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Broken Ocean

Broken Ocean

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A work of Fan Fiction based on The Emberverse series, or Change World, a series of post-apocalyptic alternate history novels written by S. M. Stirling.

1,581 readers have visited Broken Ocean since Ragnarök created it.

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

http://smstirling.com

Introduction

Image

Broken Ocean

The Changed world is sliding quickly towards war but there are those beyond the reach of the violence who would seek to prosper from it. In the south the Portland Protective Association flexes its muscle in a bid to conquer the whole of Oregon. To the north, beyond the Olympic Mountains another power is rising from the ashes of the Canadian West, driven by a core of brilliant, and many would say lucky, individuals who have visions of a world where any person might seek their own destiny. These are the people who will shape the world for a new generation.

These are their stories.

Toggle Rules

This is a Private Role-play, if you wish to take part please ensure you have read all the sample chapters from the first three books, starting with Dies the Fire, listed on SM Stirlings Website. Once you have done that please contact Ragnarök with any character or nation ideas and we will go from there.

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 3 authors

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Character Portrait: Thomas Bennet
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October 3rd, Change Year 8
South of Tofino, West Coast of North America


There was a determined and grim silence amongst the men who sat quietly on the wooden deck, the only sound apart from the creak of the rigging over their heads was the hiss of the ships hull as it sliced through the moonlit waters of the north Pacific. Carefully shielded lanterns cast small patches of light on bearded faces, armoured bodies and the black sleekness of wetsuits where no armour covered them over. Eight years ago these same men would have been cradling automatic weapons and clutching the side of fast moving RHIBs but things had changed since then. Where machine guns had once been held there were crossbows and short powerful recurve bows. Swords, axes, spears and shields, even a few tridents, their wicked points dulled with boot polish to match the night sky above, were racked carefully along the gunwales within easy reach.

Two men lay in the bow of the sleek sailing vessel that raced through the blackness, her masts straining with the mass of canvas that had taken an entire winters season to dye black. The cool night air smelled strongly of salt and the deep scent of the rain forest that loomed large a kilometre to their right. Each held a pair of priceless binoculars to their eyes as they probed the darkness ahead, sweeping from right to left as they had been trained so many years ago; “Always scan the opposite way you read, it forces your brain to slow down, forces you to notice the details”, their instructors had said and the men had listened, and now, on the oceans of a reborn world, they used that lesson to hunt a bitter foe.

The man on the right stiffened slightly, refocusing on the disturbance that marred the otherwise perfect rolling swells that caused their own bow to rise and fall by nearly three feet every dozen yards they travelled. It could be a whale, or some other sea creature, but he was almost certain that there was a faint trail of bubbles that all ships left when they had recently passed through an area, thrown up by their bow was they moved through the sea. He was deeply conscious of the netting that he lay on, the strands of rope crisscrossing his body while the ocean below splashed up to soak his chest and groin through the wetsuit and armour. He could catch faint whiffs of the Douglas fir wood that had been used to craft the vessels bowsprit.

The ship heaved through another swell and as it came down a grim smile cut split the blonde beard and battered face that gazed through the binoculars. There could be no mistake, not one but four such trails were still vaguely visible, even in the dark, the enemy were close.

Satisfied, he slithered back, carefully avoiding trapping any limbs or weapons in the netting and tapping his compatriot on the shoulder as he went, the second man followed. Both were big men and it took a lot of skill to move their bulk in armour without creating an ungodly racquet. They put their heads together for a brief second as the blonde man described what he had seen, speaking quietly rather than whispering for whispers carried further, especially over the open ocean, and the other nodded before he crawled back into position, his job now was to watch for the enemy and make sure they didn’t run them over in the night.

The men and women who were gathered on the deck had looked up the moment he had left his post and all of them watched him expectantly and he regarded them in turn. Not a single one of them wasn’t battle tested, you had to be to have survived the end of the world, and most of them had been fighting even before then, all had killed another human being before. He could see fingers flexing on weapons shafts and the coiled strength of each, like a cobra waiting for orders to strike. All of them had served their countries proudly before the Change and now they followed a new Code of honour but their skills remained sharply honed and they were the best.

“Enemy sighted.” The blonde signed using code common amongst fighting men. Four fingers signalled four boats. It was how many there were execting, sources had told them that the raiding party had been five boats but they knew that one had burned during the raid. The gathered warriors, he supposed that’s what they were now, nodded and quickly double-checked their weapons, everything was as perfect as they could be and he knew that there was no need for him to double check. There were only a dozen black clad figures but each had learned their trade from the best in the world and he would pit any one of them against five of their enemy. As one they pushed up to the edge of the gunwales and stared into the dark, the last little lanterns carefully extinguished as they sorted themselves into teams of three. It didn’t seem like many to take an enemy ship but, for all he knew, they were the only ones who trained in shipboard combat.

Silence fell again and the blonde returned to the bow, he didn’t need binoculars now to see the enemy ahead. Four schooners were moving slowly through the waves, ladened with plunder and slaves, war canoes, three or four each trailing behind them, towed pack train style. Classic Haida raiding party style and this one had hit a Sheikh settlement the day before gotten away with plenty of plunder and slaves. The Sheikhs were not a sea faring folk, manning nothing larger than a small fishing boat but they had money and wasted no time in engaging the services of the vessel that now plowed through the cool waters of the Pacific.

The Eye of the Wind, a pre-Change Brigantine, and one of the fastest tallships afloat, had been anchored in Ganges Harbour on the Saltspring Island in the former Canadian province of British Columbia. When the Change hit she had been commandeered by the local Government as they tried to establish order. There was luck on the wind that night as the Island was also playing host to a collection of Special Forces teams from around NATO who were engaged in war games in the Islands interior. When it became clear that things would not be returning to normal the regional Government collapsed and the Eye of the Wind, as well as Ganges Harbour, full to the sole care of the former special operations teams. Some infighting and indecision on what to do had whittled them down in numbers but more than enough remained to create a permanent base on the island. As the years past they found employment as Pirate Hunters, specifically targeting raiding groups from the north. They had added one other vessel to their fleet but the Eye of the Wind remained the largest, which was why, on this cool October evening, she was slowly closing on the enemy ahead.

The schooners weren’t much smaller than the Eye of the Wind none were as fast or as nimble and none were certainly as well manned. Warfare had changed somewhat since the blonde had been a soldier in the elite Canadian Joint Task Force 2, before that he had been a sailor in the Canadian Navy. The hardest truth to accept following the Change was just how damn hard it was to sneak up on someone else at sea with a sailing ship. He sometimes thought that perhaps his prayers were being heard by someone however because on this night a rising storm at their backs, it’s black clouds masking the mass of sail above his head. They had closed quickly but it was only a matter of time before someone realized they were there. The thought has no sooner entered his head as they gained within a hundred yards of the slowest enemy vessel that someone finally took notice.

A sentry, possibly one who had been sleeping until that moment, stood and peered towards them, and as chance would have it the moon peeked out from the clouds. He opened his mouth, eyes growing wide in alarm but before a sound was uttered a crossbow cracked from the forward gunwale of the Eye of the Wind and he clutched at the bolt that took him in the chest, pirouetting like a drunk before collapsing against the rail. A scream came from someone in the darkness and it heralded a scene of chaos on the rear most vessel and a man ran to the rail, dying as his compatriot had with a crossbow bolt in the gut. A small ballista swivelled amidships on the Eye of the Wind and a heavy “chunk” cut through the night along with the sound of something whipping across the water towards the Haida vessel. It flashed once in the moonlight and then slammed into the mast, gouging a great chunk out of the wood. The mast, already stretched under the strength of the wind to the vessels stern gave a great groan and then broke with a crack, toppling into the water.

One of the men crouched along the Gunwale bent his head to a large metal horn fixed to the ships mast near his head and filled his lungs.

“BARRROOOOOOOW”

The sound was terrific, echoing across the water and sending the men on the Haida ships into a frenzy as they rushed for weapons and armour. Their screams of terror could be heard across the water as they called out the name of their attacker for their could be none who did not recognize the great horn, the call of a hunter bringing its prey to heel.

“Ta-xet! Ta-xet!”

God of Terrible Deaths. Got a nice ring to it! The blonde smiled thinly at the thought as he kissed the blade of the axe he held in one hand, then raised it in the air and gave a formless scream that challenged the nights sky. To those watching there could be no doubt that his Viking ancestors walked with him that night as the killing began.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Aves Alcott
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December 19, Change Year 4
Former Site of Pacific Junction, Southwest Prince of Wales Island, West Coast of North America


There are two different Ravens, though it is often difficult to tell them apart. One is the creator raven, responsible for bringing the world into being and who is sometimes considered to be the individual who brought light to the darkness. The other is the childish raven, always selfish, sly, conniving, and hungry. When the Great Spirit created all things he kept them separate and stored in cedar boxes. The Great Spirit gifted these boxes to the animals who existed before humans. When the animals opened the boxes all the things that comprise the world came into being. The boxes held such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One such box, which was given to Seagull, contained all the light of the world. Seagull coveted his box and refused to open it, clutching it under his wing. All the people asked Raven to persuade Seagull to open it and release the light. Despite begging, demanding, flattering and trying to trick him into opening the box, Seagull still refused. Raven became angry and frustrated, and stuck a thorn in Seagull's foot. Raven pushed the thorn in deeper until the pain caused Seagull to drop the box. Then out of the box came the sun, moon and stars that brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin. Which Raven was this—creator or childish?”

No one was there.

The row of houses along the spit had been burned to the ground, not a single piece left behind. Not even the great totem that had towered watchfully over the little shoreline settlement still stood. Clearly it had been taken away as one of the trophies that had been dragged up and away off to a destination seen once before. A destination that ought to never be seen again.

A pair of dark eyes glowered from beneath a set of angled eyebrows as they inspected the smoldering black spots where the homes had once stood. Moments later a set of tall brown fisherman’s rainboots tentatively probed down from a small boat, padding down upon the slick rocks and treading slowly to the center of what had been a cluster of fortified cedar-built homes.

On the way back from Ward Cove, she had anticipated seeing her friends and Drew’s Ḵwáan greeting her at the little wooden dock at Pacific Junction, just as they'd promised. Instead, there was no dock. No Pacific Junction. No one. Nothing at all, except for the black sooty spots in what had once been a thriving place.

Her stomach burned and twisted reflexively at the sight of a little plastic-beaded bracelet peeking out from beneath a rock, something with alternating pastel colors, worn over and over like some protective talisman... like by Delilah, one of the children who used to cluster near the house to ask about borrowing books or if she could teach them how to make (translate: also eat) soup or how to play a song on the piano in the front room. The children in the village wanted to learn. Painstaking measures were taken to ensure that the group that settled this area of the inlet functioned smoothly, with minimal conflict and a high quality of life. Many had called their vision “too idealistic,” and yet they stubbornly soldiered on.

For the first time, Avery Alcott, Anderssen up until recently, could see that they were wrong, and that it had been a futile gamble… such a futile gamble that it cost her everything she’d worked so hard to build with others, and had endured so many things together over the course of over five years. And it had cost her Drew, and it had cost her Iver. And ultimately it cost her everyone else, too.

And she wasn't here to help them.

She felt her knees wobble as she spotted the site where the old house had stood. Without the nearby fenceposts or other homes, the spot itself was barely recognizable. She felt herself shudder as her feet trudged forward reflexively, like a slowly-moving magnetic force. The last time she'd seen that little house was three months ago, when she'd looked over her shoulder while a member of the Ḵwáan had piloted the sailboat out to Ward Cove. Just after that horrible incident.

Christ, Almighty. To know that what almost everyone she had known that were left over after the village had been caught unawares. How she'd lost her own and how she'd delivered on her promise to never leave them behind, and the guilt about having to accept that she could not bring them back. That there may have been nothing that they could have done… except perhaps for not founding Pacific Junction as a settlement in the first place.

But it was hard to say. She'd said as much back at Ward Cove with her head buried beneath Drew’s grandmother's goose-down pillows in her handbuilt cabin. The old woman simply laughed despite the loss that she herself had sustained from that horrible day, and said, “You did everything that you could do in your power. Dying for them isn't an expression of love. Living for them is.” At the time she wanted to ask the old woman from what level of senility she had to be at to deliver such a sappy line, but she held her tongue. No matter how she'd worded it, it had given Aves something to think about.

She finally sunk down to set herself on the backs of her heels, eyes averted downward to the charred dirt and pile upon pile of ashes that seemed to flake away like finely-ground baking flour beside her. She couldn't think. She could only stare. She couldn't wonder about where everything that couldn't be burned had gone, or how many canoes it had taken to invade and carry off goods and supplies… and people.

After several long minutes frozen in place, the sky rumbled over Aves and a plop of rain splattered onto the end of her nose. Another one followed, this time smacking onto her sharp cheekbone. Followed by many more. She shuddered as a gust of wind iced its way in. The boat was as fine as it was going to be, but the clouds overhead told her that seeking better cover was imperative. A full metal gleam caught her eye as her addled mind remembered the cellar—the lock hadn't been tampered with. She would have smiled if she knew that the world would be right by the time the storm ended and she could emerge from the hastily-built underground storage container with a plan in mind on how to move forward.

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A cool breeze played across the tops of the massive coastal pines, swaying the massive trunks in waves, their crowns endlessly fencing, back and forth. The air was heavy, pregnant with the moisture coming off the inlet’s turbulent water. All of nature seemed to be in motion, from dark forest and ocean, to the buzzing insects that plagued the southern tip of what was once Vancouver Island.
A small, thin man with a disheveled look contemplated the scene before him disconnectedly as he stood atop the Eastern wall’s tallest uncovered tower. He watched the movement before him, noted how even now, the endless, repetitive actions before him connected each element to the other. The onshore breeze shifting the trees baking in the sun, heating the air, and in turn, rising to higher altitudes and cycle back above the water, to cool again.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. The cycle has always been endless… not really endless… but that aspect of heating and cooling had not changed… maybe… maybe a large scale stirling engine? Compression has changed, the laws of thermodynamics have been modified… by who? By what? Doesn’t matter. … a wave generator… storing mechanical energy via pullys and large coil springs… maybe… maybe a handheld crossbow with windup springs? Could it repeat? The Romans has something like that… or was it the Chinese? Both? …


The man’s thoughts were jumbled, since the world had changed, he couldn’t get the medication that had previously kept his thoughts so blissfully ordered. It had indeed been a long number of years. He couldn’t rightly remember how long it had been, he furrowed his large brow at that thought. Shrugging, he remembered that it was really the Chronologist’s job. Back to it, damnation… The thin man looked back down to his task at hand, and the jumble of gears, cabling and wood on the table before him. He glanced back up at the vista one last time, watching the wind push the waves to shore. His hands moved back and forth tediously, a perfect example of the economy of motion, fitting the gears from various machines of the old-world together in a variety of arrays. Finally he settled on a large sprocket from an industrial vacuum, and the reduction gear from a commercial washing machine. Both of these, he fitted to pre-sized spindles embedded in a large wooden column that lay amongst the scattered mechanical detritus before him. A tractor-trailer’s leafspring rested at the top of the column. Drilling those holes by hand had taken the better part of a day.

Time for a treadle-powered workshop… or maybe a windwill powered one? Could we store the energy in springs? Springs springs springs… thank God for modern alloys.


The two gears the thin man had selected slotted into place, whereupon he tapped cotter-pins through holes at the top of each spindle and bent them back upon themselves. Looking down at his handiwork, the thin man grinned to himself. He pulled a hand-crank on the side of the column. Each of the wheels spun in unison. Smiling in self-satisfaction, the thin-man looped cable around a drum at the base of the column, wrapping it several times before securing the end. The other end, he threaded through a block half-way down the column. At the end of the cable, a simple hook previously used by a small crane was attached. This, he snagged midway onto another cable strung between the two points of the truck leaf-spring on the end of the column. As he braced the end of the column against his waist, he turned the crank with a grunt, the metal groaned but inexorably, but with every revolution, the cable was drawn back to eventually rest on a large steel stop protruding from a slit in the wooden column. The hook was taken off the bowed cable, resting a full eight-thousand pounds of force on the single metal stopper.

Ahh! Ahahaha!! Those contemptible natives are in for quite the tr…

Mid-thought, the wood gave little warning as the metal axle the stopper was affixed to, ripped upwards through the wooden column, launching hundreds of feet into the air. The thin-man cowered as the wood shattered, splintering hard enough that pieces of the column embedded themselves into the wooden parapets.
Looking down at himself, he noted only several slivers that had dug into his right shoulder and forearm. As he picked them out, he contemplated the failure before him.

Well, that’s the farthest I’ve come yet! A full 8,000lbs on that one! By God’s teeth, I’m right there! I need oak… where the hell am I going to get oak… maybe maple? A hard wood anyways…

As he finished that thought with a self-satisfied grin, he grunted, hefting the column’s six-foot bulk and throwing it onto a pile of similarly broken prototypes.

CORVIN! Get yer pox ridden ass down here! I swear by Christ, I’ll have yer fucking head!

Well… that sounds like a wonderful proposition Michael, but I think I’ll stay up here the thin-man named Corvin thought to himself, peaking over the edge of the wooden parapet, noting the placement of the axle from his contraption, not three inches away from the foot of a large, and visibly upset man with a large blonde beard.

Michael! Did you see how high that one went! I’m nearly there! We’ll have a working bolt-thrower by the end of the week! You’ll see! Corvin called down. Think of the possibilities! That one rested fully bent on the stopper! That’s eight-thousand pounds! We could put a bolt straight through a raider’s hull with this! We could even attach a large weight! Or a sea-anchor! Or… or… A sail! The applications are endless! Shit… I’m rambling again…

The man named Michael sniffed derisively, You’ll end up killin’ yerself, and more importantly, others with yer damned ‘inventions’ , miming quotation marks with the last word. Why don’t you just swing an axe with the rest of us ya whelp? What gives y’ the right to risk our well-bein’ with yer pseudo-science an’ ego eh? The burly Michael shouted up at the tower as he hefted a large felling-axe that was ever-present at his side. Michael was the prototypical new-age soldier. While he towered over most men at just shy of seven feet tall, intellectually he was utterly dwarfed by the man he stood cursing.

Michael a faller, had worked in one of the remote locations in what had been Northern British Columbia, which showed in his both his gruff nature and preference for physicality. Contrasting Michael’s brawn, Corvin, an engineer had worked on a planned petro-chemical terminal in Prince Rupert when the Event turned the world black, accounted for much of the jury-rigged technology in the settlement. It had been Corvin that had brought running water to Esquimalt via a system of incredibly complex aqueducts, holding tanks and pressurizing drops that guaranteed even and steady pressure to each building. Even the old naval museum, at the end of a pier, jutting into the harbor had running water and flushing toilets.

It had been a long seven years since the Event. But life was certainly more comfortable than it had been at the beginning, when the fires had replaced the light. White light had been replaced with the constant amber flickering of oil lamps. A lot of blood had been spilled under those lamps, and if Corvin had anything to do with it, any further bloodshed would be far-removed from the lights of his new home.

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It's been weeks since that unfortunate mishap with my prototype... really, you don't need to hide behind that wall... Corvin shrugged, giving up. He knew the small group of elders on the bluff above Victoria's harbour wouldn't lend him a shred of confidence unless he showed them that his latest prototype not only worked, but was safe to do so.

He stood directly behind a large wooden contraption that vaguely resembled an over-sized crossbow, made of old-world components, scrap steel, a large truck's leafspring, cables and heavy pulleys. Corvin reached down and began to turn the hand-crank on the device. Slowly, almost imperceptibly the cable began to pull back on the leafspring. The benefit of all the reduction gears and triple-pulley system was that while slow, even a child could crank the full 8,000 pounds of pressure. After several minutes of cranking, Corvin wiped the sweat from his brow. Bending down, he grabbed ahold of a long bolt over seven feet long, with a wicked looking mechanical head. The tip of this particular bolt was designed, upon impact, to expand and become lodged in whatever it hit. Three large, but thin prongs lay flat along the top eigth of the bolt. When the tip impacted, it compressed a spring, which in turn, unleashed the three spring-loaded prongs, which snapped forward with enough force to puncture thin steel, much like the armour on the Haida's war canoes.
To the back of the bolt trailed a long, thin, but incredibly strong cable that was several hundred feet long. Attached to this, a large weighted sack sat folded.

STAND CLEAR! Corvin shouted as he settled behind the bolt-thrower. Grabbing the stock, Corvin used the entirety of his weight to wrestle the large contraption, doing his best to aim in the direction of his target. A captured Haida war-canoe floated serenely in the waters of the abandoned bay, all activity having been halted for this demonstration. Nearly everyone from the community had turned up to watch the demonstration of a device Corvin had promised would revolutionize the way the Victorians not only defended their home, but would allow small fleets of skiffs to defend the trade-routes of the Victorian Commerce Guild.

Squeezing the first trigger, the cable shuddered as it came fully to rest on the single metal stopper. Squeezing the second trigger, the cable snapped forward faster than could be seen. The bolt whistled through the bright sky, trailing the near-imperceptible cable for less than a second before hitting the Haida war-canoe in the upturned bow, the strongest section of the reinforced vessel. An audible crack rolled back across the still waters as the prow the canoe was sheared off as if a giant had taken a cleaver to it. Trailing the cable, the bolt, head shattered from the impact, skipped across the water on the opposite side of the rapidly sinking canoe, trailing the cable and the corner of the weighted sack that had been intended as a sea-anchor.

Cheers erupted from the parapets to the edge of the forest, the Victorians cheered on the power of their new device, and more importantly, the possibilities that it presented.
Corvin, working fast, disconnected the long stock with the loosened bow section, struggling slightly with lifting it off the stand, he dropped it aside. He bent down, grabbing the a second stock off the ground that he had already cranked back, he dropped it into the cradle where the first stock had been sitting. Placing another bolt on this, he squeezed both triggers.
A second bolt was flung forward faster than the eye could see, a second resounding crack issued from the sinking war-canoe. The walls of Victoria screamed their support, their cheers travelling far across the water to echo on the far mountains.


Up yours Michael! By God I've done it... Corvin thought to himself, a stunned expression on his face. Quickly gathering his composure, Corvin turned to the small council of interested elders atop the grassy bluff. There you have it ladies and gentlemen. A form of repeating bolt-thrower. Perhaps slightly over-powered... that was indeed intended to pierce the hull, slowing a pursuing vessel with the attached sea-anchor... but perhaps we can do away with the sea-anchor... I'm sure you can see the possibilities of such a device. Michael, one of the Victorian elders stepped out from behind the large steel wall that had been shielding them from the possibility of another mishap.

By Christ Corvin... you could've killed us! AGAIN! Michael took an angry step towards where Corvin stood, but was halted by the slender hand of Elder Connie. Michael... even with the safety and reliability issues that this contraption most obviously has, you must see the possibilities that such a device offers" Gesturing with her other hand vaguely in the direction of the sinking war-canoe.
Halted, a worried expression played across Michael's face. What if this technology were to fall into another's hands? How could we defend against something this powerful? No walls, stone or steel would stop something like this...

Waving her hands dismissively, Elder Connie looked directly at Michael as she spoke, Michael, if we took that view to its conclusion, we would still be sitting in the husk of our old civilization, content with a fire and a warm meal. Look how far we have come - running water, a fleet of fishing boats, stone and steel walls. More particularly, our defensive technologies, some of which you yourself championed. I remember when you had brought unquenchable fire to the council, how animated you had been. How many times did we defend our home with your contribution? Many a raider, slaver and cannibal has burned at our gates because of our technology. None yet have been able to reproduce that, so why should we stifle ourselves? Gesturing at the bolt-thrower, resting on its stand, This device presents many possibilities. Why, was it not you just the other day that was lamenting our inability to defend our traders? Speaking more softly she continued; Do you think that something like this might have saved your son's life? She touched Michael's shoulder lightly, turning him from Corvin to look over at the walls of Victoria, thronged with hundreds of those that lived within.

Shrugging, Michael sniffed, turning briefly to glare at Corvin, he picked up his axe and began to walk slowly down the bluff, towards Victoria's gate.
Turning to face Corvin, Elder Connie looked over the bolt-thrower appreciatively. Corvin, please continue your investigations as to this device's viability. I'd say a limited production of three or four would do for now. Pausing, she turned her grey eyes on him, please do not make me regret my support for your venture. With that, she began walking down the bluff towards the walls of the city, the other elders filing in behind her.

Left atop the bluff alone with his machine, the magnitude of the event settled on Corvin. His face paled slightly as he looked over the harbour, now humming with activity as Victorians in half a dozen small skiffs began salvaging the ruined war-canoe.

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Character Portrait: Aves Alcott
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May 1, Change Year 5
Ketchikan, West Coast of North America


She hated going to Creek Street.

In true Ketchikan fashion, Ketchikan didn't change. People thought it had, but, really, it had only been a handful of years since the tiny little town had even obtained adequate wireless technology (what a trip that had been), much less fast food. Those oddly-placed things were brought in with a lot of fanfare, but people hadn't really had the time to allow those things to change their lives on more than some superficial level, in the grand scheme of things.

Nope. Ketchikan didn't like to advance. But it sure loved regressing... and as much as Creek Street purported to be controlled by other women in its claims to its supposed rightful place as a central trading hub for the area, she knew that there was more to the story. If Ketchikan was so intent on prolonging old history and repeating it, then certainly the profession of a sense of altruism or any interest in looking out for women in the area was a false profession, indeed.

Dolly's. Yet again. Aves sighed as she pushed her way through the throng of fishermen standing idly by the wooden front facade of the establishment. One in a corner was reposed almost too comfortably in a patched-up rocking chair, staring wondrously up at an exceptionally still ceiling. Someone's been eating dreamfish again, she observed silently. The story behind that... the version she'd heard was that some nearby university's stunning research into plant, algae, and hallucinogens was scooped up by what had to by now have been a very successful (or a very dead) post-World entrepreneur. Turned out that it wasn't hard to grow more algae and raise more fish, upping detected levels of DMT into levels that were too monstrous for most to stomach. While it wasn't know to kill anyone, the impact of effects were uncertain; some emerged from the experience far more balanced and less anxious, as though a load were lifted from their shaky shoulders, but most people did not have such luck. As for Aves, she didn't touch the stuff. She understood that some people simply couldn't take the world after everything had just... stopped. It had been a confusing time... and many had not been as lucky as her when everything had ended and begun. But the world wasn't a place where she would have felt okay shifting her sanity out of her control before then, and she certainly didn't feel as though she was in a state now where that could work. A young woman traveling by herself couldn't be too careful.

Either way, the damn fish was a stupid idea.

The spruce door, evidently patched up exasperatedly many times thanks to many an angry fisherman's fist or some other bodily impact, swung open. The scene wasn't unexpected; tables were strewn across the rotting wooden flooring, loud half-conversations all running into each other as vats of highly-concentrated homebrew and moonshine were exchanged over a counter. The windows were shuttered up and lamps were placed up along the rafters and stairs and other strategic spots to try to give some light. Aves wrinkled her nose. She wasn't a fan of brothels. It wasn't that she felt they didn't have a place; she could even grudgingly admit that, even though she would have much rather spent a life blissfully ignorant of all the things that people do when they think no one else is watching them. She just didn't like them. But that was another thing that had never changed about the world...

"That'll be- Oh!" a scratchy voice sputtered from behind an ornate cherrywood desk propped by the door. Must have been a remnant from the old Federal Building, across the little strip of water where the tiny Thomas Basin met Ketchikan Creek. The Stedman Street bridge was declared a bust only a few weeks prior when a dog team and a truck of cargo helplessly tumbled underwater when a decayed section broke off during winter breakup. There was a reason why infrastructure was a never-ending endeavor in the far north. The leathery-skinned proprietor of Dolly's had a unique way of being recognized, with that emphysematic voice. "Mrs. Anderssen!"

"Hello, Blue," Aves emitted at the bare minimum of politeness. Blue knew better. But it was obvious that she wasn't going to actually do better. She held up a couple of old car air fresheners after scooping them from the bag slung around her shoulders and slid them across the desk to the old woman. "Any idea where I can find Barry?"

The woman's eyes gleamed giddily. Aves thought the things smelled like chemicals that had long exhausted any kind of shelf life, but Blue loved them. And having Blue to help her out was, well... helpful. Her bony fingers splayed over the desktop to grasp the noisy plastic of one little green tree and she ripped it open, pressing the foamy green tree against her nose and sighing in its aroma dreamily. Never mind the fact that what looked to be a hell of a brawl was beginning to materialize on the stairs--Aves gave a surprised shout as she suddenly felt the need to duck out of the way. Barely six inches from where she'd stood, a burly fellow careened through a wooden rail with the sound of protesting splinters raining down onto the floor. It didn't faze Blue one single bit, who happily enjoyed her new aromatic treasure as though nothing had happened. Aves stood back, muscles tense and defensive as she tried to read what would happen next. But within seconds, the man's head spun itself in wide circles as he came to, then dazedly pushed himself up and weakly clambered right back to the bar. There was no way he was going to remember why he would be in such pain the following morning...

Blue finally took her attention off of the little cutout, and shrugged at the dark-haired woman in the Xtra-Tufs. "Barry's not here."

What.

"What?"

"He'll come back tomorrow. Had to go to Gravina."

"But he told me to meet me here, at this time."

"Well, I guess you better talk to him about that, then. But he wants to talk about all those canning supplies you found. Especially all that pectin. You going to be around?"

Aves paused before she twisted her head in a half-nod, half-shake. "I'd been planning on seeing Drew's léelk'w in Ward Cove, but I'll come back tomorrow. All right."

Blue shrugged and tilted her head at the bar. "Well. You're not married anymore!" she cackled as she gestured a spotted arm toward the mess all around them.

The younger woman belted out a genuinely amused laugh. "That's too bad," she clipped out after taking a breath.

"Well, thought it was worth a shot," Blue admitted, shrugging her shoulders. Blue would never know better. "You're really going to keep sailing around with nowhere to go? You could be successful here."

Aves wrinkled her nose yet again, a facial tic that she'd worked for years to control if someone said something to her that didn't settle quite right. "I have plenty of success on my own," she shot back defensively.

Blue raised her mottled hands steadily. "Now, now, I don't mean this," she reassured roughly. "I meant it, though. You could be just fine in a place like this. Ketchikan, I mean, with your own thing. Nothing like this. You can't go out there alone anymore." Aves nodded vacantly. She didn't want to listen, but the door was now being blocked by a small group of shabbily-dressed, alert-eyed men who stuck a heavy bag on the desk before shoving past. Blue let them pass through undisturbed. "Look. I get it. No one's safe anymore. I don't even like sitting here. But, girl... You've only got one life and you've almost lost it more times than you'd like to admit."

"Blue, I don't think we should be talking about this."

"Nonsense," Blue responded without skipping a beat. "I know that what happened was awful. Drew..." she trailed off as she looked up toward the ceiling, up at the empty gap just ripped through the railing. "... Drew was a good man." Aves pulled a sigh into her lungs as she continued to listen with glassy eyes. She knew that. "There will never, ever be another Drew. Or another Iver." Aves' heart stung, but her face was stoic. The following month, Iver would have turned four. She could go without seeing Drew for days if he was out on the water. But Iver? She'd never known a moment when Iver wasn't at her side when he was awake. "But there is still you."

Aves shook her head. The failure of Pacific Junction was still something she hadn't fully forgiven herself for. People like Blue had told her that it was a silly dream doomed to fail--and they were right. "Maybe someday, Blue." She strained to smile despite the churn in her stomach.

Blue sighed. "I was Drew's first grade teacher. Like I said, he was a good man. I can't imagine how you must be feeling. I'm sorry."

Aves briefly marveled at such a stretch of a career change. Some things just begged to be laughed at, no matter how inappropriate. "I'm sorry, too, Blue."

Blue stood from her spot and offered her arms in a hug. Aves quickly gave the woman quick clasp of her arms politely. "Tomorrow."

"Okay." A pause. "Thank you."

Maybe Blue did actually know better, Aves reflected, as she ducked around a new set of partygoers to dart out the door and back out onto the boardwalk to head toward the harbor.

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October 6th, Change Year 8
Kingdom of Victoria - Formerly Vancouver Island, British Columbia


Say what you want but slavery gets shit done... The thought was an idle one, but one that struck Thomas Bennet every time he came back into port. He was seated straddling the gunwale as Eye of the Wind ghosted silently across "The Roads" towards the City, his blue eyes keenly noting the defensive weapons that tracked them from atop the towers that guarded the entrance to the harbour. Even a kilometre out to sea he could smell the city as they came closer, put enough people into one place and it was bound to smell. Luckily for them the pre-change sewage system was gravity fed and flushed straight out into the ocean.

His thoughts on this day however were directed towards the impressive building that sat atop the high point of land in what had once been the Township of Esquimalt. In the years following the Change the man they now called the Grand Elector had united the various factions of military and police survivors to form an army that quickly took control of the region. Those who had a speciality skills had been recruited for them, blacksmiths, engineers, carpenters, and so, those who did not have such skills, well, they could still work. The central building was built stones salvaged from the old provincial legislature building, now known as the Electoral Palace, it was the heart of the city-states government functions.

Ruler of this new world city was the Grand Elector, known to those pre-Change friends like Thomas, as Robert Binder, and he had taken to the Change like a fish did to water. With the support of various armed contingents following the Change he had turned what should have been an utter shambles into a working masterpiece. Esquimalt, surrounded on almost virtually every side by water, had been a natural stronghold and Robert led the charge in claiming it and turning it into a wonder of the post-change world.

A twelve kilometre long curtain wall now encircled the entire Township and the one section that had been solid land had been dredged out, effectively making the city an island with 8,000 people inside its walls. Robert had also taken the liberty of renaming this new City after the former Canadian provincial capital of Victoria, now a ruined husk only a stones throw across the old eastern harbour. That harbour might have been a good choice to build a city around but a cruise ship had slammed into the seawall and sank, blocking the harbour. The rusting white hulk was easily visible to Thomas as they drew closer; it’s glassless windows gaping like so many surprised mouths. Most of the people aboard had drowned or been burned alive when the ships fuel, spilling into the harbour, had ignited and engulfed much of the harbour mouth. To the west was the old Naval base, Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, and it had remained clean and clear, it’s deep water port well suited to handle the tallships that plied the worlds oceans for salvage.

The warships that had once moored at those piers had been dragged out into the roads and anchored, slowly being stripped of useful material. They still rode there, still sharply angled and proud in their bearing, monuments to the technologies man had once been capable of producing. One in particular was more than a hull to Thomas, the HMCS Vancouver, the first warship he had ever sailed on and where he had met Robert. He could still, in his minds eye, envision the 57mm deck gun shooting rapid fire in the Gulf of Aden as they engaged Somalian Pirates, it seemed like a lifetime ago. They were passing the stern of the Vancouver now and he threw a gentle salute towards the rusting grey hull. In a year or two she would probably sink of her own accord but her service would never be forgotten. It brought a lump to his throat to think of how easy it had been to traverse the world with those massive diesel engines beneath your feet. Now it was the wind, and the strength of men, that drove the conquest of the seas. An era had come and gone.

“Request for recognition code from the Harbour Master!” The lookout above Thomas’s head gave him a slight start and he waved to acknowledge that he’d heard before taking out a small pocket mirror and blinking a code towards the harbour ahead. It was standard protocol but since the Eye of the Wind had left alone and was now returning with two other vessels it only made sense the Watch Commander would ensure they were friendlies.

The entrance to Esquimalt harbour was sandwiched between two imposing structures. Colourful banners streamed from their turreted tops and the glint of spears could be seen as watchmen leaned on the parapet, the flash of light against a binocular lens let him know they were being closely studied. To the left of the harbour sat on the site of the World War II fort bearing the same name of Fort Rodd Hill there now stood a post-change fortress of concrete and steel, a long low parapet facing the sea revealed narrow shooting gaps through which the tips of ballista could be seen, ready to smash an enemy ship into submission. To the right was a second fortress built on the site of Admirals Point, formerly the home of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Pacific fleet commander. It was now the head quarters for the Victorian Defence Core and also boasted the highest tower in the area; it was to this point that Thomas directed his recognition code. There was a brief pause and then an answer blinked in the afternoon sunlight.

Not for the first time Thomas marvelled at the size of the walls that stretched away to his right. They were almost sixty feet high and twenty feet thick with massive square towers every 100 feet. They, along with virtually all the buildings pushed up since the Change bore a striking resemblance to Italian City-states of old. That was two fold, someone had called it “Founders Syndrome”, people took on the characteristics of their leaders and now one was more fiercely proud of his Italian heritage than Robert. The second reason, and Thomas still felt like a complete nerd for even thinking it, had been that many of the upper echelon in power here had been big fans of Assassins Creed and so modelled most everything off what they knew of that time period.

It might look a bit silly sometimes but hell, at least we aren’t pretending to be medival knights, right? Thomas thought with a somewhat shame faced grimace. Not like those lunatics in Oregon playing King Arthur and the Celts. He chuckled to himself. Yea… Soooo much better…

The light from the top of the tower had continued to blink as they got closer, the breeze freshening to push the scent of the pine trees out to mask the smell of the city and he took a deep breath, enjoying the sharp crisp October air.

“All clear to proceed! The Grand Electors compliments and requests you join him in the Electoral palace as soon as your able.” The lookout cried out again and Thomas jumped down from his perch as the Eye of the Wind angled her bow towards the gap between the two fortresses.

They were on the final approach now and on their left the Palace of Royal Roads came into view. The old military academy turned university was now the Grand Electors summer residence when he wanted to get out of the city and the massive cedars around it were turning a bright orange colour that complimented the colour change on the vines as they swarmed up the stone building.

End of the world or not, no one could have predicted how this would turn out. The thought came to him as he looked past the Palace and further inland where he could just see the swell of lush green pastures dotted with herds of cattle. If Vancouver Island had one thing it was a great growing season and the ability to support plenty of life. But that was never enough, even now, in the north, towards Duncan, he knew that armies were preparing to heave against each other and soon men would die beneath the golden boughs of the mighty Cedar trees. Thomas touched the sword at his waist and then the hammer that hung about his neck.

“Madness ends sometimes. The Gods decree it, not man.”

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June 20, Change Year 7
Ketchikan, West Coast of North America


Nothing said "celebrating life" like staring at the still water from a set of jagged rocks while sipping a stale brew with shaky hands.

Aves still had plenty of blood caked into the hollows of her cheekbones and under her chin. Her fingernails were chalked with it on the undersides. It ran down her long dark green skirt, over her boots... The apron hadn't helped one single bit.

There was a snap of a branch. Footsteps. Two of them.

Aves snapped her head over her shoulder as she reached for the hunting knife in her right boot, immediately stepping up to look in the direction of where the noise had come from-

"... couldn't have been that worried if you're not spilling your drink." Clearly, what had transpired over the last several hours had begun to take its toll on the normally bright and cheerful sentry commander who seemed to materialize out of thin air whenever the Sitka Star was docked in Ketchikan's busy harbor. She'd known Brennan since she and the others had arrived in Ward Cove after the weeks-long trek from Sitka some seven years ago; he'd been a close friend of Drew's. Before the world changed in the blink of an eye, he'd been dismissed as a somewhat high-energy goofball with an aimless attitude and no future... but if there was anyone who did a fine job managing through this new world, it was Brennan. Brennan had even been Iver's godfather, but hadn't joined in on the dream that was Pacific Junction for some reason that she'd never really figured out. And at some point she'd discovered that she didn't really care to know, either. What use was it, anyhow, wondering about what could have been when the inevitable struck.

Aves turned red. "Whatever," she grumbled, her mood too frayed to muster up her typical polite tone. The corners of her mouth drew down into a deep frown as she turned to sit back down upon the ice-cold natural jetty she'd halfway perched herself upon. The freezing rock felt good on her overworked, sore muscles. "At least I'm drinking it."

Brennan shrugged as he pulled a flask from his side, and extracted a set of coveted little items--four tiny plastic bottles of Schnapps, with the little rings around the rims unbroken. These were now worth thousands of dollars in old-world currency due to their scarcity and demand. Home brew was often unreliable, and the good stuff was always unavailable due to high demand--leaving old stuff to be an easier way to snatch a few moments' peace, a good night's sleep, or a carefree couple of hours to do idiotic things like in the old days. For now, it seemed more like the aim was to obtain those few moments of peace as Brennan untwisted two and handed them to Aves. Not wanting to refuse the charity, or to turn down a decent buzz from even a bad liquor, she twisted them in her fingers and let the contents trickle into the ceramic mug from which she'd been drinking what seemed like a sorry attempt at a lowbush cranberry concoction. Within seconds, the two clinked their drinking containers--he with his two small bottles--and in that moment she decided to simply just finish off the gross mixture. She knew she wasn't going to attempt to drink it again moments from then. In a fit of disgusted frustration, she let the mug's handle slack in her fingers before she wound up her elbow and fired it off into the water ahead. The faraway "PLUNK!" sound feebly followed as the sea took up yet another innocent bystander.

"Well, I hope you have another cup on that boat of yours," he grumbled dryly as he shook his head and laughed. He let a pause linger as he watches Aves' face. It was always difficult to figure out what exactly what was on her mind, but it was never difficult to tell when it was occupied. "Thanks for your help in the clinic... it was inland Tlingits. With Athabascans. Tribal ties dating back a long time, you know. This sect... they're not with the folks in Saxman. They're different. Either way-"

"Ward Cove. That's what you came to talk to me about."

Brennan frowned. "That's what I came to talk to you about."

Aves closed her eyes as she felt her stomach flip. Drew's léelk'w. The one person who'd been unaccounted for in her little world. The single constant she'd had since even before she met Drew. The little old woman she'd known so well even before making the journey down to Sitka in the first place--the little old woman on the trip who'd suggested they go to Ketchikan to find her grandson, the one who'd know what to do. The group had no inkling but to trust her, and in the end she had ended up being their salvation.

"I'm out of here," she griped back tetchily as she shot back to her feet and began to stumble out toward the rest of the harbor. A disoriented toe of her rubber boot caught a hold of a slick line of algae snaking out over the pebbly beach, and down she went. Brennan scrambled to sink down to offer her a hand to help her up, but for several long second she just sort of lay face-down, breathing salty sand into her mouth and shutting the tears out of her eyes. It was fine to cry. Just not around other people. No one had time for that.

The other man sighed and shook his head. This was why he had appointed himself to go, even over Blue's imploration. Blue was smart, but her version of soothing would be to tell Aves to get back to work and that everything would be fine. While Blue wouldn't be wrong, or necessarily right, he knew it wasn't the kind of thing that put anyone in high standing with her. Finally, he knelt down next to her carefully and slid a hand respectfully beneath a shoulder to try to nudge her upwards. "Come on. I can't just leave you out here. And you would do the same for me. Let's go."

Wordlessly, the young woman followed behind, feeling lonelier and more out of touch with the world than ever before as they headed back toward the smoldering remains of what was left of the town of Ketchikan.

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Character Portrait: Aves Alcott
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September 5, Change Year 7
Ketchikan, West Coast of North America



Aves was relieved to head out. Tracking down the sewing machines had been quite difficult, as had been scouting out the abandoned natural food shop miraculously found in Wrangell that no one had seemed to walk into either before or after The Happening (as Ketchikan, at least, had agreed to refer to it). Ever since the attack three months prior, leadership had been getting awfully finicky about curfews, round-the-clock guarding stations, rations, and had become even more cautious about who they traded with. Aves knew her status as more or less a drifting trader was accepted by them with a great deal of mercy, and that by comparison other visitors skated on thin ice after the incident.

She paced along the rotting wood of the harbor as she eyed the battered Sitka Star from several meters away. The frost had set in that morning, forcing some of the splintered wood to fray a bit on the ends. It could use replacing, she noted, but the casualties that had piled up had been pretty devastating, taking out the number of bodies that were strong enough to build. Those left over after the exodus, those who'd recovered if they'd survived, or those fewest who had migrated to the town were working overtime as it was to repair infrastructure before winter settled in for the long haul. While the docks were in bad condition, she knew surely that other places were completely hopeless if they didn't have attention before winter struck. And considering that it was September, well…

“Aves. Need to speak with you.”

Aves blinked as she recognized Blue rushing toward her with a frantic expression on her face. She’d grown to become quite fond of the old woman, who managed to still pull things together after the brothel burned down during the Tlingit assault. “Oh. I'll get the dolly and the boxes off the ship soon. I know I'm taking a long time...”

Blue shook her head and beckoned Aves to follow her. “No. It's all right. It's about something else.”

# # #

“Aves. Have a seat.”

“We need to talk about what we’re all doing to ensure that we’re all going to be safe, and prosperous.”

“You understand why that’s important, right?”

The woman sat very still as she stared back at the three faces bearing at her in what she could only think of as too pushy a manner for 10 o’clock at night. Alongside Blue were Clifford and Luella, the self-appointed "mayor" team for the time being. Sure, the sun still hovered ahead duskily, but still. This was time she could have been spending unloading her cargo. Or sleeping. Sleeping sure sounded good...

“Of course. I understand that.” Aves wasn’t sure what they were getting at, but it couldn’t possibly have been important enough to worry this much over.

“Well, we need to do what it takes. We lost a lot of people a few months ago, and we think that it'll take more than pulling people together from other towns… it'll take some forward thinking, some advanced planning.”

“And what does that have to do with me?”

“Well… You're useful, but we will have others who can fill your shoes. People who know where to find great things.”

Aves tilted her head and wrinkled her nose curiously. “I already know how to do that.”

“Yes, but… well, I'll explain that part later. In the meantime, we think you should stay here.”

“... and do what, exactly?”

“Glad you asked. It's a matter of… well, I guess you remember that story about Noah’s Ark, right?”

“... there's a lot of stuff happening in that story, if my memory serves me correctly. Bad weather, for starters.”

“Yeah, well… we aren't building anything, either, but we are pairing people off, so to speak.”

“... excuse me?”

“Only a group of you. Maybe 12. Normally we’d say this is option, but we really think this is best for everyone.”

“This is extremely uncomfortable.” Aves' tone was icy and angry, her eyes clouded nearly to pitch black.

“We think you're a good fit for what Ketchikan needs,” Blue piped up, “for the future.”

“I don't even want a single part of this.”

“Brennan Iloyvich.”

She paused for a long moment. “What about him?”

“Well, he was the person who suggested we approach you.”

“That's silly. He wouldn't do that.”

“... he requested you be paired with him.”

Aves blinked disbelievedly. “No,” she responded instantly, angrily. Did they think she was foolish?

“Brennan didn't think you'd believe us,” Blue assured her in a knowing tone. “But he's outside, if you'd like to talk to him.”

Her face drained of all color. She prided herself on self-sufficiency, on earning her own way. She slept on her own boat, didn't cause problems, worked when she could in the clinic, even going so far as to provide her own supplies when she did. There was really no reason at all to try to trap a person who was more valuable floating in and out of the community than being a permanent part of it.

And... Brennan. There was no even beginning on how much she could not fathom the thought...

This did not sound like a good idea.

“Mind if I talk to him?... privately?”

“Of course.”

In a matter of moments, the small group ushered themselves out and Brennan had seen himself in. The two sat directly across from each other at the table. Aves’ eyes bore directly into his, but he didn't show any sign of being fazed by it.

“Bren… they just told me—”

“—I know.”

There was a pause.

“... then you need to explain yourself. Because what I heard sounded incredibly stupid.”

Brennan sighed and stared off at a corner of the room, just out of Aves’ vision. “Look. I think it's a good idea.”

“... that’s it?”

“Would it make a difference if I asked nicely?”

She smiled tacitly. He knew her pretty well, she had to admit… but. He knew the answer already, of course. “No. It wouldn't.”

He blinked and sighed as he stood up and tapped her fingers along the upper lip of the back of the chair he’d been occupying. “Well, if it means anything. I've been thinking about it for a long time. The opportunity just seemed right.”

“You've got to be kidding me.” He shook his head. “For a while. You've been thinking about this long enough to have had a while.” He nodded wordlessly. His characteristic silence was grating on her. “Why didn't you say anything before? Because you weren't sure if I'd say ‘no’?”

“Doesn't make a difference now, does it?” He shrugged and turned on his heels and walked to the door. “Things’ll be ready for you to move in soon.”

“Bren—”

He stopped. “—I did this because the world is changing and the idea of you not coming back is something I can't abide by.” She froze. “Keep your own room. I’m not worried about the procreation shit. Especially not after what you went through with Iver. I remember all of it.” Aves remained silent. “Your trips take longer every time. And you're running out of places in safe territory to go. Your boat isn't going to survive another hit or two. Winter's around the corner. And aren't you tired of not having one place to go home to?” She still didn't open her mouth. “My house. It'll be ready tomorrow.” He turned back to put his hand on the doorknob. “Don't even have to sleep in the same room. I just don't think you should leave.” The door opened. “See you tomorrow.”

# # #

“I just don't think you should leave.”

The nerve.

Aves’ indignance brewed beneath her skin as she watched the familiar point disappear from view. She'd waited until the very last lantern had burned out, giving her enough time to quietly lift the rope from the harbor for one last time.

One might have argued that Brennan had the best of intentions. Another might have argued that Aves was being impulsive and rebellious, ungrateful… conversely another might have said that Brennan’s decision to make a move to decide someone else’s fate was a heavy-handed thing to do, and that she had a right to toss aside another’s will if it didn't line up with her own. Even if it was her closest surviving friend in Ketchikan.

That was where she preferred to leave it, for now.

In the meantime, there was no unloading of the sewing machines, or the baskets of tea and oils and other coveted takes from Wrangell. She left the key to her section of the storehouse in the center of the empty room, more than happy to whisk out the items left in there that weren't being used; there was enough dried food and oil to last for a while, as well as paper and writing utensils… it was a fast load only thanks to the proximity of the storehouse to the harbor. The Star was weighed down, but she figured it was worth it. The next settlement would need to see she meant it when she would say she had nothing but peaceful intentions, and bartering or passing along something valuable usually did the trick to win the favor of complete strangers.

She blew a stream of air out of the corner of her mouth. The nerve of Brennan. The nerve of them all. There was no longer a reason to remain farther north.

It was time to leave. For good.

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February 26, Change Year 8
Cook's Haven, West Coast of North America


The settlement was clean, and the tavern wasn't at all difficult to locate. A few of the people within seemed skittish, some of them dressed in patchy clothes as they sat in their chairs by the glow of several lanterns upon the couple dozen patrons huddled inside. There was a different kind of air of ease that hung over this place compared to others, even in the frigid cold.

Aves found that it was easy to earn hot meals by flashing a pack of cigarettes at the folks who seemed to have the best-quality food in front of them. Even if one didn't partake, it was smart to trade those little things for more valuable items; brandishing them inside old Zip-Loc bags was a nice added touch for tacking on that extra value. If someone was a harder sell, or still possessed an Old-World attitude about tobacco, she'd opt to pull out a small plastic bottle of salt; she had plenty more back on the Star, but no one else had to know that besides her. Sometimes people wouldn't ask for anything; on those rare occasions they were mostly those elusive people who got more of a kick out of helping others than saving more food for themselves. Those with darker intentions were easy to pick up on and easy to avoid. She'd learned a few lessons the hard way enough to know how to look out for herself.

Either way, Aves typically didn't starve. Not even this evening, when she found herself perched with a bowl of lamb stew, loaded with carrots, potatoes, and onions while nursing a muscle pulled in the small of her back after she had unexpectedly slipped on the deck of the Star two mornings prior. The soup really wasn't bad when she considered that the creature had been slaughtered just hours prior, according to the barkeep, evidenced by the rickety shed not far from the property with the dark stains near the stamped footmat at the door.

The barkeep puffed happily on an old Lucky Strike as she finished peppering the small woman with easy small talk. Aves didn't mind; it was frigid, icy, and slick outside, an impossibly cold front having set in over the coastline. There were times when she didn't like to talk to a single soul, but tonight she was fine with listening to the blonde woman who rattled on about how Christmas had progressed in the little settlement they called "Cook's Haven," how there were three babies who'd survived past three months in the last year, how there hadn't been any hostile incursions in over eighteen months, and even how for the most part things were actually "fairly decent 'round here." Cook's Haven; "haven," indeed. Aves smiled to herself behind her sip of pear ale; for being frozen in, she could have done a lot worse in picking a spot to land. Some towns were dismal, indeed, and it was easiest to tell by the barkeeps... After all, they tended to hear and absorb the weight of the depths of despair in all communities that didn't forbid the consumption of alcohol. They saw what others hoped to shield from their neighbors and were often themselves pining for their own safe and secure third party to levy their own fears upon. But not this one, who seemed so confident and okay for anyone Aves had met since The Happening that she didn't even mention her own name. The quiet woman took it as a good sign and listened earnestly, pleased to be met by the positive approach. Soon it became clear to Aves who the locals were versus the travelers like herself; those skittish, uneasy ones were similar to her, without shelter for some time, waiting for bad news to come around the corner at any time. The locals seemed far calmer by comparison... designating Cook's Haven fairly early as a success in Aves' mind.

The barkeep finally excused herself to peel off to check in with another group that wandered its way into the establishment from the cold, but no sooner had the woman left than had a different figure swooped in to set upon the chair across from her, taking the place of the bubbly barkeep. "Buy you dinner?" A set of white teeth flashed at her charmingly.

Aves frowned, then punctuated it with a laugh. "I'm good, thanks," she responded in an attempt to be polite, as to not invite any conflict or confrontation. She didn't owe anyone politeness, but it often proved to be an excellent insurance policy against trouble. And for times when it backfired, there was always the knife in her boot.

The stranger was handsome, she noticed, as he held up his hands up in the air and backed up a little, smiling good-naturedly. "Aww, sorry," he professed genuinely, "I perhaps came on a bit strong. I always forget people who aren't from here aren't used to that." He degloved a hand and offered it to her, continuing to sheepishly grin at her. "I'm Anthony."

"Avery," she carved out warily, still playing cautiously. Even what could seem like the nicest person could have just been some layered predatory act. With no one on earth that she knew of who could mourn her death, the idea of going at the hands of a stranger just seemed so... anti-climactic.

"Fancy. Someone could write a song about the two of us, yeah?" he chattered on with a glimmer in his massive blue eyes. "One day just across this way / A tale we love still told today / Do you doubt or do you believe / that there's the spot of where they'd meet / the Fabled Pair, of which I speak / of Avery and Anthony!" he sang effortlessly, warmly, easily.

Aves' jaw hung open slightly in disbelief. Having been someone who'd once relied on her ability to think on her feet quickly, she easily found impromptu performances to be amusing, and nearly quite winning and creative.

"Anthony's our local bard," the blonde's voice piped blandly behind Aves' head, moving along in stereo motion behind Aves' head before volunteering a cloth napkin next to her right hand.

A bard. Seriously?

"Hello, Joy," he responded genially. Aves could hear her huff and storm back to her station. Whatever that was about... "I guess she's right. Sort of."

"'Bard,' huh?" Aves rolled flatly and cautiously as she quirked an eyebrow.

"I used to be in a band before all this happened. I found out quickly that people still liked music after everything went down. Every night I'm in here playing to keep a spot at the hostel, and during the day I usually go help out at the quarry or something." He took a sip from the mug in his huge hand. "Went to the clinic, eh?"

Aves' face immediately darkened. "Word travels fast around here, doesn't it?"

Anthony took another sip and raised a hand again. "Relax. I also do shifts there sometimes. Says you sprained something in your back. They said they'd track you down and get you a remedy." Aves paused and nodded slowly. Anthony flashed his smile again and pulled a small package from his the lefthand pocket of his tan raincoat. "Tea. You dropped a pound of black tea as part of your entrance fee into the village. That sewing machine made our elders incredibly happy; the least we could do was give you a remedy. Some of the black tea's in it. It's also got... Lu Cha, Ren Shen, Jiao Gu Lan, and Gan Cao. Got it written down on the inside, too. Want a cup?"

Aves glanced up at the man's clear eyes, then looked over her shoulder back at the woman whose name turned out to be Joy, who no doubt was overhearing the conversation. And what was there to hide? Joy rolled her eyes but nodded, clearing Anthony as someone who wasn't likely to have harmful intentions. She craned herself back to focus on the man across from her, and reluctantly accepted the package. "Thank you," she attempted at an offer to demonstrate any kind of gratefulness from behind her apprehensive exterior. She dropped the package in her bag; her back was indeed still sore. "I appreciate that."

"Of course! But can I make you a cup?" He jostled his head toward the landing up above with doorways lining the walls. Aves shook her head confidently, but not exasperatedly. It wasn't uncommon for people to be so bold in these times. "Well, it was worth a shot," he laughed, "but how about if I make you one and keep you company? You don't even have to get up."

"Do I have a choice?" Aves observed somewhat dryly. Anthony half-grated on her, and half-ignited some desire to seek something of a deviation off the normal routine, as something of a quirkier, more outgoing personality than what she was accustomed to encountering. Conversation with people like this was always a source of great, authentic fun to be had.

Anthony smiled and motioned his hand to collect the package, then held it up in the air and pointed at it for Joy to see before he opened up the brown paper packaging with a small pocketknife. Joy's swift attention produced a cup of tea quickly, wherein he scooped a set of leaves into the piping hot water. "Let it sit for several minutes. Then let it cool down. Then drink it and head off to sleep."

She nodded and watched the leaves soak into the tea. There didn't seem to be any reason to doubt his word, but even then, what choice did she have but to drink? He was much bigger than she was. And there was only one of her, and who knew how many of them... a scary prospect, but she'd have to trust, all the same. She watched the dark liquid begin to cloud into the clear water. "Thank you." She wrapped her hands around the warm mug and let herself smiled a little as she felt the warm porcelain unthaw her cold fingers. "This will make a difference."

"How did you manage to hurt yourself?" he asked curiously.

She couldn't help but crack a smile. "I slipped on the deck of my boat."

"Were you by yourself?" She nodded. He balked. "That must have been awful."

She shrugged a little. "It was scary, I guess." She paused a moment. "I was fine that day. I didn't think anything of it. It was the next morning that was scary... I woke up having a nightmare that my boat was untethered."

"That does sound like a nightmare," he said partly teasingly as he settled his chin into the palm of his hand in a demonstration of attentiveness.

Aves rolled her eyes. "You're such a pal," she threw out with a rueful smile.

"There, there's a personality! I found it!" he declared dramatically, batting his eyelashes playfully at her. "But why do you even travel by yourself? I can tell you're American."

"Like that means anything."

"You're still not from around here."

"How can you tell?"

"That accent of yours."

"I didn't notice yours."

"That's because mine is like everyone else's," he laughed. "But yours isn't. So why're you all the way up here?"

She shrugged. "Well, I came all the way down here--"

"Oh, you're from up north!" She nodded. "That's a long way down, Avery." She shrugged. "That's really a long way away."

She blinked at him. "What does that mean?"

"Well." He sighed, heaving a heavy breath into his broad chest and settling back into his chair. "If you'll pardon me. Most women stick to what they know nowadays. Most women aren't running boats and delivering sewing machines to places they visit for the first time. Forgive me, but that's the truth. And here you are, running your own boat, delivering a sewing machine to a place you've never been before. And I've been here a while and would know if I'd seen you before." He laughed. "You've either got no desire for stability, or you're running away from something."

Aves tilted her head and smiled crookedly. "What a thing to say to someone you just met," she observed again in a dry, placid tone.

He laughed again. "Forgive me. But I see thing sometimes. You're one of those people who sees things, too." He nodded. "You've lost many people. Those far away from you and close to you. Even your family, the one you created after The Happening."

Something created a buzzing sound in Aves' ears. The rest of the room seemed to tune out and freeze around them. She hadn't drank the tea at all, nor had he tampered with her soup. There was no chance of having been poisoned that she could detect... there was something else going on. More than what she could explain at the moment.

Anthony had The Gift, too.

Aves sighed. "It's true." She was glad that the faces around them were suspended in mid-action, incapable of hearing them. It was very rarely that these things ever took place... but they did, every once in a long, long while, ever since The Happening. "I left Juneau in the beginning, with a group. Including an elderly woman who was my neighbor... we ended up all traveling together, making our way to Ketchikan. The voyage was dangerous." She sighed slowly as she realized fully that she'd never recanted the story aloud to a single soul. But since Anthony could even engage in a conversation on this level, she knew for sure... she knew she could say it. "The voyage was dangerous," she continued after a tic, "but we eventually made it. The elderly woman insisted we go down to Ketchikan, to where her grandson lived. I ended up marrying him, and the woman became the closest thing I had to a mother, a grandmother, anything like that. And he, well... well, he understood me. I never had anythig to be afraid of with him... never feared starving. Never feared him beating me. Never feared him losing our home. And when we had our son, well... he wasn't afraid of anything in the world except the possibility of losing us after that."

The man across from her nodded. "The end of the world created a new world for you."

"And then it was dashed away."

Suddenly the world's hues flooded back with tones of yellows and reds and oranges as the tavern skittered back into motion around them. Something in the environment disrupted the conversation. Perhaps it was the look of sadness that etched acrossp Anthony's face as his face fell. "I'm sorry," he murmured, almost as though he'd realized that perhaps the story was perhaps sadder than he'd anticipated.

Aves shrugged and smiled dolefully at the self-proclaimed bard. "It's not your fault," she offered generically, unsure quite of what else to respond with.

Anthony's eyes blinked at her before he folded his shoulder toward themselves and lengthened his elbows, planting them on the table to lean forward to speak quietly. "You're running away from Ketchikan because they're gone and there's no going on in that place."

She sighed and gave the teensiest of nods before she began to sip at the darkened brew before her. The concoction was sweet, easy, and lacked any trace of berries or whatever could be used as a poison that was within easy local reach. Perhaps he wasn't up to anything nefarious. "That's a story I can't tell here."

He smiled at her and leaned closer. "I know your story. So few of us have The Gift, and I know you know it when you see it."

She wrinkled her nose at him. "How can you know?" she whispered creakily.

"When you've had the chance to learn, to understand how it works," he answered easily. "It doesn't happen when you're off on a boat. It happens when you're around others like you."

Joy passed by behind Anthony, smiling warmly at Aves as she balanced a wooden tray in her hand to sport three tall dark glasses of beer to a few other patrons. The room seemed to darken as her green eye winked at her before turning back to her task at hand.

Suddenly, it clicked.

People with The Gift were common in Cook's Haven.

She nodded. "I can't stay anywhere for too long," she admitted somewhat hypnotically. The truth was, she relished the opportunity to be brazenly honest for a change.

"I know. I don't blame you."

"But I want to."

"Stay in one place?"

"Yes." She smiled a little. "Really. I'd love to stay in one place. One spot to call home."

Anthony nodded, and leaned back just slightly enough to stare into her eyes intently for several seconds, then returned to his position. "Here's not it."

"I know it's not... but, where is it?" she asked curiously. After a long tic, she widened her eyes fearfully. "Will I ever find out?" she ventured cautiously.

"You'll know it when you find it."

She hadn't realized that the world had slowed down again. The bar was filling up faster as the night waned on. Aves slammed her tea quickly and ignored the strain in her lower back as she adjusted to the quickening conditions of the world around her. "I suppose I will," she said as she eased herself up.

Anthony rushed to his feet in an attempt to assist her, then fixed his expression back to a charming visage. Once again, he was as he wanted the world to perceive him. "It's cold out there, Avery," he chirped with a curious expression.

She smiled warmly and sighed back at him. "Thank you for the tea," she responded formally, but not coldly, as she pushed the mug ahead and nodded a good-bye to him, meandering through the crowd and to her room, locking the door behind herself before crawling onto a surprisingly comfortable mattress and casting into a deep, deep sleep.

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October Unrecorded, Change Year 8
Unknown, West Coast of North America


“Hello?”

Aves’ voice rang out hollowly among the halls of the empty spruce trees. They responded by furiously whispering among themselves admonishingly as the milky fog continued to fuzz around the shoreline, the darkness shrouding the island in eerie secrecy.

The single word echoed back at her tauntingly, as though someone else had called it out. She gripped the modified handle of a can of bear mace as she stepped ahead through the trees quietly. The tension was nearly unbearable. There hadn't been time to grab her dart gun, or a lantern. Her dark eyes scanned along the fuzzy boughs of the low spruce trees that brushed down toward the ground to spread open like a canopy to block out almost all of the light from the moon overhead. Aves’ eyes struggled to focus on what little light there was at all, while the only sound that could be heard was the occasional slight rustle of dry brush beneath her rubber-soled mukluks.

Onward she stepped, angling and even nearly contorting her knees to step in just the right spots to not generate loud noises or to create too much of a shadow. Her legs were beginning to feel gummy and tired, snapping fleetingly with her body from one second to the next.

And then she stopped in place, and decided to try again. “Hello?”

Nothing.

She furrowed her eyebrows as she grimaced. False alarm. Her thoughts remained outside of her sleepy mind as she relaxed her posture and stood up straight for a moment to stretch her sore muscles. The seconds ticked by slowly as she gathered her wits and turned to head back toward the Star somewhat confidently, tucking the can of mace under her arm to keep the nozzle pointed away from her own face. Even though she found herself on a path for the Star rather quickly, she found herself slowing down at the mouth of the woods where she'd originally entered. ... then what was it?

She felt a set of eyes rest upon her shoulders.

Her body spun in place, her right arm swinging out straight to clock the can of mace directly at the eyes of a big figure, a lanky man in hunters’ gear that seemed a size too big. The trigger on the handle seized in time to blast the chemicals into his eyes, causing him to drop the long cord strung out in his fingers. A loud shout pierced the air as a pair of battered hands clawed back at a corresponding unknown face.

Aves ran.

More footsteps followed as she eyed the Star. The vessel had never looked like such a welcome sight before.

The woods ended not too far ahead--she only had to dash ahead just a few more-

-but it was almost as though the branches themselves wrapped around her arms and yanked her back behind the curtain of foliage, her head suddenly enveloped in a swath of darkness as she was shoved and zipped into a large bag. She panicked as her breath pushed back warmly into her nose. Her arms and legs fought against her confines, causing her to fall in place and struggle on the ground. The sound of taunting intermittent laughter charged her adrenaline faster; her heart felt like it was trying to beat outside of her chest, the same way she was trying to burst out of the large bag containing her. Within seconds she felt herself swinging up into the air as a pair of big hands plucked up a handle and scooped up the big moving canvas mass. Aves felt her mind shift disorientedly, sliding into a bout of unexpected unconsciousness faster than she’d expected.

# # #

Of course it made her angry.

The nerve of them.

All seven of them.

The black smoke billowed southward quickly, almost as fast as she would have liked to have been running, herself.

Her boots had long been snatched from her feet, still immensely sore from walking over the sharp rocks that littered the tiny island on the trek back to the shoreline. She steadied herself precariously on her toes. Her jacket had been torn away and her legs were unceremoniously bare. Mercifully, she still had the long blue cotton shift dress she’d been wearing, still drenched in water in a few spots. At least that was going for her.

She clicked her tongue along the back of her front teeth as she glared at the wild, skinny child wandering dazedly along the treeline, completely oblivious to the group huddled nearby a cluster of rocks out of the way of the burning wreckage of the Sitka Star. Never before had she ever found herself so angry with a child--and this one had appeared all too willing to play a part in what would look like her impending demise. He’d let a shrill shriek of terror surge out of his lungs long after she’d fallen asleep in the relatively safe confines of the fogged-blocked boat--the undeniably heart-wrenching noise drew her from the well-defended haven and out into the darkness with nothing but her bear mace, far too little to compete against what she had counted as seven raiders; cannibals, from what she could figure by the adornment of human teeth on some of the figures’ jackets. They’d quickly subdued her by stuffing her into a heavy-duty duffel bag, much to her chagrin, and dragged her back to the beach, where they eventually bound her wrists over her head with a particularly rough painful strap of unfinished cedar that threatened to dig painfully into her wrists with even the slightest movement. For a few hours she’d wordlessly, angrily watched as they stripped the Star of any valuable materials whatsoever, then emptied the assortment of wooden boxes, duct-taped plastic tubs, and aluminum-alloy trunks carrying valuable cargo. Then her own tiny cabin had been raided--she’d watched them toss books, photographs, her clothes and other simple effects, even her guitar, out onto the sandy beach. The huddle congregating near the rocks babbled off incoherently from her distance--but the moment she’d decided to work to clue in on what they were talking about, she’d instantly thought better of it. Their plans weren’t at all in alignment with her own--and they appeared to include far more than death.

And that damned child had wandered along the trees, bobbing about as though nothing had ever happened. Son of a bitch. Really. Her brain fumed as the seconds ticked by. It was unfair. The whole thing was unfair. Many things had been unfair. But the most unfair thing of all was definitely this. You little idiot.

The odds weren’t in her favor. It only felt good to viciously attack the child in her mind, helpless as the ball joints of her shoulders creaked tiredly thanks to the taut line stretching from the tree branch to her wrists. For now, all she knew was that it would take nothing short of divine intervention to help her, now.

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October Unrecorded, Change Year 8
Unknown, West Coast of North America


“Hey, there, lady.”

Aves blinked back at the face of the cannibal addressing her as he chewed a bit on a hunk of tobacco. Clearly, they were used to solid hauls if tobacco was among items he could comfortably carry and even use at whatever frequency he liked.

She didn't want to talk. He did, though. Standing in place, he folded his jacketed arms over his chest and took a breath. “I'll try again. Hey there, lady.” She blinked again. He rolled his eyes and disconnected his arms and took a step forward. “You come to our island, without our permission, and then you hit one of ours.” He cocked his head back to indicate the man whose eyes she'd managed to spray with the bear mace, who was finally feeling a bit improved. He glared at her from his place. “I'd say you owe him more than just saying ‘hi’ and apologizing.”

Aves sighed, a neutral expression still cast over her face. Her fear had long subsided and had turned into a resentful resignation, with grim plans of how to allow her soul to find a way to abandon her body before things truly got out of hand. She preferred to have other things be among her last memories, and there were far too many sad or truly violent things to look back on to have any desire to want to go on and add more to the burden that was already there. “It would be a lot easier if I was dead,” she responded flatly to him.

The leader laughed and pulled a knife from his boot. “Ahh, nah,” he muttered a bit as he stepped to Aves and sliced the cedar strap from around her red wrists. He stood back as she settled back onto the flats of her bare feet, wincing as her hands went instinctively to her sore joints but were instead met with a burning pain. “Nowhere for you to run.” He slid the knife back into the boot. “Besides. We'd rather have you alive than dead.”

Aves didn't run. Instead she stood in place, grateful to be on her feet again after hours perched exhaustedly on her toes, gritting her teeth behind her tightly drawn mouth as she studied the man’s face. “Can't talk you into just killing me, huh?” she muttered quietly so that the others couldn't hear.

He laughed and gestured to what was left of her boat. “No. We've already found enough to make it so we didn't just cook you up alive.”

Aves’ heart sunk into her stomach. She knew that they were Eaters… but the very notion of the idea of pondering the method of Drew and Ivers' suffering was more than unbearable. She grimaced a little before she sighed heavily. “Shit.”

He paused before he smiled and reached into his back pocket. “Care for a cigarette?” She shook her head. “Too bad.” Seeming to trust that she was in no proper condition to fight back, he drew a little paper-rolled stick of tobacco from the tin he withdrew. A quick light from the nearby bonfire later saw Aves with a cigarette nestled in her fingers, sitting down on the sand across from the man, who perched about five feet away from her in a similar position. “Death is deprivation. Sure, you could be dinner, but you could be so much more.”

“Nope.”

He cracked a half-smile. “I actually had it in mind that you'd be out looking for things. Seems like you're pretty good at it… Tea? First aid? Even sewing machines… I mean… We’re going to have to strip the boat for parts. But we've got that covered for when you'd go search.” He took a drag on his cigarette as he glanced her over. “Could always use advancing another generation, though.”

“That’d be a waste of a mouth to feed.”

He smiled quizzically. “Why would a mother say that about her own child?”

She shook her head. “I'm talking about me. I barely survived the birth of my own child.”

“Oh? How's that?”

“Cesarean section. Didn't expect it.”

He rolled his eyes. “Hospitals—”

“—it happened after The Event.”

He nodded. “Oh. Right. I forget that it's been… that it's been this long, sometimes.” He took another puff. “You survived that. How?”

“I don't know. I was lucky enough to have enough blood donors around me?... they thought I was going to die.”

“Your child survived?”

“Certainly.”

“And where is that child now?”

Aves blinked and puffed nervously on her own cigarette. “He was taken by Eaters.”

The man’s smile weakened a little. Aves’ soft brown eyes looked jarringly yet quietly combative as they bore into his. “Ahh. And the father?” Aves didn't say anything as she continued to stare him down. “I see.”

She nodded. “You'll understand why I'm a little apprehensive.”

He nodded. “I do.” He took a final drag on the cigarette before flicking it off into a nearby puddle. “Still leaves the matter of our friend. You've caused him a lot of trouble.”

“Sorry. This would only create more trouble.”

“Why? It's not like you're married any longer,” he scoffed.

Aves shook her head. “Don’t plan on breaking the dry spell, either. Seems to keep me out of trouble during times like these.”

He laughed a little. “You ain’t half bad-looking. I’m sure someone’d keep you around even just for company.”

She shrugged. “Don’t think someone hasn’t tried already. Just don’t like the idea of being that close to anyone.”

He laughed as he put the cigarette out in the sand next to them. “Yeah, I don’t take you for the type who wants to be ‘kept’...” He looked around a bit as he pulled himself up to his feet. “You don’t look much like you like to keep much, either…”

He blinked as he glanced down at the ground. “Hey. Where’d you go?”

She was gone.

“Hey! Drop what you’re doing! She’s gone!”

“How? She was right in front of you!”

“I don’t know, just---just do it!”

They spread out along the island and the sand bar to search for any trace of her in the short amount of time that had gone by since she’d simply vanished. It was impossible for her to have gone too far, they'd reasoned aloud as they searched frantically.

Meanwhile, Aves waited until the commotion picked up before returning to the ground to make a run for the treeline once again. Time seemed to move in slow motion and the world was filtered through gray monochrome blurs as she dodged from one spot on the sand to the other, trying hard not to leave behind too deep of indentations of footprints. It was difficult to see, sure, but it wasn’t hard at all to feel the relief that rolled through her body as the presence of any of the Eaters was becoming farther and farther away as she proceeded to scramble up a great spruce tree.

The Gift was quite a thing to have. But who knew how long it would last for; maintaining the ability to let light pass through her being was difficult to do under such duress. She’d been practicing for years, and at times during her travels the ability had come in handy… but it truly was a draining exercise.

Aves sighed and held on to the branch carefully after she seemingly flew up the trunk by climbing it quickly. There was something greater not far away… she wasn’t sure what, but she and the Eaters weren’t alone, after all.

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October Unrecorded, Change Year 8
Unknown, Former Canadian Pacific Coast

The first Eater died in the shallows near Aves boat. One moment he had been cursing his comrade for cutting the woman loose, stabbing into the thick brush by the waterline with his spear, the next he was staring into the face of a man who looked as if he had crawled from the Ocean itself. He was naked from the waist up, water pouring from a beard and long blonde hair, two savage blue eyes staring out from a face that showed an animal ferocity he did not think possible. He had barely had time to register the sudden apparition when the stranger lashed out, chopping a hand into his throat. He has gasped, dropped his spear and clutched at his throat. In one fluid motion the stranger pulled him into the shallows and then shoved his face under the water. It took him a very short time to drown.

Thomas Argyle took his hand off the back of the cannibals head and then pulled the fallen spear to his side. He had a combat knife in his belt, another strapped to his leg, a pair of black swimming trunks and priceless pre-change water shoes on, not much else. For a man who had spent six years as an elite special forces operative, he was well equipped to hunt men in an era where guns no longer functioned.

When he had first seen the group it had been from the sea, binoculars trained on them from the deck of his own vessel, studying their movements. He had seen the small sailboat lying on its side and the woman tied to the tree. He could not tell if she was dead or alive until one of the men had gone to speak with her. Thomas was not sure what had been said but he knew well enough how the conversation was going. It was an all to familiar one.

He had anchored his own vessel, a small Pinky Schooner, just around the coastline and then slipped into the water, swimming strongly until he could see the beached vessel before slipping underwater. He had surfaced several times close to the beach, brushing the long hair out of his eyes and reminding himself to cut it later. It was not helping at all.

It took him the better part of twenty minutes to reach the brush along the shoreline to the north of the beached craft. He had seen then what he could not from the water. The small Eater camp, the joints of human limbs smoking over their fire, and he no longer cared their motives for tying up the young woman, they would have to die.

A spider had been crawling down his back as he crouched in the shadows, tickling him something awful, as he thought of his next move. He was certain he could kill the Eaters without any real danger to himself but the woman, well, he didn't need a hostage situation. Gone were the days of taking a man with a headshot from two hundred yards away. Part of him really missed a proper firearm sometimes. In a perfect world he'd have liked a pistol with fifteen rounds in it and he could probably kill them all from the woods but, well, times had changed, it was all knife work now. It was strange though, he found he didn't mind. There had been a time when he had been squeamish about killing, before he joined up, and again after he became a Police Officer, but now, there was a certain joy to it. It proved he was better, faster, stronger. He was a survivor and sometimes people just had to be removed from the earth. People like the Eaters. There was no shortage of small feral deer about, he had seen a small herd during his swim, but this group seemed to have got a taste for human flesh and as far as he was concerned, that meant they had excused themselves from the gene pool and he would be happy to help them along.

The woman had vanished while his line of sight was blocked by the hull of the small sailboat and he assumed she had run into the woods. Good, clever, he liked that in people. It was someone he would like to meet if he could find her alive again, which he doubted at the moment as the three remaining male Eaters were expertly searching the brush with two dogs they had gotten from the campsite. Pitbulls. It was a shame they would probably have to be killed as well, he was fond of dogs.

The Eater who had come straight to him was luck. One down and now he had a spear. There were six left, five adults and a boy. They would all have to die, no sense in sparing a rat, no matter how small. He hefted the spear and stepped out from the brush, walking straight towards the main campsite where two women and the boy squatted around the fire, laughing at the enraged men who were searching for the missing captive. There was a lump of meat on a spit that the boy was turning, his back to Thomas and the two women who had a second fire going with a pot boiling between them. One looked as if she might have been nineteen, the other a few years older, both looked well fed. He supposed Eaters rarely ate pretty captives.

It was the older of the two women who saw Thomas first and and it took her a moment to realize it was not the dead cannibal. Then there was a pause of uncertainty as she wondered who he was, this half naked stranger who smiled at her and waved as he approached. His footsteps in the sand vanished as waved erased them. If he hadn't been standing right in front of her she would have sworn he was a ghost, a shadow, a memory of years before. She smiled back uncertainly for a moment, trying to decide if he was real or not than and then her face registered terror as he snarled and lunged.

The spear took her cleanly in the mouth, the fire hardened tip smashing her teeth as the point drove through the back of her skull. It glanced off her spine and punctured through the skin as she toppled over backward. In an instant she was paralyzed and pain tore through her body and she tried to scream but could not do more than moan around the four foot piece of wood that stood up from her mouth like a small flagpole. The second woman was about to cry out when the stranger kicked the boiling pot into her lap and her flesh burnt in an instant. She opened her mouth to scream as Thomas grabbed her hair and thrust her face into the fire. Her hair caught fire at once and she inhaled ash and smoke, she choked and managed to stumble away from the fire, rolling in the sand, unable to make a noise, her vocal cords seared by the fire.

The boy had heard the commotion and was just beginning to turn when Thomas clamped his hands on either side of the the small head and gave a violent twist. The neck broke in an instant and the boy sagged down to the ground, falling towards into his fire, his hair also flaring up at once. The men and their dogs had noticed nothing. Thomas stepped back to the first woman and yanked the spear from her mouth, wrecking what remained of her teeth as he did so. Her eyes stared up beseeching but any pity he might have felt had long died away. He stabbed down once into her throat and she sagged limp into the sand.

Without breaking stride Thomas passed down the beach and headed in the direction of the tree where he had seen the captive woman. He could hear his enemies returning. The men and their dogs burst out of the wood with a symphony of oaths and curses that died away into silence as they observed their shattered campsite. The boys head was well aflame now and the woman who had been burnt by the boiling water was still struggling feebly in the sand, unable to see her friends through flame seared eyelids. It took them a moment to register the man striding towards them, blood stained spear in one hand.

The man with the dogs dropped their leashes and screamed at the beasts to attack but they would not, instead they shied from the stranger who raised the spear, reached back, and then hurled it with such force that the dog handler was spun backwards, landing with a crash in the sand, the spear embedded in his gut. His screams mixed with the howls of the dog and the roars of the last two men as they raised their primitive weapons and charged Thomas. Both died. One with his throat slit and the last with his own rusting knife buried to its hilt in his chest.

What came next would surprise anyone who did not know Thomas as he dropped to one knee and whistled for the two dogs to come to him. They did slowly, tails between their legs, heads down, cautiously sniffing his hand as they came close enough for him to pet them. He touched one on the head and for an instant he was transported back to a warm room lit by a small fire, a square head and big brown eyes on his knee staring up at him as he stroked the velvety ears. The whine of the dogs brought him back to the blood soaked beach that now reeked of burnt flesh. Another life.

At that moment he heard a shriek from the woods and then the sound of something falling heavily into the undergrowth. He pulled the spear free of the dying man and, dogs in tow, began to walk towards the forest. Behind him the ocean, ever present, erased his footprints.

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October Unrecorded, Change Year 8
Unknown, Former Canadian Pacific Coast

Among all of the unexpected setbacks she had experienced over the course of several years, falling out of a tree was a first for Aves.

Before that, she'd seen the whole thing. The cooking pot attendants and that miserable boy mowed down by the spear of the shoreline searcher. The quick work made of the others. The dogs' sudden cooperation. She'd been right—they weren't alone. The sole force behind the whirlwind appeared to be what looked like a shirtless Viking invading the beach singlehandedly. It was a bit of a shock to see so much blood so quickly, to watch the sand tussle up all over the place, especially on the woman who more or less looked as though she was melting.

Aves had no idea whether the threat was genuine or not. She held fast to the tree trunk she had scaled, carefully balancing her feet on a set of branches. As she watched the carnage unfold, the branches had begun to crackle disapprovingly beneath her bare feet.

She pursed her lip as she shifted her weight to her left foot to crawl her right knee up to let a foot explore another branch. Satisfied, she carefully stood to climb up. Done. She repeated the step with her left foot, and again with her right. She felt a rush of relief as she reached her sixth branch. She didn't want the dogs to know where she'd gone. There was no knowing how well fed they were.

As for the stranger, there was no telling what would happen if he were to find her. It was obviously best to steer clea—

CRRRRRRRRACK!

—this wasn't at all what she anticipated as she flew down to the ground, smacking the soft floor heavily with a THUD! and a rain of wood splinters and evergreen bits. Her throat felt sore from the sudden burst her lungs belted out. She felt her face cringe even more over the deep pain radiating through her body as stars filled her eyes and the realization sunk in—she'd been heard.

The instant the thought crossed her mind, two sets of snapping teeth and roars came barreling at a distance. Her vision blurred and her body still absorbing the shock of the fall, Aves reflexively pulled herself into a ball, horrified by the noise. In an instant, though, a sharp whistle called them back. She could barely make out the figure of the stranger as he walked toward her. She shook her head. She hated this feeling. Completely helpless. Unable to see. Her shaky arms extended to pull herself away on the ground.

"Stay back!" she croaked out.

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October Unrecorded, Change Year 8
Unknown, Former Canadian Pacific Coast

The minute the woman tumbled from her perch the two Pitbulls charged across the sand, giving voice to their excitement as they hurtled towards the downed woman. Thomas doubted very much that they would attack her, he did not sense any particular anger or menace in the dogs, rather the fierce curiosity and protective instincts of their breed. He was quite certain she did not know any such thing and gave a sharp whistle to bring the dogs up short. They retreated slightly but continued to sniff towards the fallen woman, their tails wagging low as they whined and glanced from her to Thomas as he walked slowly toward her.

"Stay back!"

He almost laughed when she said it. He had just slaughtered six grown adults and a boy without an injury to himself and she thought "Stay back!" was going to be any sort of deterrent. Lucky for her, he had no stomach for rape, never had. It was a weird thing he supposed since most men his situation would have had the pants off of her in a heart beat and flat on her back, screaming despite there being quite literally no one else to hear her. Instead he stopped short and squatted in the sand, watching her with a frank expression of concern.

Her long brown hair was twisted about her face and despite the sand and bark that covered much of the left side of her face he could make out a fine jawline and high cheekbones, she was undoubtedly pretty. She was also much shorter than he was, probably no more than a few inches over five feet. Her slender body was twisted awkwardly from her fall and he was trying to decide what to do or say when one of the Pitbulls, tail wagging quickly back and forth, trotted forward and licked her nose.

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Character Portrait: Thomas Bennet
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