CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK (Move your mouse to reveal the content) CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK (open) CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK (close) SETTING (Move your mouse to reveal the content) SETTING (open) SETTING (close) Acre (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Acre (open) Acre (close) This is the planet on which the story takes place. To us Earth creatures it's called KOI3284.01... how very boring. The settlers were content to call it by that name until later in their history when it was becoming apparent that the planet was yielding little in the way of resources and when the plague first started to hit. It was then that the name Acheron (see Dante's Inferno and Greek Mythology) became spitefully popular among the educated denizens and passed around to survivors and descendants in texts and stories. Thousands of years later the name for the planet among this certain continent has been shortened to Acre. Only the old, the well-read and those on the front of scientific discovery still use the proper pronunciation of Acheron. Though many know of the word it's use is uncommon and seen as archaic or only used when someone wants to look smart. The environment is over all a bit colder and dryer than that of earth leaving the planet covered in vast, rocky deserts at the equator and massive ice sheets at the poles. Crops are still grown in areas in between with enough water to support farms and irrigation such as coastal regions, mountain valleys with glacial runoff, and river deltas. Sturdy forms of native plant life still thrive in suitable places including places where it is too difficult to grow earth-like crops. In the past century moisture harvesting and hydroponics have become more common in dry areas. Much of the harsh desert lands, tundras, ice fields, oceans and forests are unexplored. Ancient History (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Ancient History (open) Ancient History (close) Please keep in mind this is only to give us writers a place to cement ourselves and understand why all this happened in the first place. Except for Alexander, ancient databases and some very special machines, pretty much nobody should know about this stuff and if they do, they only know about it speculatively from research and archaeological findings. Even Alexander wouldn't be privy to all knowledge of the Expansionist era and have access to only a tiny amount of pre-Expansion history. Scientific breakthroughs on earth (with the help of stolen alien technology and a bit of a mysterious spat with them) lead to crafts with the ability to warp short galactic distances and massive gates that could "jump" ships over long distances between gates. Humans worked on this technology and honed it for over a century before stretching beyond our solar system. They set up mining colonies on Mars, Titon and several other solar bodies nearby. With many warp capable ships in production and now available to civilians with the means to procure them, a new age of exploration began. People spread out over the new frontier in search of resources and riches, stations and jump gates were built across the near galaxy, the government began setting up research funds dedicated to planetary expansion, terraforming and colonies, pirates flourished and built or commandeered backwater stations and accumulated fortunes. KOI3284.01 was one of the planets that was colonized by Earthling scientists and miners. Their mission was to set up one of thousands of homes away from home, to put governing bodies into place, set up communications with the galaxy, maintain their jump gate, breed and introduce earth life to boost the tiny ecosystem, become self sufficient, survey the planet for resources and new life forms and begin extracting them. This was the same basic mission as every other newly settled exoplanet. For a very long time things went smoothly. The atmosphere was thin and cold so massive terraforming nodes were constructed across the surface of the planet to raise the amount of greenhouse gases and create a more suitable environment for plants, animals and people. These nodes can still be seen today, taking the appearance of massive, blackened, rusted and ruined alien towers that loom, lifeless, over their lands. After several centuries of nothing but success the easily accessible ores had been mined out. The population spread and expeditions to the frozen north in order to find new mines began. However, while taking samples of the permafrost a prehistoric viral strain that had been dormant for millions of years was uncovered. Once the scientists realized what they had pulled out of the ground it was too late. The virus had multiplied and spread like wildfire through the citizens. It was highly contagious, air-borne and killed quickly. Again and again it would thwart efforts to find a cure or vaccine. When they reached out to the galactic powers for help the jump gate was shut down and the planet quarantined until the plague could be reversed. Despite quarantines, medical experiments and hundreds of attempted remedies, the virus soon struck at the heart of KOI3284.01's governmental structure. Along with civilians, top scientists, military leads and government officials were killed. No help came from the outside. Soon it became clear that the planet and it's people had been abandoned. With hundreds of other planets to care for, several wars to fight and rebellions to disperse their own people would not risk it all for one little, far-away world. Collapse was imminent. Research facilities, political houses, farms and mines were abandoned with nobody to run them. Ships fled the surface in vain to escape the horrific deaths brought on by the plague. But with no jump gate to any sort of safe haven, their fates were sealed. The population dissolved, structures were left to ruin, machines were left to run and continue their protocols in deep solace, communications silenced. The newly christened Acheron was dead. Or so it seemed... History (Move your mouse to reveal the content) History (open) History (close) Most people alive now will know a thing or two about this stuff, but probably not every bit of it. A few speculations about this era of history and the ancient history section are being tossed around among the more intellectual groups although most of it is quite wrong. A few humans had survived their brush with the virus and come out of it with a new immunity, or had managed to escape it's clutches entirely by sinking deep into the wilderness. They lived in small groups like animals, hunting and gathering to make due. Very slowly, they began to re-build. Their efforts took hundreds upon hundreds of years as isolated villages sprang up and grew into towns or faded away. Stories, languages, scraps of scientific knowledge and trickles of history were passed down through the generations, but so much more was lost to time. New discoveries, customs, leaderships and ways of life evolved in the emptiness. After nearly a thousand years the glorious age before the plague had been completely forgotten. Little clues hidden in the tools, buildings, words and bodies of this new breed of humans and the mysterious structures that clung to their world were all that remained to hint at what had come before. City States were soon established and trade between them gave way to new eras of thinking, science and communication. Exploration and a new found interest instead of fear of ancient artifacts ushered in an era of technological breakthroughs and mass education. Electricity was re-discovered en mass. Hydroelectric plants lined the rivers and allowed cities to grow larger and more comfortable. Invention and manufacturing became a staple of everyday life. New mines were dug, ancient ones were re-opened. New towns sprang up deeper into the Wild as riches and knowledge were uncovered. Institutes, governments, laws, factories, militias and public transportation grew in the cities on the east coast of the continent. Massive electromagnetic trains and tracks for them to run on were built to transport equipment and supplies west and south into the wild then bring resources and food back from the mines and farms. Industrial and even a handful of personal vehicles became available running with the same technology that had been used on the trains. Magnetic repulsion was researched to make such vehicles even more efficient and the information was used to develop new kinds of weapons to defend against outlaws, strange horrors and wild animals that were coming out of the unexplored lands. Current Events (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Current Events (open) Current Events (close) Popular fiction and recounted tales of adventure and fortune drive more people out of the safety of the city states, many only find death, but some find treasures that continue to aid progress. Many private organizations, including the Neola Institute of Sciences (NIS) have even offered rewards to any substantial findings brought to their attention. It is a time of glory and wonder, but also a time of danger, death and suffering. In the Wild there is lawlessness and anarchy. Outlaws run the show and abuse innocent homesteaders, prospectors, hunters and villages who have weak or no militia available to protect them. Larger sites, such as company owned mines or farms have trained men and many weapons to keep bandits at bay. The people working in these places are more lucky than some but in no way are they totally safe. Day by day gangs grow stronger and more equipped than ever before. However there are those that are willing to combat them and do more than the militias and private armies can be bothered with. Small bands of enforcers with their own moral code have popped up to help their fellow man. The largest of these groups, known as The Rangers, command a huge amount of territory and run patrols between towns and homesteads. Not only bandits threaten those who would venture out. Many people who leave home are never seen again and strange human-like creatures have been seen wandering the wastelands with hungry empty eyes. Wild animals have changed in the millenniums since they were introduced. Most are tougher, bigger and more ferocious than ever before having adapted to a more harsh climate after the terraforming nodes went down. Coyotes, lions, bears, venomous lizards and gargantuan snakes are the biggest threats. These predators are mostly nocturnal, but have been known to strike during the day when disturbed. Mechanical beings have also been found to the north, situating themselves around inhospitable compounds built into the ice. Technology (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Technology (open) Technology (close) Much of it is reverse engineered from artifacts, runs off of electricity and batteries, or is fairly primitive. Weapons are occasionally ballistic, but electric, magnetic and repulsive systems are far more popular. Ballistics are seen as ceremonial or antiques or fashion statements under the far more powerful rail gun. Vehicles of all shapes and size ranging from trains, personal vehicles, haulers, hover crafts and wheeled tankers can be found in this world, most have electromagnetic propulsion and power systems. FACTIONS (Move your mouse to reveal the content) FACTIONS (open) FACTIONS (close) Rangers (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Rangers (open) Rangers (close) Though the Rangers are ruthless in their methods, their intentions are good and they want to make a safe place for the settlers, miners, farmers, etc... They solve crimes against humanity, track bandit groups and outlaws, enforce their own laws on the people and enact justice and those who cross them. Their existence is highly controversial as some of their actions are seen as brutal or unethical. Even so many people who call the Wilds home consider them a blessing and stay in their good graces. The Union (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Union (open) The Union (close) These guys are the closest thing to a functioning nation this continent has. A conglomeration of allied City States and militias. The Lost (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Lost (open) The Lost (close) Horrible, evil beings. They attack on sight and any specimens that have been killed and examined closely are indeed human but grotesquely mutated. They feed on the flesh of other humans and rumor has it they consume every part of the victim, even the soul. Nobody knows how they come to be this way, but their numbers are growing and more of the adventurous are becoming Lost in the Wild. They attack on sight and any specimens that have been killed and examined closely are indeed human but grotesquely mutated. The Machines (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Machines (open) The Machines (close) Ancient relics and automated beings of varied shape, size, and function who live in the far north. They posses old and valuable knowledge, but they are uninterested and often incapable of sharing it and they hide themselves well. Those who research the sprawling structures the machines seem to be birthed from almost always report findings of strange heat emanating from the core of the devices which power them and soon fall ill and die with strange afflictions that eat at the flesh, cause nails and hair to fall out and bring the victims into madness. As a result the machines are largely shunned and left alone. Currently scientists are trying to solve the riddles of these places without further casualty. The beings themselves tend to be relatively harmless, wandering the land, taking samples, recovering resources and dysfunctional brethren and minding their own business. However some have retaliated against explorers, killing people who get to close or hunting them down. These incidents, along with the stigma and supposed curse of their structures and cold lands has lead to widespread hatred and fear of them. The Vascar (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Vascar (open) The Vascar (close) The Vascar race is a nomad race, split into 30 different clans that travel the galaxy, having no true home other than their ships, they are hardy, but are often considered to be scoundrels and bloodthirsty villains. They live a bloody life from birth to death, having their lower arms lasered off until they earn a proper rank within their floating colonies. They are very loyal to one another to a fault, and are famous for their rapid regeneration, even able to regenerate limbs over the cours of a few weeks. They are especially fertile, able to breed at a very fast rate. The females are often placed into protected states, rarely being placed into armed forces unless they are very strong or have proved themselves willing to kill. Many take up lives as providers of arms, armor, food, clothing, and all manner of goods at home. Regardless of their servant like lifestyle, very few are actually servants. Many are even diplomats and leaders of the colonies. Many would say that the soldiers are the will of the women. (Women dominated race) The women are often thinly built with two arms, commonly standing at 7 feet tall, though it is not unheard of to have many be 5 feet or 9. Many have very long hair and enjoy plenty of jewelry and exotic garments, all hand made. Most are, by human standards, "Curvy", with "c cup" and two birthing canals. The men are the soldiers and the pirates, ranging from thin, lanky, to large and muscular. Almost always with four arms. They are easily able to take on stealthy careers as assassins and thieves, but are just as likely to take on careers as front line soldiers in heavy armor. Able to take control of massive vehicles and ships with ease, they are the blood of the colonies. They stand very tall, most at 9 feet and can end up at 11 foot. Those below 8.6 foot are disallowed from the military and are either killed or outcast from the colonies. They, like their female counterparts, have double genetalia so as to bolster their ranks. At birth, they have their lower arms cut off monthly until they pass the military initiation, graduating from a common "dreg" rank to "Dominus", where then they are allowed to fully regrow their arms and spend the rest of their lives as a fully equipped trooper of war. While many utilize rifles, many more prefer wielding electrified swords, cutlasses, and knives to close in and attack their enemies up close and personal. LOCATIONS (Move your mouse to reveal the content) LOCATIONS (open) LOCATIONS (close) Neola City (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Neola City (open) Neola City (close) A major city state and perhaps the largest in the Union. It is home to many factories, hydro-electric plants, train stations, the largest militia barracks and training ground on the continent, an institute for higher learning and a central court house. The Ranger Compound (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Ranger Compound (open) The Ranger Compound (close) The compound is located some distance out in the wilds where new lands and riches are being claimed and settled by decent folk. Most of the compound is underground as it was constructed out of an abandoned mine and refinery. There are many watchtowers that stretch along the mountain ridges it is built into and many miles of tunnels under the ground. The Rangers, both the commanding family and hired guns, live here and conduct their operations from here. They have developed sophisticated communications that surpass those of the City States. Out in the wild they have access to ancient and forgotten places and they have the guts and guns to investigate them. Several archaeologists have cast their lot in with them for a chance at a more knowledgeable and adventurous life... that or they have done it out of spite for the larger institutions back east. Circle Canyon and The Barrier (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Circle Canyon and The Barrier (open) Circle Canyon and The Barrier (close) A mining town in the south Wild owned by the Hanzheng Steel Company. It is home to the largest and deepest iron mine in operation to date. The town is located in a sort of canyon oasis below a reservoir that ends a very long system of rivers stemming from the northern glaciers. The rivers have carved out a jagged and incredible series of canyon lands, cliffs and rock spires though the continent. These canyon lands form a Barrier to the west. A few treacherous paths through the cliffs as well as a couple of natural land bridges and steel behemoths designed to hold up train engines are the only ways across without circumnavigating the barrier to the north or south. Circle Canyon is known as a trading hub and a place for explorers and wanderers to stop for supplies and rest on their way in and out of the wild. The town never sleeps and is home to honest people and ruffians alike. Hanzheng also boasts one of the largest private armies in existence and thanks to them Circle Canyon remains a fairly safe haven where trouble is not tolerated. The Wild (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Wild (open) The Wild (close) Unexplored areas of the continent mostly to the west and north. These areas are harsh, cold, dry and largely inhospitable. The wild is home to fierce animals, terrible monsters, deadly machines and other mysterious beings still unknown to the population. People tougher than most conduct expeditions into the wild on occasion in the name of discovery and profit. A select few even call it home, such as Rangers, outlaws, miners and homesteaders. The wild stretches on for what seems an eternity and the west coast of the continent has never been found. The North (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The North (open) The North (close) Frozen wastelands of tundra, rock and ice. Very few dare to tread into this hellish land. The temperatures can kill quickly, there is no food and no shelter other than what one can bring in. In the winter there is constant darkness. The only life up here is a minute selection of tough animals and extremophiles as well as the Machines. Structures of seemingly mindless twisted metal spring up through the ice and rock and bore through the ground for hundreds of miles. The Void Waters (Move your mouse to reveal the content) The Void Waters (open) The Void Waters (close) An ocean to the east which stretches farther than the eye can see and farther north and south than any known person has traveled. Several expeditions have been mounted to explore the entire coastline of the continent but they have yet to complete the task. Technology has brought about fishing methods, boats, piers and heavy ships. Despite this, attempts to journey across the ocean have all failed, with the explorers never returning again. There are horrifying creatures, native to the planet, living in these waters. They are hideous, massive and extremely deadly, keeping humans hugging the shore-line much of the time. While many smaller native species have been captured and studied, only one or two of the larger creatures have been killed. However, there are advances being made in naval technology, armored ships, ballistic harpoons and other weapons capable of taking down such monsters and many businessmen are eager to see if they can be put to use. CHARACTERS (Move your mouse to reveal the content) CHARACTERS (open) CHARACTERS (close) Alexander Callahan (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Alexander Callahan (open) Alexander Callahan (close) - Face - Face 2 - Body - Body back -Lunar Burn -Hawkmoon "Just what the fuck do you think you're doing here? Pretending to be a hero? A Bandit? Some kind of superman? Here's reality you little twat. You were nothing before and now, you're pointing a .32 caliber handgun at me and you are STILL nothing. You pathetic little bastard. Go ahead. Shoot me. You will do nothing." Ducking down behind cover, bullets whizzed overhead. The snow was coming down hard, but it nary slowed down his reloading. He popped back up and fired his revolver blindly several times, not aiming but hitting home as he heard a gurgle from on the other side of the firing line. He reloaded again and dived out to another brick building. He looked up and saw several bricks popped out along with several protrusions. He grabbed a foothold and scrambled up the wall, rolling into a window as the bottom was surrounded by bandits. He slipped his rifle off of his back and slid up to a window, popping out and aiming at the faint glint of metal on the street below, firing just above it and seeing the splash of crimson explode into the air as the head of the bandit below was eviserated by the .50 caliber bullet. He ducked back down as fire started to shread the window and he ran for a door. Bursting through it he ducked as a knife swiped at his head. He dropped his rifle and yanked out his knife from his boot and blocked a second swipe from his attacker, deflecting it to the side and blocking the third swipe with his hand before plunging his own knife into the attacker's neck. He picked the knife off of the body and threw it by the blade behind him, the knife plunging into the chest of a new entrant. He yanked his pistol out of his holster and fired several times, dropping a second bandit whom had stormed through the door. He clicked a button on the side and electricity arched through the weapon. He held down the trigger and pointed it at the window, waiting. Sounds of footsteps above alerting him to bandits repelling in. The first one into the window exploded into a mess of gore as a gauss powered railgun round penetrated the very being of the poor bastard that had chosen that window. There was nothing left. "Stupid move, kid." The kid below him, lying in the dust, his knees shattered, his gun dismantled, sobbing. "Told you to shoot me and you were stupid enough to do it. Now, you will be just another clump of dust in the wind...." He turned away, his bag full of high-bounty-bandit-head at his side, and started to walk on the trail he had been traveling before. "Should have gone home." Praxis - Kell of the house of Eclipse (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Praxis - Kell of the house of Eclipse (open) Praxis - Kell of the house of Eclipse (close) "My name...Is Praxis." Standing before a ruined snow-covered battlefield, mired in the aftermath of war upon his flagship "The Sword of Eclipse" stood it's captain, robes whipping about him from the intense wind slashing through the landscape. Steel in armor color with nearly white glowing eyes. His cloak was tattered from the age and abuse. "I...am a Vascar of...simple pleasures, simple needs...simple desires..." Standing before the final survivor of the battle, a human ranger whom was trespassing on Eclipse land. The captain reached to his back and unsheathed a Brutal Cutlass and planted it on the poor man's knee. As he cried out in pain, the captain bent over and back handed him, sending his precious "cowpoke hat" into the wind and used his upper left hand to grab the ranger by the jaw, lifting him up, pulling his cutlass out of the man's knee at the same time. The captain brought the trespasser close to His armored head Inspecting him. "I revel in glory...honor myself and my house by crushing those whom oppose me...bathe in their blood, their sacrifice...." The captain laughed, yelling "Ja ta koo, krawn!" in his own tongue before starting to squeeze the ranger's skull in hand. The human tried to flail and escape, but the captain was far stronger, and his head collapsed into blood and graymatter before the might of the captain. "I...am the Kell of the Vascar House of Everlasting Eclipse. In your..."language" that would mean leader, ruler, king, sultan, warlord..I am all of them." Riding upon the barrel of one of the Eclipse sand-hovercraft fleets many artillery guns, the Kell screamed to the sky of the mid-day desert sun! "Ko Wan Fon JAWK!" The cries of the hundreds below him spurred him to raise his Shatter Rifle Into the air, firing it as the fleet of one hundred thirty seven hovering vehicles race towards the city of Littlestone on the fringes of the desert regions. (Each word is a separate link) "The Krawn? Rangers in your tongue...we have an...agreement with them. They do not hunt us for your pathetic "money..." Standing upon a tower in the dead of night, the Kell takes the electricity laced wire-sniper-rifle and takes aim across the expanse of snow before him, aiming at a lone figure upon a hill in the distance, the silver medallion on his "cowpoke hat" shining brilliantly in the moonlight. With a loud bang, the head of the figure disappears in a show of gore seen only by the captain and his scope.... "We do not hunt them for sport...." Anna Toland (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Anna Toland (open) Anna Toland (close) Standing alone in the courtyard of the Ranger compound, her rifle on her back and her Decimater in it's barely-fitting holster. watching the new "recruit" be brutalized by the trainers. She laughed and shook her head, recalling to just the previous day, convincing the leaders to let him in based on the stories she had read about his kind, the Exo, machines built for war that they were unable to participate in, left to rot until something woke them up. He had already proven himself by taking down Conway the indomitable, the only man on the bounty board to be listed as "public enemy number one" with multiple rewards from both the Rangers themselves and benefactors in the land that totaled well over two billion Tabs. The most wanted man in the land, dead by Alexander's hands and looking like he didn't even exert any real effort. She couldn't help but notice just how nice he looked in the tight training clothing.... Her oogling was disrupted by a particular annoyance, a man she had grown to hate to nearly infinite ends: Tony Tessaro...and his bodyguard that she is good friends with, Gabe Kinsley. Tony...she hated his attitude, his look, his fucking hair. She was tempted to put a bullet in her throat whenever he was even around, and now he had stopped next to her and put his damn body against the wall, leaning like a jackass wanting to plow something. She glared death into his eyes as he spoke. "Hey there..." He said, trying his best to sound sexy and alluring. She cringed and immediately reacted on instinct, her fist slamming right into his miniscule dick and making him lurch over in pain, falling to the ground and writing in agony. She spoke, anger and venom in her voice. "If I have told you once, Tony, I have told you a thousand times: Do not associate with me you perverted needle dicked fuck." She spit at him, the saliva hitting the side of his face. Meanwhile, right behind hm, Gabe was choking up something awful, trying to hide his laughter. Anna stepped over him and pulled him into a hug. "Always good to see you, Gabriel. Are we still on for lunch tomorrow evening?" Biting his lip and holding back the tears as Tony groaned in pain, gripping his groin in pain. He nodded and she kissed him on the cheek. "Have a good day, Gabe!" She walked way, satisfied. Tony "Horseshoes" Tessaro (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Tony "Horseshoes" Tessaro (open) Tony "Horseshoes" Tessaro (close) Inside the lodge barroom it was mostly quiet. Only soft music and the voices of tired railmen, mercenaries, farmers, couriers and working ladies bubbled through the smoky atmosphere. The occasional bout of laughter, shout or greeting broke the monotony but it was a good place, a warm place away from the dark cold. In the corner a figure with his face mostly covered by the brim of a hat and his shoulders shrouded in a thick woolen overcoat sat with his food and drink and wrote in a thick, leather bound journal. Or at least he had been writing in it. Now he slumped with his feet up on a chair under the table, his charcoal pen steadily falling out of his hand, asleep. The man who sat down next to him didn't stir him in the slightest. "Hey," The man shoved his shoulder. He woke with a sharp inhale. His hand immediately went to one of the pistols hidden under his coat, but he stopped short and sized up the person who disturbed him. With a yawn, he took his boots off the chair and straightened up. "Somethin' I can help you with, mister?" he asked. The other man was filthy, his clothes covered in dust and stains foul and unmentionable. It had to have been months since he had a shave or a bath... and perhaps a lifetime since he had cleaned his teeth. And yet the dirty clothes were adorned with small momentos, trophies, expensive leathers, pressed coins and rare gems. His hat was fine fur, not felt. One of his rotting teeth was made of gold and gaudy rings adorned his fingers. It all must have cost a fortune. All the red flags flying up and the smell made his head spin, but he stopped from recoiling so as not to cause offense. "You one o' dem Ranger folk, yeah?" the grizzly man smirked and thumped the steel insignia that pinned up the side of his hat. The winged symbol of a Ranger Scout, "Damn, they sendin' em out young now. How old 're you, boy? Fifteen? Sixteen?" "Too, young to be a Ranger, sir," he stretched casually, pulled the brim of the hat further over his eyes and started to close the journal, "Even those bastards don't put kids in the field. My old man pulled this off of some wanderer he shot on our land. Snazy, wouldn't ya say so?" The rude man slammed his hand down on the journal. There was an uncomfortable silence spreading through the barroom. He slid the journal over to himself and looked at the newest page. A couple texts from papers, a sketched portrait and a crumpled map with a couple of markers were pinned to it and the page before it. Now the Ranger could see a handful of other men, eerily similar in fashion to the one bothering him, looking this way from several tables. He wasn't alone. His fingers wrapped around the butt of a pistol. "Samuel Belanger..." the man snorted, "Belanger. Now there be a name that makes men shy away and mothers hide their children. You ain't lookin' for 'im are ya, boy?" "No, Sir. I'm not the type that goes lookin' for trouble. I just like takin' notes on the news I hear from other travelin' folk," he smiled and dared to look the man in the eye, "Ma says I'm strange like that." The foul man chuckled, deep and husky and shook his head, "Well, that's an interesting hobby, ya got there," he closed the journal and pushed it back, "It's a damn shame, though. Ya know. You bein' out here. Not lookin' for him an' all." A few of the men who were watching stood from their chairs one by one. Some stayed and came closer, one or two went outside. A few of the lodge patrons started to make their way to their rooms, whispering in hushed voices. The Ranger took up his journal, stowed in his pack and slung the strap over his shoulder. Oh, this was not good. The man tapped his knuckles on the table, watching the Ranger's every move, "Because ya' fuckin' found him." The Ranger closed his eyes tightly as if in pain, pressed his lips together and let out a deep sigh through his nose, "Yay," he grumbled. Without another word, without another split second of hesitation the Ranger bolted under the table and threw the far side upward. It came up between himself and the shouting men, slamming Samuel in the face. He drew a pistol out of the shroud on his shoulders and fired an electrified pulse at the window. The glass splintered with wild white fingers, becoming like a hundred spider's webs. The Ranger threw himself through the weakened glass as the gun fire started. He landed hard and rolled along the cold ground outside with the shards raining down, breaking and finding their way into his clothes. He ran for it. The men who had gone out first were waiting. The pulses and arcs from their guns lit up the night and exploded around the young Ranger as he raced for cover. Pistol still in hand he shot back, hoping to get lucky. One of the bandits was struck in the arm by his short barrage of fire. The limb burned and smoked and he screamed in agony. The Ranger ducked behind the break in between buildings. His shoulders rose and sank as he let out a sharp breath and calmed himself. A dangerously determined look came into his eyes. How much was old Samuel worth these days? Had to be a couple million at the least. Oh, what the Rangers could do with a cold hard million. More guns, more ammo, more vehicles. They might even get one of them newfangled soda water machines that were so popular in the city states. He'd only had one of the sweet drinks once and was convinced it was a substance that had fallen to Acre from the heavens themselves. He smirked. More firepower. Out from under his coat he dropped a heavy caliber shotgun that had been slung over his shoulder under the rest of his gear, nice and safe. Not so safe any longer... At least not for the bandits. He could hear them coming. The Ranger snapped a long, tube-shaped grenade from his belt, pulled the charge and rolled it to the opening of the alley and backed away quickly. Closer. Closer. The voices were right on top of the trap. Boom. Dust and debris flew over his head and around the cellar housing he had hidden behind. Screaming replaced the yelling. He stepped out from his shelter, the shotgun secured against his shoulder and already aimed down the alley. A few of the men chasing him were still alive. With a only a light squeeze of the trigger the gun kicked hard, expelling hot discharge from the vents and letting loose a smashing electric howl that would surely wake up the whole town if they weren't up already. The spew of charges lit up the barrel before exploding in a bandit's chest, tearing him in half. He acted quickly in shooting the others and left the buildings and ground there covered in burning carnage. Time to go. The Ranger put a set of fresh charges in his teeth, popped out the fried ones and reloaded the gun as he ran for his ATV. It was just outside the main street. He could see it there as the end of the row of buildings came up on him. If he could get to it the bandits would give chase and he could pick them off one by-- Gore ripped out of his left thigh and splattered the ground before he fell on his face. Only after did his ears register the rifle shot... and then he felt the pain. Cursing loudly, and groaning the Ranger grabbed his hat, struggled to stand and tried to hobble forward, but the leg wouldn't hold weight. "MOVE AND YOU DIE!" someone yelled from behind him. He froze, standing on one foot and panting, his vehicle only a few yards away. There were slow, heavy boots crunching up on him. "Drop the gun," Samuel growled. The Ranger obeyed, letting the shotgun fall. "Show me your hands," he demanded. The Ranger could feel the hard muzzle on his back. He slipped his arms out of the overcoat and held them out. Without warning a heavy hand grabbed his coat and threw him into the wall. He hit hard and found himself on the ground again. When he looked up Samuel and three of his men were standing over him. Sam handed his rifle to one of them. He cracked his knuckles. "It's a damn shame, indeed," The big man hissed and pulled the Ranger up by his collar, "You got such a pretty face too. Bet the girls just love it." The Ranger scowled, "You think I'm pretty? Aw shucks. I'm blushing," then he spit in Samuel's face before digging for one of the hidden pistols again. But it was all to quick. The blow to the left side of his face was brutal. He felt the flesh tear under all the rings and his skull whipped back striking the wall. He had the gun but couldn't focus. Reality was only a blur. The men all laughed in an uproar and cheered on their boss. Another blow came on top of the first ripping upward across his face again. It was followed by another and another and another crushing him until all was dark. He lashed out trying to get a blind strike of his own to land, feeling it slam into the bridge of a nose. A pained grunt preceded series of viscous hits to his ribs and a loud crack. He couldn't breathe. He struggled with the gun that had been finally freed of it's holster. The next jagged punch ripped through his ear and over his scalp. He felt the gun press up against something solid and instinctively pulled the trigger. Acre pulled him down into her clutches once more. Samuel staggered back. He could only see him out of one eye, holding his guts in. His face, neck and fist splattered with blood, skin hanging off the rings. The man stumbled forward and braced himself on the wall. His men held him, yelling words of warning and concern. A small blade clicked out of the toe of his boot before he delivered a bone crushing kick into the Ranger's stomach. Another kick found it's mark as he screamed, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" The men pulled their dying boss away, aside from one who remained to finish the job. He put his rifle against the Ranger's forehead. "Ya wou'dn' shoo' a sick kid wit a limp, wou'd ya?" the Ranger sputtered out of broken jaw and a shredded smile. He was going to die here... He was going to die... He knew it had to happen someday. And he had promised on that day he wouldn't go out in fear. Even if it was as messy and unheroic as this he had to be smiling. The man was distracted by yelling that had broken out once more. The Ranger was fading in and out. What now? The pain was taking over and breathing was too much of a struggle. He felt like he was suffocating. Just get it over with. The man ran away, and left him lying there. He could hear fighting. Gun shots. Breaking bones. Silence. He rolled over and tried to see. A towering figure, bigger than Samuel by far, long legs, old coat, black hat, strode toward him. He said nothing. He only pulled the Ranger up and supported him on a shoulder. "Don't bother," the Ranger spewed blood and spit with every word. It dribbled out of the gash in his cheek and down his neck with certain words, "If you wanna help there's a journal... I got a journal with coordinates inside the cover... Just... Just go and tell em what happened. Take the body and the hat... not my body. Take... Belanger's body. My hat... take 'em, tell 'em Tony sent ya... and they'll know what to... You'll get money." The man holding him recoiled and turned his head away from the mess, "For fuck's sake kid, shut up. Damn it all that's disgusting." "But... Take the body... We're gonna get... soda machine..." Gabe Kinsley (Move your mouse to reveal the content) Gabe Kinsley (open) Gabe Kinsley (close) The kid had tried to pass out on him several times, but a quick nudge had him up and talking nonsense again. He really wished he wouldn't. He could see his teeth through his cheek and the bottom lip on the left side had been torn and hung loose. Not to mention the way his jaw sat offset. The side of his face might as well have been put through a wood chipper. Luckily there had been so much blood he couldn't really make out what was what. Finally, he found someone who could stop the bleeding and stabilize him. However the local doctor wouldn't do any more work for free. Not for strangers who had caused so much trouble. Out in the Wild tiny sparks of light glittered to life across the deep blue sky. It was quiet. The wind was cold and clean and refreshed his lungs with the calming scents of rust and sage. But there would be no sleep tonight. There had been no sleep in the nights before either. He could not remember the last time he had shut his eyes for more than a few minutes, nor his last meal. Stopping was too risky in this territory, he had little money and the kid didn't have much time. The large, beat up truck hummed along, its tires bouncing over ruts and bushes and rocks and other obstacles on the desert floor. Bottles, hand-rolled cigarette butts, tools, chains, bullet casings and other miscellaneous items rattled around on the floor and and jostled the kid's unconscious body. Every so often he would make sure he was secure and still had a pulse. The iron armor panels snapped against the chassis with every hit the suspension couldn't take. The cracks in the windscreen squeaked and popped as they readjusted, but still held up under further abuse. He didn't seem to mind. Dust rushed into the air and floated along in soft clouds in the machine's wake. Even with the absence of a road, leaving only landmarks and stars to guide him to the coordinates he had found in the journal, the man sat in a dreamlike silence as he drove. Calm, nearly bored, as if he had been in this situation countless times over. Only when the ground took a turn upward into the hills did he snap out of it and jam the shifter into a lower gear and engage the rear wheels. The truck's engine groaned and sped up with a growl. The drive train thumped the chassis hard as it came to life. The rugged tires dug hard into the dirt and it climbed as if nothing had changed. The man relaxed once more, lit up a fresh smoke and concentrated on the new challenges of the terrain. This wasn't smart. Smart would have been leaving the kid to the towns people, taking the outlaw's corpse to the authorities and disappearing again with full pockets. The truck was breaking, he had been wearing the same tattered clothes for years, the pain of never ending hunger and aimlessness nagged at him. The life of an animated corpse. If the kid had been honest there was money in this endeavor and he could also feel like a person again if he made it alive. At least for a little while. Besides... He had nothing better to do. He never had anything better to do other than wait. Damn wasteland. Soon the hills gave way into a basin guarded by jagged mountain peaks and cliffs, like a set of black teeth biting into the sky. The land was still rough and pockmarked with ravines, ruts, cracks, shallow rises and sudden drops. His teeth clapped together and he found himself clenching his jaw and sitting bolt upright, trying to control the huge unruly vehicle over this barren shit-hole. They were coming up on the coordinates, but there was nothing here. He scratched the short beard that grew on his face and kept his eyes open for anything out of the ordinary. The foothills of the mountain range rose up in his way. The coordinates had to be just beyond them. He picked his path carefully through the brush and the short, bushy trees. This truck had been good to him and could make it through most rough spots, but it was no miracle worker and could become stuck easily in the mountains if he weren't careful. The engine whined at him over steep sections and he watched the battery gage closely. The truck cleared a ridge and came down into a deep ravine. At the bottom there was a road. They were here. The road took him deeper into the canyon where the light from the moons no longer reached. But, up ahead he could make out a tall black tower rising just above the rock. Several others like it stood together further up the mountain. Then there came the fence. He slowed the truck before reaching the gate, growing nervous. He remembered the old rifle that hung on the rack behind the seat. There was no telling what-- A spot light flared and blinded him followed by a siren. He slammed on the brakes and saw an armed man standing guard in the middle of the road. Several others dressed in black, with heavy guns were already upon the truck. They shouted and ordered him out. "GET ON YOUR KNEES. ON THE GROUND NOW!" One of them forced him down after he got out of the vehicle. He obeyed immediately, not meaning any trouble. "HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!" he complied and his wrists were immediately bound with wire. "Check the truck. Search him," he heard the man in the middle of the road order. These men all wore similar clothes, all of them bearing metal insignia pins somewhere on their bodies, all of them with their faces covered. Another light was shined in his face as they searched his clothes and padded him down. More men with weapons were coming out of the tall gate. Orders and shouting filled the air. He heard the passenger door open. "Shit! Got 'im." "Uhg, look at that. Is he--?" "Still alive!" "Wait, ain't that one of the Boss' kids?" "Damn... Get a medic out here! Now!" "We've got a body!" shouted a man who was searching the back of the truck, where his supplies and the corpse of an outlaw stuffed into a sack were stored. He remained silent and calm. His heart sped up but he breathed easily and stared at the ground with a frown. The commotion seemed to die down a little and a set of black boots stopped in his line of sight. "Look at me," they ordered. He looked up with a glare but otherwise kept still in the chaos. The Ranger before him bore a gold, not steel, insignia on his chest, he had a very clean cut beard, broad shoulders and a long black trench coat. A pipe hung in his mouth. "Start talking. I hear something I don't like and we leave your headless body to the vultures."