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Thread: A Leash of Foxes

  1. #1
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    Default A Leash of Foxes

    This is the story of someone who is an awful lot like you, told by someone who is an awful lot like me. It's in the style of an old text-based adventure game, which is to say that I start things going, you reply with a command, the protagonist reacts accordingly, and as a result of all this the story moves on. If you have any questions about how that works, feel free to ask.

    Like everything I write, this may end up quite dark somewhere along the line, and there will certainly be some violence. I don't think it warrants any other warnings, though.

    Finally, I ought to mention that this story, though somewhat experimental, has been approved by Psychic.


    A Leash of Foxes


    You want to hear a story? Well, listen up then. You're going to want to pay pretty close attention to this one.

    After all, you're going to have to live through it.

    *

    It is hot.

    You wake to the sight of blank unfocused blue above, and for a moment you can only lie there, half-blinded by light and sweat.

    It is so hot.

    As the glare fades a little, you roll onto your side, trying to get up. The sun sears the marrow in your bones, boils your skin beneath the leather and cloth.

    It is so very, very hot.

    You plant your hands on the ground, palms flaming, and push. Everything aches; your head throbs with the sudden movement, soft and fragile as an old melon. You have to take a short break before you can get your legs to cooperate.

    It is so hot that you can barely breathe.

    And then, all at once, you are off the burning earth and standing upright. A wave of dizziness hits you like a hammer blow, and you sway – but you're up now, and you're determined to stay that way.

    Now you can see where you are, and realise that the view leaves much to be desired.

    You are in the middle of the desert, the level wastes stretching out on all sides towards the faint and blurry horizon. There is the occasional cactus or thorn bush by way of punctuation, and the dim purple ghost of mountains off to the north, but other than that there is only sand – sand and a haze of burnt air, sand and scorched rock, sand and the swollen sun blazing above you.

    High over your head, a dark shape circles endlessly on the blue: a vulture, perhaps, or some nameless desert hawk. It is the only living thing you can see in all this sun-blasted land, and you suspect it wants to eat you.

    Unless you feel like obliging, you aren't going to want to hang around.

    To the north, south, east and west is the desert.

    There is a battered hat here.

    You are thirsty.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 23rd December 2013 at 10:32 PM.

  2. #2
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    Well, I am happy to see that you're doing another one of these projects. Can't wait to see where this twisted adventure goes.

    Now then. I have a few commands, but they aren't too complex or far reaching so hopefully they'll be acceptable.

    First, pick up the hat and put it on. You're (Or should I say "I"? Eh, whatever) going to need it, even as battered as it is, to protect your head from the sun.

    Second, do you have any items on your person besides the aforementioned hat and clothing?

    Thirdly, assuming you do not have any items and no other items on the agenda, start walking north towards the mountains and inspect any cacti you see along the way. They are likely to be your only source of water until you reach the mountains.

    Lastly, keep an eye out on that vulture, or whatever bird it is. It doesn't sound good if the narration is hinting that it can and will eat you eventually.

    Good luck with this newest adventure.

    Knightfall signing off...

  3. #3
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    First, pick up the hat and put it on.

    You pick up the hat. It may once have been black, or possibly brown, but time and the desert have not been kind to it, and now it is grey. There are stiff black feathers stuck in its band, some nearly as long as your forearm: Murkrow plumes. These ones are old, their shafts half naked, but they will hopefully be at least a little protection should you come under attack.

    It's your hat, you think. Things are hazy right now, but you remember it, and the way it sits on your head is familiar. As you put it on, the searing blue is cut in half, and the glare becomes a little more manageable.


    Second, do you have any items on your person besides the aforementioned hat and clothing?

    The first thing on your mind is water: it is the first thing you search for and the first thing you find. On your right hip is a canteen, and once your fingers touch it you can't hold back; you unscrew the lid and down half of it in one long gulp. The water is unpleasantly warm and faintly bitter, but anything is cooler than the desert sun, and the feeling of liquid on your lips is like nothing you can remember. You didn't realise how badly your throat hurt until the water touched it, or how fogged your head was.

    It's tempting to keep on drinking, but you force yourself to stop – you have that much control over yourself at least. You return the canteen to its loop on your belt, and the world starts to feel a little less like a dream. You could think now, if you had to; you aren't sure you could have done so before.

    Setting your new-gathered wits to good use, you conduct a brief search to see if your person hides anything else of importance. On your left hip is a holster, but there's no gun in it. Close by it are three stiff leather pouches of bullets – houndtooth, needle and regular, you recall. Those would probably be pretty useful if you had anything to load them into.

    You have only one more thing on you. In your pocket, you find a yellowed piece of paper, fragile from age and frequent handling; carefully, curiously, you unfold it, and see what is written on the other side.

    I must remember: Joshua Stone has my gun.

    You stare at it for a moment. Is that your handwriting? You don't know.

    You are beginning to realise that there are a lot more things that you don't know than you previously suspected.


    Thirdly, assuming you do not have any items and no other items on the agenda, start walking north towards the mountains and inspect any cacti you see along the way. They are likely to be your only source of water until you reach the mountains.

    Lastly, keep an eye out on that vulture, or whatever bird it is. It doesn't sound good if the narration is hinting that it can and will eat you eventually.


    At the moment, your options are limited to staying here and wondering about the paper, or walking off in search of civilisation. Since one involves certain death and the other only probable death, you decide to walk. Reasoning that if you keep the mountains ahead of you, you should be able to avoid going in circles, you set off to what you believe is the north.

    The desert seems to broaden. As you walk, one unsteady foot in front of another, the land sprawls beneath you; it stretches out, makes itself comfortable. A wind picks up, tosses some dust into the air, and dies again immediately. Somewhere in the distance, something cracks.

    You walk.

    The cacti are much further apart than they looked; you have yet to come close to a single one. They must be enormous – no, they are enormous, you remember. Enormous, and very far away, every one queen of its own great swathe of wasteland.

    The bird follows you, making lazy figure-eights in the sky to shift sideways without effort. It never beats its wings; it never seems to need to.

    You have to wonder how long it thinks you'll last.

    As you walk, you try to think – who is Joshua Stone? Why are you not sure of your own handwriting? How did you come to be here in the first place? – but the heat sticks in your head, clogs the mechanisms of your mind. Your brain stumbles over ideas as your legs do over stones. The water level in your canteen drops – at first slowly, but then a little quicker, and a little quicker still.

    Just out of sight, hidden behind the broad brim of your hat, the sun shines on gleefully.

    The bird circles.

    The heat.

    The sun.

    A gulp of water.

    The bird.

    One foot in front of another.

    The bird.

    The heat.

    The sun.

    A trickle of water.

    The bird.

    The sun.

    Your feet are welded to the soles of your boots.

    The sun.

    The sun.

    There is no more water.

    The bird.

    The heat.

    The heat.

    The heat...

    The first time you fall you notice before you hit the ground, and make a half-decent attempt to throw up your arms in defence of your face.

    The second time you are not so lucky. But at least it hurts less than you thought it would.

    Your head is pounding worse even than it did when you woke. As you get up, another wave of dizziness comes over you and you are suddenly very aware that you are probably going to die.

    That isn't so alarming. What's alarming is that you're not so sure that's necessarily a problem.

    Then you see the bird, circling a little lower now, and something hardens inside you. You aren't giving it the satisfaction of your corpse. Not just yet, anyway. Not until you really can't go any further.

    So you struggle back to your feet, and though the mountains get no closer, though the heat haze does not fade, though the sun does not dim and the bird does not falter―

    You walk.

    Because if you don't walk, you die, and if you die, the bird wins, and the bird, you are determined, is absolutely not going to win.

    So you walk, on legs that nearly buckle every time they strike the earth, through air that is fire on your skin, and you keep going towards those mountains.

    You hear the jingle of harness.

    You stop. Can it be―?

    Apparently so. Far off in the distance, so small it looks more like a beetle than a vehicle, is a little wagon.

    It looks like it's moving eastwards. You aren't sure if it will pass near you or not.

    You are thirsty.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 3rd January 2014 at 10:36 PM.

  4. #4
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    Wow. This is nothing like I've ever seen before, and I'm happy to contribute some commands!

    Head towards the wagon, but be wary. You never know what lies inside.
    Is there anything else you can recall from your past? There may be relevant information pertaining to who you are and how you got to where you are now.
    Keep an eye on the creature above, as previously mentioned by Knightfall.

    That's all I have for now.
    Formerly Grav.
    Quite inactive, but still available. If you have a fanfic that no one wants to review, PM/VM me and I'll give you a hand.

  5. #5
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    Is there anything else you can recall from your past? There may be relevant information pertaining to who you are and how you got to where you are now.

    Your thoughts are as thick and glutinous as the blood pounding in your temples; they ooze through your head like molten glass. Memory is a difficult feat at the best of times, but right now, you're not even sure of your own name.


    Keep an eye on the creature above, as previously mentioned by Knightfall.

    The damn bird is never out of your sight. It hangs in the sky, moving without motion, as permanent as the sun. Doesn't it need to drink?


    Head towards the wagon, but be wary. You never know what lies inside.

    With the sight of the wagon, your spirits rise. The push onwards is easier than it was before; you knew you could never reach the mountains, but this wagon, ah, that's a whole different prospect. It's just there, just a little further. You feel that if you reached out you could touch it―

    You reach too far and overbalance, falling again. Dust rises, cakes your face, lines your mouth – but you don't care. Salvation is just there, and if you can just get up and make those last few hundred yards...

    On your feet, staggering forwards. You can see the wagon more clearly now: a canopied box of sun-bleached wood, pulled by a pair of desert Gogoat. These are not like their northern cousins; their legs are thicker and their horns stubbier, and great ruffs of cactus pads erupts from the sand-coloured fur around their necks.

    There's a little figure behind them. Can they see you? You try to call to them, but nothing comes out; your throat cracks and your lips split, and thin dark lines appear in the dirt on your chin.

    The wagon keeps going, and now you begin to feel uneasy. It trundles on, the Gogoat tossing their heads and making their harness clink; you watch their short legs working and see with dismay how fast they eat up the ground underneath them.

    It's getting further away, you realise. The driver hasn't seen you.

    You're not going to make it.

    You speed up as much as you can, but it isn't much, and it definitely isn't enough. The dust from its wheels and the goats' hooves drifts lazily westward; the wagon creaks east, its wheels clattering over stones. You can no longer hear the Gogoat snorting; the low sound does not carry far.

    And now you have to admit that you are not going to catch it, and all your strength flows out of you at once. The desert sands fly up towards you―

    The last thing you take in before things go dark is the bird, circling above. Is it you, or is it lower?

    You don't suppose it matters now.

    *

    You wake to heat.

    This is starting to feel worryingly like a pattern.

    You are not dead, and there is water between your lips. These two things together are sufficiently extraordinary to jerk fully awake all at once, and you make a feeble attempt to lunge upright at whatever it is that's feeding you water.

    “Whoa,” says someone, placing a hand on your shoulder. “Hold on there. Just drink.”

    You do. You drink and drink and you simply cannot believe how good it feels. There are no thoughts in your head at all, no concerns; there is only coolness in your throat, and a deep, deep sense of relief.

    It takes forever to slake your thirst, but your saviour is patient. They hold the canteen to your lips until you've sucked it dry before setting it aside and at last letting you up.

    You're in the wagon, you notice, and realise what it is that's so different: at last, you're out of the glare of the sun. It isn't much cooler, but it's nowhere near as bright, and right now you're in the mood to view pretty much anything as an improvement in your situation.

    Around you are sacks and barrels that emit a faint dusty odour that might be food or might just be the desert; to your right, at the head of the wagon, the great prickly backs of the Gogoat rise and fall gently as they stamp their feet between the shafts. Just in front of you is a woman in faded calico clothes and a broad, dark hat. She looks relieved that you're alive, but you don't fail to notice that she keeps her hand on the butt of the revolver at her waist. It doesn't pay to take chances out here.

    “You're alive,” she says. “How 'bout that.”

    So you are. To be honest, it's still something of a surprise.

    Hey! I'm glad this is meeting with some success. My thanks to you both, Knightfall and Grav, for contributing so far.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 24th December 2013 at 10:04 PM.

  6. #6
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    Wow, this seems like a very interesting venture. Allow me to contribute.

    Learn more about the woman. How do you know she can be trusted?

    Is that damn bird still following you?

    Where is the wagon going?

    Hope these prompts are interesting. Have fun.

  7. #7
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    As Phalanx mentioned, try and get a name from this woman. However, if she proceeds to aim the gun at you following that question, drop the subject until a better opportunity presents itself.

    Regardless of whether you get a name or not, see if you can determine the wagon's destination from the woman.

    Also, see if there is any way to refill your own canteen. You never know when you'll need an emergency supply of water again.

    And, ask her if she perhaps knows of this Joshua Stone.

    Knightfall signing off...

  8. #8
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    Learn more about the woman. How do you know she can be trusted?

    As Phalanx mentioned, try and get a name from this woman. However, if she proceeds to aim the gun at you following that question, drop the subject until a better opportunity presents itself. Regardless of whether you get a name or not, see if you can determine the wagon's destination from the woman.


    “You OK?” asks the woman.

    You nod.

    “I'm Rosalind,” she says. “Who're you?”

    You open your mouth to answer, but no name comes to your lips.

    Actually, nothing does. You can't say where you're from, or what you're doing here. You don't know what you look like. You stare at a scar on the back of your hand and wonder where it came from; at the splintered nail of your left index finger, and wonder what broke it; at the leather of your boots, and wonder where you bought them.

    You don't even know if you're a man or a woman, or indeed something else entirely.

    Rosalind frowns.

    “Somethin' wrong?”

    Yes, you tell her. You don't know who you are.

    She licks her lips nervously.

    “You mean you don't know your name, or...?”

    More than that, you say. You don't know anything at all.

    “Oh,” she says. That seems to have thrown her, and a short silence ensues. “Well,” she says at length, “I guess that means you don't know why you were out there or where you were goin'.”

    You admit that that is indeed the case.


    Where is the wagon going?

    Rosalind shakes her head.

    “Well, all I can say is that you're damned lucky,” she says. “If'n you'd collapsed just a little earlier, or a little bit further away, you'd be dead now.”

    You thank her, and she shakes her head.

    “Nah, s'alright,” she tells you. “Listen now, I'm headed to Rust with all this booze for the bar, so I can take you there if that's all right with you.”

    You can't think of any reason why it wouldn't be. Rust is as good a town as any: one of those tiny frontier places, right on the easternmost fringes of human civilisation. Two streets, one saloon and a twisturne barricade to protect against the raiders. Have you been there before? You aren't certain.

    At any rate, there probably won't be any answers there. But anywhere is better than the desert.

    All right, you say. Rust sounds good.


    And, ask her if she perhaps knows of this Joshua Stone.

    You ask, and she looks surprised.

    “Hey, so you remember somethin', do you?”

    Only the name.

    “Well, he's the head of the local branch of the Stone family,” she says. “You know. They're all over the world―”

    In mining. You remember that. There are Stones in Hoenn and Sinnoh, in Canada and Australia – and there are Stones here, in the desert wastelands to the east of Orre. They go where the minerals are, following the scent of metal and jewels on the back of a rich wave of their own wealth.

    “That's them,” says Rosalind. “Joshua Stone's in charge of all their operations out here. Plannin' on expandin', I think.” She hesitates. “What's it to you, anyway?”

    It's all you can remember, you tell her, and show her the paper from your pocket. She reads it effortfully and hands it back.

    “Well,” she says. “I don't know why he'd have any gun of yours, but his company's based in Scourston. South of Rust. If he's anywhere, it'll be there.”

    Scourston. Well, you've got a destination at least. Rust, get yourself together, then Scourston.


    Also, see if there is any way to refill your own canteen. You never know when you'll need an emergency supply of water again.

    You ask Rosalind, and she lets you refill your canteen from a barrel near the back of the wagon.


    Is that damn bird still following you?

    After making sure you're all right, Rosalind climbs back onto her seat again, and at her twitch of the reins the Gogoat begin to trot obediently on towards the east. For your part, you lift the canvas flap at the back of the wagon and peer out in search of the bird.

    It's still trailing you. If it's a scavenger, it's the most optimistic one you've ever met.

    You pull your head back inside the wagon and refasten the flap, then settle down in the back. It's a long ride to Rust, Rosalind tells you, and you're exhausted; if you've nothing else to ask, it might be an idea to get some sleep.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 29th December 2013 at 2:56 PM.

  9. #9
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    Alright, let's clear this up right now. Inspect yourself and determine your gender.

    Then, after that mystery is solved, think some more and try and jog your memory for a name. If nothing comes up, invent one for yourself for the meantime.

    Afterwards, get some sleep. You do need to rest yourself after such a grueling day.

    Knightfall signing off...

  10. #10
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    Alright, let's clear this up right now. Inspect yourself and determine your gender.

    Then, after that mystery is solved, think some more and try and jog your memory for a name. If nothing comes up, invent one for yourself for the meantime.


    You try, but holding onto the knowledge is like trying to grab a fistful of smoke; as soon as you take your mind off it, you forget again.

    This isn't normal, you realise, but it's hard to be alarmed: you don't remember a time when this wasn't otherwise.

    Names aren't any easier. There are a few running through your head – Knightfall, Grav, PhalanxSigil – but they sound strange and contrived, and undoubtedly not of this land; you don't think that any of them are absolutely you, but they may well be people very like you. People who would perhaps act similarly to you, were they in this situation.

    Maybe you could invent a new name for yourself, but somehow you don't feel like it. You know so little about yourself that you might as well not exist; the only reason that you know you do exist is that Rosalind can see you. Still, your lack of a name seems apt for someone so close to the edge of nonexistence. You don't feel like you need to change things just yet.


    Afterwards, get some sleep. You do need to rest yourself after such a gruelling day.

    You stretch out on the boards, your problems flaking away from the surface of your mind, and close your eyes. The jerking of the wagon through the sand is not exactly comfortable, but it's nowhere near enough to outweigh your fatigue, and soon enough you are asleep.

    In your dream, you are beneath the earth, and there is a figure before you. You can't see their face, but they seem to flow out of the soil and the stone, bringing with them a smell of loam and dust, and their three eyes burn in their face like red and white suns.

    For the longest time you stand there, acutely aware of the weight of the world above and around you, and of the mysterious figure's flaming gaze. You can't speak; you can barely breathe. You wonder how long the air in your bubble will last.

    The figure moves a little, and you think you can hear something that might be a voice. If you could just catch your breath and concentrate, perhaps you could hear―

    Rosalind shakes you awake, and you sit up bleary-eyed to see a great wall of gently-waving cactus arms rising from the desert in the distance.

    “We're here,” she says, as the Gogoat make headway towards it. “Rust.”

    The twisturne barricade grows larger in your vision, a cancerous tangle of thorny knots and tumours; now you can make out faces in it, mooncalf lumps of vegetable gristle studded with filmy eyes and gaping, twitching mouths. It's a bad wall: master twistgardeners can stunt the plants' growth in just the right way, suppressing the formation of the heads. No one knows if they can feel pain, but, well, those faces tend to give people nightmares.

    “I know,” says Rosalind when you point this out. “I don't think they've had a trained twistgardener here for years. The barricade's 'bout as screwed up as they come.”

    As the wagon draws closer, the Gogoat catch sight of the heads and come to a halt, snuffling uneasily; it takes a good prod from Rosalind's crop to get them moving again. They don't like them any more than you do: twisturne is warped stuff, a sarcoma in the desert, but when your enemies have powers beyond the laws of nature you have to take a page out of their book or face defeat. It keeps the foxes out, and that's the important thing.

    “They lop 'em off on the inside,” Rosalind tells you. “So's not to scare people too much. But that makes all these little thorny tendrils grow out of the stumps, an' – well, it's just a mess. Dangerous, too. You know that twisturne starts eatin' people if you let it get out of control?”

    You tell her that it must have slipped your mind, and she laughs.

    “I like you, nameless,” she says. “You got a sense of humour. And that ain't exactly a common commodity among people in your situation.”

    The Gogoat prefer to keep their distance from the twisturne: as you get nearer, they slow down, increasingly fearful, and the last approach to Rust's gates seems to take an age. You could swear that by the time the wagon is close enough to them for Rosalind to call out to the watchmen, the shadows have doubled in length.

    But at last you're there, and the watchmen draw back a rootless section of twisturne with iron hooks (it's like peeling away skin, you think to yourself) to let the wagon through – and then there you are, in Rust.

    There isn't much of it. If there were any roads around, it would be a crossroads. As it is, it's just an X of worn-out wood and colourless stone. Houses, stables, bar, store – you run out of things to count almost as soon as you start looking for them. A trough of clear water. A post to tie your horse or your goat to, if you have one.

    Rosalind pulls up in the centre of town, just outside the saloon, and immediately a ragged group of townspeople surrounds the wagon, chattering excitedly to each other: Rust sees few enough visitors, and anyone with news of the world beyond the barricade is an honoured guest. The crowd is mostly children – the majority of the adults in town are working, you suppose, though you have no idea what the people of Rust do for a living – but there are a few older people, too, probably the owners of the stables and store. Pushing through them come three men, one old and two young, all with the same broad shoulders and bent nose. A family, you presume.

    “All right, folks, get back now,” the older one is saying. “Give the poor woman a break, she's been here all of thirty seconds and we haven't even unloaded the barrels yet.”

    “Is it true that Tarn―?” someone begins, but he interrupts.

    “I said, wait a minute,” says the old man stubbornly. “Come on now. We got stock to unload.”

    The crowd disperses, or at least moves back a bit, and you follow Rosalind down out of the wagon. People give you odd looks and murmur amongst themselves; you don't know what you look like, but you're willing to bet that it isn't exactly respectable.

    You offer to help Rosalind with the barrels by way of payment for the ride, and she accepts gratefully. The pair of you go around the back, unfasten the canvas flap and begin passing the casks down to the two young men below, who take them up the steps and into the saloon.

    “Who's this, Ros?” asks the old man, who hovers over the proceedings like a nervous vulture. “It's not like you to take passengers.”

    “Ain't a passenger,” she replies, hefting a barrel in her arms. “Picked 'em up way out in the middle of nowhere, passed out on the sand.”

    “That so?” The old man turns his gaze on you with evident interest. “And what might you have been doing out there?”

    You're about to shrug, but since you've just picked up one end of a barrel with Rosalind, that doesn't seem like a particularly good idea. You settle for a noncommittal nod of the head instead.

    “Doesn't know,” Rosalind says. “Lost your memory, didn't you?”

    Yes, you admit. You have. Must've been the heatstroke.

    “That or foxes.” The old man spits. “They'll screw around with your head, you mark my words. Can wipe the inside of your skull clean as a new penny if they get their claws on you.”

    You hadn't thought of that, but it could well be true – though if you'd fallen foul of clan raiders, you would have expected them to kill you rather than just clean out your mind and leave you in the desert.

    The last of the barrels thumps down into the dust, and the old man's sons cart it off into the depths of the saloon.

    “I'll see you in a minute,” Rosalind tells him. “I'll take the goats to the stable.”

    It's all right, you say. You'll take them there; she can go in and get a drink or something. You certainly owe her.

    She grins.

    “I need to save more people's lives,” she says. “I'll never have to work again. Here.” She gives you a couple of coins for the ostler. “Have a look 'round if you want, then come back over. I'll buy you a drink.”

    You thank her, which she counters by thanking you, and to avoid a battle of pointless gratitude you let the canvas flap fall and climb up onto the box at the wagon's fore. The Gogoat are well-trained and you discover you know how to drive them; a flick of the reins and they trot obediently down the street towards the stables, where you bring them to a halt and jump down to the ground. You pay the ostler to get their harness off and stable them, and, leaving the wagon parked out of the way at the side of the building, stroll back out into the street.

    To the north are several houses and the general store.

    To the south are several houses and the stables.

    To the east are several houses and the frontierward gate.

    To the west are several houses and the saloon.

    Most people have followed Rosalind into the bar, but there are still some children here.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 29th December 2013 at 2:59 PM.

  11. #11
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    (OOC: Hurray Cutlerine is back! *almost hugs him but composes herself and starts to smile with a big grin*)

    Maybe you can check the reflection of your face in a water trough. Just to see how you look like.

    Try to have a chat with the kids. Maybe they have some info about town.

    Those foxes that are mentioned are maybe Zoroark.

    Go to the saloon to meet up with Rosalinde and to chat with some people to get information.
    I'm a Christian and I have autism. Both makes people special. Does this mean I'm double special? The answer is ''No'' because everyone is equally special.

    Due to personal stuff, I'm not as often online as I was before. I'm sorry if this causes any inconvenience.

    And this Future seems to be a Wild one
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  12. #12
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    Well, I have to agree with the previous entity who said their commands.

    Talking to the children would probably yield some interesting results, though be weary of their answers as they may not have the most accurate or trustworthy info.

    Seconding the command to look in the water trough.

    Go into the saloon to meet up with Rosalind, and let the shimmering waves of Fate take over from there.

    Also, keep in mind where that general store is. You may need to come back to it if you need to fit yourself out with supplies ... once you get some money, that is.

    Knightfall signing off...

  13. #13
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    Maybe you can check the reflection of your face in a water trough. Just to see how you look like.

    The face in the water trough is peculiarly ageless. Wind, sun and sand have conspired to tan its skin to nut-brown leather; there are crow's feet scored deeply at the corners of its eyes, and a thick knot of scar tissue over one cheekbone. Its hair is long and dark; its lips thin and bloodless. Its eyes are large and protuberant, and glister like blood.

    What are you? How old? It's difficult to be sure, but the desert has left its fingerprint on your face. You and the wasteland go a long way back.


    Also, keep in mind where that general store is. You may need to come back to it if you need to fit yourself out with supplies ... once you get some money, that is.

    Rust has a population of thirty-six, and it's exactly as big as you'd expect from that number of people. You couldn't forget where the store is if you tried.


    Those foxes that are mentioned are maybe Zoroark.

    You've never heard of a Zoroark, whatever that is. If they're relatives of the foxes, though, they're no friends of yours.

    There is another name for the foxes – their own name for themselves, though no self-respecting person would give them the satisfaction of using it. They are the Golden, the monstrous razor-mawed entities that claim this place for their own, and they will fight the colonists to the death for their right to keep it.


    Try to have a chat with the kids. Maybe they have some info about town. Be wary of their answers as they may not have the most accurate or trustworthy info.

    The children are playing in the dust – three or four boys and as many girls, and a whip-thin Houndour that bounces around their ankles with preternatural agility. They look up at your approach, and one of them steps forwards.

    “Who are you?” he asks frankly.

    Good question. You have no idea.

    “Oh. Right.” He scratches his head. “Why've you come here?”

    You didn't have any choice. But now that you are here, perhaps the boy could tell you a little something about Rust.

    “Like what?” He seems genuinely confused. “Ain't nothin' in Rust 'cept stones and dust.”

    The phrase sounds well-worn; you suspect it's something of a town motto.

    What do people do here, then, you ask. Rust must produce something, or it couldn't exist.

    “Oh. There's a mine up north, at Sanders' Bluff.” The boy waves an arm in its general direction. “Well, not much of a one. And some plants that we sell on, too.”

    What sort of plants?

    The boy shrugs.

    “I dunno. Somethin' they use in the city.”

    You ask the others if any of them know, but none do. They're just kids, after all.

    “Where's your gun?” asks one girl, pointing at your empty holster.

    You rest a hand on it, the worn leather familiar to the touch. You don't remember the weapon that it once held, but the holster still feels too light without it.

    You don't know, you tell her, but you're going to find out.


    Go to the saloon to meet up with Rosalind and to chat with some people to get information.

    That seems to be about the extent of the children's knowledge, so you thank them and return to the saloon. Inside, it is dark and relatively cool; there are thin horn blinds drawn over the windows, and the worst of the sun is shut out.

    The bar is long, low and wooden; behind it, the old man from earlier is dividing his time equally between pouring drinks and shouting abuse through a door behind him. From the noises coming from beyond it, his anger seems justified; it sounds as if the two young men are doing their best to punch the barrels you delivered into submission.

    At the bar is Rosalind and a small group of locals; you can tell them by their faded leather and calico clothes, and the way they lean towards her, eager not to miss a word she speaks. A few stools away is another woman, but if she's a local you'll eat your hat: she wears armour of dust-brown chitin that must have come from a truly monstrous Bug-type. Its natural spikes and serrations have been lovingly preserved and in some cases filed to murderous points; it creaks when she moves, and looks like it could stop small-calibre bullets.

    “Hey, nameless,” calls Rosalind. “Come on, sit down.” And, to the old man: “John, a beer for my friend.”

    You take a seat next to her, among her admirers, and nod your thanks to John as the conversation continues.

    “It's true, then?” someone is asking. “Tarnasshe's gone?”

    “Burnt to the ground,” replies Rosalind. “That's why I'm so late. I got out a day before they came an' had to leave all my stock there. Passed a whole army detachment on the way back to Scourston. 'Bout half of them came back again.”

    “How many is that?” asks John. A heavy thump comes from the back room, swiftly followed by a string of oaths. “Boys! For Christ's sake keep a grip on those barrels!”

    “Sorry, pa.”

    “I dunno. Must've been several hundred went down there.” Rosalind shakes her head. “Not enough.”

    Tarnasshe is – was – a big town; it would have taken more than that to defend it against an invading army. It must have been a massacre.

    “The foxes had a Charizard,” Rosalind goes on. “God only knows how they got it down here from the mountains. I hear... well. I don't hear anythin' good.”

    There is a silence. A Charizard: two tons of fire torn from hell, given a pair of wings and told to fetch a few more sinners to burn. Normally, they wouldn't be found anywhere south of Argent Peaks, but evidently the foxes have managed to capture one.

    “God,” says someone quietly.

    “Yeah,” says Rosalind. “The army ain't happy, an' neither's Stone.” She takes a deep draught of beer. “You mark my words, they're going to join forces sometime soon. There ain't time to request more soldiers from Gateon.”

    “The militia and the army together?” John looks surprised. “Never thought I'd see the day.”

    You excuse yourself, and ask who the militia might be.

    “Hm?” says Rosalind. “Oh yeah, you lost your memory an' all. Stone's private army, that's who they are.”

    You remember now. Orrene territory is expanding eastward faster than government authority can match; the capital's control over the frontier isn't exactly strong. The official East Orre Army is stretched thin, and the sheriffs and constables aren't the most reliable. In order to protect its interests, the Stone company has had to take matters into its own hands.

    “How did this happen?” asks John. “Last I heard, the foxes were on the back foot...”

    “Maybe that's what they wanted us to think,” replies Rosalind. “I don't know. Not sure that anyone does.”

    There is another silence.

    “Well, anyway,” Rosalind goes on. “Scourston's all right, an' so's Rust. We ain't beat yet.”

    “That's the spirit,” agrees John. “We'll lick 'em soon enough.”

    The conversation turns to domestic matters – to the quality of the liquor, to the health of various Rust residents, to the stupidity of John's boys – and you drink slowly, listening to the chatter. None of it seems of much use to you; it's all Rosalind catching up with old friends and acquaintances.

    After a while, a man with iron-coloured hair turns to you.

    “So you lost your memory, huh?” he asks.

    You did indeed.

    “Quite a story.” He drinks. “What're you doing here?”

    It's just where you ended up; you aren't certain what to do next, but you think you might head to Scourston.

    “How're you getting there?”

    You don't know, you tell him. You haven't any money.

    “Ah. Well, that might prove somethin' of a problem.”

    That seems to be all either of you have to say to each other. It turns out you aren't much of a conversationalist.

    However, that's the least of your problems. You don't even have the coin to stay in Rust, let alone travel to Scourston, and the afternoon is wearing on. You're probably going to want to give that one some thought.

    Hello, Pink Harzard! I'm touched that my return means something to someone. I hope the story lives up to your expectations.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 30th December 2013 at 4:31 PM.

  14. #14
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    It seems that the most logical step to take would be to ask around and see if there's any jobs to be had. Tasks of some sort that can earn you a bit of money in order to get to Scourston, and/or buy yourself some gear at the store. Perhaps the bartender, John, has something for you to do, that, or Rosalind.

    It wouldn't hurt to ask.

    Knightfall signing off...

  15. #15
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    I welcome your return, Master of Wordcraft. It's been a while.

    Perhaps in your quest to find a job, you should attempt to get yourself to a place to spend the night. You'll need to rest sooner or later. Also, take an inventory of everything you carry; maybe you'll find something on your person you hadn't noticed before.

    ~Deadly


    plot, bounty hunters, crazed tax collectors
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  16. #16
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    Why, this is progressing nicely.

    Try and get a means of defense, even just a crowbar. That bird might attack you at some point.
    Speaking of that irking little bird, see if it's still there. If it is, borrow something that can magnify it. You could discern what it is and if these foxes use it.
    With the money you will earn, try to get a horse as a means of transportation.

    All for now!
    Formerly Grav.
    Quite inactive, but still available. If you have a fanfic that no one wants to review, PM/VM me and I'll give you a hand.

  17. #17
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    It seems that the most logical step to take would be to ask around and see if there's any jobs to be had. Tasks of some sort that can earn you a bit of money in order to get to Scourston, and/or buy yourself some gear at the store. Perhaps the bartender, John, has something for you to do; that, or Rosalind.

    Perhaps in your quest to find a job, you should attempt to get yourself to a place to spend the night. You'll need to rest sooner or later. Also, take an inventory of everything you carry; maybe you'll find something on your person you hadn't noticed before.


    (There is nothing on your person that you have not noticed before.)

    When an opportune moment arises, you ask Rosalind if she knows of anything you could do to earn passage to Scourston.

    “Well, I'm headin' back tomorrow,” she says. “I'll be takin' the rose oil from the gardens at Sanders' Bluff. You're welcome to come with me.”

    She doesn't stay in one place for very long, you observe.

    “I go where there's work,” she replies. “If I hang around, I get restless, an' so do my girls.”

    Her girls?

    “Bessie and Margot,” she clarifies. “My goats.”

    “Ros here's what they call an inveterate traveller,” says John. “Meaning she couldn't stand still if you nailed her boots to the floor.”

    “I bring supplies out to Rust and take rose oil back to Scourston,” she explains. “I don't take iron, on account of it bein' too heavy, an' the oil needs to be moved fast, so I usually take the crop.”

    What is this rose oil, you ask. Are there really roses growing out here in the middle of the desert?

    “Best-kept secret in the East,” chuckles John, clearly pleased with your surprise. “They don't grow anywhere else in the world but up near that oasis. We press 'em and collect what oozes out – that's your rose oil. They use it in medicines, perfumes, all kinds of things in the city. Worth a fortune, but there ain't enough good ground up there to grow any more'n a few bushes at a time.”

    So why does it need to be moved fast?

    “Because it's so valuable,” answers Rosalind. “We take it fast and guard it well.”

    John jerks his head at the insect-armoured woman in the corner and leans in close to you.

    “That's what she's here for,” he mutters. “Mercenary. Usually we send a couple of Rust boys with Ros, but we've had a bumper crop this season and we thought we needed some more, uh, professional protection.”

    He straightens up and taps his nose. For a moment, you struggle to work out the meaning of all this cloak-and-dagger nonsense – and then you realise that he, and probably half the town with him, is somewhat in awe of her. She's a brawny, intimidating woman with an air of mystery and danger; to small-town folk like these, she's equal parts terrifying and exciting.

    Moving on, you ask if it's really all right to come along without any money.

    “Ain't a problem,” Rosalind assures you. “Like I said, I like you. Besides, the wagon could always do with more protection.”

    You don't have a gun, you remind her.

    “That's all right,” she says. “I have two.” She lifts her jacket and you see another revolver there, stuck through a set of loops sewn to her shirt. “An' you know your way 'round a gun, right?”

    You think so, since you have bullets on you. But you don't know for sure.

    “We'll find out later,” she says. “For now – I don't know 'bout you, but it's getting' on for evenin' an' I'm starvin'. John? Is that a problem your boys can solve?”

    As it turns out, it is, and soon you and Rosalind are sitting at a table to one side with cold meats and bread before you. The townsfolk have dispersed and the mercenary has vanished to wherever it is she is staying; John has gone into the back room to shout at his boys some more.

    “I'm stayin' here for the night,” Rosalind is saying. “Sorry, but I ain't got the money to get you a room here. You can sleep in the wagon, though – there're blankets an' stuff in a box. You should find 'em easy enough.”

    You thank her again, but she waves it away.

    “I'm gettin' a free guard for the wagon,” she says. “No one's losin' out here.”

    The pair of you eat for a while in silence. In the windows, the bright slits between the blinds dim; you can hear the dirt crunching under feet outside, and the murmur of voices. Hooves thump and wheels creak. It sounds like the miners and the harvesters are coming home for the evening.

    “Do you know if there's anyone lookin' for you?” asks Rosalind suddenly.

    You shrug. There might well be, but you wouldn't know.

    “I guess you wouldn't.” She hesitates. “An' that note 'bout Stone – that's all you got?”

    You nod.

    “Right, right.” She falls to eating again, and, after a moment's pause, so do you.

    After the meal, the pair of you head outside, into the twilit street. The air is still warm, but there is the faintest of cool breezes; it feels like heaven on your face, and you take your hat off to let it play through your hair.

    There's no one out – the children have all been called home and the workers are at their evening meal – and the two of you are quite alone beneath the scintillating gaze of the evening star.

    “Well,” says Rosalind. “It's gettin' late. Be dark soon, an' I've been drivin' all day. Come to that, you ain't exactly had it easy yourself.”

    No, you agree. You haven't.

    “I'll be with you a little after dawn,” she says. “I'd get some sleep if'n I was you. It's a two-day drive to Scourston, an' none of it's exactly easy.”

    Yeah. You're pretty tired yourself.

    “Goodnight, then,” says Rosalind.

    Goodnight, you say, and head back to the wagon.


    Speaking of that irking little bird, see if it's still there. If it is, borrow something that can magnify it. You could discern what it is and if these foxes use it.

    It's getting quite dark, so you may have missed it – but you think you'd notice it, even in the twilight. As far as you can tell, the bird has gone.


    Try and get a means of defense, even just a crowbar. That bird might attack you at some point.

    Passing by the stables, you see a pitchfork propped up against the wall, still with a fw bits of hay clinging to the prongs. Just in case, you pick it up and lean it against the end of the wagon instead; in case of what, you aren't entirely sure. Nocturnal assault, you suppose, though the likelihood of that is pretty slim.

    There's quite a lot of space in the wagon now that it's been emptied out, and as Rosalind said, you find the chest with the blankets in pretty easily. They're a particularly dull red colour, and they smell quite strongly of goat, but they seem comfortable enough. You spread them out on the floor, take off your boots, hat and coat, and lie down.

    It's been... an interesting day, you reflect. You can say that about any day that nearly kills you, but today stands out even among those. You started a journey to figure out who the hell you are, and that's not the sort of thing that happens every day. Some things went badly; others, well. There may or may not be a coterie of foxes with an interest in stealing memories hanging around the desert, but on the other hand, your life is vaguely on track and you seem to have an ally in Rosalind. Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? You aren't sure. You've been unsure about so many things recently.

    The night is warm and you are drowsy. This kind of meandering thought is the sort that winds down gradually, and little by little, almost without noticing, you lapse into sleep.

    *

    You aren't sure why you wake, but you do, and you know that something is wrong.

    The inside of the wagon is pitch-black. You can see absolutely nothing except a sliver of moonlight where the canvas flap is slightly ajar. There is no reason at all that you might think there is anything here to be afraid of.

    And yet you pull your boots on, and crawl down to the entrance, and stick your fingers out through the gap in the canvas to take hold of the worn wooden handle of the pitchfork.

    You listen, but hear nothing but the creak and groan of the twisturne barricade as its woody-boned limbs shift in the desert wind. As far as you can work out, there is nothing at all here.

    But still, the nagging voice in the back of your head will not be silenced.

    Hi, guys! Me again. I think you hold my abilities in too high estimation, Deadly, but hey, I'll take a compliment where I find one. I'm glad to be back, and I hope I continue to entertain.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 1st January 2014 at 10:30 PM.

  18. #18
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    No one can hold your abilities in too high estimation.

    Do the obvious thing and go look around. You might want to try and get yourself a makeshift ghillie suit for camouflage by rolling in the hay until it sticks to your clothes first, but I have a feeling that's somewhat improbable to do. Oh yeah, and grab your pitchfork too.

    ~Deadly


    plot, bounty hunters, crazed tax collectors
    a journeyfic by the most improved writer of 2012, second place
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  19. #19
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    Yeah. I can't think of anything more than what Deadly said. Go out and have a survey of the surrounding area to satiate your nagging thoughts. With pitchfork in hand, naturally.

    By chance you do find anything out of the norm and that possibly wants to kill you, well... You've got a pitchfork, try your luck with that and hope for the best.

    Knightfall signing off...

  20. #20
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    You might want to try and get yourself a makeshift ghillie suit for camouflage by rolling in the hay until it sticks to your clothes first, but I have a feeling that's somewhat improbable to do. Oh yeah, and grab your pitchfork too.

    You push aside the canvas and drop softly down to the dust. Out here, the air is warm and dark; in the shadows, you can hardly see an inch in front of your face. If there is anything here, your dark clothes will be camouflage enough.


    Go out and have a survey of the surrounding area to satiate your nagging thoughts. With pitchfork in hand, naturally.

    If by chance you do find anything out of the norm and that possibly wants to kill you, well... You've got a pitchfork, try your luck with that and hope for the best.


    You aren't sure how to use the pitchfork. It feels natural to swing it – you have a feeling you know your way around a sword, as is useful out here – but you think it might be better to hold it like a spear in both hands and stab with it. In the end, that's what you settle for, but every so often your arms rise back up as if holding a sword, and you have to concentrate to keep them down.

    For a long moment, you stand there, facing towards the moonlit street. A little wind picks up and abruptly dies again; the twisturne creaks. Your eyes begin to adjust, and you begin to make out details in the dark as well as the light: the handcart outside the house across the street, the steps leading up to the stable door. The veranda of the saloon to your left. The cat sitting in the yard to your right.

    Something is wrong here, but you can't quite place it.

    You creep forwards a little, through the stable yard towards the street. The shadows are thick here; you can hardly see your own feet. Your boots crunch ever so slightly on the dirt, and the cat straightens up, startled.

    You whisper to it reassuringly – you don't want it to give away your position to anyone watching – but it keeps straightening, and straightening, and now you see that it is not the cat straightening up but something much bigger just behind it―

    And all at once, it is gone, leaving nothing behind but a half-eaten cat.

    Immediately, you press your back to the wall, in case the thing is circling the stable, but seconds pass and nothing happens; the barricade groans, the wind sighs. The town is infuriatingly silent.

    You stay there for a long time, heart pounding, eyes darting frantically over the street, and you are almost ready to decide the thing has fled entirely when you notice that the stable door is ajar, and some kind of rope seems to be trailing out of it.

    Faint alarm bells begin to ring in the back of your head. Have you seen something like this before? You are almost certain you have. But where? And what does it mean?

    The rope snakes down the steps and tapers to a ragged knot nearby. You prod it inquisitively with the tines of the pitchfork and see it shift; it isn't secured to anything, then.

    You turn your attention to the door, hold the pitchfork ready to thrust, and as quietly as you can inch it open.

    Moonlight floods the inside, and you tense immediately – but if you were expecting an assault, you were mistaken. To your right, the passage leading behind the stalls is dark and calm. The horse in the first snuffles quietly. Beyond it, you hear the low snore of a sleeping Gogoat.

    You glance down, and see that the rope leads away into the shadows of the passage. You also notice that its surface is strange – perhaps smoother than you would expect from rope, perhaps darker – but then you see it twitch, and your attention instantly switches back to the darkness to your right.

    In the distance, the twisturne creaks. It sounds like an old man in pain.

    You take a few careful steps down the corridor, laying each foot down as quietly as you can. Whatever this thing is, it must know someone is here – but you don't want it to know how near you are, if you can help it. A creature that can strip a cat's hindquarters to the bone as fast as it did is something you'd prefer to take by surprise.

    Be bold, be bold, but not too bold.

    The words are unfamiliar, and you don't know where they come from, but you agree with the advice. You'll find this thing, but you'll do so with care. You'd rather come out of this with all your limbs than otherwise.

    Past the horse. Past Bessie, or maybe Margot. They should be safe, you hope; there is a wall between the invader and them – their stalls open out onto the yard. You aren't sure where this passage leads – the layout of this place is unusual and confusing – but you think there may be stairs to the cellar at the end of it.

    Of all the places to find a monster, you think, the cellar would be one of your last choices.

    Be bold, be bold...

    Past the other goat, by the sound and the smell. Now another scent is competing with hay and animal in your nose – a strange, sickly odour that you have a feeling you have encountered before.

    ...but not too bold.

    Rotting cactus fruit, you realise, and the creature leaps.

    You see a patch of the darkness writhe into life, feel the rope jerk away from your foot, and stab wildly with the pitchfork – but you miss, and overbalance, falling heavily onto something that sends a thousand tiny spears of agony through your arm. It hisses like a snake and pulls away with frightening strength, tearing the cloth of your shirt away and a strip of skin with it; a cluster of tiny feet patter down along the corridor as you force yourself up onto your feet, levelling the pitchfork for another thrust―

    Another miss, but the left tine pins the rope to the floor and halfway down the passage something falls over with a heavy thump and a whisper of dismay. You grab the rope in one hand and the pitchfork in the other, and yanking both free from the ground you haul the mystery creature towards you. It is surprisingly light, and despite its struggle to get away you can move it easily.

    Once it is within reach you release it, and for a moment it lies still, surprised―

    ―at which point you thrust the pitchfork straight into its centre, pinning it to the floor.

    It rustles furiously, and you can feel the wind of its soft limbs as they windmill in the air, trying to pop it free – but the little monster isn't going anywhere. You lean heavily on the pitchfork for a moment, pushing the tines deeper into the floorboards, and step back with a sigh.

    Rotten cactus fruit, you say to yourself. You don't need the light to know what you've caught, not now, but you open a window anyway and let the moonlight show you: a cactus the size of a child, tumour-bloated and decaying, with one arm too many and cancerous bunches of writhing legs. Two bleary, sap-jaundiced eyes stare blindly out from its chest, and the jagged mouth beneath is matted with fur and blood.

    It must be part of the twisturne, you think – or its offspring. You aren't sure how it works; you know the barricades are grown from Cacnea seeds and treated to keep them in the early growth stage instead of uprooting themselves, but that is all. Whatever it is, the twisturne is in dire need of a gardener.

    The mutant Cacnea itself smells like something long dead. The pitchfork hasn't killed it – no one ever killed a plant by stabbing it; you'll need a blade to cut it up before it stops moving – but it has released streams of foul-smelling liquid from within it. It's a wonder it survived long enough to break its umbilical runner and leave the twisturne's body at all.

    To your left, in the stalls, the horse and the goats snuffle uneasily; they seem to have been woken by the noise and the smell. You hope they don't bolt – Bessie and Margot look like they could easily smash their way through their doors if they wanted to, and that would be a mess beyond your fixing.

    You wonder what to do now. You have no sword with which to put the poor plant out of its misery, but equally you can't just leave it there; in the end, the decision is taken away from you: its struggles grow weaker and weaker, and after a minute or so the little cactus just lies there, bleeding out something that smells like bad tequila.

    A nudge with your toe elicits no reaction. Dead, then; perhaps it was too weak to survive even the minor injuries you inflicted on it. It certainly doesn't look healthy. Either way, the trouble is over now – unless, of course, there are any others around.

    You are bleeding.

  21. #21
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    First off, wait a moment in order to assure that the plant is truly dead and to try and calm down the Pokemon in the stalls. (If there's any feed or treats for them then you might want to use that)
    Also, it might do you some good to investigate the plant juice, or perhaps later, have someone investigate it who might be able to tell you a bit more about the plant. Who knows? The juice might be valuable.

    Secondly, after you do those things, you should go check the wagon and see if there's any bandages or spare clean cloth and water you can use to clean off and wrap your wound.

    Thirdly, once you are done and not bleeding anymore, you should probably get some more sleep if you can. If sleep proves to be unobtainable, then you should probably try and find someone to tell them about this incident with the twisturne and its need for a gardener. Perhaps John or Rosalind?

    Knightfall signing off...

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    First off, wait a moment in order to assure that the plant is truly dead and to try and calm down the Pokemon in the stalls. (If there's any feed or treats for them then you might want to use that).

    You pull out the pitchfork and turn the Cacnea over with one foot. It's definitely dead.

    In the stalls, the Gogoat and the horse appear to have calmed down – at least, they've stopped making noises. You suppose they must have realised that the threat has been eliminated; they must have seen Cacturne or Cacnea on their past journeys, and know the sounds and smells that go with their riders killing them.


    Also, it might do you some good to investigate the plant juice, or perhaps later, have someone investigate it who might be able to tell you a bit more about the plant. Who knows? The juice might be valuable.

    The short answer is that it isn't. The long answer is that it's Cacnea sap – thin, watery stuff that, in this case, seems to have begun fermenting. The poor plant was rotting from the inside out; it was as good as dead even before you stuck a pitchfork through its stem.


    Secondly, after you do those things, you should go check the wagon and see if there's any bandages or spare clean cloth and water you can use to clean off and wrap your wound.

    Shutting the window and leaving the Cacnea for the morning, you return to the wagon to look for a light. There's a dark lantern near the chest where you found the blankets, and a box of lucifers that ignite with a burst of white sparks and a thick stink; with the light situation sorted, you examine the wound on your arm. It's not as bad as it looks – the Cacnea's spines were poorly formed and many bent or snapped rather than entering your arm. If it hadn't struggled so violently, there wouldn't be so much skin missing.

    You've had worse, you think, although of course you don't actually remember having it. You pluck a few truculent thorns from the wound, rinse it with half your canteen water, and use the ruined sleeve of your shirt to bandage it. It ought to be all right, but you'll check again in the morning to make sure.


    Thirdly, once you are done and not bleeding anymore, you should probably get some more sleep if you can. If sleep proves to be unobtainable, then you should probably try and find someone to tell them about this incident with the twisturne and its need for a gardener. Perhaps John or Rosalind?

    Your heart has calmed down and your nerves are no longer tingling; once you put out the lantern, it's relatively easy to get back to sleep – especially with the pitchfork kept within reach. A little extra security works wonders for one's peace of mind.

    You think you dream of being under the earth again, but you aren't sure. There are other things mixed in with the shadowy figure – thorns and the squelch of putrefying vegetable-flesh, circling vultures and the long narrow faces of foxes. When at last you wake, you aren't sure that you feel all that rested: between the scuffle in the stable and the dreams, you feel like you've spent half the night in action.

    But dawn comes and you brush it off; Rosalind will be here soon, and you need to get ready to go. You check your arm – looks fine – and wander over to the saloon, where, following the smell of food to a small and somewhat dingy kitchen, you find John making breakfast.

    “Morning,” he says. “You're early. Ros ain't even up yet.”

    You tell him that it isn't about that – you killed a Cacnea that grew out of the twisturne last night and you thought someone ought to know.

    John blanches. He almost drops his pan, but sets it down on the stove just in time.

    “Jesus,” he says. “You don't mess around, do you?”

    You suppose not.

    “Where is it?” he asks.

    It's in the back of the stables, pinned to the floor with a pitchfork. Which might need a wash before it's used for hay again, you add helpfully.

    John shakes his head.

    “Now who the hell are you?” he wonders. “You wake up in the middle of the desert, memory gone, in search of some old gun, and your first night in town you kill some twistspawn – what kind of person does that?”

    You, you suggest.

    “Yeah, I guess so.” He sighs. “Well, uh, when she's up I'll tell Ros to see if there's a gardener in Scourston looking for work. Looks like we'll be needing it.” He gestures out to the bar. “Go on, take a seat out there. I figure you've earned yourself a free breakfast.”

    It looks like monster-slaying has its perks. You return to the cool of the taproom – the heat of the rising sun has yet to find its way in here – and sit yourself down at a table near the bar. A moment later, Rosalind turns up, scratching her neck and yawning.

    “Mornin', nameless,” she says, sitting down opposite you. “John up?”

    You nod towards the kitchen.

    “Right. Sleep well?”

    You stabbed a mutant cactus-monster in the chest with a pitchfork.

    “Right, right― hey, what?

    You explain what happened earlier, and she blinks at you speechlessly.

    “I – I – you know that people would normally be a little more bothered 'bout somethin' like that, don't you?”

    You shrug, and suggest that perhaps you're used to it.

    “Maybe.” She frowns. “What kind of life were you leadin' before the desert, I wonder?”

    You think John was wondering the same thing. It's curious how fascinated everyone else is by your past; you want to know too, of course, but they're the ones who keep talking about it.

    John comes with the food, and Rosalind asks him if he knows about the Cacnea thing.

    “Yeah,” he says. “Tell you what, Ros, you take this 'un with you and you could go through the Pads without even worrying.”

    She grins.

    “We'll see, John, we'll see.”

    The two of you eat, and John sends his boys out to oversee the loading of the rose oil into the wagon while you do so. Once you're done, you head out to join them, and see several men and women wheeling handcarts loaded with small kegs towards the wagon, where John's boys haul the cargo aboard. There's certainly a lot more than you came with; these are small barrels, but they're impressively numerous.

    “Told you we had a bumper crop,” says John.

    “I can see,” replies Rosalind. “It's more'n I thought it would be.”

    “Can you take it all?” he asks, suddenly concerned.

    “Oh, of course,” she says. “My girls'll take it, no problem.”

    “Miss Cogburn!” calls someone – the man with iron-coloured hair from yesterday, hurrying across the crossroads. “Good morning, Miss Cogburn,” he says, coming closer. “You're settin' off now, I take it?”

    “Soon as that oil's loaded,” says Rosalind, glancing at the commotion near the stable. It seems to be dying down; the last cart is being emptied. “What is it?”

    “Your payment,” he says, holding out a purse. “Wouldn't want you leavin' without it now, would we?”

    “No we wouldn't,” agrees Rosalind, taking it. “Thank you. An' actually, I'm glad I ran into you. My friend here killed a Cacnea last night in back of the stables – grown out of the twisturne.”

    He looks shocked, but only for a moment. After that, he just looks resigned.

    “I thought it might happen soon,” he sighs. “That thing's rotten to the core.”

    “It ain't irredeemable,” argues Rosalind. “I seen worse. But I was thinkin' I could ask in Scourston if there's a twistgardener lookin' for work – only, if there ain't no money here for 'em, no one's going to come all the way out here. So I was wonderin'―”

    “If I could allocate any town funds.” The man nods. “Well, I don't rightly know how we'll afford it, but I guess we don't have a choice.” He turns to you. “I got to thank you, stranger,” he says. “That's my brother's horse in the stables – he's the ostler. Looks like you saved her.”

    You insist that it was nothing; anyone would have done what you did.

    “I appreciate it all the same,” he says. “You did a good thing.” He looks over in the direction of the stables. The handcarts are being pushed away now, and John's boys are securing the kegs in place with cables. “Anyway,” he says. “I better go and tell him that there's a corpse in his stable. He'll take it best from me, I think.” He tips his hat to Rosalind, and to you. “Miss Cogburn. Mister – er, Miss – er, well. Ahem. Have a safe journey.”

    He walks off towards the stable, and you ask Rosalind who he is.

    “The mayor,” she tells you. “And the owner of the store.” She clears her throat. “Anyway. Looks like we're about done here.”

    The three of you cross to the wagon, and you and Rosalind each take charge of a goat, getting them into harness. The night's disturbance doesn't seem to have done them any harm; they toss their heads and bleat eagerly, ready to be off again. Or perhaps, you think, they simply want to leave Rust and its degenerate twisturne behind.

    The insect-armoured mercenary appears as if from nowhere, leading a horse that looks as though it would quite happily kick you and everyone else in the vicinity to death if its rider didn't hold it back, and introduces herself.

    “Lily of Padtown,” she says, which is the last thing you expected from a six-foot shaven-headed warrior with more knives in her belt than a fox assassin. “I'm riding with you. Did John say?”

    You expected a voice rougher than Rosalind's, if that were possible, but she speaks with the accent of someone with rather more education than mercenaries normally have. There is money in her voice, and breeding. Neither of them matches the spiked, brutish rifle on her back.

    “Yeah,” says Rosalind. “He did. I'm Rosalind, an' this is – well.”

    You explain that as far as you know you don't have a name – which information she receives with apparent interest.

    “You'll have to tell me about that sometime,” says Lily. “For now, we should get on before the sun rises too far.”

    “I hear that,” agrees Rosalind. “Well, then.”

    You stand by the wagon as she says her goodbyes, feeling out of place. You have only one of your own; once you've wished John well, there's no one else you feel able to talk to.

    At last, Rosalind climbs up onto the box and you leap up at the back, ready to keep a rearward watch. Alongside, Lily mounts her fearsome horse and twitches the reins: you are on the move at last.

    The children run alongside the wagon as Bessie and Margot trot along, hooves kicking up little puffs of dirt; they shout and wave, and further back, so do their elders. Rust is, you think, not such a bad little place, and you wave back just before the twisturne gates creak shut behind you. You know it is only a wall, but you can't rid yourself of the conviction that the monstrous plant is swallowing it up – consuming the town bricks and all. The thought makes you shiver in the heat, and you are glad to be distracted by Rosalind calling you. She has the reins in one hand and her spare gun in the other.

    “Here,” she says. “If you're going to be a guard, you at least got to have a gun.”

    You take the butt of the pistol in your hand. It feels familiar and unfamiliar at once; you know immediately how to use it, but you can't help but feel that something is wrong with it. You frown at it for a moment, then switch it to your left hand and smile as something clicks. This is right, you know; you might have temporarily forgotten your handedness, but it's come back. Your hand remembers, even if you don't.

    “Something wrong?” asks Rosalind.

    No, you tell her. It's just fine.

    You move back to the rear of the wagon and sit down to watch Rust shrinking away. To your right, Lily rides on, eyes flickering across all points of the horizon. She does not notice the shape that rises from the top of the wagon – and neither do you until it is too high to see properly, circling once again, trailing you back across the desert.

    You narrow your eyes. You are finding it harder and harder to believe that that thing is a vulture.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 6th January 2014 at 9:35 PM.

  23. #23
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    (This is really good!)

    Once again see if you can pick out anything about the vulture that's unusual - appearance, cries, actions etc. Whether you can or not, ask someone if they know or have heard anything about the vultures here, particularly unusual ones (if you can work something out from analysing the vulture, refer to that).

    Who cares about cookies? Come to the Light Side, we have CUPCAKES!

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  24. #24
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    I agree with the previous poster in that you should try to observe the bird as much as you can. Try to notice anything new about it, especially since you are now not dying of thirst and are of generally sound mind.

    Secondly, talk to Rosalind of what the plan is from here on out, mainly after reaching Scourston. See if she might be able to help with contacting Joshua Stone (or perhaps not contacting, but rather ... something more stalkerish in nature if it proves to be so).

    Thirdly, see if you can strike up a conversation with Lily. Find out more about her if you can. She might be a powerful ally on your side if you get in a jam somewhere down the road (which is very likely at this point).

    Knightfall signing off...

  25. #25
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    Once again see if you can pick out anything about the vulture that's unusual - appearance, cries, actions etc. Whether you can or not, ask someone if they know or have heard anything about the vultures here, particularly unusual ones (if you can work something out from analysing the vulture, refer to that).

    Try to notice anything new about it, especially since you are now not dying of thirst and are of generally sound mind.


    The bird flies too high for you to see anything of it beyond a silhouette; the most unusual thing you can see about it is that it won't leave you alone. It does not cry out. It does not flap its wings, or at least it hardly ever does. It just hangs there, tracing wide loops on the sky, and follows.

    Also, you're no expert, but you're fairly certain birds normally need to eat and drink. This one doesn't seem to have stopped trailing you long enough to do so.

    You decide to see if Rosalind knows anything about it, but she simply shakes her head.

    “There ain't nothin' unusual about the birds round here as far as I know,” she says. “Where's this one?”

    You point, and she leans forwards, craning her neck back to see the bird soaring on above.

    “Maybe it's hopin' we'll drop somethin',” she suggests, but you disagree, telling her that it's been following you ever since you first woke up in the desert. “I can't explain that,” she says, frowning up at it. “I don't like the sound of it, though.” She settles back into her seat. “Whatever it is, it's out of gun range,” she goes on. “Which means there ain't nothin' we can do about it. Besides, it ain't done anythin' yet.”

    Nothing except watch, you think.

    You can't really talk to her now, but you make a mental note to mention the bird to Lily later.


    Secondly, talk to Rosalind of what the plan is from here on out, mainly after reaching Scourston. See if she might be able to help with contacting Joshua Stone (or perhaps not contacting, but rather ... something more stalkerish in nature if it proves to be so).

    You ask Rosalind what she's doing once you get to Scourston.

    “I got to deliver these to the man who'll sell 'em on,” she says, waving an arm at the barrels. “After that, I'll buy up a load of supplies an' cart 'em out to some nowhere town where the big trading caravans don't go. Galvan Bluff, probably. I've got a good feelin' about Galvan Bluff.” She pauses. “What about you?”

    That is actually what you wanted to talk about, you confess. Does she know how you might get access to Joshua Stone?

    She shakes her head.

    “That ain't goin' to be easy,” she tells you. “He don't exactly keep an open house.”

    You ask if she could show you where you could find him when you arrive.

    “I'll show you to his company headquarters,” she says, “but I don't know how you'd get in. An' as for his house – well, he's got better security than the governor, and I doubt he's one to let in uninvited guests.”

    It makes sense. Stone must have a great many enemies and a huge amount of wealth to protect. Unless you suddenly remember a distinguished career as a master burglar, then you're going to have to come up with a very impressive plan to get into either his house or his offices.

    “What are you going to say to him, anyway?” asks Rosalind. “'Hey mister, you an' I probably don't know each other but I think you have my gun'?” She sighs. “I don't know that botherin' Stone is such a good idea. He's not a man you want to annoy.”

    You think about that for a moment, and tell her that that's a chance you're just going to have to take.

    She rolls her eyes.

    “Well, don't say I didn't warn you.” She sounds irritated, and you tactfully retreat to your post at the rear end of the wagon.

    On the other side of the canvas, the bird falls back silently in line with you.


    Thirdly, see if you can strike up a conversation with Lily. Find out more about her if you can. She might be a powerful ally on your side if you get in a jam somewhere down the road (which is very likely at this point).

    A little after noon, Lily signals that she needs to stop for a few minutes: her horse needs to drink. You take advantage of the break to stretch your legs, and to ask her a few questions.

    To break the ice, you tell her that she has an impressive horse. There aren't many that can run through the desert all day like that.

    “He's bred for it,” she says, patting his side. It makes you flinch; anything that even vaguely resembles an act of violence towards a horse this ferocious makes you horribly worried that he'll turn and kick someone in the head. “Aren't you, Gryngolet?”

    Gryngolet twitches his ears. It seems to be all the response Lily needs.

    You ask if she's noticed the bird that's been following you. She hasn't, so you point it out; on seeing it, she glares at it for a while, then shrugs.

    “I don't know what that might be,” she says. “Maybe it likes you.”

    Maybe, you agree.

    When you ride out, you notice that Lily keeps looking back in the direction of the bird. She doesn't like it, that much is clear. You don't like it either, for that matter.

    The day is uneventful, but such is the way of travelling in the wasteland. You can see anyone approaching from miles off; if there's going to be trouble, it will come at night, when the desert animals are most active and human enemies can sneak up on you unseen.

    As dusk begins to fall, Rosalind brings Bessie and Margot to a halt. They haven't drunk anything since morning, and unlike Gryngolet they haven't needed to; their succulent leaves are still swollen with stored water. You help Rosalind remove their harness, and they wander a few steps away from the wagon before sitting down and planting a few thin roots for the night.

    Rosalind strikes a lucifer on the iron tyre of a wagon wheel and lights two lamps, hanging them from hooks on the side of the chassis. Now you realise why hers are dark lanterns: if you see anyone about, you want to be able to shut off the light before they see you.

    The three of you gather in the little circle of brightness, and eat salted meat and pickled false-cactus root as the air cools. Rosalind has relaxed, but Lily is more on edge than ever; protecting the wagon is her job, and the time of day when it is most in danger is fast approaching.

    “So,” she says, licking her fingers. “What's this about you not having a name?”

    You explain the events of the past couple of days to her. She does not often look at you – her eyes keep roving over the horizon – but you can tell she is interested.

    What about her, you ask. How does someone end up a mercenary?

    “I'm from Padtown,” she replies. “A lot of us end up as mercenaries.”

    Padtown: one of the few places in the East the foxes are entirely willing to cede to the Orrene colonists. It's right on the borders of the Cactus Pads, the great spawning ground of the wasteland's Cacturne; at any one moment in time, there are hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of the ambulatory vegetables planting or guarding their seeds there. You don't know why anyone thought it was a good place to build a town; Padtowners have a habit of dying young from predatory-cactus-related injuries.

    “My parents sent me to school in Scourston when I was young,” Lily goes on. “Hence the elocution.” For a moment her voice is a parody of itself, and then it fades. “But I was always better with a gun than a book.”

    Her skin gleams like burnished bronze in the glow of the lanterns. Like Rosalind, she's a true Orrene, descended from the people who lived there before those who now own the country came. Perhaps you are too. You aren't sure: whatever your natural skin colour, the scars and the desert sun have left it unrecognisable.

    Fair enough, you say. It's not for everyone.

    “Mm.” Lily takes her rifle from her back. “I'm on this watch,” she says. “Then you.” She points at you. “Then you.” Rosalind. “Then me again.”

    You tell her you can do more than one, if need be. You don't seem to be much of a sleeper.

    “It's fine. I'm getting paid for this. You're not.”

    “Well, if that's settled,” says Rosalind brightly, “then I'm tired as hell an' I'm headin' to bed.”

    You bid her goodnight and she replies in kind as she vanishes into the wagon.

    Lily looks at you.

    “Aren't you going?”

    You say that you aren't tired yet, and she gives you an odd look.

    “If I was a suspicious woman,” she says, “I'd think you were up to something. Is there something you want from me?”

    Actually, you really were not yet tired. But perhaps there is something more you could ask.

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