Hype Posts

Steel Horse Time Jump, Year 3

The third year following the fall of the Ironworks found Steel Horse Crossing settling into its population growth. Secure systems were regularly built and put into place to produce enough food, brews, equipment, and medical treatment for its populous. Much like most cities, Steel Horse had found itself large enough to have different neighborhoods, districts, and communities within its confines, and settlers would choose where they were most comfortable to make their homes. There were communes, compounds, plantations, and encampments with different families, clans, and gangs in each. Crime had become relatively manageable and mostly went back to dark alleys and the Wastelands where it belonged. Some people even started to make enough money that they began investing in local businesses to further grow the economy and the town’s capabilities.

The most sizeable district in town was protected by the Steel Bloods, and their numbers grew steadily every day. They had a penchant for absorbing smaller groups and gangs into their district and larger organization, adding to their numbers, abilities, and power. The increasing size of this district and group only elevated their ability to govern the area, and their insistence that all their members vote as soon as they became a citizen allowed them to hold the majority of the seats and positions in Steel Horse Crossing’s elected government by the second election that year. It was easy enough to accomplish because each candidate on the ticket identified themselves as their original, smaller gang, group, or clan so that they would not go against the letters of the law. The town was large enough that not everyone knew where each candidate lived, and many non-Steel Bloods lived within their district for it to be not too questionable by the populous. By the end of the year, it had become abundantly clear to some that the Steel Bloods had played an exceptional long game and now the town was begrudgingly beholden to the laws it had created just a few years prior.

Trade had increased in the area with the GLTC’s introduction of the Quarterly Marketplace events held in March, June, August, and November. The town of Steel Horse Crossing hosted the event and the SHC Navy and local law enforcement provided the event’s security necessary for such a gathering. Restaurants, sales of wares & equipment, entertainment, and parties became the hub of the local economy during these events and people came from all over to see what the settlement had to offer. Makeshift booths, bars, and stages decorated the city center and each Quarterly Marketplace grew larger and more diverse with its offerings. The local ports and ships stayed busy with the escort, transport, and protection of merchants and patrons of the market.

The Lascarian population continued to grow and had become a notable part of the community. They were working with the Helldiver Society, and subsequently the Helldiver’s Association, to find and dig more functional, safe tunnels beneath Steel Horse Crossing for their homes. They also started working with the townspeople in safer mine placement and facilitating underground salvage operations. Soon the rumors that had been spread about the Lascarians many years prior were barely whispered by only the most curmudgeonly of codgers in the back corners of taverns.

There have always been contradictory folks in every town throughout all of time, but it was hard to shut the discordant dipsomaniacs up when the raiders started getting through the layers of defenses into the city proper. “Told ya they’d be back soon enough! I TOLD YA!” could be heard from the doors & windows of taverns every time a few raiders ran through town to break into a building and take their goods. One or two times was completely probable and understandable, but the regularity of it had become worrisome and the dissonant drunks, annoying.

 

Welcome to Dystopia Rising: Evolved, Steel Horse Crossing!

We’re excited to have you join us for some excellent stories, exciting events, and unforgettable experiences!

Steel Horse Crossing Time Jump, Year 1

The resilience of the people of Steel Horse Crossing had been tempered with years of living within the Ironworks. When the Ironworks fell, the townspeople proved themselves capable of taking on the enormous tasks of rebuilding the structure of their town, Public Works, and own governance. Even with the enormous horde of undead that came from the war against the ‘Works and the epidemic plague of radioactive fungal infections that sickened its people, the town somehow managed to evolve and survive.

The radiation and fungal infections eventually waned significantly, and the people were painstakingly cured. There were still significant patches of irradiated fungal infections around the town, but they were clearly marked so as to prevent further outbreaks and contamination of the populous. Bloom Industries made an offer to the Elder Council to establish a small outpost nearby in order to better study the impact of the Great Tree and the surrounding areas, having sensed a missed opportunity.

The constitution created by the citizens of Steel Horse Crossing was approved, delivered, and enacted. Different factions within the scope of this constitution each moved comfortably into their new roles. The RPM shifted the majority of their efforts into the general border protection of all zones around Steel Horse. The Ridge Tribes began to drift into the town-proper more often, learning a lesson from the fall of the Kishwaukee, and make a more concerted effort to keep an eye on their own people. The Hamilton-Tarens Clan worked diligently to open up land-based trade routes to a much wider audience than previously, allowing commerce to flourish in areas of town where it was fostered. The Steel Bloods, having been invited to live in and participate with town politics, were granted citizenship by the Public Works, integrated with the town by building a large camp, and gained a seat on the council with the first formal election. The Children of the Starless Sky, as well as a few other clans of Lascarians, were seen in town more often, discussing the tunnels and their previous home, as well as telling stories about being chased away from town many years ago by worrisome monsters and vicious lies & rumors. Even a few Unstable began to trickle in from the outskirts of the area, prompted by the one scout that fought alongside others from Steel Horse Crossing against the Ironworks, coming in small numbers during trade-meets.

The people in this formerly Ironworks territory continued the legacy of being technologically advanced and proactive towards the advancement of their civilization. The small radio tower built in Steel Horse Crossing broadcasted the radiowaves needed to eliminate the slave collars every week for months, eliminating all remaining signals in the area. Seemingly overnight, people started carrying small, handheld devices that emitted the same tones that quickly became commonplace among those who wanted to ensure the collars could never be used again.

Privateering and outright piracy became rampant on the waterways with the sudden fall of the Ironworks and the Iron Navy’s protection. Captain Maggie, at the behest of the townspeople and those who formerly worked for the Iron Navy, worked on an arrangement with the RPM for use of the naval yard and its ships. Citizens who had formerly worked for the Navy worked diligently to assemble, train, and support those who were previously enslaved to build their careers into what was quickly becoming a civilian water-faring militia they called the SHC Navy. These people worked closely with the developing town and its government to increase security for its citizens from a significant amount of waterborne threats.

A Letter for Captain Maggie

A young woman, barely into her twenties, stepped into the stonework and wood structure on the tail end of the outlying space between Steel Horse Crossing proper and the old naval yard.  It was clear she wasn’t familiar with the area, nor it’s people, and seemed baffled that she had a drink in one hand and something resembling food that smelled delicious in the other.

“Letter for Captain Maggie?” she asked more than said, her mouth working on the last morsel she had popped in before entering the building.

The metal veil swaying slightly as she stood, a woman well beyond twice the girl’s age beckoned towards her.  “Whaddya got hon?”


The dark green coat was spoiled, and some of the embroidery was lifting.  With a small curse, the Pure lit the candle in his quarters and immediately fretted over the stray threads.  With a deeper than usual sigh, he quietly exclaimed to the metal walls around him, “It’ll have to wait.  Damn shame.”

Extracting a pristine leather folio from a supply bag, he dutifully set up the makeshift writing table with his normal wares.  Fine paper, an immaculate bottle of ink, and a well-tended feather tipped in a precious silvery metal.  The ink well sat at the tip of the page with a small porous square of material to catch any errant drips, while the pen was deposited just enough to cover a portion of the metal tip.  He ran a single hand over the surface, feeling the small ripple of the sheet.  It was a ritual he had completed many times, and each time it calmed him considerably.  Reaching inside the coat, he withdrew a small package he set to the left before reaching for the quill.

“My captains, my comrades,” he began writing, not sure where this all would lead.

“I write this as perhaps the last time you might hear from me.  There is an impending fight that comes to our borders, and I have left each of you in charge of a small grouping of ships in order to protect each of our precious shore cities.  I am not so lucky, and I have been called with my fleet to engage in a variety of maneuvers.  I do not expect this to find each of you in time, but if it happens to make it to your hands, please know that I need you were I positioned you.  Where I am headed is important to those in power, not those who need protection the most.

The rumors we have heard are slowly being confirmed.  The Ironworks, always making progress, has gone well beyond their support of the abominable treatment of other people and have been experimenting for their own gain at manipulating the very core of our own bodies.  I know, as I am marked for ‘retrieval’ should I fall in battle.  I’m not even sure what that means aside from becoming a mindless servant of an empire built on the backs of its people.  I want none of that, and I assuredly do not wish my sailors to suffer the same fate.

To that end, I commit to writing that as the Admiral of The Great Lake western squadron, I will not be standing idly by working for the same people that would commit atrocities for their own self-serving needs.  And while I will not issue any orders to make you work against the same people, committing yourself to treason, I know you all well enough to understand you will do what is best when the time requires it.  I therefore release you to whatever service you must find to carry out the last of my orders: Protect those that you serve, especially from tyranny.

I go now to meet on the waters and, when the time is right, do what must be done to ensure whatever remains of my conscience is clear.

Fair winds, my friends.

Michael Passavoy

Rear Admiral, Iron Navy”

Thinking for a moment as he read through the letter once more, he nodded slowly and shifted the first sheet upward on the desk and began the next, copying the original text.

After some time, he pulled a small wooden handled seal and a bar of blue-green sealing wax, sealing and addressing each letter in turn within a different size and shape of envelope.  He would need to find a moment before the battle to send these off in different towns along the way.  At least one would need to make it through.


Maggie extended her hand for the envelope as the young woman dropped it into her hand.  A hidden frown was accompanied by a visible raised eyebrow.  As she turned the envelope over, her eyes fixed on the seal immediately.  Without her standard composure, she hastily slid a finger in between the envelope and seal, ignoring the slight coating of grime on the surface of the entire thing.

Pulling the letter from its sheath, she scanned it top to bottom in moments.  Her eyes narrowed, the emotional confusion washing over the visible parts of her face.  Drawing in a slow breath, she exhaled at length and turned slightly.  Over her shoulder Wrigley was watching from her station at the desk, as Maggie stated simply and slowly, “Go find me someone from the RPM.  Please.”

Consecrated to Cataclysm: The Story of Steel Horse Crossing’s Great Tree

To read part 1 & 2 click here.

Part 3

The animals and undead became exponentially more hostile and toxic the longer that they were exposed to the sickness over time. The disease spread a little more every day, affecting the water table and every living thing that needs water to exist. A few people took samples of the soil and plants to research what was happening with the environment, but the lack of prior examples in the limited libraries available to them kept their knowledge too limited to find any kind of permanent solution.

At the same time, the raider threat started to increase significantly. The sheer volume of raiders that attacked Steel Horse Crossing was immense, causing its people to close off parts of town so that the denizens could stay better protected. At first, it was just large numbers of the Cheesehead raiders. Then, Bada’s forces moved in with the assistance of several clans of Pitstops, leaving the local citizens caught in the middle. Eventually, the situation became bad enough that the Iron Works intervened and the resulting shelling of sizeable and irradiated explosives between the raiders and the Iron Works was substantial. The Raider War eventually ended with the citizens of Steel Horse Crossing mostly surviving, but the damage to the land itself was irreparable. (S3, 2018)

 

Part 4

The irradiated, diseased zone became more virulent and widespread than ever before with its exposure to the immense amounts of radioactive shelling done during the Raider War. Locals from the outskirts of Steel Horse Crossing had started coming into town with a new, more-intensified version of the sickness the land itself had, manifesting itself as growths of irradiated fungus on the face and body. The people of Steel Horse Crossing continued having to move around to different parts of the town to keep from growing sick from radiation and disease. At this point, a few townspeople took samples of the glowing mushrooms, the fungus from the diseased settlers’ faces, the soil, and other items to more vigilantly research what was causing this catastrophic environmental disaster. They finally are starting to discover that this sickness in the land is so incredibly widespread, so vast, that it is impossible to cure except through diligent, expensive means over a very long period of time.

During this time, the townspeople haven’t noticed the subtle, silent mutations that have been taking place within their cells, their DNA, while being exposed to this diseased, irradiated land for such an extensive amount of time. Some of their knowledge is starting to fade from their mind and be replaced with different intuitions and skills. Key aspects of their strain are starting to fall away and be replaced by different attributes and mutations. The changes are so subtle, so gradual, that people probably have just started to notice that the way they’ve existed for their entire lives is now beginning to be slightly different… (S4, 2019, 2.0 Finale) 

Consecrated to Cataclysm: The Story of Steel Horse Crossing’s Great Tree

Part 1

Several years ago, when Steel Horse Crossing was just starting to grow into a town again, a Natural One tribe called the Kishwaukee came to the townspeople to ask for their help. They had a history of working with the local townspeople for several generations, even before the incident with the local Lascarians. They had come into town to meet this new group of settlers to gain some help in ending the sickness that was plaguing their tribe.

Members of the Kishwaukee had disappeared. Those of the tribe that were still left were now starving. And most importantly, their sacred tree was not well. At first, they noticed it wasn’t producing as many leaves during the Spring and Summer. Then, the leaves started to rot instead of changing colors and drying in the Autumn. Over the Winter, the tree started to drop its rotten leaves and the rot started to take hold onto the bark of the tree. Then they noticed a colorful ooze coming from small cracks in its bark and that the rot had started to happen to the surrounding trees in the grove. The surrounding plant life died, leaving nothing but an ever-increasing circle of strange, colorful mold covering the ground.

Their high priest Achak, who spoke with the Voice of the Great Tree, became unwell in the mind. The sicker the tree became, the less sense Achak made. Only during short moments of clarity did Achak articulate that there was something horribly wrong with the Tree. The priest kept saying that “something that doesn’t belong here” has “taken home inside”. They would mumble about “rotting from the inside,” “sweetness of decay,” and “the outside taking over”. Achak was powerful and highly respected amongst all the local tribes as the Speaker for the Great Tree and the Keeper of the Seasons, and so their warnings were considered quite dire. Achak died while several people from Steel Horse Crossing looked on. That Winter, the people of Steel Horse Crossing nearly died from starvation. (S1, 2016)

Part 2

The sickness continued to spread, affecting the surrounding natural areas, local plants, and wildlife. A type of ant that lived within the infected area started to mutate due to prolonged exposure to the sickness, causing them to start producing a secretion that they spread upon the local fauna. This goopy secretion kept once-living things from sinking into the earth or decomposing at their natural rate. Pieces of once-living creatures were found all over the area and when the people of Steel Horse Crossing investigated these intact pieces of bodies, they contracted an unusual disease that manifested much like tuberculosis and left them severely violent and anxious. The townspeople cured those who contracted the onset of this unusual disease but did not discover its source. At this point, the entire Kishwaukee clan, except for a scarce few, contracted the sickness and died. The few that survived joined another clan and the Kishwaukee were no more.

The Kishwaukee were not the only victims to the infection of the land. The animals of the area started to mutate more quickly and aggressively than ever before. Several of the undead started attacking with toxic and irradiated blows. The ground itself split due to the old, fiery mines below the town, opening huge pressurized fissures that spewed enormous plumes of disorienting steam and intense blacklung-causing smoke. Several people became incredibly sick during that Helldive season, trying to save the area from the imminent disaster and destruction that had come annually to the area for decades. (S2, 2017)

Stay tuned for more hype in the next installment of Consecrated to Cataclysm: The Story of Steel Horse Crossing’s Great Tree!

December Hype - Part 1

The End is Near.png

Frantically he looked around, trying to find his ride. If only he could make it there, he might be able to escape whatever it was that was driving his clan to erupt in mindless, senseless anger. His road captain, only minutes before speaking with the rally group about the safest way back into town, was slavering like a mad woman and gurgling unintelligibly. One moment she was there, and the next she was dashing into the fray of bodies, slicing at Ironworks military with both blades.

This was bad. Very, very bad. He hopped to his one good leg, pulling himself out from under one of the bike crew that he had to put down with two well placed shots in the head. He wasn’t sure if it was broken, but the leg wasn’t holding his weight. Left leg, lazy leg – he could still drive. He propelled himself along as quickly as possible, grasping at the handle of the door and yanking it open. Thank all the Kings, he was safe!

He knew that last thought, lingering in the air like a last gasp of air, wasn’t true. He felt his mind twisting as the door was flung wide. He finally understood that, in the end, everyone had to die by his hand. Grabbing his bladed bat from inside the ride, he turned with a wild look in his eyes. Ironworks soldiers were definitely the right target. He knew that to the core of his being as that lingering thought evaporated.

-----

Action Report: CY-D1121-BV
Raider activity magnified exponentially. Berwyn squad reports Cheesehead encounters have returned, immediate hostility. Aurora squad and Joliet squad seeing mixed sorties, both raider fronts combined effort. Unknown cause of cooperation. Minor casualties to military units. Heavy casualties to militia. Moving to bolster lines.

-----

She tacked the last note onto the board of the Depot, the wild look in her eye belying any calm exterior she wore. She had warned the town for months, most of which was likely unheeded as the poems were just obscure enough to not be removed. Yet it was just enough for those that were paying attention to pick up a few details here and there. She had recognized, slowly but surely, her sanity slipping away at an ever increasing rate. She had been forced to do many things she never wanted, and when she regained her own senses, those thought weighed heavily on her. Those periods of lucidity were becoming less regular, and the awful dread she used to feel was slowly dissipating with them. It was like wearing a well fit glove when her mind took over her actions, and she knew she would soon succumb to the raiders’ demands. Those fucking Haze clan. She was losing her last war without having any way to combat the onslaught.

Maybe they will listen this time. Maybe they’ll do something to help themselves. She had to try one last time.

-----

Action Report: CY-D1201-FZ
Haze raider activity confirmed. Stallis and Racine squads suffered heavy casualties. Squads reported lost by survivors. Immediate threat eminent. Multiple mass harm tactics employed; toxins, radiation, and explosions most prevalent. Need ways to avoid chemicals. Send reinforcements.

-----

“It’s as bad as they’re reporting,” said the young man, his chest heaving for breath as he stood in the small circle at the edge of the dim firelight.

The air around the small crowd immediate grew tight and tense, and all face dropped slightly. It was not the news they were looking for. It was not what they wanted for themselves, for their home, or for anyone that shared these aspects with them.

After a few moments of silence, a seasoned veteran of the forests spoke with an air of resignation. “It seems everything comes full circle. We will help where we can, from the edges and the lines, but we must prepare to move out of the immediate area. We cannot have any more taken from this blight, especially the young and hearty,” he said softly with a deep sigh following.

The few heads that could be seen from the shafts of light nodded in agreement, knowing what this meant for themselves and their families.

“Make contact with the town,” the shadowed man said, choosing his words carefully. “They need to know there are some out here that can help, but our number has grown small. It is up to them to stop this once and for all.”

-----

Military Radio Transmission – Channel 17D:
THIS IS AN EMERGENCY BROADCAST. FORWARD POSITION DELTA OVERRUN. REPEAT, FORWARD POSITION DELTA OVERRUN. ALL COMMUNICATION LOST. THIS POSITION COMPROMISED. THIS MESSAGE WILL REPEAT.

Death Stories for Those Who Stayed Behind - DeWalt

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He never thought himself to be unreasonable or stubborn, but that’s what his crew would say when they were angry. He felt he was a fair businessman, reasonable even. He knew the intricacies of accounting better than anyone he’d ever met, and rightfully so. Ledgers, contracts, and inventory management had been literally bred into his family line for generations. The art of negotiating contracts & deals came relatively easy to him, until his crew at The Roadhouse in Steel Horse Crossing. It was a new challenge to him and secretly he simultaneously hated and loved every minute of it.

As much as he despised being run around like a solestros, he thrived on the negotiations veiled as common social interaction. However, lately he had begun to enjoy the social interaction more than all the time he’d been sitting at a desk running numbers. What was this town doing to him? Building a tavern in a small outpost town on several trade routes seemed like an excellent mid to long term investment. This was the first time he’d taken on a project of his very own without his family’s backing or interest. It was something just for him (and his employees) to enjoy the profits of their labor.

It wasn’t without a hundred different difficulties, all new to him with it being a unique venture. He hadn’t had such opinionated people in his employ before. Why didn’t anyone tell him the location he chose for the tavern was directly on a path the local raiders had been using for quite some time? When the train brought in tourists and travellers, sometimes they didn’t have enough hooch to fulfill their needs and had to send them somewhere else for their thirst. Sometimes they had inventory to spare and the train & trails brought nothing but dust and zed. He knew there were risks in building in a fairly young town, but Grandfather always taught that if one doesn’t invest in the beginnings of things, they miss the biggest payoffs. DeWalt was starting to think the old may have missed the mark with that one because he certainly hadn’t done anything distinctly wrong.

The rest of the crew had grabbed everything of value and were on their way out of town. No one knew where the safest route out of town exactly was, but they knew they needed to head South and quickly. He hoped they somehow avoided the swarms of raiders attacking the roads because they were all carrying so much. Heck, Phillips had an entire still strapped on his back. There was no way they were going to be able to handle outrunning warpath raiders or any of those other nasty ones working with them. Odds are most of them will make it in one piece.

He walked swiftly back to the Roadhouse to make the arrangements. He nestled little bundles of oil-soaked rags around the perimeter of her floor. He used the broomhandle to loosen the wooden roof tiles up so that there’d be better airflow. He was just hauling the very last armfull of tinder inside when he heard the barbaric screams coming up the swamp trail behind the bar. He barely had enough time to set it down and grab his weapon when he heard the pounding on the door. This wasn’t the first time something tried to pound that damned door down, but it certainly was the first time it had gotten barricaded shut while the bar got lit up from the inside.

He wasn’t going to give those filthy raiders the satisfaction of using the Roadhouse as a trap to lure others again. He wasn’t going to yell for help or run out the back so that he could lead them to the people trying to evacuate. These damned raiders had done this crap so many times over the last few years that it was almost kind of funny at this point. DeWalt sat his hammer down on the bar, found his chair, and cracked open the finest bottle of hooch he had stashed just for this occasion. Propping his feet up on the bar, he took a drag off a fine cigar he’d been saving for a while, and took a swig of hooch before saying loud enough for the raiders (but not the townsfolk) to hear “This is MY damned bar and I’m not leaving!”

Realizing the people they heard inside were not coming out, the raiders attacked it loudly. Perhaps they were trying to intimidate the denizens of the Roadhouse into leaving by throwing loud explosives at it, making their presence incredibly known to the last straggling evacuees of Steel Horse Crossing. DeWalt enjoyed these few moments of seemingly complete madness by realizing he’d never been more serious, more sane in his whole life. He bent over and lit the little pile of oily rags with his cigar and laughed loud enough to antagonize the raiders further. They busted through the door, faces dripping with sweat & blood, covered in scars. He picked his axe up off the bar, spit the cigar across the room, and stood in front of the beautiful hearth with the stone owl. “COME AND GET IT!”, he yelled just as the rags and everything else lit up like a bonfire and the melee began.

The townsfolk heard the yelling coming from the Roadhouse and smelled smoke. As they always did, they dropped whatever they were doing and looked in the direction of the bar at the edge of the swamp. In that split moment of listening, the Roadhouse blew up loudly, scattering small pieces of wood and stone all over town before the smoldering door landed right next to Town Hall. Every person still anywhere near Steel Horse Crossing shouted, “GO TIME!” and scattered to their rides as quickly as possible.

He knew he was dead. The smell of his own burnt flesh may have put him off from eating any meat cooked over a fire again. He laid there slumped on the floor of the burning building, inhaling the toxic smoke through a hole in his face where his mouth used to be and through a hole or five in his throat and lungs. It sounded more like gurgling and he didn’t know why he even bothered to try. The explosion made quick work of the bar and it was just steadily burning now. It sounded just like a lovely fire roaring in the fireplace. It would have been almost comforting had he not heard the pops, bangs, and screams of about a dozen of the stragglers taken down by snipers and traps on their way out of town. He imagined there would have been a lot more of those pops had the Roadhouse not burned as loudly & brightly as it did. Good thing they had a solid door.

 

Death Stories for Those Who Stayed Behind - Jeb Franks

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It was all wrong.

Winter is the time for quiet, introspective thought, planning for Spring, and strengthening the connections with our loved ones. Autumn is the reaping time, harvesting what we have sown, the time things die so that they may rest before they come alive again in the Spring.

All things are part of the Cycle, whether they care to realize it or not. The natural world, the seasons, time and matter itself. The people, their lives and deaths, even their different politics and faith, are all connected in the Great Cycle of the Seasons. Nothing is able to bypass the Cycle and those who attempt to disrupt it will not find the world to bear its insolence for long. The world has survived all things this far and will continue to do so because it always realigns to its natural path and flow. To go against the Cycle of the Seasons, the natural order of things, will only bring great pain and defeat. She is patient, our world, and will adjust a million small things so that the Cycle will reset itself. Bringing forth a wave of death when all should be quiet will have an unfathomable amount of consequences for them. The Cycle will make them pay.

When you truly embrace the rhythm of the Seasons, you understand that everything has its place. You begin to understand that you end up exactly where you’re supposed to be at the exact time you are needed. Although some things seem to be more enigmatic than others, the wind in the trees never sends you anywhere you’re not supposed to be.

I will never turn away from the earth’s call, nor of those who choose to faithfully adhere to the tenets of our Seasons. I have family, a caravan, and many friends, but my flock are connected to me through the earth, wind, water, and sky itself. Many, even of my own religion, have shunned me for opening myself so much to what our world has chosen to teach me, but the true believers know that what I have seen to be true. Olivia understood the vision the Earth had chosen to send me and she honored me for it. She believed in the Cycle and was starting to see how all things were connected. We listened to the same lake winds, tended the lands together, and laid hands on the same trees. I couldn’t have left her out there, lost amongst those defilers of the Cycle. I couldn’t leave with my caravan because I couldn’t leave her out there alone. Thankfully, they didn’t fight me about it, but instead loaded me up with provisions and supplies before sending me out with blessings of hope.

Few know this land like I do, but for those who tended it around Steel Horse Crossing I stopped at their homes to make sure they were leaving for safety. I knew Olivia wasn’t one for stopping at small farms, but at least this way I could try to save some others as well. I only hope I wasn’t the only one who tried to warn them.

I found her on a tiny deer path off the outskirts of a huge raider encampment. She was somehow staying hidden from them while inspecting a corral of what seemed to be normal local townspeople. I knew what she was planning to do and tried to grab her attention without letting the raiders know I was there. I never was very good at hiding so it wasn’t a surprise when I heard the gunshots hit and shatter my armor. That caught her attention. I could almost see her mouth form “Goddammit Jeb” before she started to move. I ran deeper into the treeline to obstruct the snipers’ view with much success, but instead found the traps I somehow avoided on my way in. The first one was brutally vociferous and momentarily felt like a blast of hot fire on my legs before they suddenly felt ice cold. I fell over into the second blast and the only thing I remember is that it smelled like the filthy smoke that billows out of those rides driven by Sophie’s “dirty cousins”. Something went flying - maybe a piece of my leg? - and that set off the third one that stopped me from being able to smell or see anything anymore. I did, however, hear Olivia muffling herself; I couldn’t tell if it was screaming, sobbing, or scolding. It doesn’t really matter though, does it?  

As I laid there in pieces, I looked to the trees and whispered into the wind a message for her. The trees won’t lead her astray.

Death Stories for Those Who Stayed Behind - Muldoon

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Most good and bad things start and end at a tavern. His father used to tell him and his sister Saoirse the tale of how he decided to become a sea captain after a particularly rough and tumble bar fight with his employer. Saoirse used to sing the barsongs she learned in taverns to the crew on Captain Forsythe’s Saltmore when they were particularly downtrodden, and she became the voice of their hope. Hope, bravery, and valor were long dead to Muldoon and very little had brought a smile to lips since he last set eyes on them. The decision to come to Steel Horse Crossing had been made after a rowdy night of drinking and storytelling amongst the fishermen of a shithole port town. It was a foolhardy decision, but he had nothing to lose anymore.

It's a strange feeling, walking into a new town where you don’t know anybody. You don’t know if folks are going to be kind, if the pay is going to be good, or if you’re even safe being there. It didn’t really matter to him anymore, ‘cept making a few bucks where he could. He didn’t know a soul here and didn’t care to. As long as he got some work and got paid a decent rate, it was worth sticking around.

And what a strange little town he happened to find! Not only were folks decent and kind, but they were openly welcoming of a strange, lonely fella who smelled like the sea. They had plenty of food and drink, and they told stories that would rival those of old codger fishermen down in the warf taverns. It was like being in a friendlier version of a port town, except a lot more rovers. Muldoon wasn’t sure what to make of the place when a rover with long braids and a fiddle started to play a song one quiet morning. He thought it strange that this girl felt it safe enough to intentionally make some serious noise. But it wasn’t noise at all. She pulled her bow across the strings quickly, creating an instrumental version of a tune he knew well. It was one of the drinking songs Saoirse used to sing to the crew, and even continued to hum while they were scouring the wastes, long after all of the crew were lost. In the still silence of that morning, with that fiddle singing the songs he held close, he knew this place was where he belonged.

It was surprising to him that he somehow, unknowingly became invested in this weird little town. He helped out where he could, and started to feel like he may have even made a few friends. For somebody who swore off having any attachments to people again, he sure did care about this place. So when folks started talking about the town possibly being overrun by raiders, he didn’t even hesitate to jump in and offer assistance. After all, what else did he have to lose? This place had quickly welcomed him and it snuck it’s way into somehow making him care about something again. He wasn’t going to let it go down without a fight!

He didn’t have a strong enough knowledge of the layout of the town to help much with planning or tactics, but one thing he did know was how those bastards moved across the water. Offering to be the lookout at the water’s edge, he quickly explained how the sea-faring raider tribes moved through the water and set up camps once they hit land. He didn’t know about their land tactics, but it seemed like a number of the townsfolk had some good ideas as to how things may go down. As soon as plans were made to get the town evacuated, Muldoon snatched up only the necessities and headed out with a scouting party. As soon as he could smell the water a click East, he parted ways with Olivia and headed quietly towards the shore. He found one of those sand embankments covered in tall grass to lay down in so that they wouldn’t see him when they came near the shore. He knew some of them were landbound already, but word came to Steel Horse from the Navy that a bunch more were on their way from the water. Muldoon was going inform the townsfolk as soon as the big push was about to dock so that they knew it was the last call to evacuate.

Exactly as he remembered them, the waterfaring raiders sailed up on their scrap metal pontoons and quickly docked a half-click from where he was hiding. He crept up to the edge of the embankment so that he could observe which way they were planning to move first. As soon as he saw the hand gestures pointing towards Steel Horse Crossing, he slid down the backside of the grassy sandhill and ran back to town as quickly as his sea-legs would carry him.

As soon as he got near Steel Horse via the back trail he was instructed to take, he could smell the burning. He knew that most of the townsfolk had already made their way out of town, and by this time at least some of the area farmers and homesteaders may have gotten out as well. He got to the edge of where he was supposed to report in and he didn’t see anyone around. He didn’t even get the words out of his mouth before he heard a loud “THWAP - TWANG” and felt an excruciating pain in his chest. He looked down and saw an enormous harpoon-like spear coming out of his chest and he immediately coughed out a bloody laugh. Just like old Forsythe, he thought, and it couldn’t have made more sense to him. He saw one of the normal folks off in the distance, but couldn’t make out who it was. The pain was blinding him and he knew he didn’t have long to complete his mission. Muldoon yelled, “BIG PUSH IS COMING. GO! GO! GO!” before the harpoon yanked him back sharply  to face an enormous, horrifyingly scarred beast-like man. It smiled widely at him and he noticed it was missing most of it’s teeth, just like that old codger fisherman who he used to work for. Muldoon tried to look up at the sky, but the smoke from the burning in the distance blackened out the blue he was searching for. As his head lolled onto his shoulder, he noticed the dark wood of the Roadhouse. “Of course, I’m at the tavern”, he thought before everything went black.

Death Stories for Those Who Stayed Behind - Stitches

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The screaming and smell of smoke often plagued his dreams, as it was such a recurring theme in his pathetic, short life. He would put his head down and start stitching the people back together until someone stopped him. It wasn’t until they melted into the ground that he would stop trying to save those poor people. He would wail for those who showed him kindness and quietly sit vigil where the rest of them died. It was when people would start screaming at him, pulling him away from trying to save the little ones that he would be jarred awake. The sadness and rage that filled him was so overwhelming, so confusingly strong, that the immensity of it always made him wake up. This confusion was how he started every single day.

Stitches was walking back towards Steel Horse Crossing on one of his “collection walks” when he heard the screaming and smelled the smoke. Visions of the orphanage filled his mind and he started running. The closer he got to town, the stronger the smell of smoke and the louder his memories started to scream at him. He veered off the slim, barely-visible trail he had been following towards a path that ran along the darker, backside of town. He heard someone screaming and visions of Clapton filled his mind. He ran towards where he thought the sound was coming from, but it grew weaker as he got closer. He feared maybe he was too late and he wouldn’t be able to stitch them back together.

Heavy footsteps were to his left, the side nearest town. They were grunting and the smell of  blood, sour body odor, and burning carried their identity on the wind. Stitches was not as ignorant as most would have imagined, as his experience hiding from danger was far more expert than any of the “normal” people. This poor wolfchild had been hiding from danger all his life, and his acute sense of smell was one of the greatest tools he’s had in staying out of harm’s way. He knew that concoction of foul aromas far too well. He’d encountered it every time he lost everything.

Ducking down behind a rotting ball of tree roots, he quickly pulled some rotting leaves around him. He knew they were fast approaching and he had to hide. However the voice from the back trail whimpered again, hoarse from calling for help. The faces of Liarsberg swam in his mind’s eye and then he started to panic. Who was it? It didn’t sound like Rhea or any ladyperson. It sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place who it was. Did it matter who it was?

Steel Horse Crossing was the second kindest place he’d ever been. He may have made a friend or two at the orphanage, but the larger people didn’t understand him and chased him away. Liarsberg was the only other place he’d felt like home and they acted as his family. When he came into Steel Horse carrying the remnants of his happy life inside a burlap sack, people didn’t beat him away. Some stayed their distance, but some were kind to him, fed him, and even played with him. He even loved some of them, especially Rhea.

It didn’t matter who it was. He was going to go save them. He quietly snuck out from behind the wall of muddy tree roots and bent over as low as he could before he started running as fast as he could towards the wimpering. It wasn’t far and the bad ones would probably disregard him as some other kind of monster out in the woods. He came up on pieces of people-insides off the edge of the trail. He reached down and grabbed it, collecting it like a slimy red rope. He finally got to his friend who was lying there in pieces. Stitches didn’t know if he had enough thread to sew poor August back together. He started putting the insides-rope in a pile on top of the strange bloody basket the cracked ribcage created. August looked up at Stitches, trying to form some kind of words with what was left of his mouth, but instead he just formed a small smile before he started to sink into the ground. Stitches started to pull at the insides-rope, hoping he could somehow get a few more minutes to try to save his friend from melting away. He wailed with his distorted voice, sounding like a wounded animal.

He howled for not being able to save his friend. He keened for knowing he was going to lose everything again. All the games, the food, and all the nice people who were friends (or at least not trying to hurt him), but especially for Rhea. He didn’t think he had it in him to try to find another home again. He keened for the life and love he wanted because the closest he had ever gotten to it was being eviscerated and burned to the ground. His soul-crushing howls were so loud, so transcendentally siren-like, that the crunching of his bones under a heavy mace weren’t even heard. The silence after his remains were destroyed by a grenade was truly deafenening.