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Back Alive or Maybe Dead [Quest]

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  • Can't fault us for trying...

    "We've got to find out what the Lost Souls are plannin'," she said. "I don't know why Hark and Bone were looking for Marshal Dolh's letters, but if it's important to Stitch-Eyes, maybe we can use it to bait him."


    • Go for the letters! I'm curious about those

      The artist behind the quests From Out of a Dream (complete) and Back Alive, or Maybe Dead (running!). Go give a read and make your choice!


      • "We've got to find out what the Lost Souls are plannin'," she said. "I don't know why Hark and Bone were looking for Marshal Dolh's letters, but if it's important to Stitch-Eyes, maybe we can use it to bait him."

        Lans cleared his throat. "Very well, but I meant the question literally - which way do we turn?"

        Ash paused, taken aback, then chuckled. "Ah. North, first. We can camp on the plains and decide where we're headed in the mornin'."

        Their camp that was a bivouac in a scrub-covered field. Ash didn't say anything, but she felt more comfortable here than she had in Santa Mela - sleeping indoors could get claustrophobic, particularly in towns with a lot of people just a wall or two away.

        Ash, Serge, Lans, and Seres talked about training while Gaze sat and listened and Bo cooked a late dinner. The sun was entirely down by the time they'd finished eating, and so they went to their respective bedrolls. Only Gaze and Ash remained awake. Gaze was up because she was taking the first watch. Ash was up because she needed something from Gaze.

        Gaze sat crosslegged on a rock, watching the moon. Ash lay on her bedroll, her mind too busy for sleep. Finally, when she was sure everyone was asleep, Ash got up approached the mystic. Gaze looked at her in expectant silence.

        "{Teacher, do you have any more dream-powder?}" asked Ash, knowing and dreading the answer.

        Gaze nodded and pulled a packet from within her robes. "{Beware, child. If you seek the Promising God in your dreams, he will find you.}"

        Ash said nothing. She only took the packet and returned to her cot. After wrestling with herself for a while, she unwrapped it and inhaled deeply through her nose. And once again, it knocked her out cold.

        The Ranger found herself in the dark parlor again. A small round table, a low chandelier, four chairs. The room seemed smokier now, and more full. There were a number of bottles scattered around on top of and underneath the table, along with several small bowls holding an assortment of dried snack foods. One empty bowl sat conspicuously in the center of the table.

        She was seated in one of the chairs, with no memory of how she came to be there. The other chairs were also occupied. The Gentleman sat across from her, holding a smoldering cigar in one hand and a spread of five cards in the other. On her right, there was a man - she assumed, because of the shoulders - wearing an all-concealing black suit, topped with a black hood. A pale white mask, featureless except for two tiny eyeslits and a large, rusty-red handprint, covered his face. He, too, had five cards in his hand, and a deck on the table in front of him. And on her left was Stitch-Eyes, staring at her with disbelief, midway through chewing something.

        "...really?" he said, finally. "this is who you've invited?"

        The Gentleman shrugged. "You asked for a fourth player. Well, here she is." He sucked on his cigar and blew smoke towards the chandelier.

        "You've got a mighty fine sense of humor, invitin' somebody I killed to play cards."

        "You and I both know, death isn't the end. Not for everyone, anyway. Face, deal her in."

        "Hmph," grunted the masked man. He took three cards off the top of the deck in front of him and pushed them towards her.

        "Mierde," said Stitch-Eyes. He looked askance at the Ranger. "So you're not dead?"

        The Ranger said nothing.

        After several seconds, the Gentleman chuckled. "She's the strong, silent type. And no, I'm afraid she's not. You'll hear the details from your boys soon enough."

        "Grand. And to top it off, we've got another mute at the table." Stitch Eyes reached for a small pile of chips in front of him. He pulled a couple bits from the heap, then looked at the Ranger. "Well? You gonna ante up, or make us wait all night?"

        The Ranger saw her own stack of chips on the table before her. Unthinking, she took two from the top and tossed them into the bowl in the middle. Stitch-Eyes, the Gentleman, and "Face" all followed suit.

        "House rule is, you can trade up to four," said the Gentleman. "Whoever is left of the dealer goes first."

        The Ranger swept her cards off the table and looked at them. At once, she felt a chill. Two black aces, two black eights... and, oddly, a Jack of Diamonds with her likeness on it.
        • She decided to trade the Jack and raise. Cursed or not, it was good hand.
        • She traded both aces and eights. Risky, but no good could come from this hand.
        • She folded at once. She had no interest in playing the Gentleman's game - not least because she was sure it was rigged.
        • Something else?
        Last edited by semicasual; 07-10-2017, 11:43 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


        • She decided to trade the Jack and raise. Cursed or not, it was good hand.

          YEEEEES use my art to play for your soul. Use iiiiiiiitttttttt

          The artist behind the quests From Out of a Dream (complete) and Back Alive, or Maybe Dead (running!). Go give a read and make your choice!


          • She decided to trade the Jack and raise. Cursed or not, it was good hand.

            OOC: nice reference. Let's see if it is the "Dead Man's hand" which Ash draws.......


            • She decided to trade the Jack and raise. Cursed or not, it was good hand. She set the Jack facedown on the table and slid it towards Face. Face took it and slide another card back. It was a queen of hearts, with a small drop of what looked like blood covering the queen's face. The Ranger suppressed a frown.

              Each player took their turn. They all called the Ranger's bet, but nobody else traded any of their cards. When the time came to show their hands, she laid down her aces and eights. Almost immediately, Stitch-Eyes laughed. He had a loud, rough laugh.

              "Doubles, is it? I got four of a kind," he said with a wicked grin. He waved his hands over a quartet of fours he had laid on the table. In the dim, smoky light from the chandelier, the Ranger could see pictures on every card - images of One-eyed Em, Hark, Bighorn Bone, and a fourth person she didn't recognize. Off to the side was a queen of clubs that depicted Stitch-Eyes himself.

              "Mmmph." Face grunted as he tossed his cards to the table. He had a seven, eight, nine, and ten of diamonds, and an ace of hearts. These had the images of of the Ranger's posse.

              The Gentleman looked at Face's cards and smirked. "One away from a straight flush. That's hard luck, Face." He leaned back in his chair and sighed. "But that's how life is, isn't it? The pieces just don't come together, in the end."

              He slapped his cards down and spread them for all to see. Every single one was blacked out, as if they'd been dipped in tar.

              Stitch-Eyes, still grinning, grabbed the pot from the middle of the table and poured it out over the collection of chips he already had. "They came together for me just fine."

              "This time, they did, yes," he Gentleman replied, absently. "Pass the deck, Face. It's our guest's turn."

              Face picked up the deck and handed it to the Ranger. Every player gathered their cards and passed to her to shuffle. She cut the deck and began reorganizing the stack. She glanced at some of them she riffled them together, and they looked like ordinary cards.

              Everyone paid their ante, and she dealt their cards. On his turn, the Gentleman pulled one card from his hand, looked at it askance, and slid it towards her. "The thing of it is," he said to no one in particular, "in my experience, Heroism doesn't work."

              "Oh, here we go..." grumbled Stitch-Eyes.

              The Gentleman ignored him. "See, long time ago, I was a lot like you. All full of fire, in the metaphorical sense. Vim." He smiled the way people do when they recall a fond memory. "I got into fights with things too big for me, and I won. Joined up with a a group of friends to change the world, and we did. Laid claim to everything I could see, and kept it... for a while."

              "Give me two," interjected Stitch-Eyes, deliberately not turning his head to the Gentleman. The Ranger swapped him a couple cards.

              "I thought nothing could stop me, until something finally did. Got too big for my britches, I suppose." The Gentleman shuffled the cards in his hand, looking past them. "Got tossed off my throne, beaten, murdered... That was not a good day, no ma'am."

              The Ranger did not reply.

              "The truth is, I think I knew well before it happened that it was going to happen," he continued. "And I did nothing to stop it, because I didn't care. And that was a problem that I had - we all had - right from the start. Not everybody saw the end at first, and I figure most won't see it or do anything about it until its too late, but it's coming. It came to me, and it'll come to you all soon enough. No doubt in my mind."

              The Ranger again said nothing, but gave him a quizzical look.

              "How do I put this..." he mused, stroking his chin. "When the world was young, it was made a certain way for the benefit of a privileged few. We, that is, me and my friends, were not among them. We figured 'well, we'll toss out the old boss, then roll up our sleeves and fix the world the way we like it.' We were young, strong, and, truth be told, dumber than rocks."

              Stitch-Eyes rubbed his forehead and tossed a few more tokens into the pot. The Gentleman followed suit automatically.

              "What we didn't understand then, and what I didn't understand until I took an axe to the brains, was that we didn't fix the world. We broke it. And we broke it so thoroughly it can never be fixed. We're all just killing time now until it falls apart."

              The Gentleman laid down his hand. So did everyone else.

              "Mmph!" said Face. He had three sixes, nobody else had anything.

              "And this is why you always lose at cards," said Stitch-Eyes. He kept looking at the Gentleman, even as he held out a hand for the Ranger to pass him the deck.

              The Gentleman chuckled while Stitch-Eyes shuffled and dealt. "I've had a long, long time to think about these things. Death'll do that to a man. And, after much deliberation, I've come around to the idea that if we're all doomed anyway... well, nothing much matters, does it? Society, morality, all concerns for a 'better future...' People dedicate their lives to these high ideals and it all comes to nothing."

              "Mmmhmm," murmured Face. Stitch-Eyes said nothing. The Ranger glared and doubled her bet.

              The Gentleman raised an eyebrow. "Now, I never said that we should all just end ourselves. There's still fun to be had in a dying world! And that, my eternally-struggling friend, is the only worthwhile pursuit." He picked his cigar out of his tray and gave it a few puffs. "Eat, drink, and be merry! You'll be dead tomorrow, why the hell not?"

              Another hand was laid down. The Ranger won this round with a heart flush.

              Stitch-Eyes slid the deck in the Gentleman's direction. The Gentleman ignored it. Stitch-Eyes impatiently tapped on the card. The Gentleman ignore that too. After a few more moments of waiting while the Gentleman talked and talked, Stitch-Eyes finally threw up his hands. He made a loud exaggerated sigh and leaned back in his chair, pulling his hat over his face.

              The Gentleman, for his part, was happy to continue monologuing. He gestured animatedly, cards forgotten. "There's a bit more to it than plain hedonism, my dear. Any entertainment loses its flare if you get all conscious about the end... unless, you make the ending the highlight of the entertainment. When you see your wagon headed for a cliff, don't slow it down! Speed it up! Set the wagon on fire and race to the finish! Turn a small, pointless tragedy into a calamity for everyone to remember forever after..."

              "With all due respect, hombre, I ain't the one holding up the game," Stitch-Eyes complained.

              The Gentleman paused in his speech to give Stitch-Eyes a sour look. Then he laughed and finally gave the man some cards.

              The next round passed in silence. The Ranger won again, this time with a pair of jacks. Neither of them had a recognizable face. Then it was Face's turn to deal again, and he raised as soon as he could. The Ranger folded. So did Stitch-Eyes.

              "I'll stay," the Gentleman said, dropping chips into the pot. "There's one more part to this philosophy, and pay attention because I happen to think this part is the most important." The well-dressed man's smile became toothy and his brow furrowed, giving him a more bestial aspect. "The sweetest joy of all, when all hope is dead... is watching other people's hopes die. The happiness that only comes from making other people unhappy - that's worth holding on for in the face of apocalypse."

              The Ranger kept her eyes on the table and her hands, which were clenching, in her lap. Stitch-Eyes had grabbed a bottle from the floor by his chair and was steadily drinking. Face won the round with a pair of queens and a pair of kings. He hummed softly as he pulled the pot towards him - the Ranger thought she recognized the tune as a common drinking song. Before handing off the deck and his cards, Face reached over to a bowl of nuts and raised a fistful of them to his mask. An instant later he lowered his empty hand, and the Ranger could hear chewing noises.

              The deck went around the table again and again, and a pattern began to emerge. The Gentleman lost every hand, but he didn't seem to care and he never raised. Stitch-Eyes won as often as he lost, and he would raise the stakes if nobody else did and he hadn't folded. Face seemed to be raising at random - he would often get good hands, but the quality of his hand wasn't related to the size of his bet. And the Ranger was losing, slowly, by attrition. Sometimes she'd get lucky and a momentary boost would restore her chip stock, but it didn't last.

              The Gentleman was dealing when Face piped up. "Mmmhmm hmmm," he said, and jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

              "Time for us to wrap this up, then," the Gentleman answered. "I'm all in." He pushed the remainder of his chips to the center. Face and Stitch-Eyes did likewise.

              The Ranger also tossed in the last of what she had and looked grimly at her cards. They weren't good.

              It felt like everyone at the table was looking at her - for differing standards of "looking" - when they laid down their hands. When they started comparing, Face chortled.

              "Five kings? You're hilarious, chief," said Stitch-Eyes, sounding not at all amused. And the Gentleman had indeed laid five kings down on the table - all kings of spades, all with his face on them.

              The Gentleman smiled indulgently as he pulled the pot to him. "I'm not above rigging the game to get the outcome I want, and I'm not ashamed to admit it." He pulled the whole pot to him. "The way I see it, I'm just hastening what was already inevitable."

              The Ranger heard the familiar tolling of a bell. It sounded louder now than it had before.

              "Thanks for coming. Let's do this again, soon," said the Gentleman. He clapped his hands twice, the smoky light from the chandelier dimmed, and all became dark.

              Ash woke up feeling like death warmed over. It was the wee hours of the morning. She got out of her bedroll and staggered away from camp to find a quiet place to puke. When she got back, Serge was waiting for her - evidently he had already been up, on watch. Bo, Lans, and Seres were still sleeping, and Gaze was nowhere to be seen.

              "You getting sick, Ash?" Serge asked with mild concern. He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, whittling at a stick. He seemed to be making a crude flute.

              "I'll be alright," said Ash, avoiding the question.

              The Lost Souls' attack on Santa Mela would have repercussions for the whole frontier, eventually. Tylos-Yvana would shut down and pull out, and that began a slow decline for the town. When the refinery shut down, the demand for timber died off, the trains came less frequently, and people who could afford to leave started to go. Eventually the town would become a shadow of its former self. If the Lost Souls' goal was to drive another nail into the Frontier's coffin, they'd succeeded.

              But none of that was apparent to Ash and her posse, who'd met their own goals despite all sorts of complications. Now they were armed and ready for trouble, so for trouble they went looking.

              And they would find it. Seeking out what Stitch-Eyes desired most would lead them to more trouble than any of them imagined.

              OOC commentary
              Wow, that chapter took nearly 8 months. I think that's a record.

              I'll launch the next chapter next week. Before that, though, I'd appreciate if everyone who reads this would dig deep into their inner critic and tell me something they think could be improved about this story - its structure, its characters, its style, topics I should pay more or less attention to, anything will do. I'm always open to suggestions for how to get more readers and keep them engaged.

              Comment, like, subscribe, etc.
              Last edited by semicasual; 07-14-2017, 01:55 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


              • I am going to be the absolute biggest jerk and say that I have absolutely no current critique for you. Your quests are my favorite ones to read on this forum. You take Exalted, which is familiar to us all, and you make it your own. Adding your own flavors and twists and it's so evocative. You help realize the vision that Exalted really does have room for a thousand different styles of storytelling with it's myriad settings and locals.

                Your characters have personalities that they hold to, with motivations that dictate why they do things. You manage to prod the story along while still incorporating the input of others masterfully without it feeling like you're railroading. We dealt you a difficult task of making Ash larger than life while maintaining a secret identity as the White-Plains Ranger, and you've brought it to believable life and continued to bring it in to the story.

                I am a huge jerk because I have nothing negative to comment about your work. I've been waiting for a good opportunity to say all of this for a while now, but I didn't want to disrupt the flow of the story. Your game is A+ and I always look forward to your next story post.

                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 hate to say that I only have minor niggling notes. There are odd times when grammar or editing fail but really that is all I can say.

                  I love the style you present, the characters are credible, the plots acceptable within the bounds of Exalted.

                  May I say that this last post was, perhaps my absolute favourite to date. I think you managed to encapsulate the essence of the Exalted world within a novel milieu that, for many of us, is drawn from our cinematic history. I'm really starting to like The Gentleman as a character.


                  • Okay, yeah, Semicasual, this thing continues to be brilliant.

                    Like...I'm just straight-up stealing your setting for a future Exalted game, because I love it so much. Your work on this quest has been an inspiration.

                    So I'm making God-Kicking Boot, an Exalted webcomic, now. Updates on Sundays. Full-color, mediocre but slowly improving art. It's a thing.

                    The absence of a monument can, in its own way, be something of a monument also.
                    -Roger Zelazny


                    • A lot of what everyone else has said rings true for me as well. You do a great job creating characters. The setting is amazing and the fact that you've been creating an exalted story using a familiar genre is fantastic. This story is a lot of fun to read. My personal frustration is that there is probably too much time spent stalling in interpersonal interactions. I dont want to make you gunshy though because the crux of the story really relies on characters revealing themselves and their stories, but it is a balance. I think you're close to getting the balance right and i think you've done something amazing and original while using the setting well. I love the ash/white ranger dichotomy. I feel its my duty to push ash to be larger than life at times and their flaw seems a logical progression based on who they are. I know Gaze's background is going to be an awesome reveal when it happens. I'm guessing shes a solar but i'm happy to be completely wrong . Most of all i really like that you dont use the core explanations for things but rather give these events and these splats/factions their own perspective. The gentlemans philosophy is incredible. All in all you're doing a great job and are one of the people who inspired me to start writing my own quest. Please keep writing


                      • The sun rose over the plains. A gentle breeze jostled the grass and shrubs, kicked up a little dust. The land was coming awake.

                        Soon, everyone except Gaze (who had not reappeared) was up and enjoying a light breakfast. Ash didn't eat - her stomach was still unsettled. Instead, she talked, and in so doing delayed everyone else's digestion.

                        "So, Lans... pardon me if this is a hard subject for you, but how well'd you know Marshal Dolh?"

                        Lans took several seconds to answer as he finished chewing on hard brown bread. "...Very well. We rode together for... almost a century. I suppose I know him better than anyone alive." He grimaced. "Now there's a thought..."

                        Ash continued on, hoping to keep Lan from becoming maudlin. "Can you think of any reason why the Lost Souls would be interested in his writin'?"

                        Lans shrugged. "Several. Most of them involve treasure." He paused, sighed, and looked up at the sky. "You know, those pieces you're carrying? Dolh worked on them obsessively, but he didn't make them. I found them and gave them to him during an expedition we took to Silver Ridge... seventy, eighty years ago... to an ancient tomb hidden in the caves there. The expedition was his idea - he was always fascinated by the past, in particular the pre-Shogunate age. And here, in this part of the South, plenty of pieces of that ancient past lie buried, untouched for centuries. To be honest, I sometimes wondered if he'd become a Marshal just to have a pretext to come south and explore."

                        "So, you reckon the Lost Souls think Dolh found somethin', and they'll find it by goin' through his letters?"

                        "I doubt they'd be interested in his personal life, or his business affairs. So, yes. References to old relics is my best guess."

                        Serge belched. "Well, that's not much good, is it? Doesn't tell us anything about where to go or what to look for."

                        Ash took off her hat and turned it over in her hands. "Lans, did Dolh ever write to you? Or you to him?"

                        Lans shook his head. "No. Well, yes, but not in frame of time that truly matters, I suppose. We traded letters when we weren't on the trail together. But..."

                        Seres piped up, then, talking around a mouthful. "They were together at Bronze Hill. That's where Marshal Dolh died." She was looking very hard at her food, so maybe she didn't notice the hurt look that crossed Lans' face.

                        Lans closed his eyes and took a moment to compose himself. "Yes, that's right. We were together until the end. After that, I retired, as you know. I traded a few letters with Dilatro... but mail doesn't easily reach a place like Outpost."

                        "Do you know who else Dolh would have written to?" asked Ash.

                        "I know plenty... but I haven't been in touch with most of them in some time." He paused, and then thought aloud, "I don't even know for sure if they're alive..."

                        She decided to try another tack. "Did Dilatro share his pa's interest in the ancient past?"

                        Lans nodded. "Oh yes. He was even more keen, as I recall. Spent much of the family fortune financing digs and so forth. He was born with a weak heart, though, so he rarely went abroad himself."

                        "I see. And in Dilatro's letters to you, did he ever talk about any particular place he was real interested in? Someplace his pa was also interested in?"

                        Lans closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I... would need to look."

                        Ash's eyebrows went up. "You brought his letters with you?"

                        "In my saddlebags," Lans answered, again seeming to think aloud. "It didn't feel right to leave them behind."

                        "Alright," said Serge, who by this time had finished his portion. "So while you're reading, what do the rest of us do?"

                        "We should prepare," replied Bo, who had been silent until now. "Where we go next, who knows what we may find?"

                        "I agree," said Ash. "to start with..."
                        • "...we're running low on herbs. Bo, I think I spotted some thornapple a way back - want to help me pick it?"
                        • "'s as good a time as any to train. Who's up for some practice? Serge?"
                        • "...some more meat would be welcome. Seres, you up for a hunt?"
                        • "...I'd better figure out where Gaze has got to."
                        • Something else?
                        OOC Commentary
                        Ya'll suck at criticism, but thank you

                        Anyway, have another "social time" choice.
                        Last edited by semicasual; 07-19-2017, 03:55 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


                        • I can't recall who we've put a lot of time into besides Gaze, but we should do someone we haven't spoke with in a while. Maybe Serge?

                          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 think Bo - I'm curious what a healer thinks of what happened back there with the tree. Also, curious about Exalted Desert herbs :3

                            The artist behind the quests From Out of a Dream (complete) and Back Alive, or Maybe Dead (running!). Go give a read and make your choice!


                              • "'s as good a time as any to train. Who's up for some practice? Serge?"
                              Might as well start working on the weaknesses we have as a team


                              • Originally posted by Nightwinder View Post
                                • "'s as good a time as any to train. Who's up for some practice? Serge?"
                                Might as well start working on the weaknesses we have as a team
                                We already said we need to do this. Might as well do it now.

                                Thoughts ripple out, birthing others