Hell on Earth. That’s how the south of Jeimas has often been described. A poverty stricken desert overrun by crime and dependent on morally questionable bounty hunters because of underqualified and overworked law enforcement. While the north is and always has been a temperate, prosperous land, the south has long been seen as a blight. Now it’s even worse.
Two months have passed and the deaths of Borya Bogden, Sister Tess, Felix Grffin, The Night Wolf and Veralice have left the balance of tower between the most dangerous criminal factions destabilised and have prompted other criminals to rise up in an attempt to seize those positions or spurred others into action.
“Undead” Lachlan Buzzard has all but seized control of Ironhaven, the largest city in the south and now criminals run rampant within its walls. Anima and his holy order have risen to the ranks of the Big Bads and more and more people are flocking to his twisted religion as the situation in the south declines further and further. Aaron Fletcher has greatly increased his activity causing a regression in how goods are transported with many choosing to return to horseback convoys as he is known to only target trains. Unfortunately, this has also lead to the suspending of plans to link the independent rail system within the Grand Chasm to the greater Jeiman system. This is all in addition to the large numbers of smaller gangs who are all fighting to cement their positions or seize greater control in the power vacuum created by the Big Bad deaths. The Dead Priest Gang, Sangre Clan and the Dodgy Gang are but a handful of examples of deadly smaller gangs who have been seen on the move.
What is most disturbing for southern Jeimans however, is the activity of the most notable Big Bads. Self-proclaimed revolutionary, and the most wanted man in Jeiman history, has formed an alliance with Jessica Wilcox and Bonnie Cassidy, two other dangerous Big Bads while the man known only as Demon has been conspicuously absent from recent events with many suspecting this is the calm before the storm before he wipes out another settlement.
With tensions this high, now would be the opportune time for the Jeiman government to increase peacekeeper presence in the south, however in a striking move all peacekeepers have been recalled to key locations such as South Bridge and Earnest, some of the southernmost cities in the north.
The south of Jeimas is in a period of change and tensions are higher than ever. History is being made and only time will tell what will be left when the gears of progress are done turning.
“Look buddy, we just want to know where Fletcher is hiding.” Levi hissed as he stared down a thug that the duo had ripped from a train from Spiders Hollow and tossed into the back of the wagon they’d stolen. “You can either tell me, or you can tell my friend over there.”
Rory grinned underneath his bandana as he clicked his fingers and flames began to wreath his hand. The eyes of the bandit grew wide and he began to struggle against his restraints even more.
“I ain’t know nothing! I’m just a flunky man, I don’t know where he is!” The bandito screamed, causing Levi to roll his eyes and Rory to just shake his head.
“Man you’re really bad at this. Now if that’s true, what reason do we have not to kill you?” Rory responded, causing the man to gape in confusion and fear. “Do you think he’s telling the truth?” The fiery tempered outlaw asked his young cohort.
“Most likely, this idiot probably got hired through one of his hands anyway. I knew we’d probably have better luck going after them, but that’s going to draw a hell of a lot more attention.” Levi responded as he leaned back against a wooden support and shook his head. “Doesn’t seem like we’ve got much other option though unless we want to waste another month wasting bullets in random hired goons. Not that I think you’d be much opposed to that.” The boy responded.
“Stop acting like you know me.” Rory pointed out.
“Oh quit acting like you’re this big bad that I should be afraid of. We both know different.” Levi snapped, the shout causing the hostage to wince.
“Do we now? Maybe you’d like to test that.” The outlaw growled as he stared daggers at the kid.
A fist from Levi connected with the underside of Rory’s jaw in the blink of an eye. The Outlaw gripped the boys arm and yanked him forward, smashing his skull against the kids face and busting his nose. The boy wheezed and recoiled before lunging forward and smashing into the man’s gut, causing the both of them to tumble out of the back of the wagon and land in the dirt outside. The moon had reached its appex in the sky, staring down at the two from its waxing gibbous as they punched, kicked, and screamed at each other from the ground.
A rustling from inside the wagon caused them both to snap to attention.
“Alright listen I don’t want any trouble.” A quivering voice called from the entrance as the thug they’d kidnapped stood there pointing a shotgun towards them.
Rory and Levi rolled their eyes and let go of each other, blood and dirt splattering both of their faces as they stared at the individual with burning contempt in their eyes.
“I’m just gonna be taking this uh, wagon and you’re both gonna uh… just stand up, turn around and walk away alright?” The bandit mumbled as he stood there quivering.
Rory struggled to his feet, causing the man to quickly shift the gun up towards him. “Slowly! Make any sudden movements and I’ll shoot!”
The outlaw rolled his eyes and attempted to wipe some of the muck from his face, only resulting in smearing it in more.
“You really should just put down the gun and let him shoot you.” Levi muttered from the ground.
“And why would I do that? I’m not one for wantin to get shot.” The thug asked shakily.
“You will be after the cat is done with you.” Rory muttered.
“Wha? Cat?” The bandit asked in confusion before being knocked out of the wagon with a girlish scream as the large orange furred feline pounced forward and began tearing into his back. The shotgun smacked against the ground, surprisingly harmlessly and small chunks of blood and flesh began to fly off of the man’s back as he screamed in agony.
Levi grumbled on the ground and sat up clutching his now very broken nose and busted jaw. “Anybody ever tell you that you’re an asshole?”
“I don’t want to hear it, I think you tore open the stitches from where you stabbed me last time.” Rory grunted as he tried to pull up his shirt to see.
“You deserve it.” Levi spat.
The boys stood in silence for a moment, assessing their wounds.
“Do you want a drink?” Rory asked after awhile, offering the kid his flask prompting the boy to roll his eyes and snatch the flask.
Friends for Infinity
Paired to GreyBidoof| Magical Senpai |
"I've learned to be wary of his suggestions... he's consumed my life."
Azael Aeeb, Outlaw, Member of the Rainy Days Non-Magical Bounty : $0
Ironhaven, Underground Tunnel System
“Well, this sucks.” Zel raised his leg and swung it back and forth, scuffing against the uneven ground beneath him.
“Well, it’s not as if it’s going to be an easy feat for you to get back out of town. Besides - I can’t exactly up and shirk my duty either.” Reive shook her head as she pushed herself off the wall that she’d been slouched against with her fingertips.
“That’s true… but, we don’t even know when your friend is supposed to arrive. What’s the point in setting all of these up if there’s the possibility of her not even showing up? Hell, Buzzard could pull an assault out of his ass at any point and wipe the floor with us before we even have a chance to do anything. These are his tunnels after all. Half of this muk isn’t even mapped out anywhere except his own psyduckin’ head.”
“That’s true as well, but, it does make it easier since you have that magic map with you. It’s not an exact reference, but it’s better than nothing. We can at the very lease see where Buzzard and his higher ranking men are with it. Worse comes to worse, I can handle a few dozen grunts.”
Zel sighed and then planted his foot in the ground. “Hey, hurry up won’t you, bub?”
Pete turned to look at Zel and then pulled his guns out of the wall. “Me done now.”
“Great. Let’s move on to the next spot then.” Reive walked out a few feet in front, followed closely by Pastel Pete and Azael Aeeb who brought up the rear.
“I still think we should have brought at least one more body. It’s too dangerous down here if we run into any monsters like what’s been running about here lately.” Zel tugged at the strap of his weapon, airing out the bandages behind it.
“There shouldn’t be any more of those things running around anymore. Ever since that night in Wrench, the demon Alice has been declared dead along with the bounty hunter Jebediah who was aiding it, and presumably The Night Wolf who was set to fight against it. We’ve done a thorough search of the barren lands in the time since then and have come up with nothing. Although… I am still wary of that native that y’all are tugging along with you. The natives have powerful healing spells, I can’t imagine any reason why he would choose to stay blind.”
“Could be a sort of punishment. Some cultures have those types of social punishments for various crimes or taboos. Thieves have their thumbs removed, liars their tongues, rapists… well... “
“I get it. But then what do you think the taboo would have had to have been to have his eyes irreparably damaged?”
“Who knows. I’m not a native of this land. Not my place to ask, and I don’t really care to be honest.”
Reive nodded her head and then stayed quiet until they reached their next spot.
“Booms only good for few days. Can’t leave city. Only native can see booms.” Pete swung his guns around and smiled stupidly.
Rieve nodded her head understandingly. “So you carry around the native for the sake of the rest of you. That’s understandable. It’s a shame the natives are nearly extinct. Once all this is over, I’d have loved to have had the chance to study them some more. They don’t require spellbooks so how they acquire spells is an intriguing concept. I’d hate to end up going down the dark path that so many other outlaws have with their obsessions… but…”
“It’s best not to think about it. We’re not at a point where we could make use of the information regardless. It would just be meaningless slaughter at that point.”
“I suppose you’re right… that’s not something that Jedediah would condone, regardless of relationship.”
“I think this is far enough.” Zel stopped walking and then glanced over the surrounding tunnel. “It’s been about a hundred feet.”
“It’s draining to keep up this spell for so long. It’s good that we’ve only got a few traps left to place.”
Zel nodded and then tapped Pete on the shoulder. “Go ahead big guy. Four on the roof, four on each of the walls, four on the floor. Just like last time.”
“Me make booms now.” Pete giggled as he pressed his guns against the wall, diggin them deep into the rock covered walls, crushing the stones as he did so. “Boom! Boom! Boom!”
Zel sat on the ground and stared off down the rest of the tunnel. “Just three more. I wonder why Buzzard hasn’t set any guards through these tunnels yet. They connect to every point of the city, it only makes sense.”
“I’d like to say that he’s stretched so thin up top that he can’t afford to station anyone down here, but I’d have to slap myself for knowing better. They could very well be doing the same as us right now, just working from the other end. These tunnels used to be filled to the brim with his underlings, and now there’s nary a trace of them. Sure, we dug our own hole to connect into his system, but that shouldn’t mean that he’s not going to patrol this area. There are other entrances and exits around here anyways…”
“Whatever the reason, as long as we stay quiet and just take care of our current business, there shouldn’t be any issues, right?”
“Yeah. My spell deafens everything within it. We of course can still hear each other, and we can hear things coming from the outside, but anyone on the outside can’t hear us. My whole spellbook is more or less geared towards these types of tactics unfortunately… but, I’m still not completely useless in a combat scenario. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve which make me just as deadly as any other spellslinger who dedicates their all to combat.”
“Hmph. Must be nice to be able to use magic.”
“That’s right… you don’t have any magic of your own, do you, Zel? By the way, what did happen to your arms and legs that caused you to have to do yourself up like that?”
“I’m not sure. I get searing pains in my head and throughout my metallic limbs any time that I try to recall what happened to me before I joined up with the Rainy Days. All I see when I try to remember is black and grey blobs and a lot - and I mean a lot of fire. I assume it has something to do with the fire, seeing as how I’m completely covered in burns and my skin still peels off in crisp yet gooey flakes of skin and flesh.”
“Yeah, sorry… forget that I asked.”
“It’s no problem. I’m still trying to figure out my history too. If I can figure something out while we’re travelling, you can be sure that I’ll let you guys know.”
“Well that’s certainly reassuring. Unless you end up remembering that you’re some kind of contract killer who was forced into losing his memories so that he could sabotage our plots and schemes.”
“That would be awfully convenient a thing to happen - seeing as how Jacques just picked me up out of the desert by chance.”
“Fate has a funny way of making things happen… especially out here in Jeimas.”
Zel nodded his head and then stared at Pete as he finished planting his traps in the wall.
“Booms done. Me tired.”
“I know big guy. We just got a few more left.” Zel patted Pete on the shoulder and then pulled him along down the tunnel. “We’ve got to do our part too though, just like your big brother.”
The sound of a bullet hitting splintering wood reverberated throughout the area. Then was repeated as the other side returned fire.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Elias snapped at Alex from behind the shanty shack he had taken cover. Alex didn’t respond and merely glared at his companion from behind his own hiding place.
This was meant to have been a quick and easy bounty to grab, but now the desert sun was beating down upon the bounty hunters with biting ferocity and all the combatants were sweating heavily. They had been chasing down a petty thief, a man who had robbed a bank in Gilded Brook. What they hadn’t counted on was that the outlaw had been a part of a gang unbeknownst to them and that he and his cohorts and set up a shanty town to Gilded Brook’s south.
Alex peered around the flimsy structure he was pressed up behind and took another shot at one of the outlaws with his revolver. It had become his prefered firearm over his shotgun recently. He caught his target in the shoulder and they dropped their weapon with a yell.
Without thinking, he blinked to the location of the dropped weapon, appearing before it with a flash of red. He scooped it up, kicked its owner in the face and then blinked back to near his hiding space, diving behind it just in time to avoid being filled with lead.
“What the psyduck?!” Elias yelled, repeating his standard refrain as he returned fire around the corner. “What is wrong with you today? Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
“Didn’t want him to pick it up and start shooting again,” Alex replied over the sound of more bullets flying towards them.
“If he does that, shoot him again! Are you out of your psyducking mind?!”
Alex watched as Elias, a look of terror plastered firmly on his face, took another shot around the corner of his cover. His bullet hit one of the outlaws in the middle of his chest and he dropped. Unconsciously, Alex winced, then mentally berated himself for doing so.
What is wrong with me today? I live for this why am I flaking? That’s the sort of muk Elias would do.
Alex steeled himself, it was time to get his muk together.
“Last chance,” he called out “Unless all of you want to die, stop shooting and give us Cooper.”
“You two aren’t taking any of us!” One of the outlaws yelled.
“You’re outnumbered! You’re gonna die!” Another screamed.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he muttered to himself. The next moment, two other Alexes split off from the original and blinked away in opposite directions. The clones taking up flanking positions as Alex readied his final assault on the defending bandits. He changed his gun over to his left hand, a small fireball forming over his right. Then, the small fireball grew considerably larger.
One of the outlaws noticed the ball of flame and shouted.
“Psyduck, he’s got magic!”
“Muk!” Another swore, “Why’s there more o’ ‘im”
It seemed the clones had been spotted, but it was too late. The Fire Bombs flew, ignited the set of shanty huts the bandits were behind with a roaring flame. The cowering outlaws were engulfed by the flames, several of them made a break for it as Alex deftly switched his revolver back to his right hand to get a clearer shot.
He, his clones and Elias rained bullets down on those that tried to escape and they dropped like flies one after the other. Then, there was silent but for the moaning of those who had been shot and the screams of those that were burning to death in pyre.
“Holy muk,” Elias groaned as he and Alex walked out from their hiding places.”Holy muk, not what I had in mind.” Apparently, Elias had forgotten that he was the one that pushed Alex into action.
Alex walked over to where a man was lying on the ground in a pool of blood, his clothes and hair singed and his skin burned. The man whimpered and quivered where he lay at Alex’s feet. It took Alex a moment to realise he was looking at Cooper, the man he’d been after to begin with.
“Please...” Cooper began. Alex didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence, he pointed his gun at Cooper’s head and pulled the trigger, scattering chunks of grey matter and bone across the desert. He ignored the shaking in his hand as he did so.
There was retching noise from behind Alex as Elias proceeded to throw up on the ground. Alex wasn’t sure if it was the overwhelming scent of burning flesh or the fact that Cooper’s brains were now on their boots, but apparently something tipped him over the edge.
“Come on,” Alex said, hefting Cooper’s corpse over his shoulder “Let’s get him into a body bag and then we can do a quick check and see if there’s any more recognisable bounties laying around.”
“Psyducking grand,” muttered Elias.
Alex tried to feel contempt for his companions weakness, but found it hard to do while his hands were still shaking like leaves in the wind.
“Why did you kill that guy? Aren’t you guys like, death is a reward thing?” Elliott casually asked the hunched Grand Master of the Holy Order, who marched with purpose away from the bloody scene.
“She committed no sins, she took a contract, everyone makes mistakes.” Shadow dismissed Elliott.
“I’m happy that you dealt with it, but kill her?”
“Why did you come to the south again?”
“To escape Waltham.”
“You don’t seem very cut out for this kind of place.” Shadow continued marching, ignoring him. “I don’t even know why The Prophet wants to keep you around.” The doors were pushed open, taking their argument to the desert sands.
Martirio leant against the wall, a flag draped down it, that of the cult of the Ascension “Trouble in Paradise?”
“I guess so.” The Necromancer replied. “It’ll blow over, there are always times of tension without the Prophet.”
“So you’re experienced at this? Acting without the Prophet.”
“Well yes... Some people arose to squabble with themselves over who should steer the ship. By time the blood feud was over, we had already left.”
“They challenged your rule?” Matirio eyed the Grandmaster and Elliott returning in to picture white colonial palace.
“Not exactly, they had a little distaste for my talents... but it was the most practical way to protect them.” His gravelled voice permeated the ear, distinguishable, reverberating through the wooden walls of this temporal temple. “So protect them I did.”
Above, creaking heralded a doom approaching. The door was pried from its precious nest and thundered forth an enraged prophet. Descending upon the lobby, Anima landed. Drawing forth from his sheath, he daggered toward the new arrival. The ceremonial dagger drawn and adorned in sanguine red and blackened leather.
Stampeding toward the Necromancer, he pushed the bust of the previous owner aside, their heads smashing in to a thousands shards littered across the floor. His eyes were on fire with hatred.
“I heard you. You were gone when the Snake ascended. This man cannot be speaking truthfully. Why would anyone listen to a blasphemer?!“ Holding up the knife violently, Anima’s tirade continued its barrage. “You dare to set foot on sacred ground? A placed blessed in the name of Gaudium. A sanctum of the Final Stages!”
There, standing with a loose jacket and sunken eyes, bulging with red halos, burns and scars deep in to his chin.
“Anima?!” Josiah wheezed an exclamation as he grasped at the vice grip that lifted him from the ground and pinned him to the wall.
“What’s going on?” Shadow stormed over.
“You deserted your prophet! You don’t deserve death… I’m going to rip your skin from your bones and feed it to the rattlesnakes!” Anima threatened in a loud whisper.
“I… I…” Josiah face was turning purple.
“Woah, woah, is this really necessary? He seems like a pretty chill guy.” Elliott shouted. He looked about, the cultists were as stunned as anyone else, but what was clear is they were forming a ring around the incident. He was being absorbed in to a mass of people.
“He may have charmed you, but believe none of his silver tongued lies!” Anima returned his only eye to the man he was choking.
“....was... pro..tec…” Josiah reached out his hand to the wooden walls that he felt he would soon be embedded in to. In desperation he scratched into the white paint, purple began to run over his fingers in intertwining lines. The black and purple moved in unison as it rushed about, intertwining with his fingers. Creaking came from the ground. The floorboards began to splinter and rupture. White fingers crawled out of the cracks, pulling the fissures apart.
Josiah managed to eek out as his eyeballs began to loll about.
Suddenly, Anima was pulled from The Necromancer. Josiah fell to his knees, sputtering. There clicking and gnashing, two fully formed skeletons bound by an aura of purple. “I... ‘m… Telling… the truth.” The eyes of the corpses were caves, and small tunnels of purple smoke flowing from the middle of their cavernous sockets.
The entire crowd was stunned by the resurrected dead.
“Do you see him?” A look of incredulity appeared on Anima’s face. “Leave dead spirits to rest! You desecrate our order with your very existence!”
“I promise you…” The Necromancer took a deep breath. “I disturb no spirits.” He staggered as he stood up. In his palms, glowing purple balls of aura. He guarded his chest with his arms.
“Rwaaaaaah!” Anima yelled as he charged forward.
The two moving remains stepped forward, pushing their intricate fingers in to Anima’s shoulders, causing him to lose balance.
“I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m just trying to find where I belong. My people, they all died, massacred by the Waltham Corporation.” His head was tilted downward as his voice cracked “I don’t have anywhere to go, I can’t get employment, I have no settlers to protect anymore. They’re hunting me, Prophet. You should know as much as all the rest of them, your duty is to protect your people and that is exactly what I have done.”
“My duty is to bring The Ascension.” Anima said from the floor. “You are bringing souls back from paradise to this hell hole and that is all that matters.”
“Then you are far more nearsighted than I expected. I did what I could to do my job with the tools bestowed upon me from on high. We were waiting, just like you, for The Ascension, but till then we had to feed them, to clothe them, to teach them the way to the light of Joy. I spent all my energy protecting them.”
A bolt of lightning arced across the room, it came from pure hate. One of the dead soldiers dived into the stream of energy, disintegrating into fractions of the bones it was made of. The purple control was dispelled.
“These aren’t souls, more like puppets, I give them their strength.”
“You summoned a Revenant, I could feel it.”
“I had to, we were out of money and out of time. The hatred inside that soul would not let it rest.”
“You rip souls from their resting place!”
“You misunderstand, the dead come willing. I simply let them deal with their anger.”
Anima was standing, bewildered at the faces of his followers. “Well, are you going to stand there, watching? Are you going to take this, faithful followers?”
A murmur rippled through the crowd, they shuffled nervously from side to side. A rift began to form amongst the cronies. Some began to move more toward Anima, some began to move toward The Necromancer.
“Listen, the last thing I want to do is create a civil war. Don’t judge me because Anaconda was a more peaceful prophet. Don’t judge me for wanting to help. Don’t judge me because of what I’ve had to do to survive - we’ve all done things we regret out here.” The murmur grew louder amongst the crowd. “I’ve told you before I have risen no sleeping souls…” He took a deep breath. “Judge me for what I can do for you.”
“And what of you, Lieutenants? What do you have to say?” He growled at the faceless crowd. In his head, the crowd started spinning, eeking back painful memories of his last major vision. Sharply, hushedly, Shadow’s voice came to his ear. “Think of how useful he could be - raise an army on command.”
The world was still spinning.
“But Theology!” He weakly protested.
“This struggle could bring down all you’ve worked hard for. - He’s said himself, they’re puppets. No more than puppets.”
Suddenly, his head was resting gently on the glass window, that brought about his old reflection. His head was thumping so loud that he thought it would smash the glass. Anima shuddered inside his own flesh. “How long…?”
“A while, it doesn’t matter.” Replied Shadow who was mixing a potion.
“What… what happened? Is that man still here?” Anima glanced solemnly toward her, his trench coat banged against his legs as he turned around.
“Don’t exert yourself. You’re weak.”
“I’m not…” Anima protested while putting his foot forward and feeling his legs turn to jelly and his stomach sink. “Weak!” Though he was captured by Shadow, he still yelled as much as his body would let him.
Shadow propped him up on to the chair. “In isolation, you forget to take care of yourself.”
“We must destroy the Soul-Ripper!”
Shadow put the cup to his mouth. “I don’t think that would be wise in your condition.”
“In my condition? You heard him, the whole order would rise up against him in fury at his…” He gulped down some of the juice she prepared.
“A civil war needs co-ordination, at the moment you’re not prepared to lead one.”
“Well, you would still follow me, and there are plenty to fight by my side.”
Shadow sighed. “You forget that you haven’t been ruling long. The underlings are here because they’re gang members, cronies and thugs, not out of devotion for a particular theological viewpoint. Based on your charisma alone, your number could surmount to just 10 troops… Josiah-”
“...Josiah is far more amiable and adaptable. People will follow that. He wants to protect people, people will follow that.”
“I’ll hang them all, make them suffer! Crucify them, even!”
Shadow continued with her third point while continuing with her preparations, “He won’t murder people he finds intolerable, people will follow that.”
Anima looked at her with helpless fury.
She began to wrap his head in bandages. “You don’t have a way to fight him. And so why fight him?”
“What? Recall Altan, my precious son! He will gut the man alive.”
“We’re all trying to head toward Paradise. You are the key to the Astral Planes in the light of Gaudium. How we get there isn’t a problem…”
She clasped his hands over her knee. “We need a leader, our prophet, you’ve been gone far too long, and we need your divine hand to steer us toward destiny.”
“Ahm.” Shadow could tell he was seething internally but he didn’t have a response.
“Our next move. We need to move on to bigger and better things, this congregation requires upkeep and our funds are running low, their crimes…”
“Justified crimes?” Anima asked naively.
“...only bring in so much. We need a base for which to step off from. I say Gilded Brook, Ironhaven, then Spider’s Hollow. But first Fairbell, I’ve already had the carvers work on a monument to Gaudium’s divine power there. We will displace the Church of the Chasm and the followers of Christ will flock to a new prophet that only speaks the truth, the one truth…”
“...that all will die.”
Shadow then walked out of the light of the kitchen and in to the draughty stairway in the main hall. “By the Prophet’s holy decree, we will march toward Fairbell and bring her under the light of Gaudium. Let this mark the birth of a Crusade to bring all that is holy under our sign, the sign of the true religion. The sign of the setting sun! To arms, boys!”
Many of the thugs and knights cheered in resounding agreement.
“It hurts… grrr… it… it hurts… help me, please… arrrrooooooooo.”
The dog whimpered from beneath the wreckage of the train. The copper wire which the bounty hunter Jebediah had threaded through his upper body still remained, wrapped tightly around his bones. The familiar struggled to move, but found that the entirety of his lower body had been torn to shreds, leaving a trail of blood and a magical resin behind him as he crawled along the blackened world which he now resided in.
“Cu, ruf tu oui drehg uin bnudéké femm vyna tufh drana? Dygehk ujan dra vuns uv y lremt... ruf uidmyhtecr. Ed'c netelimuic dryd ra cruimt mad rescamv palusa cu fayg.”
The voice came from a shadowy figure whose outline was the only thing visible within this world. Scrig struggled to grasp the being’s true form… but the closer that he tried to concentrate on the being, the more that it seemed his mind and body seemed to slip away. The being seemed to draw in and consume the light around it, causing even the blackness all around to seem as if it were blindingly bright.
“E rayn oui, Quoldo.” Another figure approached the first, placing what seemed to be its hand onto the shoulder of the first. “Ev ra't yccandat rescamv druca oaync yku frah fa vencd crufat res fryd ra luimt dnimo pa lybypma uv, E's landyeh dryd ra luimt ryja xielgmo aqbyhtat rec naekh vyn paouht dryd csymm myht uv Jeimas frelr ra lymmc rusa. “
A third figure approached the others and gathered up black rings which seemed to hover around and on their bodies. The figure seemed to be their leader, as when he approached, the other four figures seemed to kneel before him.
“Jebediah ryc paah lrucah, ed caasc. Ra'mm palusa dra haqd niman, nakyntmacc uv fryd ra yllusbmecrac rana eh meva. Dra ehdanjahdeuh uv dryd paehk ec ajetahla ahuikr. Ev drana'c yh ubbundihedo... fa cruimt caa du rec tacdnildeuh pavuna ra kyehc silr suna cdnahkdr. Udranfeca... ra syo bnuja du pa duu silr uv y lrymmahka vun Vereryl.”
Scrigg struggled to pull himself up against one of the train’s cars. The familiar lethargically searched his person for any hidden stashes of his powder, but to no avail. The dog looked up to the sky, noticing several floating orbs hovering far off in the distance. “What… what are those?”
“Yr, ed caasc drana fyc yh ehdanmuban yvdan ymm. E ghaf drana fyc y vunaekh bnacahla eh uin setcd...?” The leader-like figure among the beings walked slowly over to Scrigg. The being raised his hand to the sky, allowing the rings that he’d collected to float freely off towards the the orbs.
The familiar stared at the rings as they rose up into the orbs and enlarged until they fit around them. “I’m… so confused… nothing here makes any sense… what… I…” the familiar’s head lowered until they landed on the being approaching him. “Will you… help… me?”
“Ouin myhkiyka... fryd ec ed? Ryja oui cbahd cu muhk fedr dra risyhc dryd oui'ja vunkuddah dra duhkia uv ouin yhlacdunc, vysemeyn? Oui lyh'd ajah lusbnaraht dra myhkiyka vnus dra myht eh frelr oui fana vunsat, aedran... cilr dnykato... zicd ruf vyn ryja dra risyhc vymmah? Ruf silr vindran vnus ic femm drao tnevd? Ev uhmo Vydran yht Sudran fana cdemm rana…” The being looked up to the sky and streams of red began to flow down his face from tiny slits in his face.
Scrigg started to grow fidgety as the red streams flowed from the being’s face. “Ar… arrrrooooooo….” the familiar moaned out. “Arrrroooooooo!”
“I see… so, you cannot comprehend our languages, yet still… you feel such empathy for us without even knowing why.”
Tears streamed down Scrigg’s face as he choked on his words. “I… I don’t underooooooo! Why are you crying? Why… why does it hurt so badly?”
“You are dying, are you not?” The being looked up at the sky for a moment before fixing his gaze back on the familiar.
The first figure stepped forward, his hand clenching at his chest. “So sycdan! Oui lyhhud pa caneuic? Y vysemeyn... oui fyhd vun uha uv draen geht du ehraned uin bufanc? Pid... fro? E tuh'd ihtancdyht…”
“Do not question me, Quoldo!” The leader figure pivoted around, staring down the one who’d interjected. “Drana ec saned eh rec najejym. Fryd ec drana du muca eh uvvanehk res y csymm bundeuh uv uin bufan? Fa ryja Brixtis du cbyna. Fa'ja haynmo paah vunkuddah po dra risyh nayms. Ev fa lyh syga ica uv pudr Vereryl yht drec vysemeyn, fru puycdc dra ypemedo du mayb padfaah funmtc hydinymmo... fa luimt byja dra fyo vun uin vidina ehdanjahdeuh. Tuac ed hud syga cahca drah, du uvvan ib fryd fa lyh? Ryja fa dnimo yhodrehk paddan du tu yd drec susahd?”
The being known as Quoldo took a step backwards and grunted. “Tch. If that’s really the way that you feel, then why don’t you speak freely in a language that it can understand?”
The leader sighed and then held his hand up to the sky once more. “Familiar. Rise.” The man held his hand out in front of him, facing Scrigg, an action which caused the familiar to rise up into the air. “We will save you now. We will take you in as a disciple of ours, but first, you must partake of the Brixitis.”
“B-Brixtis? What is that?”
“It is all that is left of our creators. Brixtis is… the shadow cast by the first light of the first being. Brixtis is the name of the second absolute being who was brought into this world. Brixtis is our power, our world, and that which sustains us eternally.” As the leader spoke, one of the smaller orbs which hovered up high above broke apart, causing an even smaller orb to descend quickly to the ground. The orb then condensed down small enough to fit into the palm of the being’s hand. “This, is your part of Brixtis. With this, you will no longer need magic to sustain your form. You will be considered as alive as any other being. You will also become instantly far more powerful than nearly any other being in existence because you have become one with the creator. Now. Take it, and Brixtis shall become your shadow too. In time, Brixtis shall become all that you are, just as it has done so to us.”
Scrigg stared at the small orb which hovered slowly into his hands. The second that he touched the object, all of the pain that he’d been feeling only seconds before quickly dispersed. An eye formed on the top of the orb, first, staring up at Scrigg, observing him and taking in all that he was.
“W-what is this?”
“Brixtis is making the final judgement on you. With this judgement, it will deem whether or not you are worthy to inherit what remains of its power.”
The orb sprouted arms and legs, elongating itself until it looked similar to a lizard. Brixtis quickly began to crawl all across Scrigg’s body before finally resting back on the familiar’s hand.
“If you are certain this is how you wish to utilize what remains, then so be it.” The voice came from all around the world. “I’ve never been part of a familiar before. Such an interesting prospect…” The lizard crawled up Scrigg’s arm before squeezing into his mouth and slithering down his throat.
“Well. That decides it then.” The leader figure took a step back. “We’ll return for you in three days time.”
“Th-three days? But why?”
“Hmph. The next three days will be the most painful of your life. Throughout these three days, you’ll be forced to travel across our world, just as all those before you at one time had. The various elements and biomes that you’ll encounter will serve to help develop your own piece of Brixtis into the form best suited for you. Everything that your five senses recognize will become part of your body, fusing together all at once at the end of the three days until your body and powers are as black as the rest of the world around you. With this, you will have become as we are. Then, we shall begin your training.”
Minor Cast: Elliot, Shadow, Martirio, Altan, Josiah "The Necromancer", Leroy.
Antagonists: Waltham Corporation, Shayne Jacobs & Compatriots.
“And then it was on the heath that day that the first priest of Gaudium declared in triumphal glory, that there was no shame in his defeat. But his enemies were just fulfilling his grand prophetic journey to the Palace of Joy.” Altan stood in the middle of the camp with a small congregation huddled around a crate like children attending an assembly. Around them, rugged and sandswept figures flickered from wagon to wagon carrying supplies. “And so then Gaudium accepted him with open arms as he pierced his stomach and drew it across, opening his true soul to the warm embrace of God.”
Shadow melded in to the shade cast by Anima’s canopy. The masked man held his hand to his temples. “Is he still giving that sermon?”
“You gave me the order to spread our faith. He was, by far, the best one for the job.”
“Yes... but must be he so incessant.”
“Does not Gaudium require us to convert as many peple and we can before the final Ascension?” She knew that when she purported grandiose and fantastic idealism that made Anima more open to suggestion.
“Gaudium has been acting differently”
“Different? Different how?”
“I’m not sure.”
“There’s no other option than pressing onward. God’s will yesterday, will stay God’s will today. Questioning God’s judgement is the fools’ way. They lead us away from Gaudium, further in to the darkness.” She spoke in his vernacular especially. “Fewer people will question us, if they believe Altan’s sermon... We are God’s Judgement on the middle plane. We must keep our moral authority.”
“Yes... but... but... but... but...” Anima’s head began to spin with pain.
Shadow looked over her master, seeing drops of water form on his head and refract the light in to seven colours. Rushing, she slammed the sponge from her side in the bucket of water and dabbed it carefully on Anima’s head. “You’re sweating, dear.”
“It feels like this canopy... is intensifying the heat.”
“We’ll be back in the chasm soon.” She almost-whispered, “We’ll be back in your motherland soon enough.”
Anima looked at her with intense pause. The light’s rays reflected off of her cheek to such an extent that it made a crown of light, as if she was the sun itself. “I’ve been prayin-” He had an urge to tell her everything his fever dreams brought and about every prayer answered or not.
He narrowed his eyes as he heard the clamour and clatter of steel. Just a ways away, far from the perimeter of shadow that extended Anima’s influence and in to the sunlight, where another perimeter formed, created by the protection of his loyal bodyguards wrapped in white that swayed with their movement.
A spear was angled toward the gullet of the man approaching. The eyes of Anima’s Devoted was threatening behind the light fabric that hung from the bridge of their nose and then wrapped around the forehead.
The approaching man shifted his focus to the bodyguard, “If you think that spear’s going in my gullet. You’re going to be in the medical tent picking lead out of your chest.” He pressed both barrels painfully against the chest of the Devoted.
Anima waved away Shadow. “Who is this?”
“Devoted, stand down.” The whirlwind-wrapped wraith straightened to attention, leaving his spear to the air. “Take his gun.” Shadow announced another command.
“That’s the last thing I’m going to do. You have these long shiny white pricks with weaponry which I could only describe as serious over compensation.” He looked at the two Devoted before point with two fingers at the two enthroned figures. “And you psyduckers have magical lightning bolts and mind-psyduck on your side. I’ll keep my barrels to myself, thanks for the consideration though.”
“Yes, but the Prophet is more important than ten of you.” Shadow crossed her legs, hooking one over another and gripped the edges of the seat.
“Who... is it...?” Anima squinted, adjusting his posture.
“Ah, but were you elected by the people?”
“I was appointed by the prophet and therefore God. Who were these people that elected you?”
“Your armed forces, milady.” The man shunted his gun in to the holster attached to the side of his calves.
“Our soldiers have no representative.”
“They do now. My name’s Leroy – When you took over our whole operation, we were a bunch of unco-ordinated gangs, undergangs, subcontractors.”
“We get your point.” Anima rubbed his head.
“Now, over in the West Point by the perimeter there, two psyduckwits started fighting over who’d get water, since you know, someone was dumb enough to spill their own rations. - I banged their heads together, and we had a quick vote and found I was the best candidate to come to you. Surprising, I know, but you are paying me.” His muscles bulged out of the brown-sleeveless leather jacket, put on full display by his folded arms.
“Oh? And why do you need to see the Prophet, mercenary?”
“I prefer being called the Elect, thanks, love. Sounds...” He took a big breath with an expansive gesture, like a fisher after a large catch. “...better.” His hands returned to his hips. “Sounds better than you anyway. Hahaha!”
“Nah, I’m here because you psyduckers are hoarding the drink. I know you got water because only a nimrod would not bring water in an expedition out in to the desert, let alone the mukhole we’re going to.”
“His majestic holiness requires additional water to deal with extreme strain prophetic visions exert on him.”
“Do we look like a bunch of psyducking cactuses? We need water to survive and these rations aren’t cutting it.”
Shadow looked down at her feet. “We could double your pay.”
“Darling, I can’t drink gold. Where in hell would we use it, a travelling psyducking vending machine?”
“What is this?” Altan pierced the barrier of black as he held the holy book Ieros to his side with one hand. He sat down and draped his large all-encompassing cloak around the vacant seat he decided to posess.
Leroy crossed his arms “The crew are demanding extra water rations, I was elected by ‘em to represent ‘em.”
Altan took down his hood revealing a head of short, growing hair and focussed on Anima only, speaking through the white fabric covering his mouth.“I wasn’t aware our following had a representative, I think Our New Friend, Mr. Josiah was the closest we have to Henchman Liaison.”
“Yes, and that stops now.” Leroy declared, wiping away sweat from the side of his head that prickled with fresh hair before bringing his hand back to his hip.
“Should I retrieve the liaison from his tent?” Altan continued his speech directed at the Prophet even though
“Well, then, I could supplement the current supply to the mouths of the followers by drawing some water through the earth, but it would not be permanent, a well would become required.”
“We cannot afford to build a well in every overnight encampment.” Shadow retorted.
“Give them it.” Anima’s voice came to the forefront.
“My lord!” Shadow widened her eyes, Leroy couldn’t tell that this wasn’t because of antagonism towards him, but out of deep concern for the welfare of The Prophet.
“Give them the stockpile of water. We cannot kill if we are dead.”
“But what about...”
“You claim to be my servant. Serve me!” He sat up from the slumping posture and gripped the arms of his throne. Her eyes darted from edge to edge, as if scanning Anima’s face. She couldn’t read him. “Obey my wishes, donate the water to the Order.” He croaked.
Shadow stood up in protest and but she met the unyielding face of the prophet, she slunk off in to the darkness of the nearby tent.
“Approach me, Leroy.” He looked forward, deep red lines formed from bags under his eyes, these too looked in to Leroy’s face.
“What you gonna make me do? Kiss your feet?”
“I want you...” Anima coughed, as if moving something from the back of his throat. “To tell me of any dissent amongst my soldiers. A shepherd without sheep is a fool with a crook.”
Leroy laughed, “Aint that the truth!” He scratched the back of his head where the blond military-style concrete barricade-shaped island that defined his haircut. “Yeah I could do that... what’s in it for me?”
“Not dying.” Anima sat forward menacingly.
Leroy audibly laughed. “Ha, try again.”
Anima reclined in to his seat again.
“His majestic holiness will provide you with what you need.” Altan remained his focus on the Prophet. “So long as you do your duty.”
“It’s not like you have much of a choice, ignoring your flock means a whole lot more dissent than your special hijinks can deal with.”
Altan conceded to a nod, even though in his heart he didn’t believe that his blessing couldn't murder every single one of them, he could still smell the blood of every follower here. Some were timid, some were devoted, some were boiling with testosterone. Which meant only one thing to Altan, that his priesthood was far from over.
The sun had long since faded below the horizon, a full moon now shining brightly in the desert sky. What once had been a typically hot day had become a cold, dead night. Alex couldn’t see that much by the light of the stars, but he suspected his breath would have been visible in front of him. The cold wasn’t all bad though, it aided the body bag in mitigating any smell that might have risen up from Cooper’s corpse.
Alex glanced back at bodybag behind him, quickly averting his gaze and looking onwards again. His hands had stopped shaking hours ago, but he still felt uneasy. The thrill of the hunt had dissipated when Cooper and his compatriots had been killed and the now familiar doubts Alex had been experiencing since the death of Alice Rylian had quickly welled up to replace it.
“Psyducking hell,” Elias groaned from his horse beside Alex. “Why did I ever sign up for this muk? The days are bad enough but hell is literally freezing over right now.”
“Because the money’s good and you have no actual skills,” Alex said, not bothering to look over at Elias. It wasn’t the first time in the past month that they’d had a discussion along these lines and he well knew what the expression on Elias’ face would be. Not that he’d have much ease seeing it in the open night.
“How much skill does it take to be a psyducking shop keeper?!” Elias retorted. If he’d been in a better mood, and a more jovial person in general, Alex might have cracked a smile.
“You see a lot of shops hiring in the Barren Lands?” he questioned, “I suppose you could open your own if you had the money. I wonder what you might do in the meantime to earn it? If only there was some way.”
“You’re an asshole, you know that?” Elias sighed exasperatedly.
“So I’ve heard.”
The pair continued on, riding towards Spider’s Hollow to collect their bounty. For the most part, Alex remained silent, focusing on the questions that spiralled around in his head. However, Elias complained frequently and he strangely began to find himself appreciating his companion’s vocal lamentations as they would sometimes draw him into brief bouts of conversation, distracting him from the internal discussion he was having with himself.
“We should stop for the night,” Alex said, slowing the horse to a halt. “I was hoping to make it back tonight, but it’s getting to be too cold for travel. We can camp out and I’ll make a fire.”
“Finally, you’re starting to speak sense.” Elias chuckled.
The pair of bounty hunters road on a little more, at a more leisurely pace, stopping at a loan deceased tree, one of only a few that dotted the Barren Lands. They made for perfect camping locations.
Alex dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to Elias to tether to the tree. Both his and Elias’ mounts were well-trained and probably wouldn’t wander too far, but when there was the option, it was better to be safe than sorry.
In what was now a fairly well-rehearsed routine, Elias took the reins and began to tie the horses to the tree. As he did so, Alex started to collect branches from the tree, piling them up nearby and igniting them with a small fireball dropped from his open palm.
Immediately, the night was brighter and warmer. The pair settled down by the glow of the campfire, Elias opening a small pouch of jerky. He took some strips for himself, passing the pouch on to Alex.
“Thanks,” Alex said, retrieving some of the salty dried meat for himself. He bit into it, staring into the fire. Normally, he’d have preferred to hunt some fresh meat, but he found he lacked the motivation to brave the cold in search of the desert’s sparse wildlife.
“Are you okay?”
Alex turned, surprised to see a bewildered looking Elias.
“You thanked me. You don’t really do that.”
“Count yourself lucky then,” Alex said, rolling his eyes and returning his gaze to the fire.
“Psyduck,” Elias swore not particularly discretely, “No, seriously. What the psyduck is going on with you? You were weird in that firefight before, you’ve been weird ever since you came back with the bodies of those Big Bads. You’re being even more sullen than usual and half as blood thirsty. What the psyduck is going on in your head?”
Alex didn’t respond for a long time. He had never been good at this sort of personal reaction. He sucked at it with his parents, he made every effort to avoid it with his old landlords and he definitely wasn’t equipped to discuss his issues brazenly with Elias. Yet there they were.
He had to admit, Elias was the first person he’d come anywhere near having some sort of personal relationship with. He wanted answers, maybe he’d have to take a leap and seek the answers he wanted with him? At least a little.
“I don’t know.” Alex sighed, “My life has been life and death for a long time. I’ve never felt bad about taking a life before. Psyduck, I suck at talking like this. I mean, hunting is the only time I feel alive and that hasn’t changed. But ever since I killed the kid, I can’t help but question how I live. I killed a kid.”
“The kid was a mass murderer with a huge bounty on her head. If you didn’t kill her someone else would have. At least this way, you got your kicks and a healthy amount of cash out of it. Don’t worry about it.”
“She was… but she wasn’t it. You remember that demon thing we fought. There was something like that in her too. She was a victim too. She wasn’t like me, she didn’t revel in the death she caused. She hated it. She was suffering. I killed an innocent victim and I did it for thrills. Maybe I’ve hit a level of psyducked up even I can’t stomach.”
The words hung in the air for several long, severely uncomfortable moments.
“Psyduck man, I shouldn’t have asked. I am not qualified for this.” Elias laughed nervously and fell silent again. It was a while before he spoke up again. “Look, the kid was suffering and probably couldn’t be cured. Yeah, you’re pretty psyducked up. You have been since we had the misfortune of meeting, but you put that brat out of her misery and saved lives. You did a good thing, who gives a muk if you got off on it and made some cash?”
Alex scrunched up his nose at that.
“Truly you have a way with words.”
“We should sleep so we can head off early before it gets too hot.”
Elias agreed and the two hunters got as comfortable as they could. It was several more hours before Alex could sleep though. He knew what dreams awaited him once he closed his eyes.