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    started a topic Back Alive or Maybe Dead [Quest]

    Back Alive or Maybe Dead [Quest]

    Back Alive, or Maybe Dead
    A Tale from the Realm's Wild Frontier

    To the town of Freewater rode a stranger, one fine day...

    Freewater was the kind of place that passes for a town in places too far from the center of the world to know what real towns are. It had buildings made of wood and adobe instead of stone or concrete, and the tallest were only two stories. Its regular population was greatly outnumbered by its regular drifters. The name was either wishful thinking, false advertising, or deliberate irony - anyone who lived there would tell you water was about the most precious thing they had.

    The sun shone down on a dry, dusty road that passed between dry, dusty houses. Air rose in hot waves from the burning earth. At that time of day and that time of year in that part of the world, nobody went outside by choice. The sun would bake the sweat right off you.

    Which is not to say that nobody was outside - just common people who had no choice. There was a smith, working hard underneath a shade, hammering out a ladle. A couple of teamsters hauled buckets across the road to their sheltered animals. Farmers wandered around the edges, doing daily labors they couldn't delay. These were plain working folk, making a living however they could in an inhospitable land.

    Then came our stranger, drawing eyes as she rode in. Really, it was her sand-dragon drawing the eyes. Sand dragons are hard to tame, as everyone knows. This one stood out even more for having scales red as rust in the twilight. His rider swayed atop him as the dragon plodded along. She would've been a sight too, if the dragon weren't so distracting.

    She was a lean woman in a long, dust-colored coat, keeping the sun out of her face with a wide-brimmed hat. Leather gloves, chaps, and boots completed her riding ensemble. Red hair in a loose ponytail rested against the scarf wrapped around her neck. She had pale skin gone ruddy from exposure, and her freckled face was aged prematurely. Every so often, when the dragon moved her just the right way, her coat slipped and showed the flame piece bouncing off her hip.

    It had been a long time since she'd come to this part of the country, but now she was looking for someone. She was...
    • The White Plains Ranger , a mysterious vigilante. The Ranger lived a solitary existence in the desert, closer to its spirits than its people. Her existence was a rumor, her name was a secret, and wherever she went she brought hope to the hopeless and swift justice to the wicked.
    • Marshal Jan Steader, the Law around these parts. It was a tough, thankless job, but somebody had to keep order on the frontier. Jan was the only one hard enough to be able to protect but still soft enough to want to serve. Impartiality, a no-nonsense attitude, and a knack for spotting the root of a problem helped her keep the peace between people who disagree. If that failed, she had the fastest draw you've ever seen.
    • Burning Red, the Devil in the Desert, an infamous outlaw. One day she just appeared, robbing and torching her way across the frontier, leaving a trail of destruction behind her. When people saw fires burning high off in the distance, they'd say it was Burning Red at her bloody work. Then they'd lock their doors, for what little good that did them.
    • "Swifthand" Ash, a self-made legend.Tales were told far and wide of the woman who wrestled a wildfire, befriended the king of all sand-dragons, married nine men and seven women at the same time, took on a hundred-fifty dunefolk singlehanded, killed half of them, and drank a whole river dry. Most of those stories were embellished or made up by the woman herself. Make no mistake, Ash wasn't all talk. Far from it - records prove she was a crack shot, a fine rider, and a successful bounty-hunter and gambler. But she liked to spin a yarn, or put on a show, and sometimes she'd pay to have her story told... pretty soon, her myth far outgrew her deeds. She didn't mind at all.
    • Something else?
    Table of Contents
    Chapter 1: Once Upon a Time in the South
    1. To the town of Freewater...
    2. She was "Swifthand" Ash...
    3. Instead of answering right away...
    4. "Mister, when there's trouble around..."
    5. Ash smiled back at her...
    6. Ash decided to test Em's patience...
    7. ...a challenge with no name on it.
    8. "..." The Ranger didn't answer.
    9. The Ranger caught that dust in her flamepiece...
    10. She gave Em one hard whack on each side of her head...
    11. The Ranger kept her silence...
    12. ...chiming bells.
    13. "So I am. And it looks like I've got you to thank for it."
    14. And that's how the adventure started.

    Chapter 2: The Magnificent Five
    1. Ash and Bo rode along...
    2. They went North, to Roca Roja
    3. It was the Youngblood
    4. We're goin' to gather gossip.
    5. They were the Impostor
    6. She decided to put on a show.
    7. She walked across the room and grabbed a seat next to Serge
    8. It was time to leave Roca Roja
    9. Their destination was far south, to the Wastes
    10. That's where they found the Old Hand
    11."If that's what you want, I can't force you. But..."
    12. But she should tell one person - Damon Lans
    13. A series of canyons, as shaded as anywhere in the Wastes
    14. Ash snapped King's reins and turned the lizard toward the cliff face.
    15. The Ranger loaded up her matchlock, fired a blast into the air...
    16. Ash stood up and walked over to Serge
    17. "I believe my enemy has a patron - a being most ancient and foul"
    18. "I'm gonna need a weapon. Ya'll might want to arm up, too."
    19. the end it wasn't simple at all.

    Chapter 3: Have Firewand - Will Travel
    1.They reached Santa Mela early in the morning
    2. ..they would spend the day browsing
    3. Ash walked outside to inspect the new arrival
    4. Ash stepped up to the coach and peered in
    5. Ash pursed her lips, then jogged up the stairs in pursuit of Jehn
    6. "That wasn't any Delzahn prince"
    7. "Come on. Let's get this over with."
    8. Ash ignored the scene and focused on the birds.
    9. Ash rushed in between them
    10. "You seem pretty comfortable around powerful folks, Bo."
    11. The Ranger got dressed, grabbed her firewand, and set out
    12. She lit herself up and came around the corner
    13. She ran for Hark, seeing in him her best chance
    14. The Ranger put her bayonet to Hark's throat
    15. [She] pulled a fistful of dust.. and flung it
    16. The Ranger roughly grabbed her by the shoulder
    17. She was surprised to see Gaze
    18. Ash decided to join Seres
    19. Judgment and Absolution
    20. Whatever she would have said was drowned out by a deafening boom
    21. "Get those doors open!"
    22. Ash did not move, but she spoke
    23. "Three!" said Ash, desperately.
    24. Ash stared at Tei Leng and shivered.
    25. "Pull back!"
    26. Throwing caution to the wind, Ash sprinted to the tree trunk
    27. Ash started to blink, then she laughed.
    28. Ash stood up and stamped on the edge of the case.
    29. "We're not done. We're not leavin' until this whole tree is ash."
    30. "I'll own, we weren't workin' as a team."
    31. "We've got to find out what the Lost Souls are plannin'."
    32, for trouble they went looking.

    Chapter 4: How the South Was Won
    1. "We should prepare."
    2. "Now's as good a time as any to train."
    3. Seres fell into a nest of hoop-snakes.
    4. She swung it around on the end of its tether
    5. "You're stronger than you know, Seres."
    6. She turned to the others...
    7. "Here. Let me help."
    8. "I won't say no to an extra pair of hands."
    9. She stayed for the whole service
    10. "I'd like to take a walk up Frewilk's Peak"
    11. "Gaze can get them. We'll make camp here."
    12. "Before I was a bounty hunter?"
    13. "Yes, we'll make for the town,"
    14. "This is Marshal Tepet Serge"
    15. "We'll strike into the shadowland!"
    16. "Folks're countin' on us, Lans,"
    17. Ash played with King for a while
    18. The Ranger gestured towards the mounds.
    19. The Ranger slowed to a stop and waited
    20. The Ranger stealthily followed its tracks
    21. It was time to muster the troops
    22. She was going to try to ride the damned thing
    23. The Ranger aimed Judgment from the hip
    24. She... fired a double-blast
    25. Stitch-Eyes sat on the opposite side of the table

    OOC Introduction
    Hello, and welcome to my second Quest thread project. This time, I'm going to be changing up my style a little - past tense, more informal, and with more blocks like this one holding my commentary on the story as it goes. Also, it's kind of a Western.

    For those of you unfamiliar with "quest" threads, the rules are simple - I'll describe the scene and events as they happen, and you decide what you want to happen next. Most of the time, this means deciding what the main character will do, and you'll have list of options to pick from along with the option to put forth your own ideas.

    Here is a link to my last quest project, "From Out of a Dream", in case you want further examples or you like binge-reading.

    To start off, we're going to create our leading lady using an archetype as a template. We'll start with the basic concept of a Drifter, a Lawman, a Desperado, or a Tall Tale and build from there.

    Oh, and I'm always on the lookout for more music. If you've got suggestions for thing to add to the BAoMD soundtrack, I'll take a listen and perhaps add it to the story at some point. No Ennio Morricone, please - I'm saving that for later.

    The Drifter is a character with no roots. They waltz into a story, change everything forever with a combination of superior skill and uncanny insight, then waltz out with no explanation. If they have a name it is never given, but that usually is not a handicap. Rather, they use their enigmatic charisma to great effect, impressing people with their skill and cool to get what they want... whatever that might be. Their motivations and methods tend to be mysterious - for instance, they might demand money but ultimately refuse to take it, or get involved in a convoluted land dispute when they're only looking for revenge against one person. In the end, whether they are good or bad, The Drifter is best characterized as a catalyst that no one really understands.

    Inspirations: Practically every western with Clint Eastwood in it has him as one of these (though he may tend more towards being a Lawman or Desperado). Also consider the Lone Ranger, Nobody (My Name is Nobody), Harmonica (Once Upon a Time in the West)

    The Lawman is generally the de facto "good guy," a "white hat" character. The Lawman, more than any other archetype, is tied to a particular context - a town they live in, a community they serve, a group of people they protect. They usually have some kind of righteous mission emerging from their context, which they aim to complete whatever the risk to themselves. Lawmen are generally known for a kind but serious demeanor, a complete unwillingness to take any guff, and being more dangerous than expected. Most importantly, a Lawman will always fight for what they consider to be Justice - somekinds cruel, sometimes kind, always unwavering.

    Inspirations: All of John Wayne's roles, but especially Rooster Cogburn (True Grit). Also consider Will Kane (High Noon), Wyatt Earp (Tombstone), Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke).

    The Desperado is usually, but not always, the villain in the story. Most of their influences, then are "black hats" - stylish, fearsome figures who mostly evoke terror and disgust from people who meet them. Desperados always skirt the law, even if they have good intentions. Violence or the threat thereof is their main tool. Which is not to say that a desperado cannot be charming or sympathetic - they can be both. But at the end of the day, the defining characteristic of the archetype is that they are A Bad Person Doing Bad Things, even if those things are done for a good reason.

    Inspirations: William Munny (Unforgiven), Ben Wade (3:10 to Yuma), everyone in (The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly), Juan Miranda (A Fistful of Dynamite).

    The Tall Tale is actually a synthesis of two ideas, borrowing from two completely different and somewhat exclusive sources. The first source is folklore and folklore-inspired tales, with colorful characters performing impossible feats as they wander their way across the west, getting into truly epic trouble. The second source is the IRL "Wild" West, where real people gained legendary status with a lot of self-promotion and good branding. Some, like James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, were genuinely accomplished people who got inflated into larger-than-life figures because pretending to be more of a badass was (arguably) helpful to their careers. Others, like Martha Jane Cannary AKA "Calamity Jane", were probably all talk but they inspired others just the same. The folklore side provides the epic deeds that Exalted is known for - this is a setting where lassoing a tornado is actually possible for some people. The IRL side provides the human element to flesh out a folkloric figure, so we don't end up with a superpowered cardboard cutout. Both sides provide an indelible style and mystique.

    Inspirations: Besides those already mentioned, consider Pecos Bill (folklore), Silas Greaves (Call of Juarez: Gunslinger), and William "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
    Last edited by semicasual; 12-21-2017, 11:13 AM.

  • The Unsung Hero
    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.

    Leave a comment:

  • semicasual
    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.

    Leave a comment:

  • KFinigan
    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.

    Leave a comment:

  • FallenEco
    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.

    Leave a comment:

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

    Leave a comment:

  • semicasual
    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?

    Leave a comment:

  • KFinigan
    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

    Leave a comment:

  • FallenEco
    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.
    Oh howdy. Why not? Let's be bait

    Leave a comment:

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

    We're ending this right.

    Leave a comment:

  • semicasual
    ...rallied the troops to review plans and make one last speech.

    All five of them gathered around a hastily drawn map in the dirt by what had been their firepit. Ash held a charred branch in her hand, using it both for etching signs and for pointing.

    "Alright, there are more of them than before. Maybe three or four times more. But that's fine - we've had plenty of time to prepare." She squatted down and jabbed a few dots into the dirt, then drew some lines between them. "Lans has buried firebursters on either side of Sere's trenches. It won't kill 'em all, but it should break their charge and scatter them a bit - maybe convince 'em all to dismount."

    She drew an arrow circling around to the outer edge map, at the entrance to the box canyon. "I expect the second wave will come in slower, and they'll try to circle around here, where the ground is all rocky. Serge, you'll be up on the cliff, ready to drop rocks on that bunch."

    Ash looked up to confirm that Serge had understood. The mercenary nodded, his face expressionless.

    "After that first wave or two, we'll have to be flexible." she made a series of short scratch marks all across the map over the area of the camp, paused, then made several more. "We've laid down tripwires all over. These ones drop dust, but it ain't gonna ignite on its own." She made X marks inside a few buildings. "This is where the firepits will be - some of Bo's bottle-bombs, and a fire to light them from. If you see someone hit a wire, throw a bomb, and do it fast. Don't have to aim true, just get close enough for the blast to spread 'round."

    She paused and looked up again, this time at Gaze. "[Elder, you and I must spread the flames. Cast forth your fire-eagle wherever you see a group of them together]." Gaze was nodding before she was finished talking. The mystic seemed distracted, and kept looking away from the map to study he sky.

    Ash went on. "If we do this right, we should have good wall of fire cover most of the streets. That should funnel them down this road, where the water tower is." She pointed her stick at Lans. "I leave it to you to know when to cut the rope, but that'll be our biggest splash. Don't waste it."

    "I've had plenty of time to consider this - I will not miss my shot," the old hand replied.

    Ash nodded and stood up, tossing her stick aside. "Anythin' could happen out there, but our tactics are always the same - lure them into traps, attack while they're off balance, retreat when they regroup, and then do it all again. And don't leave dust behind, either. If you've got to run, set it off as you go. By the time we get to the tower, most everythin' should be on fire.

    "If they get that far, we've got to put up a fight at the tower, and make it look good. Don't back off from there until Stitch-Eyes is close enough to spit at.

    Then we fall back from there... and Gaze and I will set off our last trap. You all get saddled up in the meantime, and be ready. If it works, it'll be time to chase down any Lost Souls still standin'. If it doesn't... that'll be the last chance to escape. Is everyone ready?"

    The posse all made their affirmations. No part of this was new to them - they'd all played a part in shaping the plan over the last few days, but it felt good just to lay it all out and reaffirm what was known in the moments before chaotic battle began. Ash gave them her showman's smile. "Good. This is it, folks - the part where we play our hand and hope for the best. I think it's a great hand - you all have been as great a posse as I could ever have hoped for. Now, let's bring this outlaw down - dead or alive!"

    She pumped her fist into the air, and the other five shouted back in unison - "Dead or alive!"

    Then they broke up, each hurrying to their positions. Ash stepped into the mine cavern first, to untie King and get into her saddlebags. She took off her hat and looked at it, wondering if this would be the last time she'd wear it. Then she stowed it away, got out her other hat, her familiar red bandanna, and her dusty, battle-worn poncho. The Ranger stepped out of the cave, eyes afire.

    She took her place...
    • ...on top of the cliff with Serge.
    • ...hiding in one of the outer buildings.
    • ...right out in the open, saddled atop King, daring them to come at her.
    • Something else?

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  • midnightcyclist
    RALLY THE TROOPS and make sure everyone knows what they're doing AND THEN ONWARD TO THE FINAL BATTLE

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  • FallenEco
    Rally the troops and review the plan one last time. Make sure everyone is ready for it and gives them a reassurance that we can pull this off

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  • The Unsung Hero
    Not fair, I want to do all of them. I suppose we should review plans and make a quick speech. If we're going to have any chance of making proper use of the defenses, we should be aware of them to call them out.

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  • semicasual
    …to talk to Serge and Seres.

    Rounding them up was straightforward - they showed up first at chow time, so Ash led them aside.

    "I'd like to tell you a story," she said, while they sat down to bowls of beans and stewed, formerly dried meat. "It concerns my past, and your futures."

    Seres looked a little apprehensive. Serge cocked an eyebrow, shrugged, and got down to eating. After a moment, he motioned that Ash should continue with his spoon.

    "When I was a bit older than Seres, I was settin' out to make a name for myself. I had nothin' but the clothes on my back and a few tricks Gaze had taught me to control my power. I had to do a lot of bluffin' - at cards, at talks, in fights - to make myself look smart, or skilled, or fierce. And with practice, I got to be good enough that most of the time, it weren't no bluff.

    Once I had some money saved up, enough for real weapons, I took to bounty huntin'. It was dangerous work, but the pay was good, and whenever work was hard to find I could get by on the odd card game or trick-show.

    Now, my folks told me stories of the White Plains Ranger when I was growin' up. I tell you true - it never crossed my mind that I would become them. But one time, I got into a tussle with an outlaw named Freedom Ballard in the middle of the street in a place called Tibia. Ballard was nowhere near as infamous as Stitch-Eyes, but he was infamous in that town. It was night, and I had my mask on, so I guess any onlookers didn't guess it was me. I'd said I would take Ballard on, but when the mornin' came and I went to see the sheriff the talk of the town was that some stranger had brought him down instead. And not long after, folks started talkin' about the Ranger.

    The way they talked about the return of the vigilante struck me. And I guessed if I stepped forward and took the credit, these folks would still get their justice, but they'd be without a symbol - somebody to give them hope.

    So I let that one go. I kept up the bounty-huntin', and I went as myself for most jobs, but once in a while, when the target was 'specially famous or had been around a long time, I made sure to bring 'em down as the Ranger, where people could see. And I took to wearing that old hat and poncho, partly for disguise but mostly so folks would remember how I looked.

    And it worked. My reputation grew, but the Ranger's grew faster. People started claimin' things about the Ranger I had nothin' to do with, and I let it happen. I never was one to let the truth get in the way of a legend."

    Serge by now was mostly done eating. Seres was just starting to dig in. Ash, of course, had hardly paused for a breath, let alone a bite.

    "I've been thinkin' about legacies lately. While we're alive, we are what we do. And when we're gone, we're what we leave behind. And... I want to make sure, whatever happens, that I leave behind somethin' that will keep the fires of hope burnin' in this country."

    Seres stopped eating and looked at Ash with a deepening frown. Serge set his bowl aside and rested his hands on his legs.

    "I believe that somebody needs to keep the legend of the White Plains Ranger goin'. Somebody needs to be the vigilante that will go where the lawmen don't, and mercenaries won't. And if it ain't me... I think you two could do it just as well."

    Ash's audience was silent at this, their expressions a mixture of shock and dismay. Still, she went on.

    "I know both of you are thinking you're not up for the challenge - that this is too much for you. But it isn't, really - it's no different that anything else you've done so far. It's a difference in style, not skill, and the story-tellin' crowds will do all the work spreadin' the legend. I did it for years without sayin' a word."

    "What in hell is wrong with you!?" Seres exploded. "I told you - I just told you yesterday - I didn't think this was the life for me. "

    "Yes, but you also told me you were inspired to do this by stories," Ash replied, keeping calm. "Those stories are bigger than you, or me. They're what gives folks a reason to keep goin' when others would just give up and die. They're what stops folks from sayin' 'Oh, it can't be helped,' when it could be helped if they were brave enough to try. They're what keeps folks comin' here, to the wild south, tryin' to make their own lives instead of having their lives made for 'em." Ash got more animated as she went on, her voice more intense. "The frontier lives for stories, Seres. The stories we tell each other do as much to change things as the deeds we do. I believe that - and you do too. And I'm asking you, because I believe you can do it, to give folks somethin' to tell stories about."

    Seres slowly deflated while Ash made her speech. By the end of it, she'd stopped making eye contact, and was seemingly studying the ground by her left foot. Eventually she crossed her arms and sighed. "I'll... think about it, Ash. Please, gimme some time." She stood up, lifted her dinner, and walked off in the direction of what had been the miner's barracks.

    Serge, in the meantime, had been silently looking back and forth between Ash and Seres with bafflement and alarm. But once their altercation seemed to be settled, he finally cleared his throat and spoke up.

    "So, what you're proposing is, sometimes, I should wear a mask and a red cloak in fights."

    Ash turned to look him in the eye and nodded. "Yup."

    "And that's all?"


    "Sounds simple enough."

    "I reckon so."

    "Well, if its no different from pretending to be a Marshal, I don't see why not."

    "Glad to hear it."

    And then Ash got to eat, quietly finishing her meal.

    The next morning, the Lost Souls came. They didn't sneak up in the night - the sun was well up by the time Gaze spotted them, galloping towards the canyon on a few score horses.

    The sky was overcast with clouds full of rain and foreboding. Ash could no longer see the White Riders, but there was no more time to worry about that. As soon as Gaze gave the signal, Ash grabbed her Ranger garb, and...
    • ...Rallied the troops to make one last speech.
    • ...Gathered up the group to hastily review plans.
    • into position to launch the ambush.
    • Something else?
    OOC Commentary
    This choice is partly stylistic and partly practical. If you want to go over what kind of defenses everyone set up - I know it's been a while since the start of this chapter - then pick "review plans." If you want to start the action and just need to know where everyone is placed, pick "got into position." And if you enjoy reading Ash's monologues, pick "one last speech."

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