UNIVERSE

Bulleproof - A Slugz short story


I first met the boar two years ago on a job in Meridia. Slugz, they called him. First I saw him, he was sitting at a booth at the back of the bar, chewing on a massive cigar as he went over my credentials. He interviewed me personally. He spoke little, grunting a few questions about my background. Then he finally asked, “How far can you shoot?”

I replied, “How far can you see?” I got the job.

The company needed an eagle-eyed scout for an extraction and escort job. And what better way to have that than to hire an actual eagle.

We hiked for a week to get to Meridia’s old capital of Westport. Same night we arrived, we met our contact at the docks and he quickly took us to the inn where we met our VIP. The job was a mouse inventor from Nova, one of those high-strung engineer-types. Turns out he had the idea of defecting to Zennegar for greener pastures, but his bosses wouldn’t let him. So he decided to skip town on his own. Zennegar has shown interest in his skills, so now it fell to us to escort him to his new province.

Our engineer friend was understandably jittery. Nova’s like a jealous lover when it comes to their technology. More, their ally and our sworn enemy, Everia, doesn’t want it falling into the hands of a “rogue” province like Zennegar. Without a doubt, one or both of them would be watching for us.

Since the naval blockade still persisted south of Westport, we had to head back on foot. It would take at least a week if we took the road south, but the trouble was that we would be heading through Scathach, an Everian protectorate. We expected trouble.

Still, Slugz ordered us to move out at the crack of dawn.

I knew the boar only by reputation. He was almost universally hated by his company, which was odd considering he’d never failed a mission. When I asked about it, one jackal merc informed me, “Because it’s obvious that he doesn’t care if we live or die.”

Despite that, he must have earned some measure of respect, since people still signed under him till now. Twenty mercs in total for this mission. In the end, money talks, the rest just walk.

Our first two days were uneventful. As was my role, I scouted ahead, hiding among the tall grasses by the road while peering into the horizon for any signs of trouble. For a long time, we had clear paths. Up until the third day.

I spotted something up ahead on the road, then ran back to Slugz and the rest of the company.

“Trouble?” he grunted.

“Roadblock. Everian, no doubt.”

He nodded, then signaled the company to wait. He followed me until he could catch sight of the enemy unit blocking the road. It was not a large unit by any means—less than ten men by my count. I was already readying my arrows when Slugz motioned to me to head back.

I asked, “Are we going to rush them sir, or…?”

“We’ll be taking a detour. Through the grasslands.”

I gaped at him, astounded. Such a detour would cost us another day of travel. Was this really Slugz, the undefeated merc boar? Why would he run away from a tiny squad of Everians? But he caught my eye and said, “You saw their standard, didn’t you? A sun surrounded by three stars?”

When I nodded, he said, “That’s the standard of Major Maric Stonewall. Worked with him from…before. Good soldier, but bad commander. He has exactly one tactic—flanking. Soon as we engage his patrol, we’ll get ambushed from the sides by a superior force. We’re taking a detour.”

So off we went. Most of the men grumbled at having to slog through muddy terrain just to avoid some Everians. Clearly, some of them had their eye on Zennegar’s long-standing offer of gold per captured Everian helms. But Slugz turned us a deaf ear, leading us through the grasslands until it was time to camp.

The next day saw us making it through to mid-afternoon without any incident, when the rear guard sent a signal to us that we had a tail. Same banner, too.

“Seems like they decided to give chase,” I said.

Slugz merely gave me a side-eye. “Do your job,” he growled at me, signaling for company halt.

I wondered at this order. Why should we stop? But I did not question it. I had duty to perform.

I hadn’t scouted ahead by more than half a mile when I was forced to come running back. “Soldiers!” I cried. “Another Everian unit coming our way! Same banner!”

Slugz shook his head as he lit another cigar. “Same tactic, different day.” He motioned to our men to head east instead of south. Once again, off we went.

Again and again, Slugz showed us that he simply would not get caught if he didn’t want to. Each time we spotted a patrol ahead, we’d just turn another direction. Somehow, the Everians kept pace with us, probably by marching through the night and tracking us with their rangers.

It was fairly clear now, based on the sheer number of units we have spotted, that we were being pursued by an entire contingent broken into smaller units. This Novan engineer was that important?

Slugz apparently didn’t know or didn’t care. By his estimation, we were just a couple of miles north of the Zennegar border. With precious little time to lose, and the Everians somehow gaining, we jogged the rest of the way.

Several shadows darted over us. I look up and spot enormous winged figures zipping into the tree line. “Griffins!” I shouted. “Dozens of them, carrying soldiers!”

Slugz said, “They’re trying to cut us off. Make for the border quickly, but stay in the trees. Go!”

This time, we sprinted through the forest heedlessly, not bothering to cover our tracks. Slugz eventually led us up a hill, and once we reached the top we beheld a line of soldiers on the other side. All were in full plate armor, swordsmen and axemen at the ready, waiting for the command to close in. At that moment, a second unit emerged from the tree line behind us, closing the trap.

“Like I said,” Slugz grunted, shoving the engineer flat on the ground. “One tactic.”

We all formed up in a circle as the enemy advanced upon us. “What do we do sir?” I asked. “They got us surrounded.”

“Surrounded, eh?” Slugz chomped through his cigar. “Good. I won’t have to aim.”

He unslung his grenade launcher, hefted it, and pulled the trigger. The grenade sailed through the air and onto the second rank of the advancing Everians. They scattered quickly, but not as quickly as when the grenade exploded.

From then on it was pandemonium. We hid behind what cover we could—rocks and logs and grass—while we laid down fire on the Everians. They responded in kind with arrows and bolts of magic. That initial onslaught took three of our men, but we fought on. Somewhere in the din, I saw Slugz fire a flare into the sky, then he stood on a log with his machine gun and started emptying clip after clip into the Everian battle line.

We held that line for something like half an hour, with Slugz not once leaving his perch on that log. His counterattack kept the enemy from closing in, but there were just far too many of them encircling us. Try as I might, I could not find us a way out of the trap.

That is, until I heard a second war horn, no longer the clarion call of an Everian trumpet but the throaty blare of a Zennegar tusk horn. I looked to the south as a war cry rose up behind the Everian unit. A Zennegar patrol came charging through the trees. They were smaller in number compared to the Everians, but they didn’t care. And they didn’t need to.

Attacked from the flank, the Everians’ resolve finally broke. After an initial and fruitless attempt to defend themselves, the enemy finally fled through the trees.

Slugz finally set down his smoking, overheated gun against the log. “’Bout damn time,” he said, nodding to the Zenneger patrol, then turned to the rest of us. “Collect what Everian helms you can. The government pays good money for each kill.”

That was over a year ago. I still work for Slugz every now and then when he needs a good scout and I happen to be available. More and more, though, I see him participating in the Arcanium games. Not sure how this fits in with his mercenary life, but if it earns him a living, well, I’m not one to judge.

Still, I wonder about him. Is he truly a good tactician, despite the complaints of his men? Maybe, maybe not.

But mostly, I remember him standing on that log, guns blazing, his huge body hardly even dodging the spells and arrows he had inadvertently attracted, and I think the jackal mercs’ opinion was correct: Slugz just doesn’t give a damn.

And that’s how he keeps winning.


- Written by Mark Aragona

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