Rise from the Ashes: A Story of the Change

Rise from the Ashes: A Story of the Change

A Private One on One RP - Though interested parties can PM myself or Skyfemme if they wish to discuss joining.

670 readers have visited this universe since Ragnarök created it.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

the change series by sm. stirling - http://smstirling.com/books/

Introduction

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A Story of the Change


May 31st, 2006
An unknown phenomenon permanently disables all forms of modern technology, electricity, and combustion, including computers, electronics, guns, car and jet engines, and batteries. People are forced to adapt to a world without technology, and rely on swords and crossbows for protection. Over five and a half billion people die as many starve, while others rob, rape, and pillage. Many even turn to cannibalism.

As public order collapsed, some banded together, forming small farming communities on the outskirts of cities, while urban areas fell to sword-wielding warlords. Our tale focuses on the stories of Las Vegas and the rise of Sacramento as powerful city-states, their struggles to survive and attempts to understand the mystery of what exactly made the lights go out in this post-apocalyptic world.

Ten years have now passed since The Change turned the world on its head and the struggles for power are only growing in ferocity. Las Vegas has managed to survive the worst of the aftermath and a strange collection of various groups has formed a council that does its best to balance factional differences and in-fighting. To their north, an ever present danger and looming closer every year are the armies of the City-State of Sacramento and its King, a man bent on conquering the Changed world, no matter who he must kill to accomplish it.

A new North America stands poised to Rise from the Ashes.

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Browse All » 8 Settings to roleplay in

Paradise Republic

Paradise Republic by Ragnarök

The Paradise Republic, all that remains of Sin City, is the product of numerous factions banding together in the face of the Change and doing whatever they must to survive.

City-State of Sacramento

City-State of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Once the seat of the California Republic, Sacramento is now namesake to the most powerful Post-Change nation-state in northern California.

The Latter Day Saints

The Latter Day Saints by Ragnarök

United by faith and strength of will the Latter Days Saints have endured and control much of the west of what used to be the California Republic, centering around their temple in Oakland.

The San Diego Catholics Union

The San Diego Catholics Union by Ragnarök

Formed by remenants of the Catholic Church in San Diego, this nation-state has become a powerhouse in the south, even expanding its influence into Mexico.

Nevada

Nevada by Ragnarök

A land of roaming Cannibals and bandits, only the Paradise Republic stands as a symbol of civilization and perseverance.

City of Sacramento

City of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Name sake and Capital of the City-State of Sacramento.

California

California by Ragnarök

The former California Republic, a land of warlords and prophets, a land descending into Total War.

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 2 authors

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dane Ledsham

0.00 INK

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear, is fear of the unknown.” - H.P. Lovecraft

Bakersfield, California Catholics Union
Change Year 10


“God is with us!” The cry swept through the darkened streets of Bakersfield as Priests hurried through the semi-darkness, blazing torches in hand. The clutched bibles to their chests and continued the cry that seemed to echo from every corner.

“Why do they have to kept shouting it?” The question came from a young man with a scarred face and keen eyes. He was watching a priest hurry past below, the phrase ringing from his lips again like clockwork. “Surely if god is with us we don’t have to keep reminding him.”

“Fucked if I know.” Responded a second man who was seated on a barrel of pitch, slowly honing the edge of his sword with a sharpening stone. “Priests have to be useful somehow, better they use their voices here than moaning over the head of some choir boy.”

A chuckle ran through the seated soldiers, ten of them in all. The main wall that fronted into the desert, and provided the frontal defence for the Catholic Stronghold of Bakersfield, was studded with a dozen towers. Each was thirty feet by thirty feet and manned by ten men. These men, a mix of white, Latino and Philippino descent, were the bulwark against the chaos that threatened to overwhelm the town below. They were hard men, toughened by ten years of fighting since the world they knew had come to a crashing halt, and all had killed in the name of their God and to protect those they loved.

“Where are the bastards…” Muttered one as he glanced over the wall into the darkness that was quickly descending over the desert and newly ploughed fields that bordered the banks of the river in both directions.

“To the south I think.” This was from the man who was sharpening his blade, it was clear by the respect that the others showed him that he was in charge of this group. “There are still bridges down there and we know that our picket line was thrown back yesterday.”

“Why’re they even down here? I thought we’d be fighting Mormons. I almost enjoy killing those soft skinned heathens.”

“I don’t know.” That simple answer brought silence to the group as they looked up at him.

“A few months ago we had word that they were busy fighting cannibal and bandit bands that were being driven south by the survivors in Oregon but they must have settled that problem and decided to make a move south. We happen to be the only stronghold in the south that straddles the main highways. If they take us, they control the southern trade routes.”

Their thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a heavy gong ringing from a nearby tower and they leapt to the battlements, staring eagerly into the darkness, all movement in the streets below stopped, even the priests fell silent as all faces towards the gatehouse.

“They’re here…” Muttered the leader. The others strained, peering into the gloom, trying to make out what he could see that they could not.

“How do you know?” Asked one of the younger men. He was new to the garrison, having joined them the month before from San Diego.

As if in answer to his question a long, low, mournful howl rolled through the night from somewhere out in the desert. It was followed by another, and then another, until all the night seemed to be filled with the howls, yips, and cries of a legion of hells hounds.

“Sweet Jesus.” Whispered one man as he crossed himself, others followed suit. “What are they?”

“The Hounds of Sacramento.” The voce startled them and they turned to find one of the elder priests standing behind them clutching a cross to his chest as he stared over their heads. “They have come to do the devils work.”

“Father?” The word was a question.

“The Lord-Commander of Sacramento is a clever man for a heathen and early in the change he began this tactic of physiological warfare using hounds of many types. Now however they have begun to work solely with an equally cunning and cruel breed, I think they are Rhodesian Ridgebacks. Fast, strong, agile, and easy to train for combat.”

The howling suddenly ended, so abruptly that it was if someone had flipped a switch and complete silence fell over the desert again.

“And so it begins.” Said the Priest as pin pricks of light suddenly appeared all across the desert in front of them. Then a sort heavy thuds followed by a swishing sound as the points of fire began to grow in size.

“Artillery!” Screamed a voice down the line and everyone ducked as the first of the flaming objects rose high in the air and then began to fall towards them.

“Oh my god…” The group drew a collective breath as the object fell towards them. There was no mistaking its shape. The flaming object was a man.

* * * * * * *


Dawn rose clear and cloudless the next morning, the pure blue sky smeared with the smoke that rose slowly from Bakersfield. It was a vastly town than the one which had bid goodnight to the sun the day before. The front gates sat open, a slew of bodies crumpled in the dirt just inside the archway showed where a vicious close quarters fight had taken place.

The big Church on the edge of the bluff was almost completely consumed by fire now and a few flames licked out of the ruins where the roof had finally collapsed inwards. Here, at the base of the steps, the bodies were thickest and the square that had once boasted white marble tiles and a beautiful fountain, was stained with blood.

The Lord-Commander of Sacramento strode through the streets as the first rays of sun touched the blood stained streets his men had taken in the wee hours of the morning.

Soldiers nodded at him, grinning as he passed and he returned the greetings with a hearty “Well done” and more than a few bone-crushing hugs when he recognized a soldier he knew well.

He path led him down the main street of the town and his experienced eye took in the dead defenders where they had each tried to protect their own individual homes. His attack had driven them from the walls not by sheer force but by cunning. It was going to go down into the books as one of the best ways to take a city defended by a river.

As his forces had been deploying to the forefront of the city and marching from the south, an elite unit, the Pathfinders, had come from the north by way of the river. While the hounds sent up their great racket and the catapults had returned the towns dead pickets the waterborne soldiers had slipped ashore. They had taken the lower landing and wharf in a mater of minutes. They had “borrowed” their dead enemies uniforms and returned to their posts.

With more flaming bodies on the way, soldiers from the main army had circled the town and, using farmers paths to the water, they had come to the lower landing. Once again stealth proved crucial as the Pathfinders had gone ahead of them, slaughtering the guards they encountered until they reached the main town. The Rivergate, as it was called, had fallen in a few short minutes of fighting. It could not be helped that the rest of the garrison had noticed but then the Pathfinders had used their last ploy. A number of women in their ranks donned typical peasant robes common in Bakersfield and ran screaming through the streets, crying out that the enemy was behind them and the town was lost.

It created enough confusion and brought fear to the men who were to guard the wall and as the main army advanced they abandoned their posts to defend their loved ones. The rest, as they say, is history.

“My Lord-Commander.” A Captain saluted with his sword as he approached the main square. “We have rounded up the survivors and gathered them in the central plaza.”

“Thank you Captain. See to the defences. We don’t want to be caught napping.”

“Yes my lord.” The horseman turned his horse and spurred away towards the gatehouse that now flew the red and gold banner of Sacramento.

The Lord-Commander turned his attention to the plaza that now stretched before him. It was large, even by post-Change standards and he had to admit to being impressed. There were maybe a dozen plazas larger in all of Sacramento.

On one side, smoke curling from its ruin was the Church. The other three sides were ringed with shops and stalls for the Bakersfield market that was so well known in the south. It was the trading hub and held a weekly market that had made it a very wealthy town.

Now however the plaza was filled with sobbing women and children and surely looking men, all of them, save the children, on their knees with their hands bound behind their backs. Around them, strangely out of place in their desert camouflage, stood the victors of the nights action. They began to cheer as he appeared in the plaza, the captives wept openly. It was going to be a very good day.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aves Beckett

0.00 INK

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Califorrnia Highway 58, East of Bakersfield
Change Year 10




The sand-and-black horse clopped along the flat stone rock formation making up a significant portion of the plateau upon which the caravan had modestly camped itself. The setting sun cast a lavender shadow across the vast burnt desert and the former Sequoia National Park as it crept closer to the horizon. The still air offered no noise at all except for the beast's running clacks, shooting through the air like cracks of a whip. Onward it rode until it reached the end of the formation—a clean cliff just off of Highway 58, overlooking the valley, first with the old city of Bakersfield as the first visible landmark.

The horse finally stopped near the edge of the cliff, not far from another horse tied to an old metal bench miraculously still in the area. The rider confidently swung legs down to the ground after tying the second horse securely to the other side of the heavy bench, and began to examine the area.

"Aves." The tall figure's voice was high-pitched, but it meant business. "Aves, you're going to have to come back to camp. Right now." Silence. The woman didn't roll her eyes or huff in exasperation; instead, she continued onward, unfazed, until she stopped near a cluster of rocks that looked a little familiar. "Aves, we made a deal."

A worn black Stetson peered out from behind the stacked stones. A pair of tired brown eyes stared back at the woman from under the brim, surrounded by a mane of long brown hair. "You had to say that, didn't you, Clarissa?" she sighed, then reached out her hands to push herself up from the ground. She was much smaller than the other woman, even with a pair of long-loved leather boots propping her up just marginally. She dusted off her long, oversized off-white cotton wrap and dark green dress and looked out over the valley. "I had a feeling you'd find me here if you really needed me."

"Well, we've actually needed you in the last hour," the woman spelled out with her fingers, starting to step backwards toward the two horses. Her crystal-blue eyes were clouded with a held-back concern. "We've been hearing a few things. We need to get going. As soon as possible."

"Like what?" Aves asked calmly, bending back toward the rocks to pluck up her Martin. She stepped quickly to catch up to the other woman. "And from who?"

"Gary was out today," the tall woman started as she and the far-shorter brunette sauntered toward the pair of horses tied to the old bench, "and he said he'd been hearing that there was a problem in Bakersfield."

"Oh, the Catholics moving in on the Mormons?" Aves responded, her eyes blinking in confusion. "But we knew that already. That's been going on a while."

"No, this is about Sacramento," Clarissa said a little rushedly as she lengthened her stride in order to walk faster, "they're everywhere from the northern side. They're here."

"Sacramento?" Aves repeated. She looked out over the valley, at what had seemed like a busy Bakersfield, not unlike any other time she'd seen it from this spot before. She looked back to the other woman. "Are you sure about that? You really think they'd go this far south for a city like Bakersfield?"

"No, I'm not here to think about any of this stuff," Clarissa returned impatiently, "but I am here to come get you. We need to go."

The two women reached the horses and began to untie the long loops of rope attaching them to the old bench. "All right," Aves answered, furrowing her eyebrows a little as she pulled a cover for her guitar from a pack situated on her horse, "all right, I'll head back. You're not usually like this."

"Well, it's not every day that you hear that some army from Sacramento is heading into the neighborhood," Clarissa skittered nervously. She stepped to Aves to help cover the guitar, fully intending to rush her along. "I'm sorry, but we just need to go, and now, and-"

"It's all right," Aves interrupted neutrally, slinging the guitar across her back via a sturdy strap and then hoisting herself up onto the saddle by driving a foot into a stirrup and sliding a leg over the seat, smoothing her long skirt to keep it from becoming tangled. "We'll go back now."

# # #

"What took you so long?" the voice boomed out from a tent as the two women finally hitched their horses to one of the heavy wagons on the edge of the camp.

"I was only gone about twenty minutes," Clarissa replied glumly, sighing and slumping her shoulders frustratedly as she slunk away moodily. "See you later."

Aves and the tall man watched the woman wander off. "You really shouldn't talk to her like that," Aves sighed flatly. "That's no way to get her to do something for you."

"This is more important," Gary snapped back. He pointed out over the valley toward the city as he began to walk toward the center of the encampment. "It's sundown and they're supposed to attack down there. There's no way in hell we're going to the market tomorrow, and there's no way we can leave tonight."

"No fires tonight," Aves said definitively, adjusting the guitar still slung across her back along with the small pack she took from her saddle. "We don't need to draw attention to ourselves. I'd rather get a little cold than even a little destroyed. And I'm not sure about the market yet."

"You're kidding," Gary stressed loudly, looking to Aves with a bewildered expression on his normally-stony face. "We're not going in there."

"We don't know that yet." Aves continued to walk along, her expression not wavering or changing in the slightest. "We'll decide in the morning."

Gary gritted his teeth and continued to walk alongside the small woman. "I'm going to make it clear that I don't agree with you on this," he said darkly.

Aves rolled her eyes. "There's nothing to disagree on yet." She looked off to her right at a couple of younger crew, nervously watching the horizon along. The whole camp seemed to be on a tense hold. "Please let anyone with a tent know that fires aren't permitted out in the open tonight, and that anyone cooking needs to wrap it up fast," she instructed politely. The two nodded and set off to perform the task, not eager to incur the wrath of an apparently-temperamental Gary. Aves turned back to him. "We'll stay put tonight and see what happens in the morning. Maybe they need supplies. And we're here to trade. Not make enemies."

Gary opened his mouth to say something, then a shout pierced the air from the other side of the camp. "Look! Look!"

The entire crew, about 20, all quieted and watched as the desert came alive. What seemed like a thousand small flickers of light from their distance slowly careened high into the air, then down into the city more speedily, flames trailing behind ominously.

In all these years spent traveling together, they'd never before seen anything like this.

"Fires, NOW!" Aves barked as loud as she could. Half of the camp scrambled to put out any campfires that may have been flickering brightly enough for anyone in the valley to see and trace. She held her hand in the air as she began to look aroud to spot any other possible sign of their existence that could be seen from afar. They were obviously not the focus of this attack, but she wasn't about to take any chances. "Everyone stay calm. We're planting here for the night and making the decision on the next move in the morning."

Not even Gary said anything.

# # #

"Boy, the Council is going to be pissed about this," Gary ruffed as he handed mugs of coffee to both Aves and Clarissa. The camp was gathered together for breakfast, happy to finally make fires to cook warm food and brew coffee and tea after a long, cold night with the sounds of a terrible battle raging below their resting place. Hardly anyone slept, and no one was sorry to see the sun come up as they mingled about on lawn chairs or long benches. "Bakersfield is one of our best trading spots."

"Like they wouldn't take advantage of something that they think they can get control of," Aves reminded Gary sarcastically, nodding a thank-you as she took the handle of her mug. "That's just the way it is, you know."

Clarissa smiled at Gary and then stared into her mug nervously for several seconds, then look at Aves with a curious expression. "I wonder what Klaus is going to think about this." She shrugged her shoulders and blew some of the rising steam off of her hot beverage. "Or Giuseppe."

Aves bristled visibly, then relaxed. "I don't care what they think," she snipped quietly, then shook her head as she glanced toward the smoke rising from the destroyed city. She continued to stand tensely. "Do we know how it's going down there?"

"Couple scouts said they heard the city surrendered officially," Gary acknowledged as he set himself next to Clarissa and took a long sip of his coffee. "Didn't take all that long."

"It felt like forever," Clarissa chirped with a playfully-drawn expression on her face as she scooped her spoon through her oatmeal, kicking her boots up on a chair in front of her. "But, yeah, I timed it. Not even eight hours until it got real quiet."

"I heard also the Lord-Commander was heading into the streets," Gary added as he lifted a hand to the back of his head. "This wasn't just some argument over sheep. This was a deliberate engagement."

Aves nodded, her eyes bright, following along and imagining the possibilities in her head. There had to be a reason for them to be so far south. Her caravans had ventured farther north near Sacramento before, respectfully meandering along the supposed borders of their territory before being permitted inside to trade with those who lived there. She'd not been far into the territory or seen the city, but she understood it to be a masterpiece rivaling Las Vegas, with thoughtful architecture that exhibited an appreciation of historical aesthetic. It was a practice of hers to not allow their caravans too far into territories where force was known to be the rule of thumb. At least, not when they hadn't received the explicit invitation to. Aves held her warm mug in her cold hands as she paced toward the edge of the gathering, blinking outward at the view of the city in its aftermath. These invaders were truly a force in and of themselves, no doubt about it. Besides Las Vegas, this had been the largest city in the inland region that still held itself together decently enough. Bakersfield provided much of their business and had a strong supply of food; the agricultural tradition continued to thrive in the Central Valley, despite the lack of electricity. It was easy to lament the sudden state of flux regarding whether or not this crucial stop on their routes would be defunct or not. But, for now, they had to make the best of it. She stretched her shoulders and looked back at the caravan crew gathered. She wondered whether they'd be amenable to exchanging goods, especially medical supplies, with the victors. The need would certainly be strong, that was for certain. But would they go for it? There had to be some way.

And then it occurred to her.

She sighed and turned back around to the group. She finished her coffee as she walked back to Gary, Clarissa, and a few others. "We're going to exchange with the army," she asserted nonchalantly as she set herself into an empty lawn chair. Anyone within earshot immediately stopped talking and stared at her. "We've got business to do. If there's a problem, we'll turn back around."

"I don't like this," Gary immediately countered, his voice strained with impatience.

Aves nodded, then looked up at the sky in an effort to avoid making eye contact. "That's why I'll go ahead to speak with them first. Alone."

A pause.

"I can't let you do that, Aves," Gary stated finitely. "Klaus would have my head on a stick."

"You know that's not true." She got up from her chair and made for her tent. "If I'm not back in three days, head back without me."

"Goddammit. You're putting me in a bad spot, Beckett!" Gary retorted. Aves continued on, apparently unfazed. "I do not want to deal with the shit he's going to give me about this!" Still no response. "Do you want to get slaughtered like a pig?!"

Clarissa shot the fuming man a quick, darting glare, then rose from her chair and followed after the stubborn woman as other members of the camp stared on quietly. "Aves!" she called out as she walked quickly, not to seem rushed but not to look careless either, toward her tent. She opened the front flap and poked her scarf-covered head inside, and peered around until her eyes adjusted and she saw the younger woman on her knees on the floor, packing her trunk. "Can't we talk about this a little more?"

"No, Clar, we can't," Aves sighed tightly. "I'm doing this. You can't talk me out of it."

The taller woman knew when to hold her tongue after almost ten years of being close to the pint-sized, driven Aves. Or "Avey," as she affectionately called her. Or "Becks," as Giuseppe liked to say. Or "Mademoiselle," as Klaus liked to tease loudly in a high-pitched voice much to Aves' bemusement. Or, he used to do that. Not anymore. Not after the previous year. Clarissa had watched the feisty, sharp teenager grow into a composed, decisive woman, incapable of taking anyone else's shit yet perfectly capable of dishing it back. And over the years she'd watched her close herself off more and more. Especially after that previous year. "I guess this is a bad time to say that I'm worried about you."

Aves stopped, staring down at her hands as they nudged a couple of books around in the large wooden trunk. She must have intended for it to get loaded up on the wagon if she didn't come back. It was clear from the sudden look of recognition in her eyes that she knew exactly what was on Clarissa's mind. She reached her hands up, her wrap sleeves running along the varnish of the pretty exterior as she shut the lid of the trunk. She turned to Clarissa and nodded. "It is. We can talk about it later. Please. Just do what I say."

Clarissa knew when it was time to walk away. She'd always been good at reading people's moods. Perhaps not understanding them fully, but knowing when to just back off? This was one of those times. But not quite yet. She took a deep breath and bent down to the younger woman, extending her long arms to wrap around her in a loose, heartened embrace. "Take care of yourself."

Aves sat up straight and rigid for several seconds, but finally let go of her standoffishness as she reached up two small hands to hold onto Clarissa's forearms, and leaned her head into the crook of the woman's elbow. She sighed deeply. "You too."

# # #

Aves felt relieved when she could get away from the city, and even more relieved when she could get away from the camp.
She felt remorse for being so short with Clarissa, who had turned out to be the most reliable of any member of Las Vegas society since The Change occurred. To be on the way to Bakersfield to authorize trade with winning invaders was at once a bit of a silly thrill and formed a deadly pit in her stomach at the same time. She didn't need much; it wasn't like she took much on the road, anyhow. A small pack of clothes, a few skeins of water, and her guitar suited her just fine.

Ten years prior, Aves would have never pictured herself as living in a desert. She'd hoped for something else entirely. Not the D.C.-bound life her family had constantly envisioned for her. In her 19-year old naïveté she pictured herself as a musician in routine daydreaming. That much had come true. She didn't feel as though she'd been much of one before The Change, but now it felt to her as though that Martin stuck to her back felt like another arm, an extension of her being. Why bother with words when there was music, instead? Not that she didn't feel like her other instruments back at the camp or back home in Las Vegas weren't worthwhile or useful--but the Martin certainly was.

An outpost up ahead. Aves adjusted the brown cowl around her hair and adjusted her dark face mask, the Las Vegas emblem crudely stitched in worn red thread on the front of it. No use in hiding her identity. If fate wanted to send her to heaven, hell, or down somesuch mythological river, or up in the clouds, or to just see her dead in the desert with no destination for an evaporating spirit, then it would choose to do so. That pang of remorse again. Clarissa's face popped into her mind again, as though telling her to turn back. To reconsider. And it was only right to think those thoughts. Riding to the city was dangerous. Not only that, but potentially suicidal.

But trade wasn't the top priority. Not at all.

Her conscience tried to intervene, suddenly forcing herself to ask herself again if this was worth it. If it would work. She pursed her lip concentratedly and reminded herself that her actions would have consequences, no matter what.

Consequences.

And then it struck her like a bolt of lightning.

I am the consequence of others' actions.

She rode onward.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Dane Ledsham

0.00 INK

“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.” - Unknown

Bakersfield, Sacramento
Change Year 10


The plaza had fallen silent as the Lord-Commander climbed onto the back of his horse so he could better address the assembled captives and his own victorious soldiers. His armour, like that of his men, seemed to gleam a dull bronze colour, the red cloak about his shoulders swirling with his movements. Soldiers stood about the edge of the plaza, his regular troops dressed like himself, the elite pathfinders clad in desert camouflage.

"Men and women of Sacramento! We have ourselves a victory!" He punched his fist into the air and a roar went up from the surrounding soldiers. Shields fronted in bronze and emblazoned with a red sun pierced by a spear flashed in the sunlight as they were punched into the sky and orange banners with the same sun flew in the wind that tugged at all those standing in the plaza.

"It's been a long hard march and a short but bitter fight. We are at the extreme edge of the Cities borders and have brought this town, the most important town in all of southern California under our control, for that I salute you!" More cheers and now weapons were slammed against shields. The hounds present howled their approval and the captives shrank away from the reddish beasts.

"Now we make a choice, what do we do with this lot?" He waved a hand over the captives who had stayed silent. Some cried, most sat in quiet disbelief that their city could have fallen so easily. Not a priest was to be seen amongst them, all had either been in the church when it burned, or been thrown into the blaze by the victors. Everyone knew that priests spread disease, both morally and physically.

Numerous shouts came from every quarter on what was to be done, many of them less than pleasant and those who had already suffered some of the fates suggested clutched their tattered clothes about them and shrank away from the laughing soldiers.

The Lord-Commander held up his hand and an immediate silence fell over the plaza again save for the whimpering of the captives and the screams of terrified babies, their mothers trying to shush them as quickly as possible. For a long moment he looked over the assembled captives, most of them women and children, perhaps five hundred had died in the fighting. He caught a few gazes here and there that were quickly turned away but most avoided his gaze.

"Listen up citizens of Bakersfield!" His voice boomed over the plaza, rising even above the sound of the crackling timbers in the ruined church.

"Sacramento is not a discriminator of sex, religion, or any personal beliefs. As you may have noticed," He waved his hand at the town around them. "The majority of the town is still in one piece and homes have not been looted. You have two choices." He held up two fingers, ticking off their options slowly and clearly for all to hear.

"One. Swear fealty to the Lord-Marshal and return to your lives. You will be allowed to retain your personal property. Your faith we will not challenge but neither will we tolerate sedition. Many of you will be resettled north of here so that you cannot cause trouble for us so close to the CCU. The land will be granted to you by the Lord-Marshall, of equal value to what you leave behind here." That caused a small stir in the crowd and more than a few exclamations of surprise.

The second finger fell. "Two. You can be stubborn and insist on remaining loyal to the CCU. If you do, your property and everything you own is forfeit, including your bodies. You will be sold into slavery, if you cannot work, you will be killed. Those who wish to follow this path will stay where they are, those who wish to live as free men, stand up. You have minutes to make your decision."

He turned his back on the square that suddenly sounded like a thousand bees as everyone began to whisper and talk at once. He knew that most would take his offer, he had given this speech many time at other towns like this. Many of those who moved from here would be replaced with captives from his northern campaigns. It wasn't fool proof but it removed them from the comfort of the familiar. The Change had altered peoples thinking and most of them would becoming hard working and productive citizens within a year or two once they realized that Sacramento kept its word.

"My Lord-Commander." One of his signallers caught his attention. "Message from the Gatehouse, a rider approaching. One of the Los Vegas group our scouts saw last evening."

"Ballsy..." Muttered the Lord-Commander. "I like it. Order the picket line to let the rider pass. I will speak with whoever it is when I am finished here."

The signaller nodded to turned away, using a small hand held mirror to flash a quick series of signals back to the men on the top of the gatehouse. The Lord-Commander turned back to the plaza and then leaned forward on the pommel of his saddle. He could see families arguing amongst themselves. Already some had begun to stand. Mostly young couples or single individuals. In some places those who stood were youths, shrugging off their parents attempts to pull them back down. Making them chose their own fate had a decidedly advantageous edge in making them argue amongst themselves rather than simply being forced.

It occurred to him that he hadn't bothered to check the time when he told them they had five minutes and so he drew a precious and virtually irreplaceable pocket watch that needed to be wound from inside his chest plate. He felt a sudden hush fall on the crowd and glanced up to see them all staring at him in expectant horror.

"Three minutes." He growled. The buzzing began again.

He took the time to glance about the square at the soldiers who ringed it. Most were busy watching the crowd for any trouble makers, a few were working to staunch bloody wounds as medics worked through them. It hadn't been a totally flawless fight for his side. Maybe two dozen men had been killed, three times as many wounded, but it had been a remarkably low price to pay for taking a town of three thousand.

One thing he and the Lord-Marshal had not skipped was uniformity. They both knew the power of a uniform and how even a small group of men who looked and acted the same could rout a much larger disorganized group. Uniformity bred confidence in his own men and sowed fear amongst others who faced them. The emblem they had chosen from a book series, Game of Thrones. Both men had agreed that Dornes speared sun was appropriate for the region.

He flipped open the watch again, realizing once again that he had forgotten to actually *look* at the time. It must be five minutes, or close enough anyway. He sat up straight in his saddle and snapped his fingers at a bugler. The man sounded two quick blasts on the instrument and the plaza quieted again as the surrounding soldiers stepped seemed to stiffen, hands tightening on the grips of their weapons. At this point only fear of the unknown really kept the crowd in check since the victorious army only numbered a hundred or so over a thousand. The Rhodesians, most of them sitting quietly at the moment, were certainly key to the suppression of any attempts to attack the soldiers.

"Time to decide!" His voice boomed over them all. "Those who wish to live free, stand and be recognized."

It took a moment then people began to stand as he knew they would. It did not take long until the majority of them were on their feet. They did not speak, most just stood with their heads held high, ignoring the entreaties of their family members who still sat upon the cold marble.

"Captain." The Lord-Commander turned to one of his waiting officers. "Process them accordingly."

Soldiers began to move forward, leading those who had stood from the crowd in small groups. One hundred at a time would be allowed to collect what they could carry before being escorted out of the city. From there they would be escorted north. The new settlers for Bakersfield were already en-route, they had been waiting south of the city for the siege to end. Other soldiers began to drag away those who had remained sitting and forcing them to their knees on the steps of the Church. There was the expected crying and screaming of families being torn apart but ten years of bitter fighting following the end of the world had hardened the gentlest soul amongst them.

There were few enough, maybe a couple of hundred, that were forced to the steps of the smouldering church. It was to them that the Lord-Commander rode next, his subordinates could handle the relocation project, it was not the first one they had done. Those on the steps were a mix of young and old, men and women, tearful and defiant.

Once on the steps they were sorted again. This time they were sorted by age and health. Those who looked healthy were looked over by medics who pronounced them fit and able or not. There were many who refused to stand on their own two feet, instead crying out prayers to a God who did not appear to save them.

The group consisting of the elderly and those to sick or injured to be of use were herded into a nearby building and the doors were barred. Those who were still able of body were shackled and roped about the neck. They would be sold as slaves when the market re-opened. It was not a part of the job that the Lord-Commander relished, he still had the long ago instilled values of protecting those who could not help themselves but this was war, in a different time, and for all intents and purposes, a different world.

"Lock em up. Break them if you must." He said to the a small wiry looking man who offered him a thin smile. "They're worthless dead or injured. Your pay relies on it." The man nodded and saluted before ordering the shackled line into a shuffling march. They would be held in a corral until the time came to sell them. Those with attitude would be broken of it, somehow, the Lord-Commander didn't question the tactics of his men.

"Hurry Ladies and Gentlemen!" He called out to the soldiers moving about the plaza. "The enemy is sure to respond!"

Sure enough, to the south, someone had heard of the siege and troops were mobilizing to respond. Bakersfield's war was far from over.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rafael del Riego

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"I'm trying to build an empire, because after this, I cannot get a normal job." - Nicole Polizzi

Sacramento, Sacramento
Change Year 10


Light flickered from the top of a tower in the south, short quick flashes that would mean nothing to the casual observer but meant everything to the two men who read it now. One was copying down the signals, the other deciphering it just as quickly. It was good news. The last of the message came through, they flashed a quick acknowledgement and then tore the message from the book, hurried over to a pipe that jutted from the towers floor, grabbed an orange tennis ball from a bucket of them, placed the message inside and then dropped it down the chute.

Four floors below in the guard room it dropped into a small cup that jingled as it landed. One of the soldiers sprang to his feet, grabbed the ball and then hurried from the guard room. He turned left and began to jog down a long dark passage lit only by narrow streams of light that came from the inner side of the wall. There were no challenges here, deep within the masonry of the capitals inner citadel. The walls had been built sixteen feet thick and 45 feet high, an awe inspiring feat, and tunnels within the walls themselves allowed soldiers to move unobserved by those both within and without the walls.

The soldier finally turned a corner and was challenged at once by another guarding a small door and portcullis that could be closed to seal one section from the other. He held up the ball and was allowed to pass at once as he hurried onwards. Here the wall melded into the main portion of main fortress, what had once been the State-Capital.

Another guard room and he was in the old building, suddenly stepping from the narrow stone passageway into a hallway with white walls and soaring ceilings. Carpets muffled his boots here as he continued to keep a steady pace. He could go no further as he reached the main entrance hall of the building. Once it had boasted a big bay windows and huge doors that opened onto the main lawn. No however the doors were gone and instead white washed stone and concrete blocked out the sunlight.

At the foot of the stairs he was stopped by two soldiers of the Lord-Marshals personal guard. One of them took the tennis ball, thanked him, and then turned and threw up the stairs at one of the girls clad in white who stood quietly at the top of the stairs. She caught it deftly, waved to the departing soldier and then hurried through the main building, up another flight of stairs, and onto the rooftop where two more soldiers waved her to pass.

The Lord-Marshal lay in the sun, naked expect for a small speedo, on a towel that showed a snarling tiger with the word “Mallorca” beneath it. His body was hard and trim, scars crisscrossing his chest and much of his upper thighs, the skin still white against the much darker natural hue of his native Spain. An aide sat nearby, also taking in some sun, but in a must less relaxed pose than his master.

“My Lord-Marshal.” She said as she got closer. One eye opened as he looked up at her from his position on the ground. “A message, priority one.”

He sat up at once and took the ball from her without a word, extracting the message from it and quickly unfolding it. A smile flitted across his face.

“Victory in Bakersfield.”

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aves Beckett Character Portrait: Dane Ledsham

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"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude." - Thomas Jefferson

Bakersfield, Sacramento


"Las Vegas, huh?" the young lieutenant drawled loftily as he studied the black-and-red face mask on the small, tranquil woman perched on top of the sand-colored horse. He folded his arms across his chest and cast a sidelong glance at one of the sergeants standing by. "Care to elaborate how she got here?"

The man turned slightly to glance at the woman, then back to the lieutenant. "This civilian came to the picket on her own cognition, sir," he answered calmly. "Approached us on horseback and asked to see the Lord-Commander."

The officer grinned amusedly and fixed his hands on his hips. "And why should we allow you to do that?"

Aves' smile was obscured by her mask, her large brown eyes watching him calmly. "I'd say that's a question for you to ask the Lord-Commander after he and I finish our discussion," she responded serenely in her slight Southern accent, in a tone that almost made her sound reasonable.

The man blinked at her and narrowed his eyes, trying to analyze what it was that he might have been missing. "Are you crazy?" She smiled and shook her head, feeling the irony as she did so. "Are you a visiting dignitary?" The words popped out of his mouth almost as quickly as they'd entered his mind. She tilted her head and pointed to the mask, then pulled a small pouch from a pack on the side of her saddle, unzipping it and riddling through it just briefly before retrieving a thin metal rectangle. She offered it to the lieutenant and drew her spine up to full height, watching him as he studied the small piece. Once he caught the correct detail, he quickly flashed his surprised eyes up to hers, then to her mask, then to the card again. "Is this what I think it is?" She nodded slowly. His face was apparently skeptical. He studied the card again, then handed it back to her. "If you're lying, we'll execute you. Do you understand that?"

Aves nodded. "I wouldn't expect anything to the contrary," she answered coolly.

A long silence followed as the lieutenant continued to examine her suspiciously from where he stood. Finally, he cleared his throat and nodded to one of the scouts nearby. "Ride ahead and let the Lord-Commander know someone from the Las Vegas caravan is here," he instructed, then turned to the two who had brought Aves to him. "Take her there. But ride slow." He looked back up to Aves and nodded disattachedly, turning on his heels to go back to the small outpost along the defense line.

"This way, ma'am," one of them said politely, off to her left, as they began to ride out.

# # #

"There they are." Aves turned her head to look at what the voice to her right indicated, spotting the small group gathered at one of the outposts a short distance away.

"Thank you," she responded, keeping her tone calm and devoid of any kind of inflection to indicate her state of mind. They less they knew, the better. "Does your Lord-Commander typically inspect defensive structures?"

Silence. Aves rolled her eyes and smirked, and kept pace with the pair as they picked up their speed to reach the small group as quickly as possible. Before she knew it, they were there.

"My Lord-Commander, the trade envoy we spotted earlier has arrived." The trooper who had ridden forward was speaking to the largest of the group, a man who towered over the others by a good head in height. He turned to look at the small figure on the horse between his two troopers.

"Good afternoon. Nice to have someone from Sin City here today."

Aves nodded politely, and reached a hand up to her ear to pull off her face mask. She smiled courteously and extended a hand toward the man who could only be the Lord-Commander, even legendary in certain parts of the Paradise Republic. "Welcome to the San Joaquin Valley, Lord-Commander," she greeted brightly, allowing a genuine smile to work its way across her face. "It seems as though you've been busy."

The big man took the offered hand and shook it, smiling approval at her grip, noting all at once that she was pretty, well-built, and, for some reason, carried a guitar on her back.

"Well met, I am afraid you have the advantage on me, I do not know your name, Miss ...?" He left the last part hanging in the air.

She made a quick face and laughed to herself. "I apologize. I'm Aves Beckett. I'm part of the Las Vegas Proper Council, western capital of the Paradise Republic." She held her face mask up briefly to gesture at the simple emblem. "I'm a leader of the Las Vegas Proper Artisans, as well. Forgive me."

"Ah, of course, the name is familiar to me. A pleasure, Miss Beckett. And, yes, we have been busy. A hard night's work, you might say." He said with a thin smile as a waved his hand back toward Bakersfield. "I assume you are here on a trade mission. If so, please be assured that we do not make war on merchants unless they provide intelligence to our enemies." For a moment his face was deadly serious but then he smiled again. "I have of course heard of your skill with a guitar, I hope you and your fellows will join for a victory feast this evening."

She held her expression and nodded for a moment, keeping her eyes looking ahead confidently for a moment. "That's kind of you. But first, I should inform you why I'm here," she stated squarely, then turned to look back over her shoulder as she pulled her left leg forward and over her saddle, sliding off and onto the dirt, avoiding allowing the guitar to disrupt her descent. She didn't break her eye contact, despite the sudden drastic drop. The horse had certainly given her an advantage of height. "I'm not here to trade, Lord-Commander. I'd like to discuss something different." She gave him another nod. "It's quite confidential."

The Lord-Commander raised his eyebrow for a moment and then, after a moment's pause, nodded back. If there had been anything he was expecting from this diminutive woman, this was most certainly not it. Whatever had come into this woman's mind couldn't have been more than a day old, since it was doubtful she had known he would be there. He was intrigued.

He turned to the men that stood with him and gave them a curt nod. "Gentlemen, a moment if you please."

The officers nodded and moved a dozen paces away, just out of earshot but close enough they could still be called upon if needed. Around them small groups of disconsolate civilians were making their way out of the city under the watchful eye of red-and-bronze-clad soldiers.

Aves waited patiently until the Lord-Commander shifted his attention back to her. She nodded and took a deep breath.

For all the years she'd thought about doing this, for all the moments she'd told herself that one day this might happen and how it would be so gratifying to do, for all the time she'd spent envisioning this moment... she found herself feeling slightly more anxious about it than she'd imagined she'd be. However, it had to be done. It made sense.

"I'm here to help you take Las Vegas Proper, and the western portion of the Paradise Republic."

Of all the things that the Lord-Commander had been expecting, this was most certainly not amongst even his wildest expectations. He didn't try to hide the genuine look of surprise that flitted briefly across his face as the possibilities of what she was saying raced through his head.

Taking Las Vegas would be useful, of that there was no doubt. It straddled the only decent road through the desert and south into Arizona. Despite its rather remote location, it had come through The Change quite well due to the efforts of a collective of determined and skilled individuals, and the young woman standing before him had been one of its architects. 

"And why would you do that, Miss Beckett?" He said the words slowly. He would make no promises himself; the Lord-Marshal had an ultimate plan, but this offer could change it.

Aves dug her boot heel into the ground. So many ways to answer the question, but not enough time to go into specific details, nor the desire to; she had no evidence to assume that any of Sacramento's leadership would perceive hearing the entire story as being valuable intelligence or the ramblings of an overly-emotional and bitter woman. The entire story would come out in the near-future, anyhow.

The entire story was too much to get into at that moment, anyway, even if there was time and interest.

"I'd like to do that," she started, continuing to grip onto the reins to keep any anxiety distracted from creeping into her facial expression or body language, "because I think Sacramento can do a better job of protecting Las Vegas than Las Vegas can."

A smile tugged at the corner of the Lord-Commanders lips at the words. Whether it was amusement or a snarl it was hard to tell.

“I suspect that Las Vegas considers itself in need of protection from us rather than anyone else. I am however intrigued by your offer and I am sure the Lord-Marshal would equally be so.”

He jerked his head toward the lines of refugees slowly winding their way north. Already other groups were moving south from the waiting group brought by the army and being assigned houses.

“You can move north with them, if you like. I can provide you an identity disc that will you to arrive unmolested at the capital. Or do you prefer to stay here with us for now?"

Aves smiled appreciatively while eyeing the line preparing to go northward along the highway. "Thank you, Lord-Commander. I'm grateful. If you feel I should travel north to give the Lord-Marshal the details, then that's what I should do. Besides—"she watched the traveling group as the man had just indicated—"it looks like you have a lot of work to do."

"It would be best I think." He said and then drew a golden disc from the belt at his waist and handed it to her. It was small, no more than a few inches across, with the impaled sun in the middle. One the back side it had a strange looking rune on it. The Lord-Commander offered no explanation of the marking.

He turned and snapped his fingers towards the two troopers who had brought Aves into the city to begin with. They slid off their horses and hurried forward, saluting as they reached them.

"Gentlemen, Miss Beckett is to be taken to the Capital. She is to be delivered to the Lord-Marshal with all haste." He turned back to her. "Miss Beckett. These men will see you to the capital. This," he held up the disc, "will provide you all food, drink, shelter and fresh horses at any location you stop. Give it to no one but the Lord-Marshal himself."

He looked as if he was about to dismiss them when he paused, glancing toward the distant ridge line, then back at her.

"What would you like us to do with your comrades-in-arms?"

She palmed the disc and carefully placed it in an inner pocket of her long brown coat. She turned to steady her hands on either side of her saddle, then lifted a foot into the stirrup and hopped up effortlessly to prepare to ride again. She looked back toward the Lord-Commander and offered a gracious smile. "Thank you for your help," she replied warmly. She turned to look in the direction that he did, just southeast, back where she new the others were still waiting. Nervously, at that, was as much as she knew. "If it pleased you, I ask that you leave them be. They're my friends. They're not well-armed. They don't have any intentions toward you," she spoke just audibly, "and none of them are part of the problem." She swiveled her head back to look at him again. "The problems are back in Las Vegas itself." She paused briefly as she worked the mask back over her face, then held a gloved hand out toward him. "Thank you for your assistance, Lord-Commander. Perhaps we will be seeing each other again soon."

His massive hand closed over hers and for a moment he held the grip, his brown, almost black eyes, seeming to search her soul. After a few seconds he released her hand and stepped back from the horse.

"Then we shall let them be. If they ask for you, we will deny everything." He chuckled. "If your words are true, believe me, we will see each other again soon. Ride swiftly and safely."

He turned away from her and back toward the officers who were still waiting for him. The two troopers closed in behind her as she began to ride. They were there for her protection as much as to ensure that she did not stray, of that there could be no doubt.

Aves knew the path to Sacramento. Highway 99. Almost 300 miles to Sacramento. She'd studied the highway routes so often. It wouldn't be impossible to do reach the city within five days. It was about the same distance from Bakersfield to Las Vegas. It would be best if she managed to carry out her plan and still have the ability to be back in the city within a few weeks—before anyone would come looking for her.

Time was of the essence.

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Klaus Bergmann

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"It is a curious sensation: the sort of pain that goes mercifully beyond our powers of feeling. When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace." - George Bernard Shaw

Bakersfield, Sacramento
Las Vegas, Paradise Republic
The Change, Year 10


Clarissa's bright, alarmed eyes scanned the horizon from where she stood at the edge of the camp. She adjusted her poncho and shifted her weight from one foot to the other impatiently. "This is killing me, Gary," she called out fretfully over her shoulder at the man sitting at a makeshift desk, focused on his task at hand. "We need to go after her. Right now."

"She made her own choice, Clarissa," he called back, patterning her speech as he did so, as he jotted down a few notes in a ledger. Clarissa paced inside their tent, the door flaps pulled up to still see over the valley. At the sound of his voice her head angled more over her shoulder as she shot him a disdainful look. "I know you're worried. But she made her choice."

"Klaus is going to come unglued on you," she hissed quickly, narrowing her eyes. "You don't deserve that but you know that's what's going to happen?"

"Yeah, I know," the man said, reaching his hands up to drag down the sides of his face. He leaned back into his chair and cast his eyes irritably out at the sky. "Aves doesn't realize what she's done."

Clarissa paused. Her eyes went clear for a moment as she contemplated what he had said, then she nodded. She should not have let Aves go. "Gary, I need to go back to Las Vegas." She whirled around fully and dropped to the ground to tug a small trunk from underneath their cot, her sudden movement surprising Gary.

"What for?" he demanded, springing to his feet and spreading his hands inquisitively. Clarissa was spontaneous by nature but wasn't in the habit of taking roles in situations like these. "What do I not know?"

She looked at up him. "I promised Klaus something," she said gently. "I'll tell you about it when you get back. Okay?"

Gary blinked and stared for a moment. "I don't like this," he repeated familiarly. "We're better off all traveling back together."

"No, someone needs to go, and go fast," she insisted, tossing some of her belongings into a trunk and packing a few changes of clothes and provisions into a backpack. "I'll take the speedy horse. She can get me there in two or three days."

"You can't send a bird?"

"Can't trust a bird with this."

Gary folded his arms across his chest and paused, rolling his tongue around in his mouth as he tried to think of some way to reason with herr. "I'll need to send someone with you to keep you safe," he gruffed. "That's one less person who can help get us on the road."

Clarissa plucked a small leather case from the trunk, her two favorite blades rolled up safely inside. "I'm not worried." Gary knew full well she wasn't afraid to use them. "I don't need much rest. The horse is terrific. We'll stop through Barstow and I'll switch out if I have to and you can pick her up on the way back."

Gary opened his mouth to say something, but a voice called out sharply from outside the tent. The two dashed out, and ran to the scout offering a pair of binoculars. Gary lifted them to his eyes, and frowned deeply. Clarissa impatiently reached toward him, snatching them away anxiously and sticking them up to her eyes: Aves, on the sand-colored horse, heading up the highway. She tore the binoculars away quickly, shoving them back into Gary's hands and started out toward the horses. "I'm leaving now," she said emphatically, skittering away on her long legs.

"Safe travels, Dear," Gary responded distractedly as he watched the scene.

# # #

Three days later…

# # #

"I wasn't expecting you to come back so early," said the tall, slender, sandy-haired man as he gestured for Clarissa to enter the house. He offered her a friendly embrace, grinning and chewing gum at the same time. "Jane's gone out, otherwise she'd be here to say hi." He shut the door behind her and offered her a spot in the large parlor outside of the kitchen area. He pulled a kettle off of the wood stove fixed next to one of the windows and retrieved a nearby mug. "Tell me how the route's going! You've all been gone for three months and I'm sure you've-"

"Klaus," Clarissa interrupted, waving her hands and looking at him seriously as he poured boiled water into the mug. "You told me to tell you if something went wrong."

The friendly face drew into a blank stare as he quickly realized what was going on. "What did she do?" he asked curtly and calmly.

She folded her arms across her chest and leaned into the doorframe of the large parlor. "Bakersfield is captured-"

His eyes widened. "It's true?" He suddenly startled back; in his moment of paying rapt attention, he'd accidentally burned his hand with overflowing water.

"-and Aves went to go initiate trade with them. So she said. But we spotted her riding north instead."

"Who took Bakersfield?" Klaus asked sternly, his eyebrows furrowing darkly as he absently waved his raw hand. He'd sustained some strange injuries over the last ten years, but being burned by hot water still felt uncomfortable, more or less.

"Sacramento. And the Lord-Commander is there."

Klaus opened his mouth to say something, but stopped for a moment before he reached his unscathed hand behind his head and cringed. "This… we need to do something. Is she heading north to…" he trailed off, the thousands of possibilities flipping through his fast mind. He shook his head quickly and looked at her. "You need to go to town to tell Giuseppe."

"I just rode three days in the Mojave with little sleep or food," Clarissa snapped back tiredly, tilting her head forward to glower at him from under her dark eyebrows. "If I have to ride in the next week I'm going to be pretty poorly off. No thank you."

"Then write a note and I'll have it sent down," Klaus instructed nonchalantly, rushing to a cabinet in the parlor and pulling out an old, blank notecard and a pen to set on a large table. "I'll get ready to go soon."

"You're sure about that?" Clarissa asked, immediately setting about transcribing a quick version of her account. "They took the city in less than eight hours," she recounted as she fixed her eyes on the paper, "and they brought a lot of people. A lot. Resettling a lot of locals, too, from the looks of it. They're not messing around."

Klaus started to rush toward the back door of the house, shouting an order from the porch to a young assistant wheeling a large box toward the smithery, then rushed back in. "That's fine. I'm not going to instigate a conflict. I just want-" he stopped for a beat, then continued quickly. "We just need to locate the whereabouts of our leader. That's our explanation. No reason for bloodshed."

"What about Jane?" Clarissa queried curiously, lifting her pen and waving the card to dry the wet ink. "She might not like that very much."

Klaus plucked the card from Clarissa's worn hands and started toward the porch to hand it off to his scout. "I suppose that's my problem."

The setting changes from Alternate History/Fiction to California

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aves Beckett

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“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgandy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Southern Reach - Sacramento

To say that Sacramento ruled the eastern half of California was a bit of a pipe dream, as Aves was soon to discover. Riding north from Bakersfield was to enter a land of virtual desolation and vast emptiness, the remnants of cars and the bones of millions hinting at the death and violence this region had seen less than a decade ago.

There were signs of life here and there, scattered and heavily fortified homesteads and villages. The villages themselves huddled up against the walls of small strongholds which clung themselves to the remains of pre-change cities, always near a water source. Patrols were heavy here, always a minimum of four mounted men who moved swiftly on excellent horses. At least once or twice a day the small party would be challenged by one of these groups of mounted men who would thunder close for an inspection. They would speak to her escorts, inspect her token, and then politely wave them on their way.

Her journey followed the old Highway 99 and she familiar names appeared from the ruins of civilization, now shadows of them former selves, tiny outposts in a vast expanse of nothing that gave Sacramento legitimacy and right to rule within a bowshot of the fortress walls and perhaps a half days ride beyond. There were few people, and those who did live in the region looked hard and watched the three riders pass with suspicion. One of her escorts quietly informed her that many of them had been virtual savages and even cannibal bands up until a few years ago when Sacramento had begun moving troops in. No questions had been asked and most had gladly returned to some semblance of order, those who didn't, well, the evidence of what happened to them was plain for all to see.

Outside of every small settlement there was a gibbet or two that hung from old telephone poles. Inside were the bodies, some still barely alive, of people who had committed a serious offence to warrant a death sentence. There were crude signs hung below them stating their crimes. Rape, murder, cannibalism, theft. All serious offences anywhere, one of the soldiers informing Aves that they had very rare occurrences of any of it, rape was the most common problem still remaining in this virtually lawless region.

Miles passed and each night they would stop at one of the small towns and the local lord would grumble as he was forced to provide them shelter and food for the night. Her token assured her the very best treatment while her escorts were regulated to the soldiers quarters. Tulare, Fresno, Merced, all names she knew from before the Change, all now the only signs of human life on the once bustling Highway 99.

Many times on her journey she had glanced west and on more than one occasion she had spotted other horsemen shadowing them. They never came close though once a group of them did swerve close and her escorts urged her to a gallop, taking up positions behind her and drawing their short recurve bows. They swiftly outran their pursuers and the soldiers explained that they were Mormons from the West. Aves soon discovered that a sort of "no-mans" land existed between Highway 99 and the old Interstate 5 further west. The territory there, excellent farmland rich with nutrients, existed in a strange state of truce as both sides worked the land with the occasional raid on isolated homesteads. A vast difference from the north where armies heaved against each other and men died daily in a welter of blood and screams.

One their fourth day of riding Aves saw signs of the power that had made Sacramento a force to be reckoned with. The Town of Manteca, once a small town along the banks of the San Joaquin River, was now the frontline of a war that had ravaged the landscape around it. There town itself had shifted west slightly to where Interstate 5 crossed the river and upon the eastern side, astride the roadway itself, sat an imposing castle. By any reckoning it was a massive structure, the highest tower well over a hundred feet into the air, the outer walls boasting square towers that seemed to be brooding over the countryside around it. The entire town itself had been walled in a channel dug so that a moat hemmed the whole area in. Her escort told her they would not be going into the city but they handed her a pair of binoculars so she could study the building. Shifting her gaze westward she could see an opposing fortress a few kilometres away, the Mormon stronghold of Tracey. It seemed that the region had been fairly quiet for the last several months after the Mormons had failed to force the river.

Less than half days ride north they passed the walls of Stockton. Here another fortress guarded the main roadway and bridges that allowed access to the east. The west side of the river boasted a secondary fortress that made the bridge an imposing task to take. It was this design that had actually diverted most of the Mormons efforts further south since they viewed Manteca as easier prey.

The land this far north was changing as well. The desolation of the central state was gone, replaced with well tended fields and wealthy looking villages. It was clear that this region had been doing well in the past several years and she saw many new, white plastered houses built in the fashion of Spanish haciendas scattered amongst rich fields of grapes, corn, barley and many other numerous varieties she was sure would be delicious. Herds of fat cows and proud looking horses were under careful watch and she noticed that every family owned at least a pair of horses. Sacramento was certainly returning to the Spanish roots of its founder.

They passed beyond Stockton and her escort relaxed at last. This region, as they drew near to the capital, had not seen fighting in almost eight years. It had been pacified early on and when Sacramento had pushed it's borders west it had driven to the sea and then south until they stood upon the shores of San Francisco Bay and there they had stayed, unable to shift the Mormons who called it home.

At length a city began to appear on the horizon, a proper city, not a large town like Manteca or Stockton. As they drew closer she could see that walls surrounded the city here as well, a huge curtain wall studded every fifty yards with great square towers. Of those, every third was double in size and she was told that they held siege weapons capable of out ranging anything their enemies had dreamed up so far. It was an impressive sight, made even more so by the knowledge that the walls contained almost 12,000 people, possibly the single largest city left in the southern united states.

Road traffic was heavy here though the centre of the roadway was left open for military use and of that there was plenty. Columns of infantry and horsemen were passing southwards and she had an opportunity to study their weaponry and armour. Much like those who had taken Bakersfield these men were well armed and armoured in old Moorish fashion. The uniformity of their look and their military bearing was well in keeping with the stories that had been told abroad about them. One of her escorts explained that the majority of the original core had been soldiers, or fought in the tournament that been taking place when the changed happened. When asked how many Sacramento had under arms the escort shrugged and simply replied "thousands".

The vast quantities of goods that were moving on the roadway was impressive though she was informed that it was but one of four major roadways that led into the capital. One from each point on the compass. "The Industry of Empire" stated one of her escorts. It certainly looked to be true as they came closer and closer to the walls. Nothing was built beyond the walls, the ground had been razed and fields grew where she knew there had once been acres of suburban housing. The amount of work and man power it must have taken to remove the buildings and any remnants of their existence was staggering. One of the soldiers told her that all the houses had been carefully taken down if they were in good condition and been recycled. All new buildings were required to be done in the old Spanish style with adobe brick and white wash. It was cheaper, safer, fire proof and highly functional.

Their pace slowed to a walk as they drew closer to the moat that encircled the city and the twin towers that guarded the approach to the drawbridge. Here her token was like a magic charm and they passed swiftly through the long line that waited to enter the city. Soldiers inspected every cart or load that was arriving into the city. Apparently the Mormons had been sneaking agents into the city and so the Lord-Marshal had ordered a crack down on those entering the city.

They passed beneath the first gate and Aves could look up to see the murder holes above her head and smell the distinct aroma of pitch bubbling on a fire. Then their horses hooves clattered on the drawbridge and she was able to look down into the moat that curled slowly beneath her, the river had been channeled in so that the water did not remain stagnant.

The second gateway, this one a block of four towers with two sets of metal clad doors, heavy portcullis and once again the faint hint of bubbling pitch from above. Sacramento took it's situation very seriously. The gatehouse turned once, then twice, forcing an enemy to navigate the cobblestoned passage, and each time faced with narrow slits through which a defender could ambush them with arrows.

Grey stone and concrete wall suddenly gave way to open air again and Aves found herself in the crush of the Sacramento.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aves Beckett

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"There can be no prestige without mystery, for familiarity breeds contempt."
- Charles de Gaulle

Southern Reach - Sacramento

Aves playfully shoved her aviator sunglasses up the bridge of her nose and glanced around the room as she let a few wheeled bags come to a rest in the middle of the floor. The hotel room was different from others they'd stayed in as they spent the last few weeks moving westward toward Los Angeles--this one by far being the nicest.

"This is wild!" she exclaimed happily, walking on her toes as she filed in behind Frances. "Look! More than two beds! That means we're all going to be so comfortable," she added with a hint of silly sarcasm as she pointed at two large beds and one cot.

Casey and Andrew threw their suitcases on one bed, then spots were claimed by others in the group before Aves could say anything. She rolled her eyes and pulled her two bags to one corner of the room. "Yeah, yeah," she laughed, putting her guitar case down and picking up her laptop bag. "Since I'm the baby and can't join you guys for a drink, I'll just stay up here and work on my capstone. And I will sit all over your beds," she added with a grin.

"Just use my ID," Casey offered lightly as she pulled her makeup case from her knapsack and took a seat on the edge of her bed.

"If I don't finish this, I could lose my scholarship," Aves sighed, sitting down on the ground and yanking off her leather boots. She tossed them near the window, then retrieved her laptop from its bag and hit the "power" switch. "Maybe I'll come out if I finish early."

"I doubt you will," Kris tossed back, still watching her from the spot he'd claimed on the cot. He pulled a spare t-shirt from his bag. "You've hardly been out at all this trip. You have to come out tonight, though."

"I don't like the guys from the other band," Aves responded irritably, her drawn eyes focused on the laptop screen as she pulled her project up. "That's all."

"Well, we want you to come out. Use Casey's fake ID if you have to."

"Hers says she's five-foot-ten," Aves fired back. "Do I feel like getting hustled by a bunch of cops less than two months before turning 21? No thanks."

"Your loss," Kris scoffed back playfully, then turned back to his bag to set about unpacking.

Suddenly, the lights overhead flickered and blew out in spectacular fashion, raining shards of glass down onto the floor. Aves let out a slight scream as her laptop screeched suddenly, then emitted a *burst!* noise, smoke suddenly curling out from the keyboard. Her stomach dropped. Months of hard work, gone, thanks to some weird fluke.

Her brief moment of panicked mortification was interrupted by a series of similar shouts being heard from the other rooms in the hotel. She brushed some errant glass shards out of her hair and exchanged worried glances with the others before bolting to the window.

The early evening sun was setting over the horizon, casting the valley and the city under a dark lavender glow. The sound of silence was deafening—noisy buzzing or thrumming of air conditioners or other background machinery was gone, but a quick look out the huge window revealed a throng of panicked people on The Strip below them.

Frances ran toward the door to slam the metal bolt shut after hearing more rustling and screaming in the hallway. The seven bunched up along the window to watch down below. They were stuck together, stories and stories above the ground, with no way to get out.


# # #

Aves felt a bit conspicuous in her Stetson as her two escorts led her through the bustling city. There was something very different about being here… it gave her a feeling that was hard to assign words to. Something she'd not felt during The Change—or even for a while before it happened.

Familiarity.

The cobblestone reminded her of Berlin. At three. Stepping along with Mom as she explained everything around them in French. Picking up some bread to feed to the goats penned up smack dab in the middle of the Western section of the city. Glancing down at her tiny shoes to pick up any big pieces the goat might have dropped. "Regarde les chèvres!"

The cobblestones under those tiny feet.

Even when passing through the entrance when greeted by the stomach-curdling, warm scent of pitch did she find a strange place to find herself thinking of Neuschwanstein, or other old relics of towns she'd frequented as a child and a teenager. She'd heard the Lord-Marshal had been responsible for developing the vision for the region, especially for the architecture. One thing she admired about Spanish architecture was its ability to straddle multiple, even competing, styles all at once—Visigoth and Roman, Classical and Moorish all clashed together in earth tones, seeking to rise out from the ground instead of merely exist upon it. That was one thing she had to admire, especially seeing it so authentically recreated in Sacramento. She felt almost as though she was returning to a place she'd intended to return, without ever having been there. What a strange sensation to have. She smoothed a lock of hair behind her ear, looking back at the busy street full of eyes glaring back up at her, studying the mask obscuring her face. It wasn't difficult to tell she was not from the area.

"Where are we going?" she called ahead to the two men who had been helpful over the last few days—helpful in volunteering information, keeping her company (one of them even laughed once!), and in safeguarding her on the long trip.

One looked back over his shoulder. "You remember what the Lord-Commander said," he recounted, seeming to almost be glad that the trip was over. "We're to deliver you to the Lord-Marshal in all haste."

Aves nodded quickly. "And I assume that's where we're going." More of a statement than a question.

"Yes, ma'am."

She nodded again, satisfied. She continued to glance about at the market stalls, houses, carts, cows, and color—everything that could possibly exist in what looked like the city center. It almost put Las Vegas's weekly trading session to shame.

"Stop."

Aves pulled the reins back and cheeked a quick command to her horse as the two men dismounted in front of her at the sight of a fairly distinguished-looking group of soldiers, sliding off of their saddles to huddle for a discussion. Patrol? Special guard? Either way, it wasn't long before one of the two glanced back toward her, whirling a finger in the air as he walked toward her, another soldier following and grasping her horse's bit and collar to steady it. "Go ahead and hop down. They'll take care of the horse and your belongings. In the meantime," said the man as he gestured for her to follow him, "follow us. The Lord-Marshal's guard knows you're here now."

She smiled and correspondingly patted the back of the large beast's neck as she obligingly pulled herself off of the saddle, grateful for the opportunity to put her feet back on the ground. She had no issue, or choice, really, except to follow.

The setting changes from California to City-State of Sacramento

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rafael del Riego Character Portrait: Aves Beckett

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"To get along with me, don't increase my tension." - Ty Cobb

Sacramento, City Centre
Change Year 10



Aves' horse was led away as the soldiers smiled courteously enough and gestured her onward. Her original escorts vanished into the crowd without so much as a goodbye. The two new men were tall and differed from the foot soldiers in one item of uniform only: they wore golden cloaks with a red stripe down the middle.‏ The streets were packed with all number of merchants and tradesmen, the colorful stalls and costumes looking like the sort of thing one might have seen in old Spain, or in some of the modern video games.‏ Whitewashed houses and shops, three stories tall, were clustered together, broken occasionally by balconies, patios, more than a few that served as waving platforms for women offering fleshy delights.‏ Above it all towered the palace and the heavy walls that provided a final defense for the Lord-Marshal should the event ever occur. The walls here were white as well and the sun that blazed down reflected from them, pouring the light into the streets and at times forcing Aves to shield her eyes as they drew closer.‏

"The Justice Gate."

Those were the first words her new guides had spoken as they gestured toward the colossal four-towered gatehouse that loomed in front of them. Above the heavy oak door, the symbol of a hand, held up in the universal "stop" symbol with the palm toward the city, was neatly carved and painted in with black.‏

They passed another drawbridge. Here, this moat was dry and deep. Heavy steel stakes had been hammered in along the entire length of the base of the castle providing an almost hedgehog-like appearance to the casual viewer.‏ They passed through gates guarded by more of the gold-cloaked soldiers and into the main courtyard of the Lord-Marshal's palace. It was like stepping into another world.‏

The huge walls blotted out almost all the sound of the city beyond. There was very little wind in the courtyard, where palm trees spread their boughs over quietly-bubbling fountains fed by streams that poured from the walls themselves. Aves couldn't decide what was most compelling--the trees, the water, or the stillness. Walking in the streets reminded her of The Strip easily in its early heyday until about seven years prior when the city area itself had been abandoned and left for others to occupy. Minus the whitewash, of course. That was one noticeable difference between the two cities--Sacramento seemed to be from another world, whereas Las Vegas was made of metal and sand.‏.. not terribly different from its original state at all.

She stood still behind the two new escorts, and made a note to herself to ask someone with any kind of authority to thank the two who had made the days-long journey with her from the Central Valley all the way up north to this spot. She studied their cloaks and wondered to herself if it was something that any Artisan back at her settlement knew how to make.‏ She opened her mouth to say something, then thought better of it as the two hadn't turned back to face her. Better to simply stay quiet and observe than to open her mouth and possibly risk trouble. Or, rather, more trouble, as it were; it was anyone's guess as to how her words would be received. They led her through the gardens and toward a long staircase that climbed up toward a second level where a pair of intricately-carved black lattice doors closed off a second courtyard--though she was quick to notice that a pair of sliding steel doors was cunningly built into the wall on either side and could be slammed shut if need be.‏

Two more guards waited here, pushing open the lattice gates as she drew closer. This next courtyard was smaller than the first and boasted a small pool (a pool!). More fountains and the scent of roses and mint reached her nose. It took a moment for her to realize that the pillars around the courtyard were coated in rose vines that grew all the way to the carved ceiling. It was a stunning place. In the center of it, seated in a large plush chair she recognized as a LA-Z Boy, was a slim dark haired man dressed in white.‏

She heard the lattice close behind her and realized that she was quite alone with the man who had stood and bowed slightly, gesturing her to a second armchair nearby.

Furniture wasn't hard to come by in Las Vegas. Functional furniture, however, was a different story. That was trickier. Her own house on Lake Mead was not inadequate in any way. She liked it well enough. But what would she have given to have merely seen a chair in such good condition...‏ For a moment she wasn't sure where to deposit her attention first--to the chair, or to the man in white. She continued to stand and faced him, allowing herself a polite smile. "Hello," she stated simply, extending her arm and reaching out a hand customarily.‏

The man smiled and took her hand. It was a firm grip, softer than that of a soldier, but she recalled that he had once been a politician before the Change and had done more thinking rather than fighting since then.‏

"Miss Beckett. Welcome to Sacramento. I am Rafael del Riego, though you undoubtedly know me as the Lord-Marshal. Please, sit." He gestured to the chair again. His accent was gentle and reminded her at once of the other Spaniards she had met over the years.‏

He watched as she did, one hand stroking his graying goatee for a moment before he took a slim folder off the table beside him. Her name was printed carefully on the organization tab. He began to speak, his accent not harsh nor threatening but rather forcefully.‏

"Avery Ellen Beckett. Your birthday is in the summer of 1985. July, to be exact. Early. That puts you at 31 years of age. You were born in Mons, Belgium, while your American father was stationed there. Your mother was French. Never left Europe until you moved outside of Atlanta, further east from here. You were attending Emory University when you left and were visiting Las Vegas. You were 20 years of age when The Change occurred." He glanced up to examine her eyes, which bore a neutral expression that aimed to not betray any evidence of wavering whatsoever, then back down to the folder, continuing to skim and summarize. "Amongst your peers in the Paradise Republic, you're the youngest. Amongst your peers in Las Vegas, you are the second-youngest. You were instrumental in organizing sections of your society for many years, and you even now help govern it." He continued without interruption for several minutes as he read off a history of who she was and various accomplishments, bullet point by bullet point, some entries more detailed than the others, finishing at last with a smile and the words, "The Queen of Hearts. That I have never truly understood... please. Explain to me."‏

Aves smiled and crossed her ankles beneath her long green skirt, leaning a hip against an armrest and tilting her head. She was in no position to challenge his tactic, and it was of no benefit for her to lie or otherwise obscure herself or her intentions. "The Las Vegas Proper City Council has as many members as there are royals in a deck." She laughed. "I'm not from there originally, but the folks who'd made their named in the Old World on that city wanted to remember those times. 'Historical preservation,' if you will." She rolled her eyes and looked down at her fingernails. "Reverend Jones gave us all our names. And he told me that I was the Queen of Hearts." She glanced down at the file folder whose contents he'd rattled off; some details were incorrect, some were incomplete, and some escapades and events were missing, but for the most part, it had been spot-on. "Your folder didn't tell you that?"

"It does, just not why he chose it. I suppose, in the long run it is not important." A thin smile. "I would be curious however, why a woman with such a nickname is interested in selling those very people out to me."‏ His gaze had not wavered and now he was watching her very carefully, his eyes were wide and curious but there was no emotion in the gaze itself, almost like a machine. It would be easy to forget for a moment that he was an immensely powerful man and had gotten there through skills not associated with killing his enemies with his bare hands.‏

Aves blinked as she gazed back fixedly. "Oh. The reason why Reverend Jones gave me that name? Well..." she trailed off, glancing her eyes up to the ceiling. Perhaps it would be best to answer questions posed by the very person she was hoping to solicit help from, if not to simply be honest. "If you really must know. Katie Capps is the Queen of Diamonds. Her associate wanted to be the Queen, but the Reverend is a traditionalist, as you could imagine, and says only women can be Queens." She laughed to herself and looked back to the Lord-Marshal. "Anyone who is a Heart would rather they themselves suffer than see anyone else suffer. At least, that's what the Reverend said." She uncrossed her ankles to shift in her chair, this time crossing her knees.

"Is that true, about you?" he asked.

She tilted her head in the other direction and worked to prevent a smirk from spreading across her face. Maybe that wasn't a question she was meant to answer at the moment. "I never said anything to anyone about selling them out."‏

"Perhaps my words of choice are not correct," he replied, not reacting to her apparent deflection. His English was very precise, that of someone who had learned it as a second language. "What, then, can I do for you?"‏

She propped an elbow on the armrest and rested her chin in her palm. Underneath any kind of surface or expression she may have put effort into broadcasting outward hopefully hid her pounding heart and uneasy nerves. This was not something she had decided lightly... but had instead pondered for years. "I'm here to help you take Las Vegas Proper and at least the portion of the Paradise Republic that I oversee. The western side." She stared back coolly.‏

His response was simple and direct. "Why?"

She didn't skip a beat. "Because I believe that those who have the most influence on the Council are going to drive our people to ruin," she answered back in an assertive tone, almost bordering on sharp in contrast to her previous manner of speaking, which had been relatively soft and friendly by comparison.‏

He raised an eyebrow for a moment and then settled back in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his face. "Go on."

She pulled her hand down from her face and straightened up her spine. She reminded herself to do a better job of sitting still, to not appear unsteady or vulnerable in any way. Not something that came easily to her, but she'd have to do it. From what she'd understood about the Lord-Marshal--as he wasn't the only person who possessed intel collected on other concentrations of power in the area--he'd been "someone" in Europe. Some kind of elected official. Not enough for her to have recognized the name from her childhood in Europe, but enough to know that he was practiced and masterful, unlike most of the self-taught leaders back in Las Vegas who found themselves in positions of having to guide others through tough times.‏ Some of those leaders were phenomenal. But not all.

"It was about seven years ago when the Council was formed." She twisted the corner of her mouth wryly. "I had my own experiences that made me empathetic toward those who couldn't take care of themselves. That was the reason that seemed to most justify me joining in on that effort." She paused briefly as she worked out in her mind how to explain the story without making herself look weak. "One of my causes has been keeping children out of trade. I find any form of human trade just a terrible, abhorrent thing. But I can't stop it from happening if people willfully engage in it and consent to being traded. Logically I cannot argue with that. However..." she paused and took a breath. "... I don't think children are well-suited for trade and that's been an issue I've fought hard for. And for three very long and frustrating years I've been fighting a few of my... less enlightened colleagues... on this issue. That's not the only issue I'm grappling with when it comes to them. But I cannot in good conscience allow these people to continue. Where it is that led me to talk to you, however..." she reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded-up piece of paper and offered it to the Lord-Marshal, "... is that all of the people who are going to drive our society into the ground are our martial experts. And you can do a far better job of protecting us than they can."‏ She sighed and twirled the folded-up paper in her fingers. That wasn't the only interest she had in the game. "Then again, do those other reasons really matter?"‏

He smiled at her, pausing as a large bee droned by as it crossed from side of the courtyard to the other. "All reasons matter. You must have good reasons, or I should not wish to listen to them." He took the paper from her and looked over it for a moment before glancing towards the pillars of roses.‏ "My lady, will you please look at this and tell me how you think it will work?" He waved his hand slightly as he spoke and a woman stepped out from the shadow of the rose bushes. She was tall, taller than both of them. Her eyes were a piercing green, framed in her finely-cut features by a cascade of red hair that hung down her back in a long, intricate ponytail.‏ She was clad in a loose-fitting yellow robe that hung down to her ankles, billowing slightly as she seemingly glided toward them. It have gave her a stunning look, indeed, but did not fully hide the muscled arms and shoulders of a fighting woman. She did not acknowledge Aves but rather took the paper from the Lord-Marshal and examined it There was a pause and then she delivered it back to him simply with a slight shrug.

"It could work. But we would be overextended, I would think. We're already pushing our luck with Bakersfield."‏

There was a flash of something like anger in the Lord-Marshal's eyes but he nodded his thanks and the woman returned to the shadows. He turned his attention back to Aves. "I will look have a think over it and call for you. Thank you for your visit."

He had stood and held out his hand, two soldiers appearing at the entrance to the courtyard, evidently her escorts. Aves watched as the Lord-Marshal and the unidentified woman—although clearly designated as some sort of authority figure, she seemed to make him uncomfortable in some way. Strange; his face didn't betray emotions or indicate intent much earlier in their conversation. It had been a little surprising to see his cool waver, even just momentarily. Her expression, on the other hand, was far harder to read.

Aves rose to her feet and nodded politely to the woman in a genuine attempt at a warm acknowledgment, then reached her hand ahead to give it a quick; assertive shake. "Thank you for your time. I hope to talk to you again soon," she spoke calmly and smoothly, then followed the golden cloaks as they swerved through the lattice door.

The setting changes from City-State of Sacramento to Paradise Republic

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aves Beckett Character Portrait: Klaus Bergmann Character Portrait: Clarissa Gregory Character Portrait: Giuseppe Allegro

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"Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind." - Kurt Vonnegut

Las Vegas, Bellagio
Change, Year 10



"You're kidding me."

"Afraid not," Klaus responded distantly, his fingers playing on the rim of his glass of Scotch. No rocks to be had, of course. "Clarissa came back to tell me about Aves. Signals and intel coming back confirms she's right." He took a sip of the stinging, smoky concoction.

"Why would she go north?" Giuseppe asked thoughtfully, his large brown eyes tilted up to the ceiling in deep contemplation. He crossed one pinstriped arm over another and drew his mouth into a corner. "I wonder what her reasoning was."

Klaus shrugged and raised his eyebrows briefly, clicking his teeth together to feign searching for some kind of explanation. "I'm not sure."

Giuseppe's eyes bore into Klaus'. "Yeah, you are," he said finally.

"Pardon?" Klaus asked after he took another sip.

"I think you know why she left."

"Probably kidnapped," Klaus mused aloud, lifting up his knobby shoulders again to indicate a feigned lack of awareness.

"No. Aves doesn't do anything Aves doesn't want to do," Giuseppe corrected icily, putting his own glass down on his end of the table and rising to his feet. Klaus said nothing. The dark-haired man smirked. "She'd rather be left for dead than taken alive." He paused again. Still nothing from Klaus. He laughed. "I know you know. Otherwise, Clarissa wouldn't have come to you. She would have come to me. If she came back at all."

Klaus rolled his eyes. "She's angry with me."

Giuseppe shrugged. "So, you're the reason behind this sudden, unexpected departure by your colleague, my colleague, one of our trade masters, and one of our Republic members? Someone who's actively been working against progress? Someone who we agreed should be watched?"

"Twisting words doesn't make them true," Klaus threw up defensively, bolting the rest of his Scotch down as he slowly rose to his feet.

"You are so full of shit. Why's she angry, and why is she going to Sacramento?"

Klaus gritted his teeth behind his placid expression. He knew exactly why. He looked down at the polished table, a mainstay from a conference room at the former Bellagio. He reached out a long hand to grasp his empty glass, then with the other hand held up four fingers. "It's a long story."

# # #

Las Vegas, Luxor
Change, Year 3


"Out of the way!" Clarissa shouted as she burst through the front doors, a huge smile on her face, her voice booming through the huge hall. "They're here, they're here!"

Aves watched the dramatic entrance from her place upon the staircase, shocked as she witnessed dozens seemingly clad in nothing but metal--men and women alike--stream through the entrance and situate themselves further into the cleared lobby, wasting no time in getting ready. Most of the others gathered on the upper levels high above to look down into the open area with great curiosity, whispering and chattering amongst themselves. Many of the newcomers pushed carts filled with what must have been handcrafted weapons, clanking and shishing along as they were wheeled in quickly. "Crafters," they called themselves. Some of them even ventured as far as "Warriors." As for Aves, she thought the idea "Quaint" and "Silly." Titles were stupid.

Clarissa dashed up the stairs to sit next to Aves excitedly on one of the steps. "Do you see all these gorgeous men??" she inquired teasingly, elbowing Aves slightly and hiding a giggle behind her hand.

The other woman rolled her eyes. "Just think of all the babies who will be born approximately nine months from now," she grumbled irritably as she continued to stitch a heavy needle into her leather guitar strap, which saw fit to fray and snap earlier in the day. Good leather was in short supply.

Life in the Luxor was already so disorganized as it was, and the news that more would be coming was alarming. Where would these people go? Not to mention, it wasn't like the artists there currently had been using this section of the building. She had to remind herself to think of their welfare. She let out a long sigh. "Why do I have a feeling that no one but me is getting any sleep tonight?"

"Oh, I know I sure as hell am not getting any sleep tonight," Clarissa said through smiling teeth as she waved at a few of the men gathering in pockets around the bottom of the staircase. "And if I were you, I wouldn't, either. Just look at them. I'm so bored by all the same boys, over and over. Don't you just… ooh, those swords are just so… so cool."

Aves turned her head to look at the other woman, and laughed. "You're kidding me, right?" she smattered out somewhat condescendingly. Clarissa laughed. "Do you realize what you sound like?"

"Oh, I must sound like a horny human being to you, that's what it is!" the girl scoffed humoredly as she lengthened a long arm and wrapped it around Aves' tense shoulders, giving her a friendly squeeze. "Lighten up, Kitten. Not everyone is like you. Besides, what should I be on the lookout for, a cool car?" Clarissa cracked, tossing aside Aves' grumpiness with ease. "No one's got a car now. At least, not one that works. And, just think of it," she added excitedly, gesturing her hand below at the carts of metal weapons being parked along the old check-in desks, "I bet most of those are cars. How much you wanna bet?"

It was then that Aves spotted Giuseppe striding confidently through the front doors, barking at his entourage and occasionally glancing at and talking to the taller man walking beside him, nodding as he surveyed the lobby full of people and objects. Unlike most of the people around him, he wore what looked from afar like leather armor and didn't carry a sword. His face was bright and mischievous, framed by long'ish hair, eyes smoothly reverting between coolly examining his new surroundings and actively acknowledging the other.

Aves thought he almost looked funny standing next to Giuseppe and his crew, despite the fact that they themselves were wearing their own similarly-fashioned ensembles. She'd never understood all these men and this need to feel "armed to the teeth." And there, they were, lo and behold… a hippie and a bunch of mobsters. Classic.

"Avey, you know who that is?" Clarissa asked, nodding her head at the stranger.

Aves shrugged her shoulders and took her eyes off of him. "I have no idea."

Clarissa bit her lip teasingly as she raised her immaculate eyebrows at Aves, and then let out a long, dreamy sigh. "That's Klaus Bergmann. From the way you were looking at him, I thought you knew him."

Aves shook her head. "I've probably never seen that guy in my entire life."

It was then that Giuseppe looked up and made eye contact with Aves from far away. He smiled broadly and nodded to her, lifting up a finger in a "just wait a moment" gesture. He said something to the hippie, who looked up and stared at the two for a few long seconds. Aves laughed internally. Clarissa's ability to draw attention was uncanny.

"Looks like he wants to know who you are," Aves quipped. "He looks silly."

Clarissa burst out laughing. "Oh, Avey, come on, don't tell me you don't know who he is!" The other young woman shrugged again. "That's the guy who supplies everyone on The Strip with weapons. I heard he hand-makes every single one. And I hear he teaches them how to use them. I also hear he's some big history geek. I think that's cool."

"What else did you hear about him?" Aves laughed. "And I highly doubt he makes every single thing. Look at all that stuff down there."

"Well, even if it's not true, he's really fun to at least look at," Clarissa said, looking down in the direction of Giuseppe and Klaus, narrowing her eyes and offering a huge, flirtatious smile. "You know they're coming right toward us, huh?"

Aves looked back to the lobby as she noticed the small group had gained a considerable amount of ground as they made their way toward the staircase. "You mean, you," Aves laughed.

"He's not looking at me," Clarissa responded with a little bit of an accusatory low tone, "he's looking at you."

Aves rolled her eyes and pushed her hands down on the step she was seated upon and began to elevate herself to her feet. "I better let you guys talk."

Clarissa likewise stood and put a hand on Aves' shoulder to stop her from rising, effortlessly popping her back down to sit on the step. "Giuseppe!" she squeaked out come-hitherly as they approached. "You never call anymore."

Giuseppe shrugged his shoulders dramatically and half-smiled, his tired eyes the only indication that he was remotely out of sorts. "Clar, my Egyptian queen!" he greeted dramatically. He then turned to Aves and smiled, far tamer in his expression toward her. "Aves." She nodded and smiled wordlessly, keeping her eyes on Giuseppe as Klaus approached. "I'd like for you to meet Klaus. Bergmann. He wanted to know who's in charge here."

Aves balked before she could politely greet the man. "'In charge'?" she repeated almost dumbfoundedly. "That's fancy. It's also something I've never heard before."

Giuseppe didn't skip a beat. "Well, fuck it, you are now," he sighed. "You're the smartest one here. Except for Clar, of course," he added with a slight wink in her direction. He glanced back at Klaus. "This is Aves. The one I told you about. Beckett. And that's Clarissa Gregory." Klaus' blue eyes bore into Aves' own as Giuseppe talked after nodding cursorily to the tall beauty beside her. The newcomer's face carried an almost neutral expression as she looked back at him, except for the fact that he let his eyes travel a little more freely than she would have liked. "Aves will get you acclimated when you're ready."

Aves looked at Giuseppe again. "Why? Clarissa's been here longer than I have," she protested, fatigued and generally annoyed. The last thing she wanted to do at the moment was talk to the man with the wandering eyes.

"Because I have to talk to her," Giuseppe answered simply. Clarissa bounced down the stairs after Giuseppe as he turned to leave, but not without craning his neck to face Aves and wink on the way down. "It's important, Becks."

Aves watched as the small group sent themselves away, then looked at Klaus, who still hadn't taken his eyes off of her. One thing she couldn't tell from far away was that he was… handsome. Oh, no. Intense blue eyes. Hair almost like a surfer. A very striking face, indeed. She quickly caught herself after she realized and cast her eyes away casually. Men were nothing but irresponsible trouble. She smiled nervously and hovered her hands in the air inquisitively. "So… what do you need?"

Klaus' smile broadened further across his face. "I can think of a few things," he spoke a little flirtatiously. Aves stared back at him and rolled her eyes. He laughed and straightened up. "Like some water."

Aves eyed him suspiciously for several seconds, then started for the top of the staircase. "You can have some of mine," she quietly offered as she plucked up her lantern. The sun was setting outside, depriving them of most of their light, which came through a few windows--some already in place, some that had been added after The Change. She quietly led him down one of the corridors overlooking the scene and up several flights of stairs, and finally approached her door. Before entering, she turned around and held a finger up, still refusing to make eye contact with him. "Stay here. I'll go get it."

Klaus burst out laughing. She pursed her lip and opened the door, quickly shuffling inside. He moseyed to the door frame and leaned into it, comfortably stretching his arms to grab the top as he watched Aves grab a massive guitar case and strap it around her back, then approach the shelf containing her food supply. "I'd hate to see what you'd do if you wanted me to walk in," he cut, still laughing teasedly. Someone sure liked pushing buttons.

Aves grabbed the handle of her plastic gallon container and made for the door, shoving it into both of his hands as she rolled her eyes. "Just keep it," she grumbled. "I have an extra. Consider it a welcome gift."

Klaus took the container and held it to his chest and nodded to her, not breaking eye contact or moving his arm or getting out of the way. "I already feel so welcome."

Aves shook her head and folded her arms across her chest. "Would you just please get the fuck out of my doorway?... or Giuseppe will have to find someone else to show you around."

Klaus laughed again as he backed away. "Fine, fine, I am kidding around with you," he managed, striking a more serious tone. "But Giuseppe was pretty set on the fact that you're the one who knows what's going on."

"Clarissa is more suited to show you around than I am," she insisted as she exited, pulling her door shut behind her. She shoved her hands in her coat pockets and adjusted her green scarf. "She's social, and she's been around longer than me."

Klaus imitated her body language, in what must have been an attempt to mimic her. "Well. Giuseppe thinks you're brighter."

A pause. "Well, Giuseppe doesn't know Clarissa very well, then," Aves fired back broodingly. "I thought I was, too, when I first met her. But I ended up learning a lot from her."

"Like what?"

"Like how not to listen to a word that comes out of a man's mouth."

She picked up the pace and began to head down a set of stairs when one of Klaus' associates scurried up and mentioned something about a guy named Gary. Klaus rolled his eyes and turned to Aves, smiling broadly and extended a hand to her. "I better get going, but I hope I see you soon," he said politely, having clearly taken the hint that perhaps she wasn't one to be trifled with.

"Maybe," she answered awkwardly as she accepted his hand, but still forced a brief handshake before she turned on her heels and walked away.

The setting changes from Paradise Republic to Alternate History/Fiction

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Fortress of Manteca, Sacramento
The Change, Year 9


The Mormons made their move under the cover of darkness, a hundred small boats quietly pushing off into the San Joaquin River, the oarsmen drawing heavily and swiftly for the far shore. Leading them, his boat low in the water with the weight of armoured men, was Bishop John Archibald, a man who thought Gods word was best spread with the mace at his side rather than any amount of preaching. He was fingering its heft now, gripping and re-gripping the leather wrapping with a determined intensity as he stared at the nearing shore.

They were landing just north of the walls that surrounded the town itself. Attacking the town itself immediately had been considered but the heathens had sensed something was afoot and closed their gates earlier than usual and more men stood to arms but as far as he could tell no one had thought to increase the watch on the river bank. He had been getting a steady stream of intelligence from local farmers sympathetic to the Mormon cause. The world may have ended and everything they knew turned ass over tea kettle but some people preferred the idea of a good ole white American boy like himself being in charge rather than the Spanish upstart in Sacramento.

He could feel the boat touch bottom before he heard the grinding of the hull against the stoney bottom, which was blessing, much of this river had sandy and muddy banks that would have made landing nearly impossible for men in armour. Without a moments hesitation he leapt ashore, the splash of his landing in the shallow water sounding strangely loud and he almost stopped moving but hesitation killed and so he plowed on through the knee deep water and up onto the river bank.

Before him stretched acres of empty field and he felt his great thrill as he realized they had landed unopposed. Or, almost unopposed. A sudden whip crack from the field and then a scream from the river bank followed by a splash told him that they had surprised someone. He took a knee, pulling the heavy mace from his waist as he stared into the darkness, nothing showed against the black waving fields of crops. He could hear other boats coming ashore now and a steady stream of men was pouring over the riverbank. He didn't hear the sound of the crossbow this time, the men behind him were making to much noise, but he saw one of his archers jerk back as if pulled by unseen ropes, the quarrel buried in his chest. Whoever was shooting was good.

Suddenly something moved in the darkness, a shadow within a shadow, a shadow that was retreating swiftly into the rows of crops. There was a sudden "swish" of air nearby and the shadow gave a short shriek and then collapsed into to the ground, one of the Mormon archers who had come ashore chuckled and muttered "Got em."

The stream of men became a wave as they trampled the crops flat, hurrying inland just as the western sky suddenly came alive with light as catapults stationed on the eastern bank hurled their flaming cargo towards Manteca. The Siege had begun.

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Paradise Republic

Paradise Republic by Ragnarök

The Paradise Republic, all that remains of Sin City, is the product of numerous factions banding together in the face of the Change and doing whatever they must to survive.

City-State of Sacramento

City-State of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Once the seat of the California Republic, Sacramento is now namesake to the most powerful Post-Change nation-state in northern California.

The Latter Day Saints

The Latter Day Saints by Ragnarök

United by faith and strength of will the Latter Days Saints have endured and control much of the west of what used to be the California Republic, centering around their temple in Oakland.

The San Diego Catholics Union

The San Diego Catholics Union by Ragnarök

Formed by remenants of the Catholic Church in San Diego, this nation-state has become a powerhouse in the south, even expanding its influence into Mexico.

Nevada

Nevada by Ragnarök

A land of roaming Cannibals and bandits, only the Paradise Republic stands as a symbol of civilization and perseverance.

City of Sacramento

City of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Name sake and Capital of the City-State of Sacramento.

California

California by Ragnarök

The former California Republic, a land of warlords and prophets, a land descending into Total War.

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Paradise Republic

Paradise Republic by Ragnarök

The Paradise Republic, all that remains of Sin City, is the product of numerous factions banding together in the face of the Change and doing whatever they must to survive.

City-State of Sacramento

City-State of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Once the seat of the California Republic, Sacramento is now namesake to the most powerful Post-Change nation-state in northern California.

The Latter Day Saints

The Latter Day Saints by Ragnarök

United by faith and strength of will the Latter Days Saints have endured and control much of the west of what used to be the California Republic, centering around their temple in Oakland.

The San Diego Catholics Union

The San Diego Catholics Union by Ragnarök

Formed by remenants of the Catholic Church in San Diego, this nation-state has become a powerhouse in the south, even expanding its influence into Mexico.

Nevada

Nevada by Ragnarök

A land of roaming Cannibals and bandits, only the Paradise Republic stands as a symbol of civilization and perseverance.

City of Sacramento

City of Sacramento by Ragnarök

Name sake and Capital of the City-State of Sacramento.

California

California by Ragnarök

The former California Republic, a land of warlords and prophets, a land descending into Total War.

Paradise Republic

The Paradise Republic, all that remains of Sin City, is the product of numerous factions banding together in the face of the Change and doing whatever they must to survive.

City-State of Sacramento

Once the seat of the California Republic, Sacramento is now namesake to the most powerful Post-Change nation-state in northern California.

California

The former California Republic, a land of warlords and prophets, a land descending into Total War.

City of Sacramento

Name sake and Capital of the City-State of Sacramento.

Nevada

A land of roaming Cannibals and bandits, only the Paradise Republic stands as a symbol of civilization and perseverance.

The San Diego Catholics Union

Formed by remenants of the Catholic Church in San Diego, this nation-state has become a powerhouse in the south, even expanding its influence into Mexico.

The Latter Day Saints

United by faith and strength of will the Latter Days Saints have endured and control much of the west of what used to be the California Republic, centering around their temple in Oakland.

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From the Ashes: A Story of the Change

This is a Private RP between myself and Skyfemme. We are open to suggestions or comments on our writing. If you do end up enjoying the storyline and wish to contribute a character please PM either of us and will discuss!

Thank you!