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Back Alive or Maybe Dead [Quest]

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  • ...stood up and walked over to Serge. He sounds dissatisfied.

    Are you in the market for some Martial Arts? Perhaps some custom Artifacts for your campaign?


    • I think it is time to talk with Serge. He seems a bit weirded out by the mystical prowess exhibtied by team Ash. Best head off any problems now.


      • Ash stood up and walked over to Serge. She took up a position beside the midpoint of his loop and watched him for a while. He didn't acknowledge her, until finally she spoke to him as he went by: "Somethin' on your mind?"

        He stopped, looked at her, and grimaced. "It's nothing. Forget it." Then he resumed pacing.

        Ash put her hands on her hips. "Doesn't look like 'nothin''. Come on now, what's eatin' you?"

        Once again Serge stopped. He let out a rough, exasperated groan. "Will you leave it alone? Can't a man be alone with his thoughts?"

        Ash stood her ground. "Not if he wants to keep workin' for me. Now, spill it."

        Serge closed his eyes and sighed. "Do you think there'll be more fighting ahead." He phrased the question like a statement.

        Ash shrugged. "More likely than not. Is this about what happened today?"

        Serge shook his head and continued pacing.

        "Nobody thinks less of you not scaling a cliff like that. Bein' honest, when I went up on King I thought I'd be fightin' alone. Ya'll would have some time to run ahead and regroup while I kept them distracted. The old man and the kid surprised me."

        Serge's frown only deepened. "You thought you could fight them all by yourself?"

        "Maybe. I didn't need to beat them, though. These bushwhackin' types ain't lookin' for a fair fight. That's why they come at us three to one and attack from high ground. Anything that evened up the odds would scatter 'em."

        Serge was not mollified by this. "That's not... Agh! Forget it."

        Ash decided the conversation needed a change of direction. She stepped into Serge's path, figuring he would stop pacing. "I've heard about tricks to 'make your skin as stone,' but I don't think I ever saw anyone actually become stone before."

        "It's my knack," Serge murmured, distracted. He walked around Ash, seemingly without thinking. "If I focus, I change shape. Stops swords, arrows. Fire, too. Hammers are trouble, but I've learned how to deal with those."

        "How's that?" Ash asked, genuinely curious and now resigned to the fact that she'd have to keep turning to follow him.

        "Step inside their swing and grab them. Nobody's ever ready for that - they expect you to dodge, or duck, or parry."

        "So instead, you take a weak hit and wrestle the enemy?"

        "Yeah." Serge stopped in place and puffed himself up. "Taking a hit isn't the smart way to fight for most people, but I'm different. I've got magic in my blood, and since I mastered it I've never lost a fight." He gave a grim smile. "I've pushed through more spear walls than I can count. In the legion, they called my squad 'The Linebreakers,' but it was always me on point - me breaking the lines. I survived I and won, every time."

        Ash recognized that confidence. She'd felt it herself, before - an easy feeling of invincibility, driven by the knowledge you had an edge your enemies didn't. Of course, she'd always known on some level that the feeling was wrong. Nearly getting killed had cemented that knowledge. She hoped Serge wouldn't have to learn the same way.

        "Well, don't worry." Ash stepped forward and patted him on the shoulder. "You'll have plenty of opportunities to show off, just you wait."

        The next day they exited the canyons and entered the Flats. The Flats were likely the least hospitable part of the wastes, as dry and barren as any place in Creation. There was almost no cover on most of it, and the heat mirages got so bad that you could barely see anything too far away.

        Before noon, Ash led the group to one of the rare places in the Flats that offered any cover. It was the dry bones of what had once been a warcamp or somebody's fort, in a forgotten time. Today, the only things left of it were tall, bronze poles stuck in the earth, spaced out at intervals like someone had meant to build a wall but never got past marking the line. These poles were lined with hooks that were just about right for hanging canvas, and with a little effort you could make a serviceable canopy to keep the sun off. Ash and company did just that, and once they did Ash finally told them why they'd come out here.

        "Out there a ways lives an old wise woman," she said, pointing into the hazy distance. "She's the last person I want for this group. She knows me, but she doesn't like strangers, so I'm goin' to have to go get her alone."

        The posse listened in silence, unspoken questions in their eyes.

        "I'm askin' y'all to wait here a day. If I don't come back, don't come lookin' for me. This place is easy to get lost in, and if you do you'll never get out."

        That drew a range of reactions from the group. Serge and Lans were disbelieving, while Seres and Bo immediately denied her wishes and insisted they'd go and look or come with her, respectively. Ash held up her hands for silence.

        "You've trusted me this far - I ask that you let me go just a little further. If I'm wrong, none of you has to suffer for it. Truth is I'm not too keen on this either, but I'm sure we'll need the wise woman's help, and I'm willin' stake my life on it. Alright?"

        There was some disagreement, but eventually it Ash's will and rhetoric won out. And so she left them in their camp to walk out into the Flats, alone, just as the sun was reaching its zenith. She didn't bring King, or any food or water, or even a hat. She soon vanished from the others' sight, lost somewhere in the haze.

        Ash wandered through the desert until she started to feel dizzy from the heat. Then she began to find the markers - white swirls of paint that seemed to glow green when approached form certain angles. They formed no particular pattern - the pictoral equivalent of random words, scattered hapahzardly, with no concern for making meaning. But they still had a meaning, just the same. To Ash's eyes, they formed a trail that led her on deeper into the desert. The markers became more densely packed together, until finally she found it - a great, red, round rock formation that could only be approached from one direction.

        She found the one path, concealed by ancient rubble, that led up to the top - the perch of the Desert Mystic.

        The old woman was called Gaze-of-the-sun. Her small, thin body was covered with a loose red robe that formed a full tent around her when she was seated. As always, she was sitting crosslegged under the burning heat of the sun. The bizarre markings completely covered the area around where she sat, having been painted over each other again and again.

        "{So you return, prodigal pupil. But you will never learn the truth I know.}" She spoke in the language of spirits, always in a monotone. She did not move from where she sat or turn her head, but her voice rang clearly in the still, hot air.

        Ash shuffled forward and bowed her head. "{I have not come to study, revered teacher. I come to ask your help.}"

        Gaze remained still. "{Then ask. But know the wind blows as it will, and not as we will it.}"

        "{I need your help to overcome a powerful enemy.}"

        "{This enemy withstands heart of dragons, and the passion of fire?}"

        "{He is steeped in death, and all your gifts to me were not enough for me to defeat him alone.}"

        "{Then his strength will help him to survive, until it no longer does. Such is the way of things. Give thanks your weakness did not end you.}"

        Ash inwardly cursed and tried to think of something, anything that might change Gaze's mind. The old woman was stubborn, and her might-makes-right view of the world was unbendable.
        • "{I believe my enemy has a patron - a being most ancient and foul, who may yet threaten us all,}" said Ash. She was sure Gaze wouldn't sit idly by if her own life was in danger.
        • "{There is no weakness that cannot be overcome with preparation,}" she said, resolutely. "{That was one of your lessons. Now, I only ask that you help me to prepare.}"
        • "{Help me with this, and I will do whatever you ask,}" said Ash, regretting the words as soon as she spoke them.
        • Something else?
        Last edited by semicasual; 06-26-2017, 01:07 PM.

        On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

        Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz


        • "{There is no weakness that cannot be overcome with preparation,}"

          "You are not prepared!"

          I write things.


          • I believe my enemy has a patron - a being most ancient and foul, who may yet threaten us all

            I tried 3 different (much cooler) images for this post, but this is the only one that worked. Sad.

            I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
            I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero


            • "{I believe my enemy has a patron - a being most ancient and foul, who may yet threaten us all.}"

              Share your wonders in The Artifact and Evocation Workshop


              • This gets my vote. Also I like the WoW reference.......

                Originally posted by wonderandawe View Post
                "{There is no weakness that cannot be overcome with preparation,}"

                "You are not prepared!"


                • "{I believe my enemy has a patron - a being most ancient and foul, who may yet threaten us all,}" said Ash. She was sure Gaze wouldn't sit idly by if her own life was in danger.

                  Gaze was silent for a time. Then: "{Tell me what you have seen,child.}"

                  "{When I lay close to death, I had a vision. I saw a man with no eyes in his head. He told me to leave my enemy to his work.}"

                  The old woman hummed and grumbled. "{What else did he say?}"

                  "{He... praised me and mocked me. He expressed a wish that I might join him, but said it was impossible. I could not speak to answer.}"

                  Gaze took a very long pause. Ash wondered if she would say anything at all. Finally, the mystic said "{If you speak the truth, then you have seen the face of the Promising God.}" Again, there was a very long pause. Then: "{The Promising God is the greatest enemy of our people. His will has ever been that we destroy ourselves, and in accepting his pacts we have found only ruin.}" Gaze stood up, turned around, and sat down again facing Ash. Her robes flowed around her as she moved. "{He once spoke in the dreams of my flock, telling them of their desires. I counciled them to remember the past and pay no heed, but sweet lies always triumph over bitter truths. }" The mystic was silent for another while. Then she nodded. "{If you speak the truth, then I have no choice but to walk with you, or drown beneath the sand.}" She steepled her fingers and rested her chin on them. "{Tell me more of your enemy.}"

                  Ash sat down on the hot rock across from Gaze. She shared her story, leaving out nothing - there was no point in hiding her other persona from Gaze, and it was important that the mystic understood what she was up against. When Ash was finished, Gaze sat quietly for a while and ruminated.

                  "{Survival demands that your struggle is my struggle,}" the mysic eventually declared.

                  Ash kept her face blank, not quite certain she could celebrate victory yet. "{You will help me?}"

                  "{I will,}" said Gaze-of-the-Sun. Ash let out a sigh of relief as the old woman continued. "{...but know that I will not be your slave. I may follow, but you do not lead.}"

                  Ash, who had expected something like this, only nodded in assent.

                  Gaze went on. "{The sun has shown me your traveling band. Return to them, and I will join you in time.}" Her form shimmered, then disappeared as a flock of ravens burst out of the space she had occupied. The birds' caucophonous squawking echoed over the flats as they scattered, flying off in all directions.

                  Ash shielded herself against their beating wings. Then, once they had gone, she unsteadily got up and began the long, difficult trek back to camp.


                  The heat of late afternoon did not help Ash's constitution. She stumbled back into camp, too dizzy to answer questions from her companions. Bo got her some water and bade the others to let her rest for a while.

                  Everyone, including all the animals, huddled inside the shady patch they had made for themselves. When Ash came to, she found herself surrounded by sweating, irritable people who were concerned for her welfare first and pushing for an explanation shortly after.

                  Yes, Ash said, she had found who she was looking for. Yes, the wise woman had agreed to come along. No, Gaze-of-the-Sun (that was her name, which caused some consternation for Lans) did not come back with Ash, but she would be coming soon. Yes, it really was necessary to go out into the flats unprepared. Yes, Ash would be fine in an hour or so.

                  At some point during this train of questions and answers, a swarm of black birds flew into the camp. They came from all directions and dove or glided into a single point just outside of the canopy. They collided, there was an explosion of feathers, and suddenly a small, shriveled matriarch in a concealing red robe appeared in their midst.

                  "That's her," said Ash, sitting on the ground in a circle with the rest of the group. She pointed at the mystic and smiled. "That's Gaze, and with her on our side I think we'll be just fine."

                  Gaze bowed her head. "{I come as promised.}" She straightened up and gave each of Ash's companions a thorough looking-over.

                  They all looked her over too. Serge spoke up first, visibly and audibly distrustful. "She's dunefolk. And a sorceress! Why's she helping us? And what the hell is she saying?"

                  Lans was more calm, but Ash notice his hand resting on his sword. "She said 'I have come as agreed'," he began, addressing Serge. But then he turned his attention to Ash. "But I share Tepet Serge's concerns. How do you know this woman?"

                  "It's a long story," said Ash. "One that might be better heard from the horse's mouth."

                  Bo sat quietly, looking between Ash and the mystic. She seemed hesitant, unsure what to make of the newcomer.

                  Seres, for her part, got up and walked over to Gaze. The youngblood practically towered over the old woman. They sized each other up, and neither seemed impressed. "This is who we came out here to find?" Seres asked, somewhat skeptical.

                  Gaze shook her head. "{Child, tell the nestling not to challenge the experienced.}"

                  "{Gaze-of-the-Sun, if I may know, what bond do you share with Ash, who styles herself 'Swifthand'?}" interjected Lans, cutting off a potential argument. His accent was much different than Ash's or Gaze's, flavored more by the high speech of the Isle than by Flametongue.

                  The old woman shrugged. "{She was once my student. I was once her teacher. But I could not teach, and she would not learn.}" She stopped, and did not elaborate further.

                  Lans gave Ash a quizzical look. Ash grimaced. "Alright then, I'll explain," she conceded. "But first, I'd like us to get moving. I don't want to spend any longer out here than I have to, and we should decide where to go next."

                  "Mistress Ash," Bo cut in. "You said before we needed only four warriors for the hunt. We now have four warriors. What comes next in your plan?"

                  Ash considered the question, and said...
                  • ..."I'm going to need a weapon. Ya'll might want to arm up, too."
                  • ..."We've got to find something that will lure Stitch-Eyes out."
                  • ..."We'll need dust. A lot of dust."
                  • Something else?

                  OOC Commentary
                  Real world mystics find transcendent experiences in extremes, whether that means taking enough drugs to truly blow your mind, eschewing sleep until you start to see things, or working yourself to the brink of death. So, I figure, why not learn sorcery by perpetually courting heatstroke?

                  Also, fun fact - a group of ravens is called an "unkindness." I thought about using that plural here, but figured it would be unnecessarily confusing. It's fitting for Gaze, though.

                  On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

                  Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz


                  • ..."I'm going to need a weapon. Ya'll might want to arm up, too."

                    It's time for us to prepare for war. With allies, we can consider options that were previously unavailable.

                    Share your wonders in The Artifact and Evocation Workshop


                    • "I think we have the numbers and skills to defeat our enemy but I'm going to need a weapon. Ya'll might want to arm up, too."


                      • We need fire dust. A lot of fire dust....


                        I write things.


                        • We need guns. Lots of guns.

                          I post Artifacts in this thread. How I make them is in this thread.
                          I have made many tools and other things for 3rd Edition. I now host all of my creations on my Google site: The Vault of the Unsung Hero


                          • Dust! 10 characters!


                            • "I'm gonna need a weapon. Ya'll might want to arm up, too." Ash stood up and stretched out her back. She glanced towards King, and the matchlock slung at his side "That matchlock is better than nothin', but not much better. I'll want somethin' else. Somethin' special..." She trailed off.

                              There was a brief pause. Then Seres sighed. "Ash, you're doin' it again."

                              Ash looked back her, surprised. "Doin' what?"

                              "Talkin' about what you want to do without really sayin' anythin'. Like, where're we goin'? And what kind of 'special' thing do you want?" She crossed her arms. "Travelin' with you has been great, but I'm gettin' mighty sick of not knowin' what we're doin'."

                              Serge grunted. "She's right, you do that a lot. It's, uh, entertaining, but we've come a long way already and I'd like to know how far we've still got to go."

                              Ash looked at Bo, then at Lans. Bo looked away, and Lans shrugged. Gaze-of-the-Sun had no visible reaction.

                              Ash rubbed her forehead. "Alright, fair enough. I'm thinkin' we'll try Santa Mela. Remember that auction? The one for the Silikes estate?" She nodded at Seres. "If we pace ourselves, we should be able to make the date. And there's a chance we can find some relic flamepieces there. I heard a rumor..."

                              "Pardon me, did you say 'Silikes?'" Lans interjected. "Marshal Dolh, Silikes?"

                              "That's right, although, it's his son's estate at auction."

                              "Ah, yes..." Lans got a sorrowful look on his face, but quickly recomposed himself. "...It's no rumor. Dolh was very proud of a pair of ancient flamepieces he owned and carried with him every day of his life. He was something of a wandsmith himself. As I recall, he spent decades tinkering with the set, making tiny improvements. I once asked him if he could make more like them, but he insisted they were one of a kind, made using a process he could never repeat."

                              "That sounds just right." Ash nodded in satisfaction.

                              "So you get new pieces. What about the rest of us?" asked Serge, sourly.

                              Lans answered before Ash could. "Dolh kept a collection of trophies from his years of marshalling. I'd be amazed if there was nothing you would find of use."

                              The soldier seemed mollified by that. "Santa Mela..." He mused. "Where's that?"

                              "{I see determination on your faces. Where are we bound?"} Gaze butted in.

                              "West, by the Pan river. A week or so from here," Ash answered Serge first, then repeated herself to Gaze in her language.

                              "Well, if it gets us out of the Wastes, I'm all for it," said Seres.

                              "I suppose that settles it, then." Ash looked out over the burning sand. "...let's wait until dusk, then head for the canyons. We'll leave the same way we came."

                              They all rested in the shadow of the cliffs that evening. Ash took the first watch. While the rest of the group slept, she played cards with herself by the light of a bright moon. Normally, this was a relaxing activity - even dull - but tonight Ash was feeling some consternation with how things were going. Over and over again, she'd draw five cards. And over agian over again, four of them would be two black aces and two black eights. It didn't seem to matter how she shuffled the deck. Even one time when she deliberately set those cards aside, she drew them anyway. It felt like a bad omen.

                              She had laid the black hand out in front of her and was contemplating their mystery when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up and saw Gaze-of-the-Sun standing above her. "{It is your time to rest, child.}"

                              Ash shrugged her off. "{I am not tired.}" She resumed staring at the cards.

                              Gaze looked at them too. "{What signs are these?}"

                              Ash shook her head. "{I do not know. It may be no sign at all - only ill fortune.}"

                              "{If marked paper can show ill fortune, then they must be a sign. How do you know these?}" Gaze waved her hand over the cards.

                              Ash grimaced. "{I saw these marks before I lost a battle I was certain I would win.}"

                              Gaze meditated on that for a while. "{...Child, I have brought the dream-powder. Perhaps you should take some.}"

                              Ash turned to look at Gaze with disgust and dismay. "{That dust sickens me. No.}"

                              "{Your spirit may find the truth your mind will not see.}" Gaze pulled a tiny cloth bundle out of her robes and held it out to Ash.

                              Ash looked at the bundle for a while, then growled and took it. "{If I learn nothing by this, I will see you suffer.}"

                              Gaze did not respond.

                              A short while later, Ash lay on her bedroll and unwrapped the bundle. A whitish-yellow, faintly acrid-smelling powder was contained inside. Ash wrinkled her nose, held the bundle up to her face, and inhaled deeply through her nostrils. She fell unconscious almost immediately.

                              "My, my. I wasn't expecting company," said a smooth, drawling voice.

                              She found herself in a dark room. She felt something like wooden floor beneath her feet, sanded smooth. Before her was a small round table with four chairs placed opposite each other around it. One of those chairs was occupied by a familiar figure - a well-dressed man in black and white, with no eyes, chewing on a cigar. A low-slung chandelier above the table dimly illuminated the space.

                              "I did think we'd meet again, mind, but later on. When you were ready. But then, I suppose I should have expected this. You're a precocious sort."

                              She examined the scene more closely as her eyes adjusted. She could not make out the walls of the room - to all appearances, it was as if the table and chairs rested on a platform suspended in endless blackness. The gentleman at the table was playing with a deck of cards, much like she had been a short time ago.

                              "Oh, but don't get the wrong idea. You're always welcome to visit. Pull up a chair, and let's play a few hands." The gentleman waved a hand. The chair across from his scooted away from the table and turned to the side, inviting her to sit.
                              • Ash sat down at the table with the Devil. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced," she said, cordially. "I'm 'Swifthand' Ash. And you are...?"
                              • The Ranger stood where she was and stared him down. A fire blazed in her eyes to match the emptiness in his.
                              • Something else?
                              OOC commentary
                              There may be other semi-conscious encounters with the gentleman later in the story. If so, our leading lady will present herself in those encounters with the same persona you choose now.

                              Last edited by semicasual; 12-19-2016, 02:42 PM.

                              On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

                              Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz


                              • Hmm... This leads us to the Superman/Clark Kent question. Is our heroine truly Swifthand Ash or The Ranger?

                                That is the question that may be answered later. But for this encounter she is going to be the Ranger.

                                I write things.