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  • "Did... did we win? Is the town safe?" Ash rubbed her eyes. For all that she had apparently been asleep, she still felt incredibly tired.

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    • "Where are the others? Are they alright? Is the town safe?"


      Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

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      • "Where are the others?" Ash asked, with a deepening frown. "Are they alright?"

        Bo nodded. "They are well. You were the one most hurt. Serge has cracked ribs, but that is the worst of them."

        "I guess that's good, considerin'." Ash rubbed her eyes and sighed. "Well, if we all made it, I guess that we won and the town's safe."

        Bo nodded again, but then hesitated. "It... seems so," she began, uncertainly. "The shadowed land is gone. But we do not know what to do with the tower."

        "The tower..." Ash repeated. Her dream was still fresh in her mind. "What tower?"

        With a little guidance from Ash, Bo gradually told the whole story.

        The black cloud that had followed the destruction of the deadhulk left the posse stumbling around in the dark, struggling to find each other. Eventually, a great wind summoned by Gaze dispersed the worst of it. The Ranger was already unconscious by then - Bo was visibly upset as she told this part, but she didn't complain - and Loco and Em were nowhere to be found.

        Bo and Seres stayed by the edge of the swamp, trying to revive the Ranger. The others made their way to the great hill she had found earlier. They ascended, and halfway to the top they found an enormous pit that they presumed the deadhulk had been digging. Gaze had said something about the power of death being exceptionally strong in that spot, but since that was something Bo had heard secondhand from Lans, details were sparse.

        At the edge of the pit, still covered in dirt, was a large structure - the "tower" everyone kept going on about. It was much like one the siege towers Ash only knew from stories, only it was made of some shell-like material nobody recognized. It was a few stories tall, fixed to a wide, wheeled base, and at the time they found it it was lying on its side.

        Collectively, they half-guessed the tower was the root of their problem, and that maybe they could either erase or move the shadowland if they could somehow pull the tower into sunlight.

        That would turn out to a challenge that would take all night and a good part of the next day. First, they had to get the tower upright. This they managed to do eventually by gathering up a team of grave-horses to pull it up. Then they had to roll it to the shadowland's border - a simpler task mechanically, but made more difficult by the shape of the land. At one point, the tower rolling down the hill nearly careened into the swamp. Serge had complained a lot about how difficult the thing was to turn and how easily it got stuck - its wheels were narrow and oddly shaped, as though they had never been meant to roll on plain earth.

        Shuffling corpses and skeletons began to come back over the border, just as the posse had gotten the rolling tower over the worst of the terrain. They seemed to lack the initiative to actively hunt anyone living, but they would attack whoever got close and they were too many for the posse to fight head-on. Seres drew them away while Lans and Serge continued to direct their grave-horse team. Bo hid inside the tower, along with the prostrate Ranger. At this point in the story, Gaze disappeared again, but not before doing something to hide the tower from the undead's sight. Bo was vague here, and Ash couldn't tell if she just didn't know what happened or lacked the words to describe it.

        Eventually, they reached the border. It was daytime in the world of the living. But the horses could not finish pulling the tower across - as soon as they passed over into the sun, they dissolved into a dark purple smoke. Everyone who could stand, even Gaze, had to get behind the tower and push it the last few yards.

        The effects were striking and immediate. The dense clouds covering that lifeless patch of land outside Bronze Hill disappeared. What remained was fallow fields, full of potential if nothing else.

        The tower, however, did not dissolve. It was still standing out in the fields - the others had no will to push it further, their own animals weren't suited to pulling as a team, and the folk of Bronze Hill didn't want anything to do with it. The posse met with the town's leadership to figure out what to do next - in fact, they were still conferring with them now.

        And now Ash was awake, she could join them.


        Bo helped Ash walk up the stairs to the meeting room, where an argument was in full swing.

        As before, it was crowded. It felt more crowded, because someone had gathered up several more chairs and forced them to bit around the table. Lans, Serge, and Seres sat nearly shoulder-to-shoulder along with the mayor, the shuzhu, the sheriff, and the officers.

        "-and besides that, It's old magic," mayor Bran was saying. "We don't even know if it can be destroyed that way."

        Sheriff Zolt snorted. "Spoken before we've tried."

        Akram nodded along. "I can have a squad of engineers out there today."

        "We don't even know what it is!" Lans slammed an open palm on the table. "We have barely begun to look at the mechanisms inside. How or why it created or fed the shadowland, or what else it could do, we do not know." He took in a deep breath, and then continued at a lower volume. "Even if I agreed that the tower should be destroyed, the risks of doing so... haphazardly... are more serious than you realize."

        The officers looked uncomfortable. Seres looked bored, tired, and frustrated. Serge looked like a man who was trying to hide how bored, tired, and frustrated he was.

        "I do think we agree, at least, that it can't stay where it is," said Bran.

        "Tearing it down could solve that problem," grumbled Zolt.

        "No, we need it intact," Ash thought aloud. The momentary silence and the long looks that followed told Ash that she had, in fact, broadcast that thought to the room.

        "You need it intact?" Akram asked, incredulously.

        "What Ash means is, we could have use for it," said Serge, straightening up. "When we first came here, we were looking for an artifact, an object of power. We didn't know at the time what kind of artifact it would be, but the tower must be it."

        "It's an item of interest," added Lans in anticipation of Akram's questions, "to the bandit Stitch-Eyes and his Lost Souls."

        There was quiet at that. Then Bran spoke up. "The one who killed Marshal Yun?"

        "The same," said Ash, stepping closer to the table. "We don't know what he wants the tower for, but the Lost Souls have already attacked two towns to get it. We think they were somehow behind the dead rising to attack you, too."

        Zolt pinched the bridge of his nose. "I still don't get why this doesn't mean we shouldn't destroy it."

        "We can use the tower to bait him," said Ash automatically. Then she paused, wondering where her sense of discretion had gone.

        "More'n that, we know Stitch-Eyes is a spiteful bastard," Seres chimed in, filling the gap. "You destroy the tower, he'll probably kill you for denyin' him his prize."

        Zolt threw up his hands. "Alright! So we leave the tower alone. And then the most feared man in the south will come for it. What good does that do us?"

        "He doesn't have to come here," Ash answered, having regathered her wits. "It's on wheels. We can take it somewhere far away."

        The table ruminated on that for a bit, until Akram spoke up. "That will do. But where are you thinking to take it?"

        Ash considered the question, but not so much for the destination as for the journey.

        • They needed to start preparing for their showdown as soon as possible. Stitch-Eyes already knew what they had done, if her dreams were to be believed. And that meant he might come at any time.
        • They needed to make one more detour, for munitions. From the beginning, Ash had counted on using a lot of dust to take down Stitch-Eyes. She had her bait, and now she needed the trap.
        • Something else?



        OOC Commentary
        I felt like this chapter was dragging on a bit, so I'm giving an abbreviated version of the challenges you all would have faced if Ash were still conscious. In fact, I'm giving you the option to skip a chapter. Or add one, if you feel so inclined.


        Last edited by semicasual; 01-05-2018, 11:47 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

        Comment


        • I'm amiable to other people's opinions, but since i love your writing I'm fine with adding a chapter about making one more detour, for munitions. If there's any strong feelings towards preparing for the showdown, consider my vote a swing vote. I'm just making sure this story continues to get visibility for the wonderful craftsmanship that it is!


          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

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          • They needed to make one more detour, for munitions. From the beginning, Ash had counted on using a lot of dust to take down Stitch-Eyes. She had her bait, and now she needed the trap.

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            • One last detour thank you.


              Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

              Comment


              • They needed to make one last detour, for munitions. From the beginning, Ash had counted on using a lot of dust to take down Stitch-Eyes. She had her bait, and now she needed the trap.

                "As to that," said Lans, pre-empting everyone else, "I have an idea." He put a hand to his chin. "The tower's wheels are of such a width and shaped in such a way that I believe the whole structure could be made to run along the railways."

                A brief silence followed this statement as the table silently wrestled with a mixture of confusion and disbelief. Zolt was the first to regroup.

                "How do you know this?" he asked for all of them.

                Lans chuckled. "I spent a good twenty years laying down track, or supervising it. I know plenty about wheels and rails. And I've had occasion to improvise rail-carriages before."

                "Oh! Like the War Norry!" chimed in Seres.

                "Oh gods, the war norry," Akram groaned. "I'd forgotten that. And I never hoped to remember."

                "Alright then," Serge interrupted. He sounded as cross as he looked. "Suppose we do take it to the nearest station - Lans, where would that be?"

                "Bronze Hill station," said Lans and Bran simultaneously. Then they looked at each other, and Lans continued alone. "It's just east of here. With enough animals to pull, I would guess it should not take more than half a day to drag the tower there."

                "Once we wrangle it onto the tracks, I propose we head south," said Ash, stepping closer to the table. "Away from here. Away from Roca Roja."

                And closer, she thought, to the region known as Fire's Edge - the southernmost part of the frontier, rich in dust mines.

                "I agree," Serge declared.

                There was more talk after that, mostly of logistics, but the plan was set. The posse would borrow several horses and a few laborers to assist in moving in the tower. Once they got to the station, they hoped to hire a yeddim or two, and with that Bronze Hill and our adventurers would be finished with each other. After that, they mean to travel as far away from civilization as the rails could go.


                Ash and Lans went ahead to the tower while Gaze did whatever Gaze did on her own time and the rest of the group made preparations in Bronze Hill.

                It might have only been the light, but it already seemed that the townsfolk and farmers they passed on the way were happier, more hopeful. Small celebrations were breaking out as folks began to realize the nightmare was over, even if they didn't understand why. A few mostly soldiers, ran up to Ash and Lans to thank them, shake hands, or holler congratulations.

                "Shame we can't stay," said Ash, after waving off the latest admirer. "Would've been nice to have a hero's reward."

                "Duty calls, and duty has no patience," Lans replied in good humor.

                Soon they left the gates, and the tower came into view.

                Seeing it clearly took Ash's breath away. It was beautiful and strange and terrifying, unlike anything she had ever seen before. The tower really was a tower - not astoundingly high, but it easily rose above the walls and low buildings of Bronze Hill - or, for that matter, any town Ash had seen in her life. Bo had said it was covered in mud - if so, it had somehow shed that dirt, and now it glimmered in the sunlight like the armor of an iridescent beetle. The strange color made it stand out more against the plain landscape, made it seem all the more unearthly.

                There were a lot of things about it that reminded her of insects, on reflection. She almost imagined that a colony of enormous bugs had willingly stacked themselves to make this structure. It didn't look like anything man-made, for certain.

                "It's like nothing I've seen before," commented Lans, noticing her gaze. "And I've seen some strange things in the wilds." He looked at the tower too, and expression became distant. "If Dolh were here... I fear he'd be as ignorant as I am. But it reeks of old magic, to me. I'd go so far as to hazard it might have come from the time before the gods, when we have no histories. But who's to say?"

                "I ain't much concerned with where it came from," replied Ash, "as I am with where it's going, and what it can do."


                It wasn't easy, but the posse did find what they were looking for - what Stitch-Eyes was looking for. In time, the mysteries of the tower would become clear...ish. But for now, the posse was ready to move on.

                One town as saved, and one was destroyed beyond any hope of recovery. The frontier could heal from these wounds, but it was a near thing, and the peace Ash and her friends earned was tenuous. Soon, it would be broken again.

                OOC Commentary
                And that finishes that chapter. As always, I welcome your feedback for good or for ill. And come back next week for the start of the next adventure!


                Story fluff
                The process of building the Southern Frontier's railways was a mixture of genius and stubborn, bullheaded persistence. Many thousands of laborers took decades to lay hundreds of miles of track, crisscrossing the south. Generations of yeddim breeders have and continue to work tirelessly to raise ever-more-tireless animals. Numerous investors made or lost fortunes, betting on the railway's success. The end result is a freight-shipping system that links all the parts of the frontier economy.

                In contrast to the railroads on Earth, the southern rail-builders do not have gunpowder. Firedust, as previously explained, does not have the concussive power necessary to destroy land formations. So when the railway builders encountered any obstacle that would be too difficult or expensive to break down by hand (such as a mountain), their preferred solution was to bypass it. This is the primary reason why the railways, so effective on the relatively flat lands of the Frontier, do not stretch outside of it and have not been replicated elsewhere in Creation... yet.

                A "norry" is an improvised railcar. Most norries are not much more than wooden boards over simple metal wheels. People who build norries typically cannot afford livestock to pull their vehicles, and push them along with punt poles. They are popular in parts of the frontier that have rarely-used railways.

                Lans' infamous "war norry" is perhaps the only example of an armored norry to ever have been built. The story goes that then-Marshall Lans and three companions were trapped in a box canyon, surrounded by enemies, and with only the resources of a small workshop to draw upon. Lans hit upon the idea of building a scrap-iron box, mounting it on a handcar, and riding the shielded contraption to safety. This proved remarkably successful, and the war norry would go on to inspire the armored cars used to transport high-value goods in the modern day.
                Last edited by semicasual; 01-12-2018, 05:08 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

                Comment


                • OOC Commentary:

                  Hey folks. I don't have an update ready for this week, but I do have a question I'd like to put to you all.

                  My last project didn't have a posse, or really any characters who accompanied the MC for long. What I am finding with this present quest is that the presence of the posse members poses some challenges. Specifically, I have to make sure that each member of the posse is:
                  1. Not stealing the show from the main character
                  2. Not useless
                  3. Not boring
                  4. Not getting more face-time than any other important character.

                  ...and on top of that, I need them to be compelling enough that the players will want to interact with them, without prompting. So, how am I doing?


                  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 have been enjoying the posse. It's nice to have other people who make me care about the setting, and I like that there's a lot about each of them we don't know. That mystery makes them feel more real.

                    Character interaction and dialogue is, thus far, my favorite part of this story. I say you're doing great.


                    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

                    Comment


                    • Originally posted by semicasual View Post
                      OOC Commentary:

                      Hey folks. I don't have an update ready for this week, but I do have a question I'd like to put to you all.

                      My last project didn't have a posse, or really any characters who accompanied the MC for long. What I am finding with this present quest is that the presence of the posse members poses some challenges. Specifically, I have to make sure that each member of the posse is:
                      1. Not stealing the show from the main character
                      2. Not useless
                      3. Not boring
                      4. Not getting more face-time than any other important character.

                      ...and on top of that, I need them to be compelling enough that the players will want to interact with them, without prompting. So, how am I doing?
                      I like the balance you're striking. I think it adds to the DB esthetic to have a group/troupe. Of course, what duster isn't complete without a posse on one side or the other?

                      Comment


                      • Originally posted by Wise Old Guru View Post
                        I have been enjoying the posse. It's nice to have other people who make me care about the setting, and I like that there's a lot about each of them we don't know. That mystery makes them feel more real.

                        Character interaction and dialogue is, thus far, my favorite part of this story. I say you're doing great.
                        Agreed. You are doing fine, semicasual.


                        Thoughts ripple out, birthing others

                        Comment


                        • As always, I love your stories so much. I think you're giving people as much screentime as makes sense and any time you're not, it's because of the decisions of the audience, and that's on us. I am consistently impressed by your ability to meld our input and make the story roll with it (the dual identity thing being a prime example).


                          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

                          Comment




                          • A team of oxen pulled the tower while Ash and her posse rode in front. It wasn't a long journey, but it was a slow one.

                            That's about all I have to say about the trip from Bronze Hill to the station. Nothing much happened, and I suppose the posse was glad for the break.

                            Before that, Ash took the time to go over the tower thoroughly. It had only one entry into its interior, a hatch on a joint that could, with some effort, be lifted up like a wing. The inside had four levels, connected by a corkscrew ramp that twisted through the middle of the structure.There was no light inside, but something odd happened when Ash brought a lantern in. The shell-like material covering the walls reflected even the smallest bit of firelight enough to dimly illuminate the whole tower. These were not mirrors, but something else - something that seemed to catch flames and spit them out brighter than before.

                            The floors of each level were smooth, but uneven, like stone that had been walked over too many times. Strange stalagmite-like structures jutted out of the floor in places, covered in a thick fur that was, on close inspection, hundreds of tiny feelers that shrunk away at Ash's touch. Sometimes the tower would shake or rattle when she laid hands on things.

                            The top level had the musk of long-dead things, and Ash found a loose pile of human bones in a corner - just enough for one person. Whoever they were, their skull had been caved in. There was no other trace of human hands anywhere in the tower.

                            Sometime during this search, Lans showed Ash something he'd discovered by accident - by grasping one of the furred structures on the lowest level, he could make the wheels below the tower warp and bend. This was how he proposed to move the tower on the railway - by adjusting its wheels to dimensions suitable for running on track.

                            Getting the tower onto the track was the most difficult. Hauling it up and turning it in the direction took a lot of work from the oxen, their handlers, and Lans crudely operating the wheel controls from the inside. After that, they found they didn't need the oxen anymore - the tower would roll on its own at a fair clip, as if it had been designed to do so. It waved and swayed enough to make you queasy if you were riding on the upper levels, but it stayed steady.

                            The trouble was, whoever was driving couldn't see where they were going - no entrance beside the door, I said. And that means no windows. They worked out a system where a rider in front would signal another riding behind the tower, who in turn would holler at someone waiting the doorway, who would pass on warnings to the driver. It wasn't graceful, but it worked. They followed the railways south in this manner.

                            Gaze-of-the-Sun rejoined them at some point. Ash wasn't sure exactly when, only that once, when she happened to be looking up, she saw the old woman perched on top of the swaying tower like some strange bird.

                            Near the end of a long day of traveling, they turned at a junction onto an old track that led to a box canyon. There had once been a rich firedust-and-coal mine here. But it had run dry about fifteen years earlier, and now the workers' camp at the end of the track was abandoned.

                            By unspoken agreement, they rested in the ramshackle station at the edge of the camp. It wasn't much to look at - a wooden platform covered in dust, a simple roof covering part of the platform, a a few large, sooty bins that stunk of coal. A faded, barely readable sign at the end of the tracks read "Prosperity Mine - property of Tylos-Yvana".

                            Serge broke out a bottle of whiskey that he'd gotten from somewhere in Bronze Hill, and they shared it around. Even Gaze sat in a circle with the rest of them and took a short swallow.

                            "Now we're all in one spot, I think it's time to talk about how things have gone, and where they're goin'," said Ash, after she'd drunk her share. "Ya'll did as well as I could've hoped for - we found the enemy, fought 'em, and took their prize." She made an expansive gesture to the tower, looming ominously beside the station. The others sounded their agreement and passed the bottle around again.

                            "What I want to know is, what is it we took exactly?" asked Seres, slurring a little.

                            " 'S a relic," answered Serge, slurring slightly less than her. "Some old sorcery, nobody remembers how it works."

                            "I do wonder about that," said Lans, seemingly to himself. If the liquor affected him, he didn't show it. "If we assume Dolh knew of the tower's existence, it can't have been completely lost to time. Not to mention the human remains we cleaned out. I doubt that this mystery is beyond us."

                            Ash thought it over then nodded. "Can't hurt. But whether we can figure it out or not, it'll serve as bait. Stitch-Eyes will come lookin' for it, if he hasn't started already. And we'll need to be ready to ambush him when he does."

                            "Whelp, this looks like a good place to set up," Serge commented, looking around. "Plenty of hiding places, nothing we need to worry about protecting, only one direction to approach-"

                            "-but it can be better," Ash interrupted. "We can set up traps, defenses. Give ourselves more of an edge."

                            "Hmm. Yep." Serge took another pull on the bottle. "And I guess you've got some idea how to do that?"

                            Ash showed her showoff's smirk. "I do. We're gonna need dust. A hell of a lot of dust."

                            Bo frowned. "Where would we find much dust? Do we dig for it here?"

                            "Ha! No," Ash shook her head. "There's another reason I picked this spot. Lans, I see you nodding, you've already guessed, haven't you?"

                            Lans stopped nodding. "We're close to Fire's Edge, with easy access to the rails. Given our lack of capital, I expect you're about to propose we hijack or rob a dust freight-train."

                            "Got it in one, old man."

                            Lans grimaced. So did Serge and Bo. Gaze did not respond, or perhaps did not understand - Ash never was sure if she knew the common creole of the Frontier folk.

                            Seres whooped and jumped to her feet, bottle in her hand. Her burst of enthusiasm quickly died when she saw nobody else shared it.

                            Ash sighed. "I know, none of you signed up for this. But we're on our own out here. No money, nobody to fall back on. So, we're goin' to have to improvise."
                            • "We need dust for our trap, and this is the only way we're goin' to get it." She forced a smile and shrugged. "Besides, it's for a good cause."
                            • "I'd like to do this the 'right' way too. But we don't have the time." Ash set her jaw. "Stitch-Eyes might show up at any time. Can't dither about, earnin' our dust the hard way."
                            • "...unless one of you has another idea?" Ash looked around expectantly.
                            • 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.

                            Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz

                            Comment


                            • While asking for ideas is probably the "nice" thing to do, I wanna see a train heist! Compromise with "I'd like to do this the 'right' way too. But we don't have the time."


                              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

                              Comment


                              • "I'd like to do this the 'right' way too. But we don't have the time." Ash set her jaw. "Stitch-Eyes might show up at any time. Can't dither about, earnin' our dust the hard way."

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