Gunslinger

Karas is on the lower levels now. They are more often referred to as the slums due to the squallored conditions and the fact that no one here, no matter how much they may try and make out, is innocent.

Down here you either work for one of the gangs or are a full member of one. There are no grey areas and no exceptions to that rule. It’s how the slums, which are filthy, function. That is why it also makes it the perfect hiding place for someone like Velber.

Karas has checked the Garteen’s file and has seen the litany of credit fabrication, laundering and counterfeiting schemes that he has been involved in. As well, is the fact that these crimes have been committed across eighteen different star systems. It’s a long and impressive history of crime, and that is why it’s no surprise to Karas that it’s catching up to him now.

In the very old days bounty hunters would have had to seek out their marks by conventional means, such as bribery and information gathering. That used to take days, sometimes weeks, but those days are long gone. Karas hadn’t been around in those days. No one still with a pulse was. But if he had been he wouldn’t have taken the jobs. Of that he is sure. Which is why, he is thankful for the tracking disc that is nestled nicely in his hand. The hired gun following it’s directions as it leads him down the tunnel runs of the slums past gang after gang after gang.

Many of the gang members cast glances his way, but none of them say or do anything about his presence. They know better than to start a fight they can’t win. The gangbangers prefer easy targets. Ones that don’t fight back or, at the very least, aren’t better equipped than they are. Still, that doesn’t stop them from keeping a watchful eye on Karas as he passes them by. However, the truth is they are really keeping an eye on the man’s twin Strike Bolts. The ones strapped, in holsters, to his armoured thighs.

The weapons don’t need reloading. They fire plasma bolts off a charge that has an ever replenishing battery cell. In addition they also have considerable range and stopping power, which is why they are regarded as some of the best personal weapons that can be purchased anywhere in the galaxy. Though, they come with a hefty price to match their specifications and that means they are beyond the grasp of most, especially on Exodus.

However, what no one knows is that Karas’ Strike Bolts have been modified by the man himself to not only fire more powerful bolts than the base variant, but also at an extended effective range as well. Plus they’re linked to his enhanced eyes, giving him an advantage against anyone not fitted with military spec gear. So in the case of the people of Exodus that’s everyone.

If he were a different sort of man then he might have been prone to having a wide arrogant smile on his face or strut to his walk, but he isn’t. Instead, Karas walks like a man with utter focus. He doesn’t care about the dirt, grime and filth that is being compressed under his heavy gravity boots as failing lights flicker erratically around him. Or the eyes that cautiously watch from the shadows and recesses of the tunnel runs as he approaches or passes by.

Many of those eyes belong to beggars, working girls and dealers. All after a slice of the desperate credits that are exchanged down in the slums. And every single one of those credits will ultimately end up in the coffers of the gangs, more likely sooner rather than later.

Karas doesn’t know which gang controls which area, but doubts it’ll be a problem. It’s unlikely his mark, Velber, will have struck a deal with any of them. If he did then he’d likely already have been turned in and the bounty claimed.

The gangs don’t care about honour. They only care about credits and fifty thousand is a sizable amount for what would be, for the gangs especially, very low effort. Though, Karas has to admit that it isn’t the highest payout he’s seen for a mark, not by a long shot. But for Exodus its sizable, which means Velber has crossed some very angry and vindictive people who he clearly underestimated quite considerably.

But that matters little to Karas, unlike the fact that he is being followed. He knows for a fact that he has a tail, which means Bendo lied to him about not giving the job to anyone else. That complicates matters, but Karas will settle up with Bendo when this job is done.

Intolee, the Avareen who is following Karas the gunslinger, can take no more of this pointless pursuit. He feels the need to strike and strike now. He has waited as long as he is willing; they are close enough to the target, Velber, now that it will make no difference. Plus this stretch of the tunnel run is empty. Intolee marks that as unusual, but not impossible. The hour is late and the best real estate for screwing credits out of the desperate and needy is back the way he has come. Now the tunnel run is little more than a link between this sector and the next. He doubts the ‘slinger knows that. He isn’t a citizen of Exodus and likely seldom comes near the slums unless on a job, whereas Intolee knows the slums well. It’s where he has spent much of his adult life and how he has honed his skills as a bounty hunter. One of the best on Exodus, truth be told.

Intolee, clad in his traditional Avareen leather armour, which is light brown in colour and covers much of his scaly black flesh, pulls the twin Rend Blades from his boots. He always keeps them stored there, but makes sure to retrieve them silently. After all, he doesn’t want to give Karas any indication that there is an impending attack. A wide smile of short sharp hooked white teeth flash as his wide flat tongue flexes instinctively from within his otherwise triangular shaped head.

The Rend Blades are favourites of Avareen who like to use the six inch long knives to cleave flesh from their victims’ bones. It’s a barbaric act, but one that the Avareen have found is highly effective over the countless millennia that they have been used.

Intolee hefts the balanced weight of the blades that are gripped loosely in each of his three fingered hands making sure the weight still feels as perfect to him now as it always has. They do. His elliptical red eyes narrow as his shoulders relax. It’s all part of his preparation. A ritual of his own design that will soon see him leap for the human ‘slinger, famed but still mortal.

The death of Karas will bring Intolee all the fame he could ever have hoped for and likely much more. The air around him tastes vile but with the felling of the ‘slinger and the fulfilling of the bounty on Velber he will be able to leave Exodus and reach bounty payouts that would otherwise never be accessible to him. Of that he is more sure than he has ever been of anything previously in his life.

Karas though knows what is coming so when Intolee the Avareen launches himself at the man, he simply turns to face him head on. The Rend Blades in the Avareen’s hands do nothing more than glance off the human’s Kellar armour, which is too thick for the bladed weapons wielded by the Avareen to have any hope against. Unlike the Devour Blade that Karas has clearly displayed across his own chest, which he pulls with a single swift motion. In fact, it’s so smooth that Intolee can barely believe that such a manoeuvre was performed by a human. He had always seen them as being blunt and lacking finesse, but the ‘slinger is clearly different.

Intolee curses his failed attempt at taking the ‘slinger’s life when he had the chance, and for being unaware of what the hired gun would be clad in.

Kellar is some of the most durable armour known and is manufactured by Beren. Had Intolee known this he would have never attempted to strike at the human with his Rend Blades which are meant solely for cleaving flesh and the worse than useless against thick armour.

“’Slinger.” Intolee hisses as the wide protruding nostrils at the end of his short snake-like nose flare angrily.

Karas doesn’t answer as the Avareen who is a good six inches taller than him bobs its head up and down in a manner that only the reptilian species can achieve.

Karas knows Avareen are fast, especially for their size, and are often mistaken for being slow and lumbering because of how they walk. But the lumbering movements are simply a ruse to hide their true speed and strength. They prefer to be underestimated by the other species, which is why so many on Exodus tend to be efficient killers. Karas is sure this one is no different as he stares into the elliptical red eyes that are trained unblinkingly on him. A lesser man would feel the need to gulp nervously in the face of one of these powerful aliens, but Karas simply returns the unblinking stare. It’s another benefit of him having his eyes replaced with enhanced versions, as they have removed the need for him to blink. He has complete control over that bodily function now and so often uses it to unnerve those around him, as he grips the Devour Blade, which is fashioned from Xemper Ore. The blade, which is able to slice through armour, gripped perfectly in his right hand. It isn’t his dominant hand, though he prefers people to believe that it is. That way they never see what is really coming, or severely underestimate him. Much like most species underestimate the Avareen.

Intolee at that moment lunges for Karas hoping he can strike between the joints of the humans armour, but his blades glance off the plating harmlessly moments before he leaps back to avoid a swipe from Karas’ own blade. Intolee knows what it’ll do to his inferior armour if contact is made, so snarls and growls in response. But Karas says nothing as he advances toward Intolee, who backpedals as the hired gun takes another series of wide swipes that forces the Avareen into an alcove in the tunnel run.

Intolee curses as it twigs for him that the ‘slinger must have been expecting the attack. Bendo had promised that Karas knew nothing of Intolee being given the bounty as well.

Intolee promises that he will make Bendo pay for his treachery by rending his flesh from his pathetic human bones. Bendo is what Intolee would class as a typical human: cowardly, deceitful and greedy.

But first the Avareen will have to extricate himself from this alcove. He debates whether to try pulling the Fissure Rifle from across his shoulder. But quickly, he concludes, that there isn’t the space for him to achieve such a thing. Then Karas’ blade comes for him again. Intolee deflects the swipe and manages to dive out of the alcove and turn. But Karas isn’t backed into the alcove like Intolee had been moments ago.

Intolee is sure the ‘slinger is holding back, but he can’t fathom as to why that would be. Then Karas unleashes a savage volley of attacks that push Intolee into yet another retreat. The human is impressively fast, he notes as he dares to attempt to make strikes of his own. But they are all met with deflections against Karas’ armour, which he is clearly using to his advantage while keeping his only real weakness, his exposed head, out of range.

Intolee would, if they were not in battle, congratulate the human on his combat prowess as Karas unleashes a wide swipe, which is seemingly too wide. It appears to Intolee to throw the hired gun off balance leaving him exposed. But it’s a feint and Karas drops the knife into his other hand at the end of the swipe, spins it a hundred and eighty degrees and then immediately slashes back across.

The Avareen leaps back but not quite far enough to avoid impact as the Devour Blade tears a gash in his thick leather armour.

The gash doesn’t reach his flesh but it has compromised the integrity of the body wrapping which will need to be replaced once this fight is over.

Intolee is still sure he can best the ‘slinger as he drops one of his Rend Blades, which harmlessly slides into the sheath in his boot so he has a free hand to grab hold of the Bell Pistol stashed at the small of his back.

The large alien is sure the ‘slinger won’t see this coming as he launches himself toward the human, who he needs to close the gap to if the short ranged flat headed projectiles that it fires are to bring his adversary down.

But before he can reach Karas there is a clatter as a door is flung open and Velber the bounty target comes tumbling out.

Karas and Intolee both turn their attention to Velber whose big beady grey eyes blink rapidly in response to the audience before him.

Intolee growls and Velber’s eyes go wide as his mossy green skin flashes brightly. It’s the Garteen’s natural response to fear and Velber is now even more sure these two are after him and the short stubby grey whiskers which sprout from his wide curved thin, above which sits an even wider thin mouth.

Velber gulps once before he turns and races off desperate to escape the bounty hunters which have been sent to apprehend him. At least he hopes they were sent to apprehend and not execute.

He knew he should have jumped system, but he thought it too big of a risk. Now though, he knows that it would have been the better option. There are too many eyes, ears and flapping tongues on Exodus for his location to stay secret for long. He knew that but still he risked staying here and now his life is in mortal peril.

Though, Velber wonders who flapped and gave his hiding place away. He can take a guess that it was likely Perfen. The little rodent had always been jealous of Velber’s expertise and no doubt hoped that removing him would open up the way to his truly substandard forgeries.

Intolee seeing the Garteen flee snarls angrily and turns to pursue, though not before blasting off several shots of his Bell Pistol as he goes. The shots miss their mark which doesn’t surprise Karas who concludes that he won’t repay the pot-shots aimed toward him with a simple plasma bolt in the Avareen’s back. That would be too easy, the gunslinger thinks to himself as he breaks into a sprint in pursuit of the target and his attacker.

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