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MineZ A Decade in Hell - [Storyline Thread]

Discussion in 'Roleplay' started by weedboi_420, Mar 5, 2015.

MineZ - A Decade in Hell - [Storyline Thread]
  1. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    A Decade in Hell
    A Realistic Narrative of a Survivor's Experience in the Undead Blight
    . . .

    Egyszer a nap úgy elfáradt
    Elaludt mély, zöld tó ölén
    Az embereknek fájt a sötét
    Ő megsajnált, eljött közénk,
    Igen, jött egy gyöngyhajú lány,..

    It was known that for nearly a decade, the country was made a hell on earth.

    For that time, I had lived and survived with a group composed of strangers - the same strangers who'd nearly killed me, the same strangers who nursed me, and the same strangers who I lived with to wait out the storm, and the same strangers who'd saved my life.

    It didn't take too long for rumors to turn into violence, and for violence to degenerate into chaos. It took a brief exchange from the papers that circulated through where I lived, to the cavalry and cannons that would soon follow, and at last the fires and panic that would destroy everything but the cities and the undead themselves. By this chaos, I'd mean moments where people, pale from infection and thin from hunger, held their rifles at others' faces for an exchange that consisted of everything you were carrying for your life. Some people delivered with these kinds of promises, glassy-eyed as though they were trying to hold back tears but , while others shot before asking to "trade".

    As the last of the kingdom that controlled the country's subjects crumbled in Grimdale, people ruled the roads and towns in clans, posses, guilds, whatever they called them to absolve themselves of blame. They ranged from somewhere in between "Bandits" and "Healers", ravenous fuckers to mostly conniving frauds who wanted to make a frivolous living out of helping a wounded person out of common sense. I sat somewhere in the middle, where I believe most people were. And like those who stood in between good and evil, people like me, your neighbors, the elderly and even women, scavenged off the earth like animals, at times robbing and killing as if our lives depended on it. All that stuff, questioning how you saw the humanity in other peoples' eyes as they slayed one another.

    We stayed town to town - some dotted with other people, others packed with the undead. As much as the undead were horrendous, with their calcified nails and teeth that cut your skin, it was the people who scared me, just as much as it was other people that welcomed me.

    I will never forget those them.

    You got something to say about the story? Tell me!
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  2. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter One
    . . .

    Most days, I typically rose earlier in the morning than pretty much anyone else in the town. The lanterns in my house were always the first ones lit in my street at the morning, and I was the first to step out of my door. This was a great feeling, to feel like the only one around in the largest city south of the continent, which housed easily more than sixty thousand people sprawled for miles away. However, the reason behind this was far from just for taking a stroll around the sunrise. As a logger, I did have a heavy day and a heavy burden to put up with. I was a larger person then, larger in the sense that my arms, worked over years lifting whole logs were the size of an average man's thigh, larger in the sense that I had rounder cheeks, larger in the sense that I looked sorta human. But I can still lift you and the next guy's weight above my shoulders though, so if you're still writing this interview, you'd better put that in there.

    I was almost the only one awake, but by only almost - the only place open for me to catch a bite of food at this time was an inn that I'd never slept in before, but nonetheless visited everyday to fulfill my vital routine. I believe a night in one of the inn's rooms would be an experience of sorts, but I came only for the soup - the soup was my fuel for the next half day, and was this masterful blend of chicken, water and mushrooms - not that it was masterful in anyway, it basically consisted of drowning a boned chicken in hot water and tossing it with brown and red mushrooms into the cauldron, not that I could cook any better than that, anyway. I went on to leave my five gold coins on the counter, and take a bundle of the papers off from the table that sat on a stool just about next to the door that opened up behind the bar. It followed the same pattern as it had once every few days for a while now.

    I get that all this I'm telling you about this is some mundane rubbish, don't fall asleep just yet - but just as routine to me at that time was that headline.


    "Same as yesterday", the bartender back of the counter said, cleaning off a bowl with a rag. "I don't believe much of this stuff, Peter. I'm not a person to believe that you and I have no control of ourselves, that something out there does all this for us. And I especially don't believe in cheating death."

    "Cheating death", he said. The papers announced at least two weeks ago that they'd concocted some formula to make the immortality seen in tales into a reality, in a vassal-owned laureate castle practically a million miles away from here, and that they've began testing it in Carmi, before the next thing you see as you wake up, that half of everyone in there went down with something awful, rumors that the residents had fevers that gave off so much heat that it plunged them into dizzying spells and seizures, and that a particularly unluckier man died. Shot dead, more accurately to say. An accident, like the wealthy lords up in their impenetrable fortress of a castle cause from time to time from stupidity, was what it was. I just bantered for as long I felt like, and had some brief stupid debate about bread or toast. I saw sunlight starting to gleam in through the cracks of the door in front of the inn and through the windows. Damn, has it been that long? I rolled up the rest of the papers and stuffed them into the pocket of my tunic. I walked out and I saw no one. "Absolutely no one? Are you and I the only people not buying into this?", I said, about to turn around to the bartender expecting a response with this swaggering turn as if I knew better than anyone else about this. The door shut smack into my nose, and was barred from the inside now.

    The sun was now sky high. For once, I truly felt scared. Petrified as I stood there leaning against the wall, looking at my surroundings for a good half hour. I took a hell of a dash to my house, feeling chased by the emptiness, intimidated by nothing. I propped a crafting table in front of my door, shut the curtains of my windows, and climbed up to my bed where I sat, holding myself together, staring out at the darkened corners and walls of the room, except for the glimpses of light that went in through closed curtains that swayed in the cold wind, casting a waving red shadow of sunlight casting through the pores of the curtains.

    I wasn't sure what to do. Everyone was gone, in real danger. As I laid in bed, I tried to remind myself, that I was a strong, grown six-foot-tall man. That the man's like 25 now, that he'd know what to do right now.

    I didn't really know what to do. I stayed in my bed waiting on this to change and silently wept.

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  3. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Two
    . . .

    You ever... like just rest your tired self down on a soft bale of straw at the middle of the day, promising yourself to get up before the hour ends between each struggle to keep your eyes open, only to succumb and wake up half a day later?

    [Who hasn't?]

    I don't recall how long I had slept. When I came to, more than a day had passed, and I'm not sure if I was necessarily asleep, or knocked out. The faint smell of something like trees burning was all over outside, and beyond the window of my space upstairs was a column of thick, black smoke. Whatever, that didn't matter right now, cos' I had to use the bathroom and I needed something to drink. I came out of the john shortly after, handling my business, and now I needed to get myself hydrated. I grabbed the crafting table and slid it away from blocking the door, bucket in hand, wishing to fill it up in the wells that sat on every few ends of the gravel roads which we walk on.

    I realized what I could've been dealing with again - I exclaimed a quiet, dragged on "SHIT!", and grabbed the iron axe that I always used to fell trees for a living with. I locked myself in a cautious position I had been taught before when I used to run supplies during battles, many years ago when the country had their daggers poised against each other in war. The bucket was in my left hand and held back, with my axe held up in a grip that was prepared to critical-hit cleave a fucker. I was fearful of the situation just about earlier, but now I felt a lot more ready to take it on. Twisting the knob of the wooden door and pulling it, I saw something I wouldn't have expected for days.

    A man in a purple vest, a ruff enveloping his neck, was shouting wildly from a wooden platform, a rolled paper in his hand which he pointed to in reference. It was a gaudy, telltale wardrobe of a military official.

    "People of Romero," he yelled, "People of Romero! The cavalry and the knights of Camp Bell have supplied us with their five hundred men!" A peal of morale jumped, with the men and women gathered around him cheering and raising their fists at the news. I smiled a little too. Thank god this whole thing's fixed up now. "Hold on, ladies and gentlemen..." the man said to no appeal. He stood at ease with a fixed expression at his face, waiting for the crowd to settle for him to continue. "However, these brave men, being so of this earth themselves, need the assistance of your people!" The crowd grew further silent. "We are seeking men of able-bodied physique, preferably experienced in battle, to drive back the so-called undead to their graves... at four-hundred gold pieces a volunteer!" Four hundred pieces was twice as much as I had to save to build my house. I, along with hundreds of other men in the crowd, rose our hands high and mighty, united with a chant - "I VOLUNTEER! I VOLUNTEER!"

    Confidently I'd swaggered over to the well, a scroll in the empty bucket that invited me to fight alongside the cavalry again. Mothers and fathers and children poured out into the streets, joyfully celebrating like it was all okay after all. I noticed that I was heading the general direction of the smoky clouds I'd seen earlier. I dashed towards it, curiously.

    [What did you see exactly?]

    As soon as I caught a peek of it, I doubled over and wretched, almost about to empty my stomach. The smell of the burning oils and flesh in the smoke was putrid - people in white leather clothing that had been modified to protect every inch of skin on you and goggled masks threw dead bodies out of houses in one street, which the iron-clad guards in front of the street said there was one person who'd not been feeling well the day everyone was ordered to stay in. One unwell person turned in on his housemates and soon, they were punching and kicking at the next house's door. Luckily, the cavalry rolled in soon enough to start blowing away at the ones that were immediately wandering around the street before they took their cold, iron boots and swords to the doors.

    It was bodies, peoples' bodies, and the white-suited people were just carrying them away from doorsteps. Their skin was grey from drained blood, and dried blood had leaked from their noses and eyes. Three or four of the corpses taken out were still moving. One of the guards guarding the tragic site was called over to "Take this one out", pointing at a writhing undead person. Its' legs were paralyzed by a blade from a pair of shears embed in its back, and as the guard stomped on its chest and pointed the tip of his rifle at its head, the... how about we call 'em something like... zombies, stared back with its dark eyeballs. The guard spread some of the zombie's head at least a whole block in front like a patch of redstone dust, but no blood dripped out of the zombie's head - but a brown, viscous substance that slugged out.

    I had come to realize that these zombies were nothing like us, nothing like the people they used to be. Biologically different, and a fate worse than death at their hands. I wasn't so much disgusted or confident when I officially made the commitment to battle them, but I signed the shit out of that scroll in the bucket.
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  4. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Three
    . . .

    About five hundred of us were supposed to be there. Maybe five hundred more of us were expected to come. A total of two thousand men in forged iron armor below the middle of a bridge that connected Romero and Carmi, and all of them had enough bullets and rifles to kill for a week. In previous wars against humans, there had always been issues with, "Hey, you're giving all these guns and that's great, now is there anything to shoot out of them?" but this time we looked prepared at most. Tents lined with wool and canvas for every four or five of us laid in rows illuminated with torches, and between us and Carmi was a five-block tall mass of stone brick and bags of sand, which at least a hundred of us sat around next to in rotations. I went on duty twice, but once was enough to see the ruins of Carmi a thousand blocks away, lit up with embers like a dying fires in ashy charcoals. The undead don't set fire to things, and who else would that be burning shit down?

    Carmi'd once been to a degree a wealthy village from being the main mode of trade in the East. The village was a quarter of Romero's size but housed about twenty thousand people, packed in with manors and houses and ports. If Carmi was the first populace to be exposed to the famed immortality elixir and succumb to it, it was because some of their residents could afford it like you could buy bread.

    It seemed that every last resistance of the Western region set themselves down, as if they intended to finish off every last of the undead right here, and right now and they called it, a "Siege", but were we on the defense or the offensive? We were the ones placing down barricades, not them. However, the scene continued to assure me - soldiers filling up bubbling glass bottles with healing potions, soldiers carrying buckets of water hand to hand to the cauldrons, or fixing wheels onto cast iron cannons, and some who had just gone off duty sat around in circles, smoking out of their pipes and making crude remarks at each others' wives or sisters, acting as though there'd be no tomorrow. Unfortunately so, most of us really weren't going to see tomorrow. No one being trained or anything, considering how it takes a trained guy to join in, even though from some of the volunteers' physiques being too thin or too wide, it seemed kind of questionable to me.

    One night, I'd been on duty. Being on guard for about six hours a night for three days camping out took the intensity away from you, and rather than actually being ready to see anything I sat around on my behind with a couple of other friends I made, but there was an overseer back over at the Romero lighthouse who shone this way every once in a while to make sure that we weren't slacking off, or that there wasn't anything running and growling from down the bridge. It was almost like the way it was when we were all children in schools, and having to sweep around a while after hours, only to fool around until the instructor came around and we all acted like we were y'know, just working casually. So many things really can zoom through your head at moments like that in the solitude and darkness, like whether or not the choices you've made in your life were worth it, or how long this siege will last, or how many of the cavalry were going home.

    It began as something like a scent that wasn't there - like a faint odor that you figure you swear had to be around you, and you smelled it in deep, fast whiffs of your nose before just not giving a crap about it and ignoring it until it was gone. Suddenly, the stench was stagnant and even started to grow thick. The trumpets sounded their siren out to the whole bridge, and suddenly everyone turned their heads towards Carmi.

    Go! You go... yeah, you go!

    It must've been at least fifty of the undead, spaced from each other and all burning from their clothes, which had at this point been seared into their blotchy skin like a branding iron's mark on a cow. Some of the undead sprinting at us weren't even clothed, and those were the ones that you could see their bones and muscles from through scorched chunks of flesh. As soon as we fired the first shots, hundreds more arrived to the scene from both us and them. We thought we were downing them face splat to the ground! The soldiers blasted their rifles somewhat into the air and a little bit towards the ground, but with that "Die, fucker, die!" attitude.

    The Standard BMR (Bell Model Rifle) wasn't so much as a gun as it was a musket. The typical flintlock was into the rifle than protruding to the side of it, and the ammunition we used was a short bullet that had half of it an iron canister containing gunpowder to blast out the other part of the bullet, which was an oblong mass of iron that smashed into some unlucky guy's gut and if it hit a bone, would burst into shards. We perceived a refined instrument of death like this to be the epitome of warfare, and for a century's worth of political skirmishes had carried certain regions of the continent above each other, and to believe that it would actually defeat the undead made sense, right?

    I never recalled anything wrong with the gun, but with the soldiers and me who used them. Ten minutes into the battle of Carmi had I started to hear ungodly shouts for help. "Somebody get this guy off me!" "Fuck, I'm bit... I NEED A HEALER!" "I'm out, somebody cover me!". The undead were vessels of flesh, not humans, and could happily skip towards you unless you'd shot them in their head or heart more than twice. Their blood ran in a motion like oil than a fluid, which made what we'd been trained for years to do - to bust their ribcage rather than shoot them in the head, took shots for days to kill just one zombie. So before long, some soldiers, quickly realizing they'd shot through all their munitions, turned to their iron swords to try and slice their way out through the undead, who were now outnumbering and swarming us.

    "I SHOT HIM IN THE GUT! TWICE!", one nearby soldier yelled, motioning his hand towards a zombie with its stomach and liver open. "THEY'RE NOT EVEN STOPPING!". That sent a chill down my spine, and so did his screaming just a moment later.
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  5. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Four
    . . .

    Ah... shit, man! Help me! Anyone!

    I came to my senses merely a few blocks from a smoldering, shallow crater dug out from a cannon. I'd known that my head was doing backstroke from being that close to an explosion, but I'd also known who the half-intact, half-gristle mass of flesh laying next to a puddle to the crater was. Seeing his rifle clenched in his fist even before rigor mortis would set in, and the mud that covered his face, it was clear that he didn't die instantly.

    Snapping my head up to see what was left of our defense, the bridge as well was engulfed in flames, none of which were being lit out by the heavy rain. The tents that housed the soldiers were torn into and charred, and in some of them, a pile of carcasses were ablaze, as if the generals ordering the siege was arrogant enough to believe that we would've had the men to get rid of corpses as soon as one was made, although now, our orders were a lot more simple, and it was to get the hell out of there, cos' we were doomed at this point.

    I obeyed that order, as it was broadcast through our Ender Orbs-

    [Ender Orbs, you say?]

    Yeah, it is just about what it sounds like it is. We soldiers communicated to one another using a neat little thing that we called an Ender Orb. It was the size of a child's fist, you were able to speak into them in separate channels. How it worked, though, I don't know jack about that. I had a major in sweeping floors after school for being too loud or annoying those days.

    Anyway, I myself obeyed it especially for it being the most intelligent of commands given to us during the siege. But as I stood up, I heard and felt something like a stiff cloth tearing, and a blood red crevice down below my knee oozed out, exposing tendons and a little bit of bone. When a cannonball strikes as close to a person as one got to me, the shards of iron do its' own thing and shred through your flesh. As to the unluckier guy who was all over here and there next to a smoldering hole, I suppose he just took in to the natural outcome of exploding.

    I was running out of time, ammunition and blood. I tied a bandage cloth around the gash on my leg, and I knew I'd had to get something more permanent, but though now it was a matter of not bleeding out when all I needed to do was to get the heck out of there and possibly die on the way, which ever way would matter more. I felt my dry throat against my tongue, swilled for, you know, maybe just one last time from my water bottle and loaded a bullet into my rifle. The undead were practically invisible from their soot-ridden skin in the night, but the rumble of footsteps and growling was growing closer by now. "Over here!", a voice yelled. "Get over here, Peter!". I turned in circles to search for the voice. "This way! Hurry up, it's this way!", the voice said again. Taking a broken plank and waving it over a burning tent, I lit up a silhouette of one of the soldiers standing atop a hill in front of Romero, waving both arms at me in a signal. Turning around to check the horde, the undead dashed at me, climbing over ruined huts and walls. I poised my rifle, aiming for any foes weakened from the siege's efforts that I could at least kill with a single shot. One zombie pounced at me off of a crafting table, missing sections of its chest and waist, but I took one shot to its body and brought it down to a face first splat on the ground that pronounced the zombie as being dead as fuck.

    And so I sprinted away, towards the hill, until I was reduced to walking by a hunger pain. The gear I carried weighed me down like a bag of sand, but about a hundred other soldiers were racing the same race as I was to the top of the hill, and I wasn't even close to second place. Seeing nothing but the hill, and the rainwater that splashed across my eyes in the storm, it took one slippery slide - as a zombie's hand grabbed my ankle and sank its jaws into it - and sent me falling into the dirt in pain. The undead spread their mysterious plague through their saliva and made their bite a curse. The zombie still had its rigid hands gripping my ankle and pulled against me flailing my iron boot at his head. "Ah... shit, man!", I shouted. "Help me! Anyone!". A shot rang out from the other soldiers evacuating, and an iron sword severed the zombie's grip from me as I felt a tough grapple at my shoulders and neck that dragged me across the wet ground, like another zombie. I screamed, about to gouge an undead fucker's eyes out, before I heard a pained, "What the hell, Peter?!" and a swift swing at my cheek that bid me good night.

    The undead don't call you out by your name, do they?

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  6. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Outcome of the Battle for Carmi

  7. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Twelve days afterwards and nine days before I came to was a battle of proportions.

    The bridge connecting Carmi and Romero had lined with craters, now bisected down the center like a chopped log. Displaying its greenish, bloating corpses both undead and formerly human kept the flames alive that produced a red smoke. The color of skin and muscle as it burned and blew away like dandelions. The undead continued to trample over their skulls, wandering north and south, west and east in no true direction but still nonetheless advancing towards the great city. The general's advisors gave the townspeople a good twenty-four hours to take what they have and leave.

    Trenches, cannons, ordnance that was proven ineffective against the undead days before they knew they had them coming. The caravans of panicked townsmen carrying their children and wives and luggage flocked to the long-infested Grimdale, hoping it was different there. These trenches and shells had returned to Romero's army with a revenge when the first that came to view of Romero's riflemen bore the grotesque shaft of their wrath, exposing ribs and guts and the innards of their skull but continuing to walk it off. They mostly came undressed or their clothes had melted into their skin. Whichever is worse hobbled down Romero's streets and past their army before long. The army swelled with every additionally zealous and poor able-bodied men seeking penance for their participation, a population of people most prominent to that of Romero. Paid to be fodder. Was treated like fodder. Bought a few minutes for the iron-clad soldiers to retreat behind the gates, running from the undead and heading into a whole new thing.

    Slime fire, I would not have believed it myself if I had been conscious to fight and to die there. It was fire fed by oily, slimy gunk, which stuck well on the straw and wooden houses of people and better on their skin. It burns indiscrimately and makes no swerves around the sharp turning streets of the city, but burns through radially. Tens of warships floated above the defense overwhelmed at every direction with undead, more undead than they had bullets. The warship did not see nor care there were people alive, and showed them their last sight of an orange stream that glowed hot enough to blind you for a moment. For all they had known this blinding would have helped them savor their last moment expecting rescue. They'll never know now, fortunately.
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  8. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Four
    . . .

    The chill came such that the cold connected from my spine to my neck in a jolt that might as well had stuck a needle there. The chill came washing like a tide through the cavernous opening in the ceiling, which had been bashed open with artillery and welded at the sides with fire for integrity. Immediately with the sight of the Holy Cross steeple in the skyline, now charred and leaning to the side with fatigue, I found myself back in Romero which I would have believed to see through hell-tinted goggles. Distant figures fell prostrate on the roofs of the city, some of which writhed and gorged on others. The sky drew a dusk that the clock at my bedside said contrary to, a dusk drawn with steel clouds lined with a glimmer of orange at the very horizon.
    I had yet to haul ass out of here when a tug from inside my arm made me let out the loudest, most deranged scream I could not have thought to come from my cords, expressed with the sound of genuine pain that trailed off on a high A. I'm a big guy, it takes few things to make one like me recoil. What I'd experienced then was at the top of that short, numbered list. Waiting for the sting to diminish, I took hold of the hollow straw that connected my left arm to a glassy skin which wouldn't have been filled by... no more than hours ago. My hairs stood on end and a muscle pushed the needle a little more again. That fucker hurts.

    Taking frequent breaths from my nose, then clenching my teeth, I recovered three inches of that straw I'm sure I felt squirming out of my vein. The water skin tinted itself with just a little bit of blood that came at first like an explosion, but cleared into smoke that rose to the top of the sky and never seen again. Again I remembered that if the water here keeping me alive was fresh, I wasn't alone, and since I'd just made a ruckus... well, shit... But knowing both the nature of what was walking outside and what could be walking inside, there wasn't time to choose. I just grabbed the hat stand that served as a bootlegged hook for that water skin and made my way downstairs. I suddenly felt a little more naked than I was, and more what with that wind blowing through that hole in the roof, but taking my second step on the floor made me notice that I had reflexively jerked my leg, and that now I was on the floor with the water skin on my face. I didn't scream, though - that was an improvement... yeah... but on my leg was a dry bandage which I unwrapped, practically pulling ribbon by ribbon and peeling off the paper revealed a curved slice down my leg deep as some ravines I've seen in Glacien territory, but sutured criss-cross in strokes that grew a bit careless around the curvature. I'd also noticed a trickle of warm blood down my neck, and a sharp pain right on the spot where I didn't notice I'd bricked my head till I felt it coming.

    My eyes effortlessly rolled upwards while my neck threw my head back. I couldn't feel it, but I know for sure it hit that same spot again on the floor.

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  9. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Six
    . . .

    You're a clumsy man, he said.

    It doesn't take a reminder to tell me. How long have I been out cold? I had to reply.

    About thurty-five dey. Seventh o' August.

    It's cold.

    The hole must have been a portal to hell for all I knew. From the inside of the hospital was illuminated with the chandeliers which with the candles dripping on the floor, burned steadfast to keep the place lit. Yet the light seemed to escape from the volumes of the hospital into this opening to our new world, a world where the darkness had invaded the sunlight even at the indication of noon at the clock. This darkness emerged from numerous pillars of ashen smoke tossed into the air, most still ablaze. The wind that came often and came violently blew the stench of decay towards the direction of our dwelling. Nonetheless, I felt both horror and acceptance in that world which stared back at me through that opening. The wind started to pick up again, feeling a sudden chill blow towards my legs which were uncovered by this short robe I was clad in.

    "What bartender has children?" I inquired.

    "Bartenders who think they've made a mistake, Peter."

    "The job of a bartender in Romero," I reminded him, "was to earn all and spend all. Maybe I've just been under the impression that the lives of bartenders and opium merchants were to live and let live, and not to make live."

    He stared back at the floor as I followed suit, and his daughter suddenly paused her literate recreation to look back.

    "Doesn't look a thing like you, Esau. White hair, blue eyes, all that-"

    "I wouldn't pretend she does. I'd be lying and you'd be a fool if I told you she was my daughter and if you bought that. There was no mother, I suppose. Perhaps that's one place to start explaining."

    The girl turned around and stood, and closed the book for a break in the chapter. Esau, a name I had never heard addressed to a bartender I'd known for ages, motioned his head vaguely as the girl followed uniformly, running into the cellar. Her legs, which were obscured by her kneeling to read the book, were partly bandaged with two parts gauze and one part scarred bruising. She finally retreated, as though she knew what was coming for us.

    "Yeah, it's... bedtime. It can be so difficult to tell when the night is only when the day is half a palette darker, but it doesn't matter either to sleep when it's night time all the same. When the airships came hovering over us, they started flaming the town square and the gates as a "strategic location" and burned the same streets again and again. The next day, the airships were approaching the center of the city, continuing to wash the streets with oil and black powder. Soon enough, the population of Romero, the last thirty or forty thousand of them left made their exodus running in any direction but the direction the airships and undead were coming in from. A particularly hungry bastard was ready to sink his claws into her neck when I showed up, and pulled her legs out of some rubble. I took her to the hospital, and no one was there as I could have expected."

    "You managed", I replied.

    "Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference to any other man and woman, but it made one to her."

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  10. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Chapter Seven
    . . .

    After two weeks, the sky was finally beginning to clear of the ash and break way for the light above like a morning witnessed by sleepless eyes, a blurry ray of faint light through the sky illuminated in hues of red radially from the beams that shine through. Though it is pitch black in the house still, a candle shone at the clock indicated the sun was merely right over us.

    The water pipe clanks and rumbles, almost choking before a quick maneuver frees the pipe of a foreign object. A black mass of mold and rust amassed from the depleting reservoir is all the pipe manages for its last breath as it practically left its mortal coil. Yet another day and another stipend of what few supplies are left to eat.

    "Esau!" I shout from the roof, shouting just enough to catch his ear but not enough for any more than that to hear. Esau held up his lantern, holding it far away from his fabric cape he wore laden to block the ash from his face and skin. "Any... any water today?"

    "If ye can callit so," Esau replied as he put a bucket of water from the tarp we had laid out over the roof to collect the dew. The bucket makes a slosh as it descends with a few bubbles escaping the surface. "That ain't fit by all n' all standard t'drink, Pete. The air ain't clean, ain't nothin' clean, and I hope you know this roof was at one point whitewashed over."

    I stare down at the water bucket almost like a thirsty child over a well, and if it was any akin to it then the situation wasn't too different from it. "I mean you've been trying this for a week now and-" "ye 'n what? Y-You want to leave? Not while the girl's alive and it ain't going to be any other way for her. No way she, o-or I, or you will survive out here." I remain silent, weighing yet again the daily routine of considering and then reconsidering the safety of our haven here. Esau again picked up his disdain for the circumstances as I am about to return downstairs, pointing at the seas south of us. "These lakes, crystal clear, Peter..." His finger shook as his mouth curled to the stubble of his upper lip. "Well, not in FUCKING Romero!" he shouted with a punt of his bucket down the roof which landed with a heavy thud of what viscous goop that the bucket contained. An applause of echoes followed. He swallowed, easing his throat of his voice before retreating back downstairs.

    "Enjoy, lady." Esau said, offering a plate to the girl. Though in any other circumstance lady would have been quite the epithet, what sense of manners we had were drained with the pantry. Yet, I would not be compelled to use any other similar terminology since I don't know this her name either. "Thank you, sir", she replied. The thought of a pretentious metaphor about children and society out of this crossed my mind, but... you get the idea. A plate of cured meat, dry bread, dry vegetables with barely enough hydration let alone barely enough to keep ourselves from starving was distributed to us each. All four of us. "Now, normally I wouldn't 'na do this," Esau said with a heave as he laid a barrel down. But let's say this is the last thing we've got to drink. If ye' feel the urge to abstain, go ahead, but do... drink one for our guest who had come to invited yet to leave this mortal coil so soon as the only human contact we've had in six days." He poured the beer, preserved in the cool atmosphere of his cellar into my cup, then to his... and a hesitant mix of our last bit of water with it to the girl. "Go on, girl. It ain't much worse than your communion wine." She took it without question as we drank in unison, but frankly I thought nothing of it - there was nothing to worry about in the midst of all these things to worry of.





    "Tsk- Jesus fuck, what's going on?" I whispered in my irate state out of deep sleep. "HEY, DON'T F-FUCKIN' CURSE... IN FRONT OF CHILDRENS AND SH... DUMBASS..." Esau drawled from the room adjacent, barely conscious before falling back to sleep. "Sorry, just... what's going on?"

    "There's a man! He's doing something outside and there's this splashy noise a-and-" I was immediately alarmed. "How many guys?" "I-I don't know!" That just upped the ante for me, and when in doubt I loaded tubes of grapeshot into my rifle with a great click that bought attention to Esau. "Hey, hey hey PETE!" Esau shouted. I stopped him from the doorway, telling him to shut up. He looked to his right, holding up his own instrument of defense to put it across that we were on the same page. Splashing noises, I thought. Water. I descended to the ground floor with each step carefully executed toe-to-heel. "You stay up there, girl. Please."

    Her soft voice called from above my situated frame at the doorway. "The man's right in fronta you!" Smart, smart, I thought hoping I'd save my gratitude for her later. As I unlocked the front door with my slippery hands, Esau kicked it open with a slam of the door making its way from the latch to the end of the hinge in a second as the man twirled at me, his face obscured with a flash of my rifle and subsequently destroyed, just about perfect angle for me not to second-guess myself at the sight of this man's probably-horrified face. Esau's eyes, searching for any movement skillfully turned on another fleeing foe before downing him. A sharp pang of a barrel's edge against the cobblestone ground and the water escaping from the hole of a bullet, traveling through that barrel and tumbling sideways into the chest of its owner.

    Our eyes abandoned this place the instant we realized the shots were still ringing, like the distant sound of waves crashing all around us.
    InquisitorEslaf likes this.
  11. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Note: This is a separate story that takes place at the same time and same world as the previous arc. The official story has not concluded though, but this story will be written in co-existence with the other.


    . . .

    Я стреляю отбой
    Побег 'до своей яркой из
    Не, просто еще одна ночь одиноко
    Готовы ли вы пожертвовать своей жизнью?

    Her withered eyes closed yet again, rejuvenating her grayed corneas who have given into age and sunlight. She held the tobacco stick away from her lips and exhaled a cloud that curled and searched for every corner to catch on to before being pulled out of the vacuum at the roof of her yurt. Though the smoke will leave, the scent of her quality tobacco would be with her forever or she reckoned. Alas, it is never the same without the tobacco actually being between her middle and pointer fingers but there really was so much more reason than that to live outside of the barren land around her. Her eyes strained to look outside at the open yurt flap which exposed a sight of the gray exterior of the world. The only balance existing was that the grayness of the gravel and dirt was only slightly darker than the gray skies, which would only be turning more as the black spell of ash made its away airborne from the south. All three of her horses rest inside the yurt scentless with their hide covered in a fine washing powder, their brown, cream and black shades offering her eyes respite from the otherwise... gray colors. There had been more horses before, but all of them had owners at one point. A crash of thunder ran after a ray of lightning that struck from the black clouds south like an explosion of the northern volcanoes.

    Holding the dying flame of the tobacco stick, the light reflected to her eyes though nothing peered back from the empty pits of the center of her eyes. The ember had finally dissipated from the end of the tobacco with a cough of smoke which the woman had threw right into the center of her sickly campfire. Hanging back to the retreat of her sheets, she made it a new duty to smile every time she closed her eyes for the last time every day.

    Who knows when it would be their last?

  12. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes
    Chapter One

    . . .

    How distant words could be, she thought as her horses passed under the gates of the sprawling great City Control One - otherwise known as Al Hasa before the global military takeover of all the major cities of the continent, all scrambling to seize control of all supply and production to allocate who lives and who dies to fight the undead. Although the ornamental pattern and battle flag of the Hasanid Khaganate stand nearly pristine above the rusted, bent gates that determine her entry, she swore there were way more armed guards at the entrance the last time she was here three days ago.

    City Control One, albeit its title implying its utmost vitality in the Khaganate's strategy to survive the outbreak that had already claimed half of their population was not a fortified city nor had it housed a massive garrison of horsemen and warships. Rather, it was the economic and culture meeting place of the whole steppe to make insurance of the age before them that their history, as well as supply and demand would survive.
    "No, sir. One kilo.""I-I do not understand-er, kilo-"

    She repeated it in Hasannic to yield the same result of total misapprehension. "Or maybe, you can let me speak to your boss, and-"

    "Hell-LO, PRINCESS!" was the first thing she heard of a response from his "boss." Holy shit, has she seen such a sight or scent of wine? "You own this place too or what, Murat?" "Certainly I do, if you haven't noticed quite the monopoly I've gotten down here in the city that controls our very survival as an existing, political... entity... yeah." "You won't have it for long if you keep hiring totally brainless freaks like this guy here, managing the sales of three kilograms of corned meat. I mean, can you believe this guy and I'm-" Murat interrupted, though stopped right at his sentence with the burn of alcohol making its personal, angry passage back up his esophagus. "Blame me for the totally cheap and unqualified labor all you want, but I've still got my plan to help the government and what not with my monopoly. If I own the means to production and distribution, you know I can play my cards better than Dorjiin over there." "Right, right," she said with a political tone of agreement that would always follow a rebuttal. "But you don't own the production down the hill from us, in the farms. Otherwise you've just got distribution of a resource we're losing out on like everyday, and these people there who you're selling the goods of live in the STICKS, bro." "What... what are you suggesting?" Murat replied, drawn out of his stupor with such honesty. "Maybe, I... can go, you know, and go there and guard them so they can make YOUR products which YOUR money and OUR country depend on." "Ye-ah, great, so you should-"


    "What do you want, money?"

    "I can't eat your money, no. I want supplies."

    "A kilo of that meat that you wanted, uh three kilos of your dry vegetables and... three kilos of your bread, da?"

    "Wow, thanks, like, I totally enjoy being treated like I'm not even a living organism that requires hydration or anything-"

    "Oh, five... filters. Three liters of wine."

    "Good to know we understand each other."

    "Yeah, well, this exchange is conditional, Zehra. And don't mind me, I'll just... investigate the cellar..."

    The implication of which was practically rhetorical.

    Making her passage out of the city through these streets were bustled with hundreds of Hasanids, as though every inhabitant of the steppe had been forced to this estate though it really might as well been. She noticed as they all ground to a halt , juxtaposing something on their hands to the sky before retreating for shelter. Zehra felt yet one drop, then stared up at the sky which was being invaded by the dark storm of ashes from the south. Ashes of burnt homes and trees. Ashes of human remains and the millions of them that had to have existed in the south. They had distilled themselves into these blotches of ink, which covered the sky like locusts diving to the wheat.

    As Zehra looked back up, seeing her hands that pooled with the rain like a nosebleed cupped, she felt the darkness of the rain as it struck her eye, cool and gritty and wet, dark as she wiped it from her eye.

  13. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Two

    . . .

    "I won't charge you for taking no refuge at the shop," said Murat as he stuck a few gold coins between his thumb and index finger, each a masterfully set millimeter from each other. The tendon of his thumb rose slightly above the underlying muscle and twitched slightly in fatigue under the weight of the coins. Fake gold it was, a full gold jacket around a subtle core of some gray metal. And it was no more obvious to a skilled merchant as he was but it makes no difference to his average customer as he set it into the registry drawer. Zehra's right eye was bloodshot and green from the salve that she dabbed onto a towel and to her eye chasing a phantom infection. Most antiseptic salves were a sickly green with a consistency no finer than a coarse lump of mud that would barely seep into any bite wound. It happens to be the only issued salves for the military. Hers came from a round porcelain flask and a strange apparatus at the side of the base like a nozzle. From it poured a sparkly, slightly viscous liquid that only looked green at greater concentrations and a herbal spirit that made glaciers form underneath your skin. Faint effervescence.

    Murat's eyes illuminated with opportunism as he noticed the gleam of water on a soaked towel. "You're using a little too many preemptive measures to ensure your own survival here, girl. In case you're wondering, that'll be worth-"

    "No, I'm not going to. I just bought half of your inventory."

    "I'm not allowed to have anything of that particular caliber, Zehra. This isn't your usual slime grade antidote. This I had to distill in my brewing stands, which I'm not allowed to have, using my supply of glowstone dust which I can't have none either. Rather hide it in my hookah which I ain't supposed to have either and they can go toss it into a fire without a thought. Wait until you see the experimental ale I've been making since they outlawed it in favor of city-wide 'sobriety' what that means and all."
    Zehra corked the bottle and slipshod placed it back crooked into the hookah without closing it. "You don't see it coming but it will come. Like it would pass over your roof like a black gust but it won't. What do you do when the military stops getting their supplies and they cannibalize the city?"

    "You think I don't see it but I sure saw it today when I looked at what they soldiers eat at the hall. A ladle of mashed potato with mineral salt and I've seen people grow more food in a flowerpot. To tell you the truth, we haven't been getting anything new into the city. No one is getting fresh food, or fresh materials fresh nothing. More wood going to fire for the winter than ever because the coal's out."

    "You could join me when it gets going. There's been more holes in the wall where a stupid kid shoots at a bloated zombie and it won't be long before Al Hasa goes with hundreds of thousands of people." Murat put his leg up to his thigh as he sat and stroked his lip with the knuckle of his index finger. "I'm not too old for it but I'm not the type of rider you are. My days at war in the McHarlington Archipelago are over and the calluses of my bowstring drawers bound to tear."

    Murat looked at his right hand and the phalanxes of them. Two masses of scar tissue with the color of bone under the organic glove of an aged man on one barely half past birth to death. The web of his thumb was porous and white from the powder burns of the first, primitive Carmi Model guns to make it to the Khaganate. His eyes stood strong from the fatigued figure of his body with the vision of the Major that he was. Then with those eyes that wanted to seize you. "Perhaps, you'd like to join me."

    "I don't think I need anything from you." retorted Zehra. "Don't be insulted that someone's a little better than you think he is," said Murat. Zehra hated his guts so much but she leaned forward from her chair listening. "What trick have you got up your sleeve? Are you going to con the whole army to buy your greens and wine?"

    Murat turned to his side in which hung a chain. He tugged the chain and chimed a rhythm from his cellar. He signaled for Zehra to follow him into his cellar which was filled with a spicy atmosphere from tons of hanging cured meats. She ripped a section of what seemed to be a cow's drying, smoked flank and treated herself. She tasted a full meal in itself, the heat of preserved nether wart and honey and tart berries with a tinge of Turkic rosewater and she would not tell if she'd be any less ravenous had she not been starving before. Murat turned around making sure Zehra was paying great attention to a stone wall filled with ruined books. They looked waterlogged and sun-dried like crisp tunics in the wind.
    Zehra's confidence swelled in the notion that she was staring at Consilio's reject literature. "Okay, maybe I get you're going with the pen being mightier than the sword but I don't see how you could tear a zombie apart with a book unless-" she was cut off with the sudden clang of a book smashing towards the floor as Murat ripped it out. The book laid still totally solid and split at a corner at a fine dust. A chalk pockmark where it struck the floor. Murat took more and more out of the wall, and with a force that made his rigid veins stretch he tore down the foundation to reveal a certain chamber. He was taking cloudy breaths which condensed in the cold and dust of the cellar. Suddenly an energy rose to his motion as he came about with an ego that grew as wide as his smile now ear to ear as Zehra's mouth dropped in awe.

    "I believe in a little more than the sword. I preach it."
  14. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes
    Chapter Three

    . . .

    Zehra groped in the darkness for a treaded switch at her oil lamp as she awoke hours past her ideal wakening. She lit the lamp with a gust of fire as she opened the oil before getting something to burn it without to her personal and warranted chagrin. She reached for her pocket-watch out of a pathetic pocket in her wool jacket made from needle and thread and a scrap of fabric. The time reads:


    Bullshit. The sun usually crept from the horizon at this time in the middle of summer and it sure wasn't the afternoon what with the total darkness outside. Like a sea plastered with the burning remains of a coal cargo ship black and viscous like tar and all sorts of burning flotsam trailing from the distant skeleton of the ship which seared with toxic vapors. She could not distinguish what the darkness came from but thousands of people were outside sporting torches and heading in any direction but the fire ahead at the site of the city gate.

    "Shit! Shit, shit..." she panicked and groaned, grabbing her untied pack and throwing about random articles of junk from the opening that she was sure she wasn't going to need as much as she would need out of the city. She ascended the stairs and flung "Murat! Where the f-" She was stopped hard with the steel forearm of Murat, who moved his hand to her face and his other to her back. She noticed the weathered insignia of Kharj on his chestplate's emblem. It was scratched and grayed like cast iron but glistened where his armor was still pristine.

    "Be quiet," he spoke. "We don't want to be found out. Not at the opportunity we've been waiting for. Put something on and get something sharp to hold in your hand." He motioned to the chair from which hung a shining piece of mail armor and a saber. A gun with a triangular rail spike of a bayonet. "It's nice to know you've been quite generous to the last person to leave. Do I have to shut the door for you or what?" Zehra said. Murat breathed heavy to an ambiguous emotional response and gave her a bag filled with cartridges. "Oh, and one last thing," Murat said making a quick roundabout from his where he was heading. He gave her a patterned triangular scarf and a pair of goggles. "You can't breathe that smoke coming on all outside. One of my men went out and he... yeah, he came back screaming and with the door wide open and all around and inside the holes of his face were these black lesions. So that was nice to know. We shot his ass right then and there."

    "Oh... okay." Zehra nervously tied it around her head and tightened the knot in the back, then raised the bottom far above her nose bridge. She washed the stained goggles in a sink with a coarse soap and raised them to her eyes and put on leather gloves which rubbed hard against her hands. They were tender from the soap's lye. A platoon sat around in the sunroom of Murat's store which was lit by candle and the windows propped up with burlap sacks of gravel and wood planks. They snickered heartily, nearly all of them engulfed in comedy that warranted uncontrollable laughter between the ranks of archaic military humor yet yielding from making noise. Zehra turned to Murat and asked. "Where'd you get these people just outside? Is it the storm driven them?"

    "It's not hard. I promised them relative luxuriousness in the end of the world as you could do to win any soldier over but you have to choose the right people. These are easy people to work with who can read and write and can do a hundred push ups and touch their toes."

    "That's funny," Zehra chortled with an ironic mix of laughter and earnestness. "Tell me why Dorjiin's in there, then."

    "He's... he's trained is all. He can read a page from the lore of the Fire Gods without pausing. Look, it's not easy finding a happy camper all with the situation we're in now! But look, they're all going to be loyal to me because now I've got a map and a caravan to haul ass out of the city. To haul in, like, two blocks a minute but any distance from the city is still distance."

    "And the fucking mist outside? Did we discover the Nether or something or open a portal to the center of a volcano? Because like, I see the whole North of the city on fire thousands of blocks away and all these people either running around holding torches or on fire but not like they would live long in that smog like you just said happened to that guy."
    Murat cleared his throat. A concern came across his eyes but showed no surprise to anything like there had been worse before. "We got first reports of those monsters from Joh Nee A crossing the Sea of Zerbia and carrying countless zombies with them. A few dozen gunships patrolling the coast were smashed by them but we don't know how many of them there were. Just given their size and the fact that they got past I'd reckon there were a bit fewer monsters than ships."

    "So... I guess here they are!" Murat shouted, still containing his voice but with a voice of presentation directed at the boarded window that provided a secure but neutered view of the cityscape. He lifted a wooden square from the window "All that smoke too? It's coming from the explosion in Joh Nee A and from the scorched earth policy the kingdoms down south are using. It's not doing our dirigibles any good either, 'cos now they can't see shit. And when they can't see shit, they can't bomb those monsters and are probably blowing up an orphanage full of crying kids right now."

    Zehra walked in, closer to Murat. The tower of the great hospital in Hasa was ripped apart and now a chimney. Various figures greater than houses, at the moment minuscule from afar moved like snails and advanced in all direction with an ascending trail of smoke as they trampled streets. A tiny blast in the distance producing a column of red fire decomposing into ash. Hypnotized by the display of colors like cooking red hot glass in a kiln that was sprayed black with smoke.

    A stalactite of dust fell from the roof and between the two of them. Then a roar of thunder lacking a lightning strike which signaled to Murat like the horn of battle to arms.

  15. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Four

    Murat breathed in and turned around. He stepped towards the shoddily fortified dining hall and as he entered the commotion ceased like seagulls on a ship, just before the gale. He walked up between the seats of two eating soldiers and stepped up on it, avoiding the dishes of rich roast meat and grain from underneath his glossy boots. His cape the color of wine soaked itself in mugs of Elliom ales and lagers as he turned around scanning for his troop's undivided attention, briefly looking for Zehra.

    Murat cleared his throat with a wet cough and spit below him, the phlegm landing in an empty bowl. "Attention, troop."

    The soldiers stood to and shouldered their knapsacks, sheathing their swords holding their rifles to the right. In one collective motion starting and ending together with a sound like horses dashing each hoof in unison. Murat licked his upper lip and began. "The time has come for us to be soldiers. It felt like yesterday that we heard about... what, circus freaks let loose in the South? Unexplained animal attacks in the countryside? An experiment of the First Estate up at Byesford gone terribly wrong?"

    A murmur grew at his audience, staring attentively at him from his pedestal. "We will become soldiers, and the first of them to be in Al Hasa. To call Byesfords' men soldiers? Trembling men in polished armor heavier than they, carrying guns twice their height yet with the audacity to head farm to farm seeking every last free grain and cereal?"

    "No more, gentlemen. It is the time for us to rise as they fall beneath the feet of festering giants. For us to assemble as they fall apart between droves of undead. A new order begins here and it is a force of good, bravery and the will of victory."

    Murat's men shouted with the triumph of an unfought battle already won, raising their guns above their heads. Murat took a panoramic view of his zealots, nodding with as his smile drew ear to ear. Steel-forged mail and joints clinged and clanged and Zehra found herself in a discombobulating flurry of battle-ready confidence like one of young adults. She saw as instruments of war were assembled and fit for violence. Unknowingly her hands were twisting a bayonet beneath her rifle's barrel.Observe, she thought as she watched one unwrap a bullet from its cover and stuck the powder wad into a chamber behind where the bullet went. She followed suit and like the others felt young again with war. Being a judge, jury and executioner in one. Fuck yes, she said to herself. Her eyes followed Murat as with a two-fingered gesture his men left in single file at ease. Zehra awkwardly stumbled over to the back of the line and marched on down the dim tunnel of his cellar, candlelit with waxes dripping from lanterns and sizzling on the floor. Murat's shadow hung back still.

    "Murat? You... you're okay, right?"

    Murat turned around and breathed heavy. His breath hurt as it left his lungs and he tried his best to look upwards blinking fast. "Yeah, I'm good. Let's go." He sniffed and walked fast down the hall with a small gust of wind behind him. Zehra walked and the sound of her shoes resonated all around the stony hall. She pulled the iron door of the cellar with a quick slam and fastened her mask to her face.

    The ambience of distant explosions and howling wind grew louder with each step she took up to the surface. A song with the percussion of heavy artillery and the reeds of smoke blowing from fire and strings of gunfire. A sudden eruption took too close to her and knocked over down the stairs. A soft, hard impact took the breath out of her and it was a thrashing mass of burnt flesh still trying to bite her. Her rifle had been thrown out of her arms and stuck itself in the ground like a soldier's gravestone. Her arms burned with strain as she resisted the urge to scream. To be a coward. To leave her fate at someone's debt than the way her life had meant, even if at at the claws of a fetid creature. She buried her thumbs into the creature's eyes which poured like roast marshmallows and a bullet whipped into its head. Zehra drew her thumbs out and wiped them against her pants. "I've got you, Zehra! Hang on!" said Dorjiin. Great. Not this dumbass again, come on- she shot him an evil eye as she pushed herself off the ground. "Come on, we're getting out of here," Dorjiin said as he gave her his hand.

    "Yeah, thanks for the save, right? I didn't need it before and I think I'll be fine."
    Dorjiin gave a frustrated chortle. "Don't be a hardass. Whether you coulda handled it or not, if you were ready to die two minutes into battle like you knew war too much to live - we're all trying to get out of here. Give me your hand. Please."

    Zehra took his hand and but felt astonishing softness against his palm. She curled her eyebrows making things abundantly sure that Dorjiin's help was unwarranted. "Uh huh. Thanks."
    He looked on with confusion. He snuffed and proceeded to chamber another round before darting off to his people. Zehra looked behind to see if she was heading separate ways and ran out into an intersection.

    "Murat! Where the hell are you?"
    "Over here, Zehra," he said. His armor was already grayed with ash and dotted with dents arranged like jewel necklaces pressed against the collar. The bottom of his cape was singed and trailed with char wherever it swepted. "What the fuck happened to you, lady?"

    "Just hit by an explosion, you know, nothing out of the ordinary. Do your guys ever think their odds of survival grow the less they share some with me?"

    "So I don't suppose you'd want someone to help you when you're in real danger?" He asked him, almost insulted. "No such time," she replied. "Then I should also guess, you wouldn't do the same for me."

    Zehra raised a finger commencing a point. "I..." but she hesitated. Her finger pointed at a rust-colored sky where the stars were killed by a bloom of smoke and fire. The only other way it could point was the ground of a city centuries old returning to the dust in a night. Murat turned to his side and whistled, disappearing to the front of his obeying army. Zehra stared until they had almost faded from sight. But then she looked behind her and then she was running.

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  16. BlowoutSoon Regular Member


    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Five

    "Pull faster, you idiot! Harder!"

    "What the hell do you think I'm doing? How about YOU push harder?!"

    The soldiers pushed and pulled a single cannon, stripped from its horses. One of them pushed against the back as the other tugged hard on the coarse leather harness. Harnesses meant for brawny horses carrying cargo up to a ton with ease. Where it was torn from its organic engine were the jagged marks of gnashing. The soldier at the front doubled over out of breath. He took off his helmet and his damp, curly hair fell in locks in front of his face. The one in the back sat down and leaned against the cannon's wheel.

    Both of them were knocked half a foot from the ground with an earthshake and they got up aiming their rifles out of fear. Then another that nearly set them off their ankles. There was a silence met with the soldiers' paranoid inquisition. And a faint yell and an ear shattering crash as a colossal foot crushed the cannon along with its two carriers. The foot took off from the ground and unearthed a flat, gummed conglomerate of metal and flesh now embed into a footprint. The giant smashed its fist into a roof beside Zehra and rained splinters of wood. It turned towards her.

    Zehra screamed, covering her head from the debris. She spared no time to dash down the street for Murat's troop, organized in lines of height with barrels pointed like a battleship. A chorus of "get down!'s" was her only warning to duck beneath a following barrage of lead. The bullets struck square with the giant's neck and it roared deafeningly. Its neck turned into a used target that leaked an oily gunk from its every pore but the giant turned and looked at Murat's direction

    "Oh, God." Murat whispered. "Let's get the fuck out of here!" He whistled. "Move, move, move!"
    The giant was massive but slow, and a few precious seconds it wasted as it stomped in the street. Enough for Murat to get a running start. There was a low boom and an explosion like lightning as the stomp blasted a shockwave ripping through the street like water. A torrential flow of dust and everything in the way of it poured dozens of blocks from the troop. One by one some of the soldiers were swept underneath. "This way!" Murat pointed, running over to the left of the street's end and leaning against the houses there. A spill of dust flew straight out and regurgitated a couple of bodies that fell and bent on impact. One of them, still screaming landed with a crack on his thigh that gave out right under his body. His torso leaned forward acutely with the figure of a dancer and blood filled his helmet. Zehra tried not to look any longer but she still felt her heart melt with shock. Dorjiin placed his hand gently over her mouth and shushed. "You're not a little girl anymore. We have to go now." She looked at his unfazed expression, half of which obscured with a cluster of cuts and bruises. "Your face..." she said.

    "I'm fine. I was almost caught in that shockwave. It's just a flesh wound, am I right?"

    "Yeah, yeah. A flesh wound. Don't try and play it off, hopefully we'll have enough ointment when we find safety."

    Murat looked over his shoulder crouching. "Hey, get down or get a room. That thing's still romping around."

    "Fuck you, Murat. There's nothing wrong with..." it came out sounding alien to her. "...genuine concern. Yeah, that." The troop produced a bunch of low snickers and smiled in their ashen faces.
    "Whatever. Keep down now."

    The troop watched as the giant's shadow floated over them and trailed off before it came to view above the houses. A gunship burst out of the clouds just before the giant, which bellowed at it. It reached its hand like a mining crane into an open roof and lobbed pieces of wall at it in a vained effort. Dorjiin peered at the cockpit of the still gunship. "Come on, whoever's up there... do your thing."

    A strange apparatus extended from a port at the gunship's side. The giant stood stupidly and roared again, as if to blow it away. A few drops of glowing orange oil dripped from the appartus and shot a gush of bright fire like a burst pipe. The giant's body gleamed for a few seconds and shrank into a smoking black mass of flesh. It fell over and crashed into the houses behind it, likewise charred halfway to ashes. "Holy shit, guys! You see that?" Murat laughed, only to resume his operation again. "Gunships like that though... that only means one thing, same thing they meant at Carmi and Romero and Portsmouth. Military's drawing back 'cause there's no one left to save and they're sending those in to burn out the undead."

    "That means we can get out now, right?" said one of Murat's soldiers. "Yep. Only way out now is to scale the wall or look for an opening. Come on."

    The troop traveled in relative tranquility. They sweat unbearably with the heat of all that fire around them but their faces were frigid with the cool wind blowing. One of them sneezed and another coughed. "Don't be getting sick now, because the medicine we have is only for if you're bit or if you've got raw sewage in an sucking chest wound." They approached a tower of the wall cracked with bullet holes and climbed up a ladder. "Alright, gentlemen. It's time to put our new toys to use." Murat annouced, with a tinge of proudness. He opened his knapsack and produced a device like the ones the fishers used to catch. He screwed on a four-pronged hook to the device and presented it to Zehra.

    "And this, my friend, is a-"

    "I'm not going down the wall this way. This thing's like eighty blocks high."

    "Oh yeah? This thing can take you down a hundred with guaranteed safety. Warranty lasts a year and you can get your full purchase back with any significant injuries sustained while using this product."

    A whizzing sound played as his troop descended the wall, the ropes from the device tethered around their waist and groin. "It's either you use this thing or you can stay back and break through this wall with your nails. Each brick in this wall is carved out of some near-bedrock material."

    "Well, then, it looks like I'm going to do that. So why don't you-"

    A soft hand embraced her firmly. "Happy to oblige," Dorjiin said as he flew down the wall carrying her. She shrieked the whole five-second journey and landed tumbling. Dorjiin's feet landed with ease. "That'll be five gold coins, huh, miss?" A shit-eating smile across his face.

    Zehra could not tell if she was glad or infuriated at what he had done. "You smug bastard, you could have- I mean, uh..." She stopped. "Thanks. I guess now we're out of the city. And for that I appreciate." Murat whizzed down the wall cackling like a play villain. "That was some bold stuff you did, my man. Like, can we make it official or something? Do you need a ring?" Dorjiin raised a fist angled at his face. "Back off. There's nothing to it, just some 'genuine concern.'"

    Murat's hand reached for his blade. "You're gonna consider not doing that to the one who saved your ass today, are you? We're heading for the Gnome Arch and it'll be a long way there, so you had best not get yourself killed on the walk over. Yes, I mean we're walking." Dorjiin promptly withdrew and followed him.

    The troop trailed up behind Murat like migrating birds. Prideful as they held their guns behind their heads like figures from a show poster. He led his march with a grin that day that he could wear until he died. Zehra looked at Dorjiin until he turned her way but they drew back before they could see each other. They both hoped they could see each other blush.
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  17. BlowoutSoon Regular Member


    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Six

    "Goody, goody. I think this is far enough," Murat sighed. Sweat ran down his sheened hair and into his bloodshot eyes and down his nose and onto his mustache. He wet his lips and tasted some sort of exquisite ocean liquor that burned at his chapped mouth and made his eyes water with unpleasantness but was quite alright with him. Al Hasa were far west of them and burned like a dead campfire just behind the hills. His men walked in pairs one-legged each, carrying each other and stumbling forth one block at a time. Dorjiin jolted at some phantom pain, and lagged behind to pour his canteen on his wounded cheek washing away a chalky deposit.

    His men laid down with metallic crashes. The few still able to stand unbuckled their chainmail and propped up against their knapsacks which sat on their shoulders protruding like the most robust camels of Bazel. Then they too laid down almost motionless.

    "I guess... I think I'll set this here fire," said Murat.

    Zehra walked over to the bag of charcoals the troop had carried but she realized as she hoisted the first bag, weighing like a block of quartz, that she never actually wanted to help. Her thighs delivered cries of war and obsolete veins flowed with fresh blood. She lifted it up with a heavy breath and carried it to the center of the encampment. Murat stretched a few cloths over random patches of the sedimentary ground and held them there with rocks.

    "What's that, Murat?" inquired Zehra. She wiped her brow.

    "Ho, hum. There isn't any water here, but there's certainly a lot of moisture. These blankets should collect a lotta dew and pour them into some cauldrons under."

    Zehra turned to Murat, looking just as totally smug at his little contraption as he did just escaping Al Hasa. His expression turned to confrontation.

    "W-What!? I got this outta some book. Give a guy like me some credit, 'cause we'd all die out here without any water to go on. Unless, like, you're one of those hut men out of Caen who unfortunately got ahold of chickens some years ago. Made some interesting boiled egg soup. Ain't that just cultural?"

    Zehra rolled her eyes. "Uh huh. Good night."

    Murat stood fists to his waist. "Yeah, you just... you go and do your own thing, alright? You just watch, these pots'll be brimming with crystal clear water. Piss off."

    He continued staring. And staring. His shadow grew out longer and longer until the night occupied the land, save for a fortress of sleeping men around the warm fire. The sheets sunk with the dampness of fog.

    He yawned and turned towards the camp. "Nobody said this was gonna be easy," he whispered.
  18. BlowoutSoon Regular Member


    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Seven

    Zehra awoke with the clawing pain of a hollow stomach. She rose from her bedroll, grunting and damp with the dew that drew a sheen across her whole tent and in her hair that calcified as the frigid draft rolled through. Pick your guts up off the ground and go, she thought as without a cinch she found herself tying herself out of the bedroll and exiting the tent. The world outside cloudy and sunny like a portal to the sun. A large congregation gathered by a fire, a lump of stainless steel and leather garments around an orange beacon.

    "...and in the name of Jesus we pray. Amen." A man-at-arms put a bible down and dusted off a pile of ash that sat on the back cover. On his face and on the faces of others was the a cross drawn in charcoal. The man-at-arm's face was young but had not aged well dotted with various scars of a battlefield.

    Murat turned. "Oh hey, Zehra. Glad you could fit us into your busy schedule."

    She sighed and licked her lips. "Yeah, sorry. I was just drained from the whole journey here and that shitstorm back at Hasa." Murat cracked a smile and resumed tending to the fire. "Aren't we all." A row of his soldiers turned and glimpsed at Zehra's expression like deer in the night. They returned to the fire where a large silver lump tread a very clear broth.

    "My favorite," Zehra started, "Cinder block soup." A hard pat on one unclothed shoulder shocked her screaming with a freezing steel gauntlet like the convoluted opposite of a branding iron. Dorjiin appeared to her side and chimed in. "Hey, you can't deny his idea worked. Just wished it was a few degrees warmer."

    "You-" Zehra stopped promptly and her lips held her tongue curled back. Dorjiin cracked a smile on the side of his mouth and walked over to a bunch of people dicing some sort of organic material on a flat rock. God damn it, Dorjiin. She found herself standing about hands to waists while everyone was doing... something.

    She crept over to Murat, walking quietly on the balls of her feet though the dry soil crunched beneath her shoes. With the sleight of an assassin educated in human anatomy, she twisted her hand towards his side. He produced a high shrill, the shout of death that drew itself seconds longer across the steppe. A sound you would not believe could come from anyone unless their time of reckoning met at the time of battle. It caught the eye of everyone at the camp. A distant metallic clang rang from where they were cutting up food.

    "What the... what the FUCK, bitch?" Murat picked himself up and his face was red, practically out of breath. Zehra laughed and recoiled from him. "Sorry, man, I needed some errand to do, but like, you were so drawn towards that fire..."

    Murat put his finger up and rumbled his lips. Oh shit.

    "Listen, if you do that again I will like, I don't even know what I'll do. But I'll do something, and like, you're going to regret doing what you do when I do something about it. Got it?"

    Zehra breathed heavy and her chest sunk. "Alright. I'm sorry." Muscles in her neck strained against the urge to laugh. She let out on a half-cackling breath but it felt like smoke rising out of her lungs.

    Murat picked up a bundle of kindling and stuck it randomly at the fire. "You can patrol our perimeter with those other guys over there."


    The silhouette of a soldier in stood on a hill like a rock against the sunrise. Cast a long shadow like a waterfall running down of it. "Hey, dude. I'm supposed to like help you stare at absolutely nothing until we get to eat," Zehra said. The soldier turned. His face was human enough, and so was his laugh. "Heh, that's about it so far, girl. Come on up this hill."

    Zehra dashed towards the hill, and his figure grew with her every sprinting step. He turned back facing the view from the hill. Suddenly his rifle fell from his bandolier and onto his hands in a square position like the collapse of a weathered tower. Zehra's face dropped likewise and she gasped. "Is everything okay?" she yelled. The soldier took aim at something and fired his rifle. A row of firecrackers chattered all along the campsite and Zehra took to the ground to take out her sword. She stuck her sword in the ground and pulled herself up and took it along towards the summit of the hill where he stood.

    He twisted back and waved his arm. "Get back!" he shouted. His voice cracked between the words. In a visceral move, he was thrown from his feet and rolled down the hill in a blinding explosion. Hot pebbles rained on them and singed Zehra's hands as she screamed, ducking to cover her head with her arms. The soldier landed with a thud and thin streams of dark blood poured from his armor at the joints. His rifle dove like a javelin and stuck itself upright.

    "Oh, no. Oh, God." Zehra whispered. She tried to put her hands underneath the soldier but he was too heavy. She removed his helmet and his wet hair stuck to his skin. He coughed and his chest rose and descended. A good sign he's probably alive.. She untied his armor and like an automaton retreated her head from the path of a phantom bullet that at her direction. Goose skin standing on end all over her arms and neck. A dark figure appeared at the top of the hill, took aim and fired again. A patch of soil next to the soldier shot up like a geyser. Zehra eyed around and caught the stray rifle standing like a banner in the midst of battle.

    She whistled loud and clear. Like clockwork the figure focused his fire at Zehra and she weaved her head as he fired his bullet. Fighting aggressively. No direction but ahead of your enemy. She grabbed the rifle barrel and withdrew it from the ground like a dagger. The interloper turned his body to grab another bullet and Zehra pulled her trigger as soon as his body met with the crosshair of her moving sights. The side of his neck erupted with a brief arterial spray and he fell to the ground.

    "Got him," Zehra shouted triumphantly pumping her fist. "I freakin' got him!"

    There was haste to make with getting the soldier out. She dropped the rifle and hoisted his body, still carrying weight but not so much without his armor which sat on the ground behind her like the skeleton of a long dead colossus. Muscles in her chest and legs felt like ropes under a candle. His blood was all over her arms and grew slippery. The distant gunshots were not letting up. Crackles and whips through the air. Her knees and elbows started to tremble and she felt her bones pressing her tendons with the assertion of a yarn-weaving machine stretching and pulling.

    A snap flew past Zehra and she felt nothing land. Yet her legs and arms were towers of jelly that wobbled and doubled over peeling in two. She and the soldier landed and she hit her chin against his shoulder. Her head fell and the sky was all around her. The soldier's broad body like a mountain range.

    That's the picture of a dying soldier's last sights. She would remember from all the books of war in the steppe and in the Westerlands what she was witnessing. She cracked her neck and crunched up and she saw warm blood on her clothes running thin. The soldier's back faced towards her was still clean. No. This wasn't how she died. She put her legs up and knelt catching her breath. Her blood oozed from a perfectly circular hole at her right side and she groaned.

    She put her hands together and stared at the sky. Her body grew tight and her eyes started to go. Her legs went and she swooned over.

    I am going to die, God. Tell me how I will do that.

    A cold, shaking hand of an angel grabbed her shoulder. She fell into a dark abyss as she was lifted from the ground.

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  19. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

  20. BlowoutSoon Regular Member

    Arc II - Desolate Steppes

    Chapter Eight

    Zehra came to with a gasp that washed her lungs with cold air. She laid damp and encumbered on a bed and rose to cough. Her skin clad in undergarments felt like the permafrost far north as Crymoore, as though it was so frigid that her sweat had froze into a state of matter ascended from physics as did the soil there which once bore vegetation now returned to a dust as coarse as the ground. If she was not dead she was in purgatory. The world was she knew it, laying on her back looking up at a ragged shingled ceiling was purged of all life and color and warmth.

    "She's woke now!" shouted a raspy voice from a bed opposite to the room where she rest. Whoever was on that bed laid crucified on a slab of cloth. His arms and legs were suspended from ropes and they were dressed. A posse of men was summoned by that person and reached out to Zehra.

    "Very well, Zehra." Murat said. He was like a poorly made clockwork toy turning with grinding friction as he stumbled on one crutch. His left foot and his left arm were wrapped. Six men surrounded him as if they were doctors and he a sickly last member of a dynasty who could die before finding an heir.

    Zehra crunched up on her bed. "You're alive. Who's alive? What happened?"

    "Yeah, it may appear that I just might be alive. There's a chance I'm still alive right now." Murat said.

    "Shut the fuck up. Is everyone else alive? What about Dorjiin? What about the one I tried to carry out?" Zehra's looked around like a mother whose child had disappeared into a festival.

    "I'm here," said Dorjiin coming out from behind the congregation before her. He approached the bedside with a tall flask of water.

    "Oh... oh, thank God!" Zehra embraced Dorjiin but was taken aback with a piercing jab at her side and she lay back. She grabbed the pained spot hard and felt gauze on her smooth belly. It was soft and white and recently changed. She grabbed a blanket and wiped the sweat from her brow.

    "I forget. It's not easy to remember what happens when you're shooting some and catching lead."

    Murat's face relaxed. "I understand. Try and heal yourself up. We were able to lose our attackers but we've got no more than forty-eight hours left here before they come within ten miles."

    He turned around and his assembly followed. "But wait," inquired Zehra. "Who attacked us?"

    Murat stared and signaled some ambiguous command. One of his men returned with a large banner crudely fashioned. Two large sticks lashed together to lift a shining silk red banner. She squinted and made out the figure of an animal's skull embed with squid ink. An animal like a male sheep or a dragon with a crack through its head.

    "The Order of Kharj. No. What is the military still doing here? Didn't they plan to abandon the place at once if shit fell apart which it did, like, tenfold?"

    Murat set his elbow on top of his crutch and lifted up his finger. Almost laughing. "You, you are heavily mistaken." His voice was a jug of water in an earthquake. "Those were Janissary soldiers from the Kharj following commands. That meant they were not just loose guys with guns, there is administration too. They're getting it from somewhere."

    "But why attack us? We're no different then they are right now. We went through hell getting out of that maelstrom of a defensive operation at Hasa and we scrape by from the land."

    "It's a restoration. Of order in the steppe." Murat was so matter-of-fact about it. "A full half of the Hassanid and Kharjinian army perished in that battle, but they fled to an island fortress farther North. All the leaders of the long divided world chilling there. With all the military and construction troops stationed there the fortress is already like a city. A fucking country of its own."

    "No," Zehra said. "I don't believe it. We've been left for dead."

    "What, you think our old government gives a shit? There's no shortage of workforce at the island fort. They're thinking of two things: killing people like us and waiting for the undead to starve. They're going to be there a while. Now excuse me." Murat turned and walked out.

    "But... but who's alive?" Zehra asked. Murat's exit was prompt and concise.

    Dorjiin lowered the flask onto Zehra's hands. The flask was warm and steamed at the top. She drank and returned the flask to him. "What's the deal with the flask, anyway? That's not some deadly potion, is it?"

    "I'm... pretty sure it's clean. We poured in some hot water so it should be. We lost our assailants just across the canyon and we rappelled over to the other side and those guys were all wide-eyed at that, horses stumbling off the edge and all."

    "Okay," she said. She breathed and her breath clouded up in the cool air. "But who's alive?"

    "Our headcount today was only a hundred ninety. That day I think we had something two-hundred forty odd. Don't worry too much. We got them at least three times over."

    "But that man I tried to..." the words she looked for seemed like foreign tongue. "The one I tried to save, is he alive?"

    Dorjiin's eyes met. His pupils and irises were almost the same color and his eyes sat on his dark orbitals. "He was past saving as soon as he was caught in that blast," he began. "We tried, we really did. But his bones, heart, his everything was destroyed by the force of that explosion. I know you tried too but there was nothing you could do."

    Zehra's chest sank and she flushed. Dorjiin wiped her eye. "But you're okay." She could not stand it and her torso began to jump erratically with a weeping hiccup. "No, I am not going to let others die," she started. But without pause he grabbed the flask from Zehra and left. His hands were clammy and seemed to vibrate as he took it.

    "Don't make it..." Zehra prepared to say something. The air in her lungs suddenly freshened and they seemed to tremble as she breathed. Dorjiin's hands. They were cold and shaky and calloused but at they same time they were warm and soft. Angelic almost. Why am I feeling this? she thought.


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