed. "Said they needed the power struggle to continue outside their walls."

"I fucking knew it," he lied. He stepped away from her, quite literally leaving her hanging. "Fucking Heritage."

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