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  • Originally posted by The Unsung Hero View Post
    ...right out in the open, saddled atop King, daring them to come at her.

    We're ending this right.
    100 style points for House Hufflepuff


    • She took her place right out in the open, saddled atop King, daring them to come at her.

      The Ranger was waiting a while before the first group of them came around the bend in the canyon wall and became visible. They were traveling in loose groups of four or five riders, slowing down as they came so that the groups behind them could catch up. By the time they were all assembled, there were somewhere between eighty and one hundred Lost Souls gathered at the mouth of the the canyon.

      She recognized a few - Bighorn Bone's huge frame, supported by what was probably a draft horse at one point. Hark, dressed in fine Delzahn riding garb. Lu Si and One-Eyed Em, sharing a pale horse that looked nearly knackered. And Stitch-Eyes came last, riding on a horse so black it seemed more like the shadow of an animal.

      The Ranger reckoned she was probably within bow-shot of them, but none of them seemed inclined to attack just yet. Instead, they all looked to their leader for a sign.

      "He Who Sees With the Eyes of Death" rode out to of the group. The Ranger glared at him over the dusty expanse between them, and he impassively sat atop his horse.

      A moment or two passed before the Ranger decided the tension needed cutting. She pulled out Judgement, thumbed the hammer, and fired a gout of flame in Stitch-Eyes direction.

      Of course, at this range, the burning dust dissipated before it could possibly hurt anything, but Stitch-Eyes gave a start. She couldn't tell if he was just surprised, or actually flinched. But then he growled, loud enough to echo through the canyon, and waved his crew forward.

      Three or four dozen of them gave a whoop and kicked their horses into a gallop. King growled and shuffled a bit, but the Ranger tugged gently on his reigns and he became still again. She noticed none of Stitch-Eyes' lieutenants came with this first bunch.

      Then there was a great burst of flame in the middle of them. Several horses suddenly ignited from underneathe, and mounts and riders began screaming in unison. Still, most came onward, pushed forward by the riders around them or choosing to run ahead instead of away.
      And these set off more firebursters, and in the smoke and confusion twenty or thirty dove headlong into the trenches.

      The charge was entirely broken - most of their horses dead or crippled, and the riders not much better off. Those who weren't on fire or trapped beneath dying animal began running back the other way.The first to retreat had broken a leg, and he sprint-hobbled towards the other Lost Souls, crying for help. One of Stitch-Eyes knives took him in the chest when he was halfway back, and he fell. The rest, seeing this, milled around in confusion - too scared to go back or forward.

      Stitch-Eyes pointed to a group of others and barked a command. Of the half of the gang still behind him, a score broke off and started a slower, more cautious advance.These didn't rush straight at the Ranger like the first bunch did. Instead, they made to come at her sideways, holding close to one wall of the canyon, well away from the horrible melee she'd made.

      After a few moments passed and nothing happened, the second wave of riders began riding a bit faster. The first-wavers who needed somewhere to go began to join them, mounted or on foot. They were keeping such a narrow column, though, they couldn't help but bunch up. And once they did, they made great targets.

      A noise like a screeching eagle preceded the flight of a firebird from one side of the canyon to the other, as Gaze-of-the-Sun made her play. At the same time, a boulder the size of a calf fell down from the top of the cliff on the attacker's side. The stone and the phoenix hit the Lost Souls almost simultaneously, creating a modest explosion punctuated with a little stone shrapnel and a lot of dust. Several more rocks and magical blasts followed, while the Lost Souls below desperately tried to get out of the way and mostly got in each others' way in the process.

      Some fled away from the wall, and back into the field of pit traps and mines. Others tried to go back, but dithered at the sight of Stitch-Eyes and left themselves open for more attacks. Up above, Serge whooped and shouted something the Ranger couldn't make out over all the other echoes ringing through the canyon.

      One very lucky (or very unlucky) man managed to get through it all. Obllivious to the carnage behind him, he rushed ahead of the rest of his group. Having circumvented most of the traps, he had a clear run at the Ranger. And so he came on, raising a javelin over his head.

      The Ranger flicked King's reigns, and he started moving too. The sand dragon darted towards the Lost Soul, while the Ranger raised up Judgement. When they were almost near enough to spit, the Lost Soul threw his spear. He missed his shot, but the Ranger didn't.

      After that, she surveyed the field with satisfaction. More than half of Stitch-Eye's gang was already incapacitated, and the posse's stock of surprises was still mostly full. But now they'd weeded out the stupid ones, the rest would be much harder.

      Stitch-Eyes raised up a hand, and his remaining gang rallied around them. They appeared to be in the process of making hasty plans.

      The Ranger didn't wait to see what they'd do. Instead, she gave King a nudge, and together they rode into the mine settlement, carefully maneuvering around tripwires and traps that remained to be set off.

      The next part required the posse to form into pairs - one to distract and attack, and one to set traps and cover escape. The Ranger was paired with...

      • Seres
      • Lans
      • Bo
      • 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


      • Seres. Lans would go better with Bo, and maybe Seres seeing us fight again will be inspired.

        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


        • Originally posted by The Unsung Hero View Post
          Seres. Lans would go better with Bo, and maybe Seres seeing us fight again will be inspired.
          I second the motion.

          Thoughts ripple out, birthing others


          • I vote Bo. She can set traps and be a distraction quite well for The Ranger.

            I think the pair of Seres and Lans works best - temper youthful fire with wisdom and experience.


            • OOC commentary:
              Hello all. This has been a long story, both in wordcount and in the time it has taken to reach this point. If I recall correctly, I came up with the concept for this story late in 2016, around the time I was finishing From Out Of A Dream. I played a videogame I highly recommend - "Hard West", by Playway. I also began watching a great many Western movies, one after another. And I was also deeply enthralled with the concept of Exalted. These things merged together into a peculiar fusion, fueled by boredom, intermittent bursts of inspiration, and your input.

              The mashup has been fun, but it has also been taxing at times. The commitment I once had to making one post every week hasn't been kept up, not because I couldn't find the time but because my interest in the project and even in the works that inspired the project gradually faded. I found other creative outputs, new things to fascinate me and write about. And Back Alive or Maybe Dead felt increasingly like a weight dragging me down.

              And so I have decided to let it go. I'm going to write a short version of how the story was likely to go, starting from the most recent choice you made all the way to what I imagined the conclusion of the tale would be. I hope you find it satisfactory, and thank you for reading along and participating in this adventure.

              The Ranger was paired with Seres.
              The kid was shaky, especially once the explosions started. But with the Ranger behind her and clear danger in front of her, and no innocents to worry about, Seres seemed to find her courage. They covered each other, moving slowly back, almost daring the oncoming Lost Souls to surround them. And the Lost Souls got burned, every time.

              They led the attackers on a merry and very dangerous chase around the barracks, workshop, and storehouses, leaving trails of fire as they went.The other members of the posse did their part, and in time they left the Lost Souls with only one way to advance deeper into the mine complex - down the road beneath the water tower.

              The posse regrouped there, drunk on the thrill of victory, ready to set off their last trap and launch their final attack. But the very instant Lans cut the rope holding the tower up, there was a clap of thunder - a sound rarely heard in this part of the south - and the rain began to pour down. Hard, heavy rain, the kind that brings flash-floods and mudslides. And above, the White Riders paraded about like they were in a rodeo.

              The tower trap was a lot less effective when it was just falling wooden wreckage and soggy firedust slurry. The burning mine buildings soon became gently steaming ruins. And the Ranger's flamepieces, though they still fired, had an effective range of one arm-length and even her own blazing aura barely helped. And without their one great equalizer, the tide began to turn against the posse.

              The Lost Souls had been devastated, but they still had the strength of numbers. And their lieutenants, who had held back until now, finally joined the fray. Hark, Loco Lu Si, One-Eyed Em, and Bighorn Bone had new equalizers of their own, dark gifts given to them by Stitch-Eyes, and they were more than mortal now.

              Stitch-Eyes himself had another trick up his sleeve. Calling on powers no one guessed he had, he got a great many of the fallen onto their feet again. Folks who had been bleeding out in the mud found the strength to rise, given a second wind by a force that said pain was an illusion and death could be ignored - at least for a little while.

              The posse was overwhelmed, but they still fought like champions. Every lieutenant died, but not without cost.

              The old hand, Damon Lans, fell first, his fading strength having finally reached its end. And then the impostor Serge died, having gotten in too far over his head. The mystic, Gaze-of-the-Sun, transformed into birds and fled once it appeared their victory was unlikely. And in the confusion, Seres, Bo, the Ranger, and even King were all separated from each other.

              When he saw an opening, Stitch-Eyes himself went straight for the tower. He climbed to the top and activated the mechanism that had destroyed at least one civilization.

              The tower sent an invisible beam - one that could not be seen, but could be felt - into the sky. And all at once, the rain stopped. The clouds cleared away. And the sun shone brightly - too brightly. A dense fog began to grow in the box canyon as the water began to evaporate all at once, and soon the air became nearly hot enough to boil a person in their own skin.

              The Ranger confronted Stitch-Eyes atop the roof of the tower, and they played Stitch-Eyes' quick-draw game again. Once again, the Ranger lost, and Stitch-Eyes rendered Absolution unusable. But instead of trying to fight without it, Ranger cast a fistful of dust onto herself and flared her aura like never before. And in doing do, she set off the barrels of dust that were left inside the tower, still dry, and the glyphs that Gaze had inscribed upon it.

              The entire tower went up in flames of no natural color. Dragon-fire, dust-fire, and witch-fire consumed it, and the tower itself screamed in agony, in hundreds of high-pitched shrieks. The flash-boiling of the surrounding area ceased, although the Ranger wasn't in the best position to appreciate it.

              Stitch-Eyes and the Ranger battled in the flames. She turned Judgement on him, shaped a ring of fire around him, and silently demanded that he surrender. Stitch-Eyes was defiant to the end, and the flames consumed him completely.*

              For those playing at home, this is my take on Caress of One Thousand Hells.

              The Ranger threw herself off the tower and landed hard. She passed out, the last of her strength spent keeping herself from melting in her own trap. And then she found herself, once again, in the dark place between death and dreaming.

              Stitch-Eyes and the Gentleman were there. The Gentleman was disapproving. Stitch-Eyes was enraged, defensive, and demanded another chance. The Gentleman shook his head, reached into Stitch-Eyes' chest, and tore out a heart that was simultaneously blindingly radiant and utterly black.

              In the dream, as in reality, Stitch-Eyes immediately crumbled to ash. the Gentleman carefully stowed the black, radiant heart in a valise. Then he turned to the Ranger and politely explained that she had not won anything except a stay of execution. The end was still coming, and all she had done was delay it, slightly, at great cost to herself and others. The Ranger, ever defiant, willed herself to wake.

              When she came to, she got to her feet and started looking for survivors. Among the Lost Souls, it seemed there were none - at least none that stuck around. She found Seres and Bo together. Bo had been badly burned when the tower activated, but Seres had saved her by dragging them both into the deepest part of the mine cave. King had torn his way into a cellar for shelter, and was pretty cranky went Ash found him.

              They had lost most everything else, including the other pack animals. They dug graves for Lans and Serge, and left the rest for the vultures.

              After that, they parted ways. Seres went east, searching for she-did-not-know what. She was sick of battle, and even though she knew now she was capable of war she did not want any part of it. She wanted to find a new way, a way of fighting without killing, and it was clear that she could never learn that in the savage frontier.

              Bo went home. At first, she wanted to follow Ash wherever she went, but she was persuaded that, without an existential threat like Stitch-Eyes looming its head, she would do the most good by helping and healing in a community. After all that had happened, now seemed like a good time to start the work of building lives, not ending them.

              Gaze returned to her desert. She did not seek the company of Ash again.

              The Ranger, as herself, walked into Roca Roja some time later, carrying a bag of ashes. She delivered it to Marshall Eicus, along with a defaced poster of Stitch-Eyes. The message was clear, and sorcerous divination confirmed it - these were the remains of the infamous outlaw. But the Ranger left before Eicus could give her any reward, leaving nothing behind but rumors.

              And so ends this story of the Wild South.

              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 just went back and realized that I THOUGHT I commented on the end of this but I DIDN'T! I am ashamed of myself!

                semicasual I've been a huge fan of your work for a long time and I've adored following this story to its conclusion. I appreciate so much that you took the effort to finish it up even when you were mentally done with it. I have so much respect for your ability to blend mechanics with story flavor. It feels SO Exalted and I just love it.

                If you never post another story I'll understand but I genuinely hope you do someday because reading these has been half the reason I still visit the forums on a regular basis over the past few years. Thank you for your work and AGAIN I'm sorry for not commenting the first time around. I could SWEAR I had, so maybe the forums ate it but you deserve accolades for the stories you've put out.

                You rock.

                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