November 16, 2023

Tide of Corruption: The Great Bayou Debate

The clearing in the bayou was a patch of solid ground, ringed with trees and mud and trampled by the feet of Hunters who'd been that way before. I'd intended to cross it quickly, on my way to someplace my rifle might do some good, but instead I blundered into the middle of a standoff. Three Hunters, all with weapons drawn and deadly silent.

Until I walked in on them, anyway.

They turned as one, guns held steady as they targeted me. “Who the hell are you?" the one furthest from me asked. He was a big man, all dressed in black, with a bandana covering his face so I couldn't see his expression.

“Just passing through," I said, and put my hands in the air. With one I could take my chances, maybe even two. But not three.

“Maybe he can help settle our little argument," said the one on the left, a woman in bloody leathers. She looked like she'd seen some things I'd rather not know about. “That's a hell of an idea," chimed in the third, a well-dressed man in clothes that looked utterly unsuited for mucking about in the swamp. Somehow, he was spotless. The other two had spatters of mud up to their knees.

“I don't want to cause any trouble," I said, looking around for cover. There was none. “Trouble done and found you," the man in black replied. “Now, we've got a simple question. My associates and I were having a bit of a professional disagreement over matters of philosophy, and it seems they want you to cast the deciding vote. From my way of seeing it, things in the bayou have gotten out of hand. Things that ought to be dead ain't staying dead, and I want to put that right." I noticed then that he had a knucklebone dangling from the barrel of his gun, and more bones stitched into his coat to make obscene patterns that clicked and rattled as he moved.

“My friend here," he said, and nodded to the woman, “she doesn't care so much about that. She's thinking that the power that's in the swamp wants us to take down its servants so we can become better versions of them."

“Apotheosis," she said, and nodded. I took a closer look at her and realized that not all the blood on her leathers was human.

Annoyed at being interrupted, the first Hunter cleared his throat. He pointed at the last man, who was doing something intricate and disjointed with the fingers of his free hand. “And that fine gentleman wants to fight fire with fire, and use that power against itself, no matter what the cost. Human, or otherwise. As you can see, it's hard to reconcile these views. So why don't you tell us the right of it, and we'll let you go your merry way."

I looked from gun to gun to gun, face to face to face. The other two nodded in agreement. I wasn't going to be able to talk my way out of this one—no way, no how. Dropping my hands, I took a single step back. “You really want me to choose?" I asked, desperately hoping someone would say no.

“If you want to live," the woman said. I knew she was lying. She had her way, I'd be face-down in the swamp already, food for bugs and worse.

“If you insist…"

“We do," said the man in the suit. “Now answer."

I swallowed and nodded, looking from side to side. “It's a hard question," I said. “Can I have some time to think on it?"

“No," the man in black said flatly. “Choose."

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