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    • She turned to the others. "Lans, take Bo and try to find where Dilatro's scholars lived. Serge, Seres, let's to talk to the undertaker to find out what happened." They followed the undertaker into the chapel. "Hey! Old man!", she called after him. "Who are you, and what in every gods' name happened here?"


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    • Guy onows something and we aren't in danger yet.
      • She followed the undertaker into the chapel.


      Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

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      • She gestured for the others to follow her and rode back to where they'd met Gaze. The old woman was still there, lurking in the shadows. "[Teacher,]" Ash asked, quiet but urgent, "[did you see what killed them?]"

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        • She followed the undertaker into the chapel. "Hey! Old man!", she called after him. "Who are you, and what in every gods' name happened here?"

          Because what DID happen here?!


          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!

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          • She turned to the others. "Lans, take Bo and try to find where Dilatro's scholars lived. Serge, Seres, let's talk to the undertaker."

            Lans gave a grim nod and flicked his horses' reins. They turned about and trotted out of the square. Bo, covering her mouth and nose with a rag, followed behind him.

            Seres looked like she was about to throw up. Serge had his stoic face on. Together, they dismounted with Ash and followedthe undertaker into the chapel.

            It was a typical Immaculate temple, with rows of pews facing towards and altar and an icon of the Five Dragons. The inside was dim and the air was clammy. It smelled even worse than outside and it wasn't hard to see why; there were bodies everywhere. All kinds of people, all dead, scattered about the floor and over the pews. There were weapons, too - knives, swords, hatchets, and various household tools covered in blood were also strewn all over the place.

            The undertaker walked down the middle aisle and knelt down next to the body of a young woman in a bloodstained dress. He eased a small dagger out of her stiff hand and carelessly tossed it aside. Then he lifted her up onto one shoulder with a grunt, and began carrying her back to the door. His singing never ceased

            But Ash was in the way. "Hey! Old man!", she called, barely an arm's length away from him. "Who are you, and what in every gods' name happened here?"

            At first, he barely reacted. It was as if he couldn't acknowledge she was there. He blinked at her, then started to walk around her without losing a beat.

            Ash threw an arm out in his path. He stopped, looked at her, blinked again, and shook himself. His song died on his lips as he stared at her, uncomprehending. "You're alive," he said, finally.

            "We are," Ash confirmed. Then she waited.

            The undertaker took some time to process that before he spoke again. "You're not from around here."

            "Nope," said Ash. The she went on to save the undertaker the trouble of asking for an explanation. "We're from out of town. Came here lookin' for a group of scholars and treasure-huntin' sorts. Now... not to jump to conclusions, but it looks to me like the entire population of Salsola's in here, or in that ditch outside, except for you. So what happened?"

            The undertaker opened his mouth, then closed it. His eyes flicked to the girl on his shoulder. "I have to finish," he said. "They have to have a proper burial."

            Ash looked into his eyes and saw nothing. Whatever happened to this man had killed his spirit.
            • "The dead ain't goin' anywhere," she said, firmly. "Put 'er down, and let's talk."
            • "Here. Let me help." She stepped around him and moved to scoop the girl's body.
            • "I'm Swifthand Ash," she said, trying to restore some semblance of normal manners. "What's your name?"
            • Something else?

            OOC Commentary

            Y'all mostly voted just for talking to the undertaker, but after working for a bit I decided @The Unsung Hero's approach had better flow.

            The undertaker in this context is the using the same backstory the Preacher would have had if you had gone west earlier in this quest-thread.



            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.

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            • "Here. Let me help." She stepped around him and moved to scoop the girl's body.

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              • "Here, let us help. Now please, tell us what happened here? How did this tragedy come to pass?"


                Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

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                • "Here. Let me help." She stepped around him and moved to scoop the girl's body.

                  The man was surprised, but offered little resistance. He simply nodded to her as she took the girl, then went to retrieve another corpse.

                  Ash turned to Serge and Seres, waiting behind her. "You help too. Many hands make light work, you know."

                  "Ugh," grumbled Serge. "I hate corpse-duty." Seres also looked dismayed, and a little green around the gills, but the both of them pitched in.

                  It was grim work, made banal by repetition and personal discomfort. By the fourth body, Ash had a growing appreciation for how heavy humans were, and how bad they could smell. Rot was setting into these stiffs, and only a concerted effort to control her breath kept Ash from feeling nauseous. But still, she went on, dragging stiff after stiff from the church out into the yard and into the grave alongside the undertaker and her companions.

                  Eventually, the undertaker began to speak. His story came out in pieces as he worked beside Ash.

                  "It all started a couple weeks back, I think", he said. "I am... I was, the pastor here. People sometimes come to me after services, telling me about their dreams. I counsel them. But now, they all had the same dream. Every one of them told me they they were walking alone at night through the town, when they saw a light up there on Frewilk's Peak." They were both outside at this point. He pointed northwest, where the Deadrocks rose ever higher. One mountain in particular stood out above the rest, craggy and bare.

                  "They all said that seeing that light filled them with fear, and they turned around to run home, or away, or somewhere. But then they found their way blocked by a handsome man who had no eyes. The man told them they were sure to die, and then they woke up."

                  Ash's face darkened. "Everyone had this dream?"

                  The undertaker shook his head. "I didn't. But it seemed like everyone else did. First it was just one or two, then whole families, and pretty soon it seemed like they all had the nightmare at least once. Some folks seemed to dream of nothing else - they never got restful sleep, and they were on edge during the day. We had more fights in the last few days, than..." he trailed off, then shook his head.

                  "People started asking if they could sleep in the church. I let them, and it seemed to help. But then, the night before last, the dream happened for real."

                  A cold breeze swept through the square. Ash shivered.

                  "Just after sundown, there was a light up on the peak, just like in everyone's dreams. It was like there was a beacon burning on the mountainside. I saw it too, this time. Everyone could. Folks were afraid, started to panic. The town council had an emergency meeting, and we decided that one or two folks should go up to the mountain to see what the light was, while everyone else barricaded themselves inside the church and waited for dawn." The undertaker looked at his feet. "...I volunteered to climb the mountain."

                  "I know Frewilk's like the back of my hand, but it still took me all night to get up there in the dark. The beacon gave me something to navigate towards, but it went out sometime in the pre-dawn hours. By the time the sun was rising, I had found my way to where I reckoned the beacon was. Well, I found ashes from a big fire, and not much else. So the light was real, but whoever set it must have left the mountain by another path, or snuck by me in the dark."

                  "I climbed back down to tell what I saw, but nobody came to greet me. The sun was well up by then, but there was no one around. I came to the church - no one answered when I called, or hammered on the front door. I had to come in through the back, through the way that led to my quarters, and..."

                  His face flattened, taking on the same blank, vaguely woeful look it had had when Ash had first seen him. He resumed speaking in a monotone. "...They were all dead. They'd killed themselves and each other. I don't know why, and it doesn't matter." He shook his head. "I dug them all a grave, and now I'm putting them in it. Cover over, say their prayers, and then I'm done."

                  Ash squinted at him. "When's the last time you ate? Or slept?"

                  "Don't know. Doesn't matter," the undertaker repeated. And that was the last thing he said for a long while.

                  They all kept working for a few more hours. The population of Salsola was mostly piled into the hole when Bo came back to check on them.

                  The healer surveyed the sight of the posse assisting the undertaker, and approached Ash when she next emerged from the chapel.

                  "Mistress Ash," she said, gently. "Master Lans has found what he thinks are the scholars' offices. He is searching now..." Bo trailed off, apparently at a loss for words. By this time, Ash had her share of mud and blood on herself. Bo looked from Ash to the grave and grimaced. "I can take you there. Or... do you need help with these?"

                  Ash scraped her gloves against each other and looked into the church. Finally, she said...
                  • "No, just tell me where it is and go on ahead. We'll catch up when we're done here."
                  • "I won't say no to an extra pair of hands."
                  • "Mmm. We'll go. There's not much more to do here."
                  • Something else?


                  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.

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                  • "I won't say no to an extra pair of hands."

                    Bo's probably dealt with the dead (healer and all) but I wonder how many she's buried....


                    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!

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                    • "No, just tell me where it is and go on ahead. We'll catch up when we're done here."

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                      • "I won't say no to an extra pair of hands."

                        Ash let those words sit while she walked back into the church to grab another body. Not long after, Bo was beside her, awkwardly pulling a large woman by her arms. Bo's face was once again covered by a rag, but her eyes showed digust and dismay.

                        "Many hands make light work, eh?" said Ash with forced cheer.

                        Bo didn't answer until three or four trips later. They just finished lowering another body into the nearly-full trench when she finally asked, "Mistress Ash - what killed these people?"

                        Ash grimaced. "If we believe the pastor there," she said, pointing to the undertaker just then coming out with yet another corpse, "These folks killed themselves. The Anathema haunted their dreams and drove 'em mad." Ash turned to Bo and looked her in the eye. "I got no reason to think he's lyin'. And I don't figure it's just chance. It happened now."

                        "What're you talkin' about?" interjected Seres, just now joining them. She had a man bigger than she was tall over one shoulder, but the size difference didn't seem to bother he as she knelt down and dropped him into the pile below.

                        Ash nodded to her. "I'm guessin' this was planned. The dreams started a few weeks back. The killin' happened not long after that ruckus at Santa Mela. If the idea was to erase anybody who might've known what the Lost Souls're after, this is one way to do it."

                        Seres crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "Seems like a lot of trouble, wipin' out a town to keep a secret."

                        "I ain't sayin' that's what's happened for sure, just that it might've." Ash shrugged. Privately, she thought back to what the Gentleman had told her about 'rigging the game.' "We don't know what was in those letters they stole, but if was somethin' big, it might've been worth shuttin' up anyone who could've talked about it. After all, we're here now, followin' that trail. And if Lans doesn't find anythin', the trail's gone cold."

                        "Alright, that's all of them," announced Serge, coming out of the church. He was carrying a small bundle, wrapped in cloth. "We've cleaned it out." He walked past them to the trench and gently laid down he child-sized package on top. "Gods, I hate corpse duty. So, who's got a shovel?"

                        The undertaker came out next, with the promised shovel. He was nearing the end of another verse - "Won't you spare me over 'till another year? Won't you spare me over 'till another year?" The others made way for him to approach the dirt pile, but he went instead to the foot of the trench and spent some time staring down at the heap of bodies. Eventually, he stuck the shovel in the ground by his feet and raised one hand to his heart.

                        "We gather here to mark the passing of... all the people of Salsola," he began. "...Ezen Jumman, and his wife Jehla, and their two sons Berl and Hardin. Hieh Kay. Hozrun Shevm. "Lucky" Wei Crestcut. Zen Liam. Weng Shu. Rerar Henned and his daughter Neseda. Jomeh-Keud Benthachaft. Lauren Ardnt, and her husband Jaco. Carli Rolande, Gale Wethers, and their children Thery, Carine, and Ailsa. Melody Nanon. Autumn Dusk. Burt Seabury, his wife Nai, and their son Macky..."

                        Ash felt her stomach sink as the list of names went on, and on, and on...
                        • But even so, she stayed for the whole service.
                        • She turned to the others and quietly said, "we should go."
                        • Something else?


                        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.

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                        • But even so, she stayed for the whole service.

                          The others can go, but we need to stay. To honour the dead, to remember...Lans will understand.



                          Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

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                          • But even so, she stayed for the whole service.

                            The others can go, but we need to stay. To honour the dead, to remember...Lans will understand.

                            Agreed.

                            OOC was that "Oh Death" from O Brother Where Art Thou that the priest was singing?

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                            • But even so, she stayed for the whole service.

                              The undertaker enumerated a few hundred people, all told. He spoke each name officiously, without feeling. Ash felt as if a weight was settling on her that grew heavier for every person listed. She took off her hat and looked into the grave, trying to match names to graying faces.

                              At some point, Seres peeled off and left for somewhere. Serge stayed, but his eyes closed, his head sunk down, and Ash thought she could hear something like snoring. Bo stayed put with her hands clasped behind her, staring off into space.

                              Eventually, the undertaker reached the end of his list, said a short prayer to the Fates, and finished without giving a giving a eulogy. He concluded with, "...and may they know greater happiness in their lives to come," picked up his shovel, and started moving dirt.

                              Ash put her hat back on and turned to Bo. "We should go," she said, quietly.

                              Bo nodded and gave Serge a shake. The mercenary gave a start and snapped to attention.

                              "It is this way," Bo whispered. They walked away to find their respective mounts, leaving the undertaker to finish the burial.



                              Lans had found the expedition office in a building that, a few days before, had doubled as a hotel. It had three stories, which was tall for Salsola, and was build chiefly of creaking wooden planks. A sign outside the door identified the establishment as "Hunter's Rest."

                              The first thing Ash saw when she came in the front door was a large, empty fireplace, with a twelve-point buck's head mounted atop it, two ancient, cracked urns on either side of it, and a collection of rustic, bark-covered wooden seats in front. More dead beasts, chunks of engraved stone, and wooden carvings covered the walls. Many kinds of furs carpeted the floor. The scents of stale beer and smoke lingered, even though the place was empty.

                              Serge had gone off to try to round up Seres and Gaze. Bo led Ash, alone, up to the top floor, which was decorated similarly to the rooms below. There they found a small study, full of wooden cabinets, and two large desks. Lans sat at one of these, with a small stack of papers on his left, and a large, disorganized heap of other papers still in front of him.

                              He looked up as they came in. "You've been gone a while," he observed. "What have you uncovered?"

                              Bo bowed her head, turned, and left. Ash, in the meantime, took a seat on top of the other desk.

                              "I was goin' to ask you that," she replied. "But, fine, I'll go first. We still ain't seen anyone alive in this town except the gravedigger, and he says that the folks who lived here turned on each other. Nightmares and tricks drove 'em mad. I could dig deeper, but I figure the gravedigger is right. Some black magic was used on this town. The timin' makes me think the Lost Souls had somethin' to do with it, but it's hard to say for sure."

                              Lans grunted and shuffled some papers aside. "The Lost Souls are just men, more or less. Magic on that scale isn't for ordinary people, or backwoods magicians." He paused and wrinkled his brow. "It may not be beyond an Anathema, though..."

                              Ash shook her head. "There's somethin' else. Ever hear legends of a handsome man with no eyes?"

                              The old man snorted. "I remember a few folktales. Once or twice, I fought bandits who claimed to be his followers. I think Marshal Eicus prosecuted cannibal who worshipped him, decades ago. I never heard or saw anything to suggest it was more than superstition."

                              "According to the gravedigger, most of the town was dreaming about him. The same dream."

                              Lans looked up at that. He met Ash's gaze, and his face showed both skepticism and surprise. "Well, that is interesting," he said, finally. "Was it a vision of the real thing? Or some deliberate effort to cause hysteria, playing off local legends?"

                              "It could be both," replied Ash. "Now, your turn. What have you found?"

                              Lans tapped the stack of papers below his left arm. "Bits and pieces. These people ranged throughout the Deadrocks. Most of what they found would be of interest to historians, but no one else."

                              He handed the stack to Ash, and she leafed through it. It was mostly letters, interspersed with lists that looked like inventory or expense accounts. Nothing jumped out at her as being of particular interest - no mentions of ancient cities, or powerful magical artifacts, and certainly not the Lost Souls, Stitch-Eyes, or the Gentleman.

                              "There's still a lot to go through, as you can see," said Lans, gesturing to the paper in front of him. "And there's more in the cabinets."

                              Ash set the stack down.

                              • "I'll help," she said. "What are you looking for?"
                              • "Keep looking," she said. "I'd like to take a walk up Frewilk's Peak, see if I can find anything."
                              • "I'll round up the others," she said. "See what they can do."
                              • Something else?


                              OOC Commentary
                              Originally posted by KFinigan View Post
                              OOC was that "Oh Death" from O Brother Where Art Thou that the priest was singing?
                              Yes, it was. I embedded a link to the O Brother Where Art Thou version in the post where it was first sung, too. But the song is older than that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Death



                              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

                              Comment


                              • "I'll round up the others. See what they can do. Then I'll help. What are we looking for?"


                                Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

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