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Rec Room / Re: CDDA: Adventures in Cataclysm
« Last post by Chaosvolt on November 10, 2019, 04:17:27 pm »
(( Written with Salt. ))

Minx had seen Medeina assert control over other robots before and thought that this would be something like that, but when they got to it, Medeina simply scuttled around it. It was dead, well and truly. Up close to it Minx and Medeina had no problem seeing the extent of the damage and very shortly Hector could see it too. Inside the cage, along the "roof" of the robot, a circular panel had been pried open and the machines guts had been carefully pulled out. Minx didn't have much attention for it though, Hector noted. Her eyes seemed to find themselves drawn away again and again, and when he followed her distracted gaze, he saw what she saw. Coyotes. Avoiding them of course, seeming to avoid the cage machine or the town center itself. There wasn't fear or nervousness in Minx's look. Just a kind of sadness.

"Mr. Lowe," Medeina asked, "When we are done with Catnip's task, would it be possible to drag this machine back to Walkerville? I would like to run an inspection diagnostic, but I cannot move from my proxy while this far from Mr. Koenigs computer."

Hector gave another little glance at the local wildlife, keeping the M2 pointed in a safe direction once the others were close to the machine, and the animals skulking about didn't seem like much of a threat for now.

"I suppose we could, I'd suggest being careful with it though. Given how a lot of the AI was back when this all started, don't want you catching something from it." he remarked, before turning his attention down the road. They were definitely close, it was just a matter of finding the facility among all the greenery.

Medeina prodded at a bone, some large slab shaped thing with holes running up the beak like ridge at it's center. Hector had no doubt that it was some kind of skull. The coyotes kept their distance, and soon vanished back into the greenery from whence they came. In the distance to the east, the call of some unknown creature rose and faded away. Hector realized there were no undead here, and he found that a bit odd.

"Shouldn't be too hard to find it." Minx commented, pointing up towards a vine covered pillar with a sign on each side. Hector shielded his visor and leered at it.


"I suppose we start north then." Hector said, adjusting his grip on the M2. He had to reign in his surprise and his urge to raise the weapon again because at that moment a man in a lab coat strode out of a small apartment building up the street. He saw them. He saw them seeing him, and Hector thought he would bolt, but then the man waved and began to weave his way through the growth and few wrecked vehicles towards them.

Hector glanced toward the brush the man went through, gesturing to Minx and Medeina as he pulled the tank a bit closer to the side of the road and shut it out. "Who's that..." he said softly, shaking his head as he secured the mounted gun before closing the hatch, slinging the carbine propped up nearby over his shoulder and picking up his shield as he made his way out of the back hatch to join the other two. Seeing the stranger approaching, he gave a wave, for now only having shield in hand.
Rec Room / Re: CDDA: Adventures in Cataclysm
« Last post by saltmummy626 on October 16, 2019, 09:42:54 pm »
[written by salt and wilson over the course of several months, oof]

A man walked away from the group, giving a wave of his arms. He was finely dressed compared most of the others, a velvet paisley vest with a dark red dress shirt along with a golden puff tie and two pistols at his hip, butts pointing forward. As he walked close enough for the duo to hear, "Can't stand that fucker..." He growled, deep enough in thought to not notice them right away. Jennifer watched him go, noting his bearing and the way he stuck out among the common raiders.

"Who is that?" She asked, giving Dave a nudge. Dave watched the man warily but with a hint of distaste mixed with fear. His walk slowed to something more matching their own almost imperceptibly to all but Jennifer, and she realized the mans ears were sharp. He'd caught her question and was waiting to hear what the answer would be, and she wondered.

"Duke..." Dave said low and full of acid, "With the Sun Dogs for only a week now. Nobody knows why he's with them but they figure he'll move along eventually. Has a habit of jumping from clan to clan for a few years now. Never stays with clans like the Sun Dogs long though... Maybe he fancies himself the next Raider Khan..."

Duke rocked back and forth on his boots, pondering to himself. Only listening to the last part of Dave's explaination. 'Raider Kahn...' he thought to himself, 'It's a temptin' position, but... too many potential knives in m'back. It's too tempting, bouncing between these 'clans' or somesuch...' He glanced over at Jennifer, giving a little tip of his pork pie hat to awknowledge her as he paced around. ''m bettin' there are folks willin' to pay better t'see that Hoyt sumbitch fall right on his ass t'put it lightly... Maybe...' His thoughts trailed off as he took off his hat, to scratch at his scalp in thought. Duke took out a little composition notebook, not much larger than the palm of his hand, out of the inside of his vest. He scribbled down his thoughts and plans, grunting a bit as he squinted at the writing.

While the girls and the Raider were talking, they felt eyes peering at them. A short, thin man stood a ways behind them, simply staring at them. He donned a navy blue jumpsuit, with big black workboots and an olive green dufflebag along with an odd device on his wrist and an albino rooster mask.

And he was simply standing there, staring at them.

Cherise noticed and stared back for a bit while Jennifer talked, then shook her head. 'Weird.' she thought, 'People are weird out here...' Then said aloud, "Are we getting a move on? We should probably step lively."

Duke finished adding to his journal, before looking up and seeing the figure behind the girls. "Ah god dammit" He grumbled, walking past the girls and smacking the man upside the head. "Dammit Richie what the fuck did I tell ya 'bout starin' at folks?!" He berated, as the man went from dead still to flinching and typing on the device on his wrist. "Sorry.- It's a force of habit.-" The device said in a feminine monotonous voice.
General Discussion / Re: Last Man Posting: -50% SHENANIGANS
« Last post by saltmummy626 on October 16, 2019, 09:41:50 pm »
Aya, shits slow now though.
Rec Room / Re: CDDA: Adventures in Cataclysm
« Last post by Chaosvolt on October 16, 2019, 01:42:38 pm »
(( Written with ſalt, mostly by him in fact. ))

Hector gave his equipment a momentary once-over along the way. Shield, sword, M4 hanging from an equipment rack behind the seat. Didn't bring that  odd magical sword, as it seemed unlikely he'd need it. As he pondered Minx's remarks about whether she'd need to use her own weapon, he had the unfortunate suspicion that either Medeina will be solidly disappointed to find nothing alive down there, or else anything that'd survive all these years will likely mean trouble...

"Can I fire the cannon?" Minx asked.

"Have we arrived yet?" Medeina asked. Hector sighed heavily, marveling at how some things never changed. The collective childishness of people never did seem to go away, even now, and it seemed even artificial intelligence could be made to emulate that level of immaturity in the right circumstances. As before, Hector responded by telling Minx that his shells were limited and they needed to save them. Then, he took out his automap and compared it to the printed one hung next to the driver's seat via a banana shaped magnet.

"Getting there Medeina." He said, sliding the automap back into the slot Catnip had installed below the Seige Towers instruments. "Another fifteen to twenty and we'll be in the area."

Minx hadn't, but both Hector and Medeina had noticed that the scenery was changing. The closer they got, the more lush everything was. The world had had time to move on and pull things down in its own time, but this...

"Stop here please." Medeina suddenly chirruped, breaking Minx from her reverie and bringing Hector back from his musings. That was when he noticed what Medeina had noticed long before he'd even been aware of the overgrown derelict taking up two parking spaces and a good section of the intersection ahead. It was a robot. A massive one looking more like a huge shop vac. Only instead of a huge holding tank there was a cage, and rather than a suction hose and outlet, it was armed with a trio of arms tipped with crescent shaped appendages that Hector realized were some kind of catch poles. The cage was filled with the bones of various creatures, and perhaps he could imagine why Medeina would be interested in it.

Hector stopped and the robot made no move, as dead as the small town around it. "Alright, just be careful. If it's still active and you get in reach of that thing..." he said softly, opening the hatch above his seat to take a cautious look around, and prep the gun mounted there. Ammunition for that was increasingly at a premium as well, these days.
General Discussion / Re: Last Man Posting: -50% SHENANIGANS
« Last post by Chaosvolt on October 16, 2019, 01:25:54 pm »
Omae wa mou smol.
General Discussion / Re: Last Man Posting: -50% SHENANIGANS
« Last post by BadSniper on October 14, 2019, 02:23:55 am »
Holy crap, I just rediscovered this place.

It's like finding your old house decades after the apocalypse.
Creative Endeavors / Re: Spinning Sightlines: A Bizarre Adventure
« Last post by Wheel-Son on September 27, 2019, 12:50:02 pm »
Old News Excerpt-- Printing date: 1834

Japanese Immigrants flood into Flordia

    An unsurprising turn of events-- Japanese immigrants from upwards of 5,000 potential citizens come in after Japan, a monarch island state, opened itself up to the west in 1829.

The Coyote

    Clydesdale sat the odd, black stylus on the counter of the general trader. "What can I get f'this?" He inquired.

    The shopkeeper gave him a look and scoffed, "Ya'feckin' kiddin' me? Yeh'think this trash is worth any--" He interrupted himself as he gave it a closer look. "Hnmph. Well-- I can't really resell this. But. The jeweler a lil' ways outta town likes this kinda weird shite."

    Clydesdale squinted at him for a moment, before letting out a simple “Christ…” under his breath, walking out of the general store. He walked down the street, close to the edge of town was a rickety, old jeweler’s workshop. Inside, behind the counter was an old, short asian man. He let out a soft grunt, greeting Clydesdale with an “Irasshaimase. What do you need?”

    With another solid thunk, the bounty hunter sat the obsidian black stencil on the counter. “The fella’ over at the general store said you had an interest in these kinda’ trinkets.”

    The old man behind the counter let out an interested chuckle, “Oooh, hooohoohooo… I do… This is made of something very interesting. Not a whole lot of people get this metal. Very special. You’re the-- Ah.--”

    He snapped as he tried to remember the word, “Gansuringā. Shooter man. Shootist?”

    The jeweler snapped once more and pointed at Clydesdale, “Gunslinger!”

    Clydesdale stifled a little chuckle at the shorter man in front of him, “That’s- uh. That’s me.” He responded as the jeweler gave a nod.

    The old man dug out some tools, a larger crucible, a cast, a set of little hammers, a vice, and a little acetylene stove. “I can make you something very special, friend. Something that may assist with your ‘work’.”

    Clydesdale scrunched up his nose, “And how much would this be?”

    The old man let out a little laugh, “Good sir! It’ll only be 10 dollars for my handywork! Anywhere else would of scammed you with maybe two-- three dollars! Or if they’re a craftsman, charge you three-- four times more!”

    Puledro stared at him for a moment, before Clydesdale pulled out a wad of cash and handing over a few bills. “It’d prob’ly make a p’good ring…” He mumbled as the old man counted.

    The jeweler nodded, “Alright, good sir. It should be done in a couple of hours. Stay safe.” He praddled on, as Clydesdale tipped his hat and walked out. Having returned to the center of town, he frowned a bit. Passersby gave him side-glances and dirty looks, his duel from yesterday left a sour taste in many of the townspeople’s mouths.

    Puledro let out a huff, before stumbling into Mashad again. “Oh-- Uh. Sorry, Mr. Clydesdale."

    Clydesdale let out a little noise, “It’s fine, how’s the cut, kid? Two hundred good enough?”

    The young man nodded eagerly, “Y-yessir.”

    Clydesdale frowned a bit at that, “Naw kid, I ain’t your boss. No need to call me ‘sir’ or ‘Mr. Clydesdale.’”

    "Just Clydesdale?" Mashad asked

    "Just Clydesdale." He confirmed.

    The two walked and talked down the road, down towards the saloon to get out of the sun and the dry heat. Inside the dusty bar was a man with a guitar, singing a little tune¹. They checked in with the bar man, got a pitcher of water, a couple of glasses, and a bottle of watered down whiskey. Clydesdale and Mashad picked out a small booth in a little nook up on the second floor. They celebrated a job well done, Clydesdale rose his whiskey, as Mashad clinked his glass of water with the bounty hunter’s.

    Clydesdale and Mashad talked, the bounty hunter learned about the younger vagabond’s past. However, it wasn’t long before the two heard a chilling, humorless, chuckle². “As I live an’ breathe-- The golden gunslinger! An’ he’s a bounty hunter now.”

    Clydesdale glared at him, “‘The fuck are you?” He grumbled.
    The man with a thick southern accent, “Ya’ got a lil’ pest with ya’. I heard y’were ‘round here, Leprett’s a nice town. Folks don’t talk much if y’pay ‘em well ‘nuff. An’ the guv’ment folks don’t do shit.”

    Clydesdale rose up in his chair, “Who. In the Hell. D’ya think, y’are?”

    The southern man let out an ‘ahhh’ before he answered him, “‘Bobby Pierce’, y’might know me as ‘The Coyote.’ Anyways-- My point, some ‘a my friends ‘round here said they saw a strange feller sign a contract with the local pinkertons an’ come back with a well dressed corpse on th’back of his horse. Not unusual fer an undertaker, ‘cept it was a gunslinger. So they figured it was someone who fancied himself t’be the next Wild Bill or maybe th’next Zeppeli with them steel balls on yer gun-belt. But neither of ‘em are alive so Ah Digress. I like ya’ Clydesdale, ah really do. Stories ah hear ‘bout’chu are straight outta a dime novel. Fun t’hear! Now if yew--”

    Clydesdale slammed his hands against the table, standing up and clearing leather. He shot Pierce square between the eyes³.

    Inside the dusty bar was a man with a guitar, singing a little tune. They checked in with the bar man, got a pitcher of water, a couple of glasses, and a bottle of watered down whiskey. Clydesdale stopped dead in his tracks, he felt clammy and looked pale. “...huh…?”

    Mashad blinked for a moment, as they sat at a booth, in a nook on the second floor. “You feel that deja vu too, right?” He asked, as Clydesdale nodded.

    “That-- happened. It must’ve--” Clydesdale stammered, as they heard a familiar, cold chuckle.

    “An’ it did, my friend. Ah see I must be slippin’ a lil’bit, cuz you sir. Are certainly fast enuff t’put John Wesley t’shame, friend. But I digress, I’m willin’ t’put Kalvin aside since honestly, th’man was a sonuvabitch. But if y’all come after me an’ what ahm doin’? I’ll make sure y’all’re six feet under, ya’hear? Now, arrivederci as them Italians say.” He said, with a little tip of his hat, leaving the saloon with the message.

    Clydesdale sat down, putting his face into his hands. “What-- Was that?”

    Mashad swallowed nervously, talking in a low voice, “He has a ‘Stand’, Clydesdale. I saw it--”

    “With what I could se-- My blood ran cold at the sight of it...“ He finished, pouring himself a drink from the pitcher. Clydesdale rubbed his eyes, pouring himself a drink from the whiskey bottle. Taking a swig from the glass and rubbing his eyes, Clydesdale let out a sigh.

    “At least the Pinkertons told me there’s more work over out in the boonies, an’ there’s a sighting of one of Bobby’s gang over in a town called ‘Whitetail’. Prolly will take th’next train over there, y’- uh.” Clydesdale paused, “You an’ me make a good team, suprisin’ly. Yer welcome t’come along if y’d’like.” He offered.

    Mashad responded with, “Are you… sure? I dunno if a mostly blind man would be much of use…”

    Clydesdale waved him off, “Naw kid, you can see them hoodoo stand whatsits. I donno if I’ll run into any more of them ‘stand users’ like with Kalvin, but ‘cides. Yer pleasant t’talk to.”

    “Hah- fair enough…” Mashad chuckled at that, raising his glass. Clydesdale raised his in response.

To Be Continued⁴

Rec Room / Re: CDDA: Adventures in Cataclysm
« Last post by saltmummy626 on September 11, 2019, 07:36:59 am »
Branches and Roxanne talked long into the night before Branches finally left satisfied and more at ease with herself. Roxanne was prankish but kind, and very professional when the subject of their talk came to her upcoming court date. She had someone in mind to defend her in court, so Branches would be called upon only if that option fell through. The fact that it was just a simple hearing for an unpaid traffic ticket didn't seem to matter much to Roxanne. It was the principle of the thing that mattered. Now Branches found herself, the next day, sitting by the lake thinking of her prospects with a clearer head. She just needed the right clothes and that was it. There wasn't enough room on her face, or so Roxanne had said, to gussy up much. Her eye swiveled around to look at the lines she'd run across the clearing with the clothes hanging on it. Plenty of choices there, she just needed to pick something that suited her. Standing covered and waiting to be moved into her hut was the standing mirror she would try different combinations in front of, miraculously unharmed by the cloud of metal that had turned her home into a bloody mess a few nights before.

"First," She said to herself decisively, "Finish your house and get those herbs. You forgot remember? Maybe I'll visit the farm later and... No, it's too soon... Roxanne said to wait a few days..." Branches huffed and kicked her feet a little. Her yard was still a mess and she felt exhausted just looking at it. She still felt light and airy, but if not for Roxanne she would probably still feel like she'd get blown away at any minute. Like Roxanne had instructed, she closed her eye and cleared her mind to meditate. The lap of water on the new shore, the rustle of leaves and pine needles, the gentle warmth of the sun, and the wind carrying with it the smell of coming autumn. It worked, to her surprise. She felt heavy again, anchored in place and ready to start the day.

Minx checked the bolt like Catnip had shown her. For the job ahead, the faceless woman had gone to the mechanic and had been loaned her side arm. The cut down hunting rifle had been infuriating to the Shattered helm and especially the Shattered Helms quartermaster, Billy-Jean, at first. Then Catnip had been taken out of The Regs and placed in the Bleeding Eye, and the weapon had been an example of exactly what the scouting arm of the Shattered Helm needed it's people to use.

"Do you think I'll have to use it?" Minx asked. She'd only ever fired a gun a few times in her life. The last time had been well before the cataclysm, and it hadn't been a gun like this. Medeina scanned the gun for the third time, recording all the small pains that had been taken to make sure it was functional and reliable.

"Honestly, I don't recall. It is safe to assume that my lab is home to one or more of the creatures which I once possibly observed, but it is also possible that they have fled or died off." Medeina wondered, then had another thought, "Or the staff. Perhaps the staff is still present? Maybe... Maybe they can answer my questions."

"Hey, that's a thought. Keep your chin up robot." Minx said, then raise the rifle heroically, "We will find the answers that you seek!" She sat like that for a long awkward moment before lowering it again.

"Maybe." Medeina said simply.
Rec Room / Re: CDDA: Adventures in Cataclysm
« Last post by RedVulnus on September 11, 2019, 02:07:38 am »
G and his crew had walked over to where Isaac had told them to meet him. There they saw him sitting on the back of an old truck with the doors opened behind him.  And behind that was a few dozen racks of guns and armor. G was genuinely impressed as he and his boys waited.

“This is going to be dangerous so I’m giving you a last chance to back out. We’ll be dealing with some very unsavory people so if they’re about to capture you..just shoot yourself. Oh and to be clear, a single shot to the head may not kill these bastards so double tap.” Isaac said as he sat there inspecting his rifle.

The response to this was G and his crew stepping into the vehicle as Isaac told them they were free to take what they needed. And that they did. Each misling emerged with a rifle, vest, plate carrier, bag, pistol and holster, ammunition, magazines, grenades, a few even grabbed grenade launchers and one an RPG.

On their way out the Shattered Helm pulled Isaac aside while they questioned the mislings, with G getting an especially rough questioning. For his part Isaac answered the questions asked with no small amount of annoyance that they were questioning him for dealing with these men. But after he explained that he’d hired them to help him deal with some people that had been responsible for the death of his friend and the mislings corroborated the story the Shattered Helm were finished and let the group pass.

On the other side of the bridge Sokolov greeted them and told them the destination. From there it was a few hours travel. When they arrived Howard greeted their new comrades and Isaac paused. Staring at the man in front of him his mind wandered back a year. Snapping back to reality he said “Hi, Howard I take it?”

Howard nodded as he adjusted his grip on the rifle in his hand “That’d be me.You ready?”

Everyone voiced that they were and the group got ready. Sneaking up towards the bank they readied their weapons with two of the mislings having set up a heavy machine gun. Then Isaac gave the signal.

The burst of machine gun fire tore through the first group of cultists as the other rushed forward. Sokolov sprayed his customized AK as he and Howard ran to cover and Isaac fired the belt fed rifle he carried with him as he rushed forward. For their part G and his men moved forward and into cover before starting to pick off targets as they could between having to duck back into cover from return fire.

Isaac spotted a pair of cultists prepping a machine gun and sprayed the pair down as Howard picked off a sniper on the roof of the bank. Before that man’s body could hit the ground G slid a new magazine into his shotgun before blowing a hole in one cultist’s chest and stabbing a second with the bayonet before squeezing the trigger.

Removing the bayonet wasn’t a problem after that as he turned and fired at a third cultist. At the same time another misling ran up beside him and started rapid firing his semi automatic rifle. Already between the two men themselves they’d killed seven of the cultists.

That was when one wearing a suit of kevlar stepped out of the bank. The only weapon he had on him was a metal baton as he walked towards Isaac. One of the mislings was in his path and a single swing of the baton sent the misling flying through the air missing his jaw as bullets poured into the armored man’s chest plate and helmet. And at that point Isaac realized the bullets were going through the helmet as the man swung and knocked the rifle from his hands.

Ducking the follow up swing Isaac pulled out the sword Alice had given him and swung for the man’s neck. It stuck in the man’s neck and before he could pull it out he felt the man’s hand wrap around his wrist. “Shit.” Isaac managed to say before the baton hit him in the side of the head and he felt his legs go weak.

The man was about to try and break his skull open again when Sokolov jumped onto his back and stabbed a knife through his helmet. The man stumbled back and tried to pull Sokolov from his back as Isaac collapsed to the ground. Ripping the helmet off Sokolov dropped to the ground as G dumped three rounds into his skull and evaporated his head. “Holy shit, someone check Isaac!” G nearly screamed over the gunfire as he dropped the shotgun to it’s sling and pulled his pistol. “Pull the fuck back!”

One of the Mislings grabbed Isaac and dragged him away from the bank as more of the cultists came out to fire at them. Stopping at the next bit of cover he could find G and several of the mislings returned fire with Howard as the rest moved behind them and prepared to cover them. From their G and his group bounded back and the group continued the pattern until they were clear.

Sokolov knelt down and checked Isaac once the gunfire had died and they’d made some distance. “That’s going to bruise badly, nothing broken though. No telling if any brain damage.”

Starting back the group carried Isaac on a makeshift stretcher. After a couple of hours they’d returned and crossed the bridge with their wounded comrade still unconcscious. While the others took him to the community center to see what Alice wanted them to do G moved off to the side and into an alley before throwing up. “Fuck..I need a cigarette.” He said as he started back to the area where the street rats tended to congregate.

Meanwhile as they walked through the door Alice spotted Isaac and stopped. Staring at Sokolov she asked “What happened?”

“Severe blunt force trauma to the head. I don’t think he’ll die but..well I don’t know if he’ll wake up.” Sokolov said as they took him to one of the cots in the building.

Alice watched as Howard produced some medical gear from his bag and sat down next to Isaac. “I was trained as a combat medic and chaplain, no matter what happens I’ll take care of him.” Howard said as he started working. Alice thanked him and sat down on the other side of Isaac trying to process what she’d just been told.

Elsewhere a man sat on the top branches of a tree staring at a little ball of light he’d taken to calling a fairy. “Oooh you found another one? Really?” he asked with no small amount of excitement in his voice. “Are his eyes like mine?”

The fairy shook up and down and generally swirled around in the air as he watched it. His smile turned to a frown as he said “Wait, he was always this way? As in since he was born? So he’s not quite like me but similar enough.” Adjusting his scarf he jumped to the ground and continued “I’ve never heard of a human having this condition in the first place so this is going to be so exciting. I finally get to meet someone who’s got the same problem as me!”

The fairy seemed to roll it’s eyes as it followed him as he began to walk. It informed him of something else as he walked and he frowned “Oh? Surely they wouldn’t hurt me..well maybe. I’m not sure. I always  liked to create but they were always destroying things. I mean..maybe because I used to be one of them.”

He seemed deflated for a few moments as he walked but he kept going. The fact he wore mostly magically imbued clothes would help him hide from the sight of their masks but if they remembered what he looked like that could be a problem. If they’d ever known him in the first place. But only time would tell if he’d be attacked or left alone. Though he had to admit the amount of magical items he had would probably be a problem in and of itself.
Rec Room / Re: Winds of memories (Cata RP Character background stories)
« Last post by Chaosvolt on September 07, 2019, 12:55:14 pm »
(( Written with ideas and feedback from Wilson and Noctifer. ))

Timeline: Roughly 2 years after the cataclysm, a couple days before The Shifting

Characters Involved: The preceding world's versions of Helen and Lucian

Fate twisted and turned, in ways mirroring a path others walked though the cataclysm, yet diverging down other peculiar paths.

A holy order was crumbling, rife with schism. Foundering as strife tore them apart, and the heterodox grasped for fresh blood only to come up empty. With their slow march into extinction, barely even witnessing the true End of All, the Cleansing Flame had focused much more of their efforts upon the very mission that first brought them together.

Yet some paths still took a familiar shape, facing unfamiliar consequences...

There was an old lumber yard, deep within parts of New England now steadily succumbing the reclamation by the wilderness. The axes had gone still, all but one. A daily routine of blade meeting wood, but not by hands of its original employees. A stranger lingered, limping and bearing each day's hardships, far from cities still infested with horrors unlike any the world had seen before.

Another had followed a trail. Standing at the crest of a hill, overlooking the brush-choked dirt path that led to the logging camp. A woman, tattered leather cloak hanging heavy upon her shoulders, a patchwork of scratched, bent iron scales adorning it. Only a few flecks of gold and brass hinted at its purpose, but the mask of iron and copper over her face remained in far better condition. Through pinpricks of eerie red light, obscuring green eyes, she stalked her prey.

He was in one of the cabins, the one farthest from the entrance to the camp. His aura put her off guard, there was an unnatural taint to it, but it was weaker. Dull, as though he had been out of practice. Strayed from The Path, even so close to the cursed Appalachian, where abominations haunted every peak, where the temptation to exploit them would be unavoidable.

She found the door unlocked. He was waiting there, sitting at a table in the single room. A woodcutting axe was propped up against the wall by the doorway, well out of reach. A crude firearm, likely more duct tape than metal at this point, was left open and unloaded on a dresser by the bed, several feet behind him. He was looking her right in the eyes, a thousand yard stare evident. He looked as worn down as her, wearing a long coat that had been torn and patched countless times, mixed with long-inert scraps of hard leather armor, once bearing the mark of sanguine craftsmanship. The only weapon he had in reach was a cane, a stout length of hickory.

"Hunter..." he said in a voice that seemed barely audible, weak and hoarse. She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, a hammer resting over her shoulder. It was weather, tarnished, the wood cracked and only held together by the langets. The footfalls of armored boots seemed especially heavy on creaky old wood, moreso from the weariness evident in her gait. "...shrike."

"What are you waiting for? Gloat if you'd like, see if I care...if I wanted to fight you, you'd already be dead." he said, briefly managing the faintest hint of a smile. She cast that gaze over him, augmented by the sight beyond sight of her mask. "If you could fight, you mean." she answered, lowering her hammer. It wasn't into a combat stance. In fact, she seemed hesitant. "You...were the one who killed my father, weren't you? Thomas McKinnon..."

"That...was the last one I killed." he answered. "You've already figured it out, haven't you?" he said. She simply gave a nod in response, her mask deactivating. She could tell. She'd spied his movements entering the building when she first got in range, the way he heavily favored one leg. Barely able to walk, only managing through what little magic he still practiced. Only way he could even stand, at least for long enough to tend to daily tasks like chop firewood and gather food.

"This is what I find when I seek my father's murderer? After losing everyone, everything but revenge, what do I find...a cripple who left the Order. You and I are the only ones left of our conflict, aren't we..." she said, her grip on the hammer tightening. She was glaring at him under the mask, yet she couldn't bring herself to take another step forward. She looked like she was already about to collapse, not from anger or sorrow, but from simple weariness. The way the shrike simply looked back at her, fully accepting of his fate, only made it that much harder to advance those final few steps, to bash his brains out like she'd set out to do.

He seemed to be sizing her up, a reflexive appraisal before he reached for an old kettle, to pour a cup. "More or less. Tea?" he asked, and she nearly dropped her hammer outright. She set it down, grumbling to herself as she finally stepped forward, taking the other seat at the table. "I'm going to regret this...alright."

"Hungry?" he asked, taking a sip of tea first, to show it was safe before offering her a cup. She gave a little nod, lowering the torn hood of her cloak. She didn't even have her helm anymore, only the mask still concealed her, red hair tied in a short ponytail. "I...a bit. Not much left to scavenge from the cities these days." she admitted.

At that he nodded, leaning over a bit to the wood stove by the wall, to get a pot of stew left simmering on it. She was still wary, yet soon enough the allure of a hot meal was enough to convince herself to let her guard down a bit, and remove her mask to eat.

They sat and ate in silence for a few minutes, at first exchanging nothing more than names. Helen, Lucian. She was the one to finally break the silence. "How long had it been? Since you left them..." she asked.

They way he gazed back at her seemed to betray the discomfort that his memories brought up. Of staring down at an old man, crawling for his hammer with his last ounce of strength, final breath an attempt to say his daughter's name in the delirium of blood loss. Abandoning the Sanguine Order to rot, infinitely more shaken by all the bloodshed than how the conflict would play out a whole reality away.

And the bitter memory of what happened, barely making it to the very boiling point, the end that the magi had long preached of, when the only person who stuck with him had succumbed to the relic they stole from the Order. The agony of a leg wrenched out of place in a frantic struggle, kneecap split open by an unholy blade, and soon enough watching his best friend bleed out at his feet, a final spark of humanity evident in his eyes during that final moment.

"A...a long time. Years." he answered, after a moment's pause that felt like an eternity. "Before this shit started, it was after...him, the last one." he muttered. "After all this time, I..." she said softly. It was clear she was struggling with something. She came here to exterminate the Sanguine Order. It was the life she was born into. The only thing that kept her going, even as she lost everyone she ever knew, one by one. There was no final hunt of Shadows of Arcana, no dramatic clash to shake her to her core. Instead, there was only a slow burn. Worn down yet unrelenting, only to find out too late that the Sanguine Order was long gone, and she had spent the past year following the trail of a broken man.

He stood, unsteadily and clutching the cane, his other hand leaning heavily on the table. "I-- One moment." He seemed to focus his resolve, unsteadily steps making his way to a corner, where an old steamer trunk rested in the corner. Somehow, he mustered the strength to drag it closer to the table, nearly falling onto it as he knelt to open it. A hammer, and a mask. Copper adorned iron, decorations in the form of an impassive face, a bright red beard of metal trailing down so that it would cover the throat of its intended wearer.

"Those from my former order said I left behind 'a trophy'. I don't know why I kept it." he practically spat out, Helen standing to draw close, seeing him struggle she found herself compelled to help him stand, before he placed the items on the table. "Still makes me sick. It's yours." he added, nearly falling into his chair afterward.

She sat back down, and the way she was tearing up a bit, despite the grimace that crossed her face as she examined the mask, was evident with hers not being on at the moment. She could only look at it for a moment, before glancing away, forcing herself to regain her composure. "Thank you. We'd normally inter them with the fallen, or at least enshrine them if that was all we could recover, but...there's nothing left."

Lucian simply shrugged at that, breathing a heavy sigh. "I don't want it. You can probably do something with it." he answered, and she gave a nod. "I will. I'll find something to do with it..."

She would stay the night, making use of one of the other cabins, before planning her next move. He'd slept in, setting plenty of wood in his cabin's stove before going to bed nearly as soon as she'd left him alone, even though the sun was only barely beginning to set, and she'd find he slept in well past morning.

She'd gone into the main office of the old site, finding that he used the space as a workshop and pantry, to have a simple breakfast rather than disturb him. Then she walked. A simple hike, closer to the foot of the nearby mountains, where overgrowth gave way to twisted, dead plants across cold, rocky ground. Far enough from the camp that the thunder of a hammer, that hadn't resounded in several months, didn't so much as stir Lucian from his rest. Weary though she'd been, there was still fight in her, and the chittering of some chitinous abomination was silenced in a flurry of hammer blows.

She made it a short way up a mountain trail before overturning a few stones that had fallen across the unused path, fumbled to dig a small pit. Carefully, she lay the mask and hammer that Lucian had given her to rest, a short cairn the only grave marker she'd been able to give her father. They never recovered a body, so this was the best she could manage. The gear of a fallen hunter, somewhere free from the threat of scavengers finding it.

She'd return to find him still asleep, even though it was now past noon by the time she returned, groggy and answering her brief spark of concern with only a bitter smirk. "Come on, let an old man sleep..." he grumbled, Helen taking a seat at the table. "Odin's eye, you don't look any older than me. Don't tell me this is what a shrike does for half the day."

"Well I feel twice your age, so there. Besides, got firewood and stew on for the next two days, twice that depending on how soon you're leaving." he remarked. "I'd give it a bit though. There's a storm coming in...I can feel it. One advantage to having your best friend come within a few inches of taking your leg off."

At that, Helen gave a little sigh, then a nod of agreement. "You're right. There is a storm, but not that sort. How long have you been out here? The Veil itself is being torn apart..." Lucian just shook his head. "Not long before it all went pear-shaped. This area has been a mess of Veil...things, since that very day. No idea if it's any better out there."

At that, she picked up her mask, and before the shrike could raise a hand to object, she made him don it, activating it with the tap of a gauntleted finger. All around, it seemed like there was the glow of endless portals, endless holes in reality, piercing the haze limiting the mask's sight range. Brighter than it ever was before, even during the very peak of zero day.

If he had the strength to, if he wasn't already so worn down physically and mentally, he'd be laughing mad at the sight of it all. All he could manage was a tired chuckle, trembling hands fumbling blindly to remove the mask, blind himself to a clairvoyance he'd never experimented with before. "They were right, weren't they. Cultist bastards knew this would happen..."

Helen sat back down. The energy had left her, as the reality of what she had been seeing over the past month in her mask's vision sank in properly, adrenaline and resolve faded at last, her final mission ending without the blood-soaked closure she couldn't bring herself to obtain. "I don't know. This seems so much worse than what the Keepers were claiming, but...there's nothing we can do."

Lucian glanced at her, so weary and yet lacking the roughness, the scars he'd picked up along the way. Cloak kept her from staying too beat up for long, he figured. Finally, he was managing something close to a genuine smile. "Came here to kill me, and now you're spending your final moments with me. If I didn't feel another 30 or so years older than I am..."

"Wh-n-not like that, that wasn't what I was implying, gods damnit!" she said, sitting up straight with a renewed spark of fury. "It's just, we're not going to finish what's left of our past like this. Might as well just...wait it out. If we survive, whatever survival means when reality itself is falling apart...we'll see. Go our separate ways, stick together, I don't know..."

"Heh. Fine then. If we survive, and we don't find ourselves dumped on the surface of Mars or something, an extra pair of hands would be nice. Working set of legs too, for that matter." he remarked. "Pleasure meeting you,, Helen."

Across a hundred thousand realities, a dozen hands pulled at an ever-more-threadbare patchwork of worlds. Each pulling the fabric of reality in every direction, lesser powers clawing at decaying threads in a scramble for purchase. Some worked deep and close into this growing hole in existence and risking their own destruction, some working at strings from a less precarious distance. All unknowing or uncaring about trillions upon trillions of galaxies within these strands, planet upon planet suffering uncountably infinite armageddons in the process.

Distant powers exerted influence of their own, steady hands weaving a hundred worlds at a time as they worked their machinations. From far above, ever so distant, a shrouded figure worked to steady fraying strands. From far below, yet of the same origin as the stranger above, a treacherous thing sought his own hold on the cosmos, working a thousand gambits against a thousand unknowable, distant plots of his rival. And in the abyss all in-between, with neither origin nor end, a hungering darkness awaited the feast as reality unraveled and frayed, already sending the least of their endless host to gnaw upon untainted threads.

And woven all within a particularly-thin patch of the tapestry, caught up in scarcely a hundred universes, a broken four-fold thing slumbered. If awakened, it could effortlessly contest all but the most distant of the powers warring over these crumbling realities. But if it awakened, the fraying of reality in its wake may well cast all the powers present into the abyss, then drag the abyss and its lurking hungers into depths even the immortals feared.

Just as another thread frayed and snapped, the dreaming thing stirred. Those all in between looked on with both fear and hunger, and all within paused. Shimmering fragments of a destroyed reality scattered over and all throughout its sleeping expanse, disturbing its dreams for but an instant. But it returned to its rest, tangled within one less timeline.

But as these motes of broken existence drifted off its body, the dreamer's movement denied the hungering darkness their table scraps. For much of the cast-off reality settled on another thread the dreamer was a part of, and two realities became one. Other pieces of the destroyed world settled, adrift among the tapestry to settle all throughout.

And one tiny mote of reality found its place, far from those closest threads, yet with a faint hope for a new future...
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