Creative. Curious. Coward.

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a character in “Mechanophage: The Nextgen Infection”, as played by MilkHoney


Name: Cammara (pronounced just like camera, with 3 syllables, kam-er-uh)

Age: 22 years old

Special Ability: Telepathic Persuasion: the ability to make a target believe a projected thought or perform a desired action (Dungeons & Dragons analogy: specialization in telepathic compulsion).
Cammara currently is not aware of her ability, and because of her upbringing, wouldn't want to use it anyway. That being said, it is her only way of defending herself and she'll need to learn to use it to survive.
There are many situations in which her power would not work. This form of telepathy makes her a broadcaster, not a receiver: she can't listen in on other people's thoughts. She needs to be conscious, concentrated and willfully targeting. Self doubt equals no magic. Anyone around her for extended periods of time could recognize her voice in their head and resist it. Telepaths in the vicinity could 'hear' her even if they weren't her target -she'd be loud- and would be immune to the effects. Various psychics, in addition to defensively oriented magic users, would be immune. The more chaotic the mind, the more unreliable the effect, because a weak mind is very easily influenced but there is no reasoning with crazy. She can't target something without a mind to engage. Those directly opposed to her wouldn't be susceptible to her influence either, but she could redirect intention if it were not aimed at her as an individual. She'd have to win a battle of wills to overcome someone with the power of conviction or single-mindedness backing them. Her power works best in cases where the persuasion is something the person might do (or think) anyway. She could not hypnotize someone into thinking or behaving completing contrary to their nature. Extrasensory perception could circumvent her power and contradictory evidence could potentially break a persuasion, especially if the evidence is not innocuous.

Basic Appearance: For a world in ruin, Cammara got the short straw in terms of hair. There is a lot of it. It frizzes, it breaks, it tangles, it snags, and occasionally, it devours objects. It would be a relief to cut it off, especially now that she doesn't have anything to tame it with. She's using a strip of rag to tie it back for the moment. The rims of her eyes are pink with dark shadows underneath: the artistry of sleep deprivation and dehydration. She has freckles that spread from ear to ear, and two under her left eye so dark they could be moles. A birthmark on her right upper arm and on the right upper thigh share a scatter pattern, like the clustering lights of distant galaxies (or, less poetically, like she'd been nicked by birdshot). Her cheekbones are wide and her chin narrow, lending her a heart shaped face. Her lips are a pale pink that darkens into dusky raspberry red when she takes a drink, and are perpetually caught in a faint moue, as if she were eternally disappointed with her surroundings. She has a long neck and long fingers, the latter of which are helpful for the dextrous work she enjoys. She is tall, despite being malnourished for the majority of her life, and if she could get her hands on fat or sugar more often, she'd have curves to match; instead, she has stretchmarks on her hips, as obvious as if she'd been mauled by a tiger. Her clothes were ripped and grease stained before she was picked up by the slave caravan, and haven't noticeably worsened, but that really isn't saying much. The rags given to her she wears like a shawl, and they are so full of holes that it is conceivable they were a shawl, maybe in another life. She washes her clothes in dirt. It absorbs the sweat and keeps her own stink down (or she hopes it does, since her olfactory senses shut down in self defense some time ago from the ripe, pungent odor of the other slaves).

Biography: Cammara lived with two elderly spinsters and the brother of one of the spinsters in the narrow expanse of Hinders Valley. They found her a few miles from their secluded home, screaming in the stiff arms of her dead fourteen year old mother, naked and wet with blood and amniotic fluids, leaf litter sticking to her skin. They buried her mother and took her in. They'd never taken care of a child before, didn't have anyone to ask how it was done: they'd stayed away from people, fearful of contracting the virus or getting mixed up in the madness of society post-collapse. They had a nanny goat, a garden, sometimes meat from traps. They were able to keep her alive. They loved her, but feared her unknown origins. Part of them was always preparing to kill her if she showed symptoms of magic or the virus.

They named her Cammara, after the brother Cameron. She won him over before she could talk, toddling after him and watching intently as he beat salvaged copper into a new pot for his sister Junie, smiling brightly when he glanced her way, clutching his pant leg to steady herself. Imogen would cluck and chide him for how soft he was around his baby girl, warning him in vain not to get too attached. Despite her griping, she used all that year's cashmere to weave the softest blanket for little Cammara.

Cammara learned their way of life. The water pump for their well broke: they went to a trash midden and foraged for parts. Cammara was older and needed a room of her own: they went to a trash midden for supplies. She got used to identifying uses for abandoned rubble, she picked up on how to fix things, and gradually, they left the building and tinkering to her. They were getting too old to do it all themselves, their fingers too arthritic and their strength fading. They couldn't keep up with her energy, and slowly, she spent more time on her own, backward engineering relics left from the old world. Her favorite project was one she could never get to work properly, a compact vehicle news carriers used in Luxia before it became the Wasteland. PET is written on it in several spots, identifying it as a Personal Electromagnetic Transport (you know that hoverboard from the Back to the Future series? works like that, but it has a more aerodynamic torpedo shape and is meant to be straddled).

So how'd she end up in a slave caravan, and so very far from home? Eh, freak accident, wrong place, wrong time... a very unfortunate series of events. She was carrying PET over a creek when it jumped to life. Rather than lose it, she held on, and was carried a remarkable distance, unable to steer its direction away from the creek bed and equally unable to halt its progress. She went to sleep on it, her knuckles white in her grip and her fingers gone stiff and numb. The creek bed became a canyon. PET veered up and out, carrying her on an invisible road. Then it died. Cammara had no way of getting home. She spent 10 days in the Wasteland before the slavers found her. Badly dehydrated, she'd wavered in and out between delirium and unconsciousness, offering no fight when they captured her. They pried her fingers off PET and added her to the chain gang. The man behind her had to carry her unconscious body to save his own wrists from being torn off by her dead weight, and to end the beating when the slavers blamed everyone because she didn't wake up and walk when they beat her. When she came to, she wished she hadn't. Consciousness was hell. The slavers found she walked quick enough on her own when threatened or hurt -which only meant that anytime someone near her lagged, they beat her to get everyone up to pace-, and she was so goddamn thirsty, all the time. She was getting migraines from the abuse, and the water felt so good, but it was never enough.

Then, the others were flinching, even when the slavers weren't near. The Ruins loomed ahead, their silhouette the teeth of an animal. It didn't feel anything like the rubble she'd scrambled over back home, where the steel beams had been stripped long ago, leaving nothing higher than she was tall, and the most danger she could get into was flushing a snake from its crevice. She'd gotten used to feeling sand in her throat, the lack of wetness when she cried, but she couldn't get used to the buzzing in her ears. The other slaves were whispering, glancing at the Ruins. The odor of their sweat changed from the reek of unwashed bodies to the stench of fear. Their eyes rounded to expose the white of their instinctual terror, or dulled with shadows, trapped in a despair there was no crawling out of. They were worsening with every step, dying from a plague spread by whispers. She got the distinct impression she was missing out on something important: something about the massive ruins that was different than the trash middens she'd scampered through as a child. They used the word Scavenger. Like an engine placed before her back home, she began to understand there were parts she was missing, and she knew what those parts were and where to find them. They were going to die. It was the virus, the mad people her guardians had always feared, it was the exhaustion, the sickness, the impossibility of surviving, the chains leading them to horrifying deaths no one should endure, let alone anticipate.

Worst case scenario was really the only scenario. Depressing, yes, but unavoidable. She stood a little straighter. It was nice to know. Back home, she'd always wanted to get out, do some traveling, be with other people, get PET working. She'd gotten all that. It would have been funny if it wasn't real. No, it was still funny. Even when there was so much dead weight on the chain that she couldn't move, it was still funny.

It stopped being funny when the Scavengers came. Drawn to the smell of blood, bruised skin, sweat, meat. Drawn by all the little sounds roaring in her ears as people died. She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see them coming. Like a rabbit, all she could think was 'they won't see me', though it was impossible they wouldn't. The impossible logic that if she stayed perfectly still, they wouldn't know she was there, would spare her, take all the rest, lighten her chains.

The funny thing was they did exactly that.

So begins...

Cammara's Story


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cammara Character Portrait: Milo Ratchet Character Portrait: Gozer the Kinslayer

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Her back was straight as she was walked into the Ruins of Chathair Tús Nua. It was the first time since her feet had been on unfamiliar ground that she’d done so. In the days before the slavers found her wandering lost in the Wasteland, a straight spine had egged on the ache in her stomach, made it impossible to forget what she’d last eaten. Flowers and a bite of soft tart goat cheese. The yellow trumpet shaped flowers had been peppery on her tongue, the spice of their round leaves awakening her appetite. She’d gobbled up the sticky cheese curds, licked up the sour white cream from her fingertips, and been disappointed when she couldn’t find any apples in the dugout cold pantry. They’d had a good year, and she’d been able to indulge in a meal between breakfast and supper without feeling she’d stole it from her winter stomach. Had she known how far away from that beautiful pantry she would end up, she’d have devoured the two boars hanging there, bones and all.

Ten days after that, she’d been close unto death. She’d wandered over prairie grass with nothing she could recognizably call food between one hill and the next, and little frame of reference of where she was or where she was going. Standing on the crest of one such hill, there had been mountains rising up in the distance, curving around her horizon. At home, the forest had made it impossible to see the mountains, which she only knew were close because Cameron didn’t take more than three days when he took the nanny goat into them to breed with the wild billies. She couldn’t remember collapsing or being found by the slave caravan, but she presumed it had happened. There was no other explanation for her current life.

The meals since then were much like what she remembered of bad years: thin gruel with more gristle than grain, and topped with a quickly congealing layer of spoiled grease, meant to save some muscle on the slaves so they could walk under their own power. It had turned quite a few of their number into cows, chewing numbly the scant offerings of food to have the food come back up on them moments later, only to be swallowed down again. Retching was bad manners toward their generous hosts. Very bad manners and very punishable. Memories of dirt biscuits that Junie had made to ease her stomach aches during bad years were cruel reminders that there was no such comfort now, and nothing but her own will to safeguard her, as there wasn’t a shred of camaraderie among slaves. Imogen had been right on that score: no one in the outside world was going to be her friend, and no one possessed enough kindness in their soul to shelter the life of another. Food was stolen by those stronger or more desperate, and she watched passively when her own was occasionally taken. It wasn’t worth fighting for when it took more energy to protest than was available in the bowl. Not that her protesting stomach listened to reason.

It wasn’t so bad as to be unbearable. There were a few things she knew, and she was clever enough to learn and adapt. Except for the issue of water, she didn’t feel especially deprived of resources. Even the inedible portions of the gruel were useable. Cammara did not touch the rancid fat to her tongue, instead using it on her lips and feet, striving to keep her skin from splitting. Dirt got into the grease, making it cake and crack, but saving the flesh underneath.

Once, she had tried smearing the grease on her hands. The act was not repeated. From what she could understand from the row she’d caused, greasing wrists was the action of a rebellious slave trying to escape. If she had any further confusion about what a slave should and shouldn’t do, the lacing of welts hidden under her leggings would bleed until the lesson was permanently written in her skin. It was no secret at least one of the slavers made up rules and imagined transgressions, all too eager to hear pain bleated out amongst wordless cries for mercy. There was no ward against men like Johno. When she had begged, lost all semblance of pride and debased herself before the slaver, Cammara had believed he’d stop breaking her body, satisfied by her broken spirit. She’d been wrong. Stupidly wrong. Even after learning that, she couldn’t stop herself from screaming and choking on her tears. The pain hadn’t changed, hadn’t lessened. Why should her reception of it be altered? She’d seen other slaves take the hits and not respond, faces still as stone, though their blood ran freely, more red outside than in. It wasn’t in her to be silent. Maybe if it had been, certain devils wouldn’t have delighted so much in tormenting her.

It was the people and the sky that had put her on edge for so long. The people who used discipline as cover for their violent insanity, the sky so wide it threatened to spill over and take the ground from under her feet. Thinking on either made her dizzy. The slavers were infected with the madness that ate away their humanity, the one that consumed their soul with greed and filled their mind with power. The slaves were scarcely better, but she watched them, remembering Imogen telling her animals would sense danger first. It seemed true. She could gauge the moods of the slavers from the posture of the slaves, reading there more than the body language written in the slavers themselves. All of this day, the slaves had been jumping from two shadows, unable to bolt to safety from either. One, she knew, was an old shadow, the slavers. The other was new, and yet it called to their ancient primordial nature, invoking fear afresh.

Or not so fresh. Cammara wrinkled her nose, certain someone ahead of her in the line had dark urine running down their legs. One of the slaves, for sure. The slavers had the luxury of stopping and seeking privacy if they desired, but not the slaves. Plus, there was a very unhealthful edge to the scent that came with dehydration. It piled on top of the odor of sweat and unwashed bodies, of blood and pus, and of the myriad of bowel problems brought on those who ate the gristle and fat. She daydreamed about Junie’s lye soap and buckets full of water to rinse away the filth. A little bit of soap could wash away the perfume of slavery, if only she could get her hands on it.

Within the Ruins, the skeletal remnants of skyscrapers loomed, breaking up the expanse of sky into manageable chunks. They were so much taller than the trees of her home, so much thicker. “Humans used to build mountains,” she thought, gazing up at one. The ravine had forced her attention to tunnel forward into a rather dispiriting view of the slave train, but this, this was magnificent. The tug on her wrists reminded her she didn’t have the luxury of stopping to gawk, and she clipped the heels of the slave in front of her, catching up before the brief lag was noticed. The Ruins had the familiar feel of a well picked site, complete with dusty piles of immovable rubble and haphazard paths created by foraging survivors. The carefully planned geometry of a city wasn’t evident from ground level, but then again, this was no longer a living city, so why should it retain that touch of civilization?

Someone ahead of her had fallen. Cammara took little note –she wouldn’t have been able to see anything from her vantage point on the line anyway- momentarily glad the slaver’s attention was elsewhere and that the slave hadn’t been so close to her that she risked Johno’s favoritism. He was so loud. His vulgar mouth echoed in her ears, painful in the dry air. She was spared the usual migraine, and blessed that distance once again. She should adopt Imogen’s oft said adage “keep trouble far from us”. It could be put to good use in circumstances like this.

There was a disturbance in the usual pattern of clinking chains as a few of the slaves shifted from foot to foot, waiting to get moving again. If their whispers were to be believed, they walked into the home of Scavengers. Cammara heard plenty about them at home, in the relative safety of knowing nothing would attract one to her corner of the woods. Yet another reason she should be there, instead of here. She looked back at the skyscrapers, seeing them with new eyes. Were they more threatening now that they housed monsters? Positively. This was a deathtrap, and make no mistake: lined up and chained together was as defensible as a prone corpse. Moving or standing still, it wouldn’t make any difference; they were fresh meat placed before the beasts. Anywhere those towers cast a shadow was no man’s land. It was suicide to be here. People must have gotten very stupid in the last seven hundred years. Or it was a symptom of the slavers’ madness. There was a strong correlation between distance from Scavengers, and sanity, and this, this was Crazy Territory. There was some skepticism among the whisperers, but she paid it no heed. Over twenty generations did not go into hiding from imaginary monsters. There was real reason to fear. She was as convicted in that as anything. But if the other slaves doubted, her vindication wouldn’t serve them better.

For those who maintained belief in Scavengers, it was too cruel, to endure degradation and abuse maintaining the hope that your life at least would be spared even if your spirit was not, and to discover instead you’d walked into your grave. Sheep driven there by madmen. Renewal of despair. It seemed there were infinite deaths awaiting a single spirit. She could have lived quite happily without learning that. But knowing she’d die here, likely very soon, made her heart easier. She wouldn’t walk very far before a Scavenger ensured she didn’t reach the destination the slavers’ had in mind. The greedy bastards wouldn’t profit from the lives of this lot, and if the god was just, the slavers would be dessert, eaten slowly over the course of days.

Another slave crumpled to the ground. Or had fallen unnoticed before and had been recently discovered (she had a low opinion of Johno that couldn’t get much lower, but more to the point, she could personally testify that he couldn’t comprehend beating and screaming at people who were unconscious didn’t accomplished anything). Regardless, that one wasn’t going to get back up. Exhaustion and dehydration were the most likely culprits, especially with no sign of their impending doom, the fabled Scavengers. To come here and die so unspectacularly was anticlimactic, but far more merciful than any death at the hands of this skeletal city’s inhabitants.

But too soon, another fell, and another. Too many too quickly. Slaves and slavers both. She stood stock still, eyes picking up more dying in her peripheral vision, but she was stubbornly focusing on some memory. Both were dying, and the thought kept echoing, trying to tell her something. Imogen and Junie had told her so many reasons not to venture into the world; she had trouble remembering the name of this specific one. It was a plague. It had been the mages’ fault. Before civilization was destroyed, human scientists had experimented with technologies to give power to normal humans, trying to safeguard humanity from magical oppression. Scientists had almost leveled the playing field, but they had made a crucial mistake: they had invited the mages to help create it as a gesture of goodwill, and the jealous, spiteful mages had poisoned the noble work. The god had been just, and when humans died, so did the mages. Both had died. People were dying all around her, and she was doing nothing –she swatted at guilt, reminding it there was nothing she could do- nothing except remembering old lessons. Did it really matter what it was called or how it was created? There was no cure. Had their death been lurking in the water? Was the water poisoned? The water she couldn’t remember having? Cammara licked her lips and closed her eyes. If stupid thoughts were a symptom, she was going to drop dead any second now.

Moments later, the dead littered the ground. She wasn’t on the ground. Wasn’t dead. Cammara checked herself over, wanting to be sure. She’d been spared. Halleluiah. Johno was dead. Hurray for small mercies. In her exuberance over not dying from the Mechanophage virus (how had she not been able to come up with that earlier?), her earlier primary suspect of her demise had arrived. One of the Scavengers was eating someone. Once again, she saw nothing. She heard quite a bit, and not even the repetitive dry firing of the mind-broken slaver could stop those sounds from reaching her. The big man, the one she suspected had been crudely carved from a boulder and meanness breathed life into, was positioned perfectly to block her sight. Good. If it worked its way down the line, it would go for him before it reached her. Give her time to accommodate the notion her bits were going to be ripped off and her bones pulverized for tasty marrow and easy calcium.

When it left, she resumed breathing. Not the faintest notion of when she’d stopped.

Survivors were going for the key, muscling their way to it. The bodies before her were dragged along, strong armed by a very determined boulder of a man: Gozer by name, and scary as hell by reputation. They all were at the mercy of whoever reached the key first, and unless that person majorly deviated from the conduct she’d witnessed for the past week, there would be no mercy, only self-interest. But it would be worse if Gozer got it first. She couldn’t imagine how, but it would be much, much worse.

She really didn’t want to die. Scant moments ago, there had been no doubt death was imminent and she’d accepted that wasn’t something she had control over. Even been a little content, knowing she wouldn’t have to walk any further. But she wasn’t dead. She didn’t want to die. The slavers were not going to stop her now. Those three facts seemed mighty important.

When she’d woken bound in chains, she should have been concerned about her apparent status change from Lost to Slave. Instead, Cammara had only a mind for her numb hands and feet. Dangling in the arms of a stranger had allowed the blood to pool in her extremities, and made it impossible to move them during those first minutes, until a slaver beat the circulation back into her. Nothing like pain and blind panic to get the heart racing and blood pumping. Dehydration and salt deficiency kept her hands swollen thereafter, to the point where she couldn’t recognize the touch of her own fingertips when she wiped the sweat off her brow. She jammed cloth between the manacles and her skin, and it did manage to save her from the chafing and bleeding the others suffered, but the tight fit brought on the telltale tingling and she had to pump her hands into fists to keep her nails pink and her nerves responding. The cloth rags dampened with sweat and she packed more in, adding holes to her makeshift shawl in the process. Each morning she suffered thousands of glass needles pricking her flesh, and would stare in horror at the discoloration. Her hands were her life.

Now, they were going to save her life.

Cammara grabbed the rags with her teeth and pulled them away along with some dead skin. Underneath her wrist was pale and shrunken, the exposed skin decorated by every fold and scrunch the rags had held. She braced the iron cuff between her knees, forced her thumb and small finger together and slid her hand free. The lead chain dropped down to her feet. No grease needed. By some miracle, the swelling and bloating had dissipated. The slavers had worried about all the wrong things.

She walked past the dead. The rattle of her ankle chains was indistinguishable from the clinking of the dragged chains as the survivors struggled for the key. She picked her way through, stepping on a few bodies and moving faster when she nearly tripped, despite the awkward foreshortened gait imposed by the ankle chains. Shepherding Nan the Goat had given her an interesting perspective on walking, but it was helpful now. Gozer she gave wide berth. He spoke like the slavers, had always been too much like them. She spotted the fallen slaver. Her eyes strayed to the supplies, the only place her PET could be hidden if they hadn’t left it where they found her. She wouldn’t leave it behind.

She went for the key. She needed to be able to run full stride more than she needed a disfunct hunk of metal weighing her down. When the key was in her hand, she looked to Gozer, keeping an eye on the distance while she jammed it in first one keyhole and then another. There was dirt in the last, her other manacle. The key was no use to her anymore.

“Here,” she said, addressing a slave for the first time. With the exception of crying, screaming, and begging, she hadn’t found much reason to vocalize as of late. He was not Gozer, he was the man who’d stared a Scavenger in the face, and that’s all she knew. “Take it.” Cammara pressed it in his hand as she darted past.

The supplies. She needed something to hold water or she’d be back where she was when the slavers found her. If she found PET too… she wouldn’t leave it behind. If she’d truly been willing to lose it, she wouldn’t be here, and not even all these horrid experiences could change that. But she had to be quick. The Scavengers wouldn’t wait, and they certainly weren’t going to give her a headstart.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cammara Character Portrait: Tyr The Fierce Character Portrait: Milo Ratchet Character Portrait: Gozer the Kinslayer Character Portrait: Lilah Character Portrait: Monk Character Portrait: Illyn

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Illyn walked. This was nothing new to her. She was dirty, sore and bore the wounds of the long trek like the rest but her mind was not thinking about it. That was the advantage she and Neman had over “newer” slaves. They knew when to tune out thinking about the walk and the pain. The trick was to keep the mind active on other things. Illyn was busy counting the number of stiches it took to fix the leg of Neman's pants.

"14, 15, 16..."

Her nose itched, a piece of blonde hair was tickling it. It interrupted her counting. Leaning over towards her hands, Illyn did her best to scratch and not rattle the chain too much or break her pace. One of the slavers seemed a bit more sadistic than she was used to and Illyn did not want him coming at her for a simple annoying itch.

Her eyes watched ahead, keeping an eye to ensure Johno, as she had heard him called did not look over to her. She did not need to worry. Ahead of her, another slave had fallen and she could hear Johno voice yelling for him to get up. The crack of the whip broke the air and the chain slowed as the guards were called for.

Illyn scratched the annoying itch for all it was worth, relieved at the break to do so. Her eyes raised to their surroundings. There was something eerie and unsettling about the ruins. It wasn’t simply the stories she had heard about it. Intact but empty buildings as they entered made it feel as if ghosts were watching them as they walked, bidding them enter if they dared.

The caravan kept going moving further in and as they did more and more slave became nervous. Illyn went back to counting.

"1. 2. 3..."

Now, remnants of structures stuck out of the ground. Large pieces missing giving them the appearance of giant creatures about to devour anything that came near them. Illyn tilted her head mesmerized for a moment by one particular one. The whole building was slightly toppled but there was also a chunk missing out of the one side. This hole gaped open, a great mouth of darkness. Two openings, windows in a bygone time were perfectly positioned, giving the building-creature black absorbing eyes.

Illyn was staring into it and to her the building was looking back. She could almost hear it calling her forward, calling her to her death. She frowned, blond eyebrows furrowing on tanned skin. Something was wrong. The chain was suddenly heavier.

Illyn pulled her gaze from the building and looked to those in front of her again. Her mind worked to play catch up to her eyes. Slaves, on the ground. No, not just slaves, slavers too. She worked to comprehend just what she was seeing. It made no sense. As more dropped, Illyn was forced to the ground. She tried to look behind her. Neman had been chained there. Maybe he had an idea of what was going on, saw something as she was staring into the building.

Her brother lay on the ground. Illyn blinked. He must have collapsed under the weight as she had. Neman wasn't on his knees though. His body was contorted, crumpled and misshapen from how he had landed as if he simply dropped or collapsed. Trying to turn Illyn grabbed hold of the chain in front of her. She attempted to drag the body and chain in order to aid her movement. There was too much weight and she too weak. She huffed slightly in annoyance.

“Neman...wake...wake up....” Her voice was low and hushed, a habit from conversing with him when others might be listening. “Neman...”

Illyn kept trying to pull on the chain. She needed to see her brother. They had never been apart, he had always protected her. He couldn't just be dead, not after the years they had endured. Not without a logical reason for his death. Illyn could hear but did not understand the sounds of gunfire. She didn’t understand anything at that moment. Nothing seemed to make sense.

Illyn grabbed the chain again. Her hands wrapped themselves around the links and pulled. This time it moved and allowed her to turn towards her brother. The shackles rubbed but she didn’t care. “No...”

Someone was yelling from the front of the line but she wasn’t able to hear it clearly. Her mind was too preoccupied and new noises made distinguishing words harder. New screams rang out. Illyn looked up from Neman’s corpse, angered slightly that people were making so much noise that it was making it hard for her to think. She was struck immediately at how few slaves were still alive. Looking towards the front of the line there was a commotion going on.

Head’s were looking into the ruins, the chain was being pulled on and Illyn simply watched it all. Those that she could see, at least three other slaves were watching some the ruins and frantically trying to escape. Blue eyes were wide as she watched the scavenger emerge from the ruins. “From the pit of demons....they are coming for us.” She felt oddly calm as she watched certain death come for the survivors. Illyn nodded as if understanding now what the fear was about.

Illyn watched a very big man scream for someone to grab the keys. Somewhere inside of her there was a voice telling her that she should be doing the same but kneeling in the dirt next to Neman’s body all she could do was watch with an almost fascination. Flight. Crouched in the dirt, Illyn observed first hand a person's desire to flee to save their life.

A scavenger was eating one of the dead slaves. The remaining slaves were screaming and trying to flee still. Illyn licked her lips. The slave was dead when the scavenger began eating, like Neman. She looking around at her brother she realized just how many were dead and the slavers too. Again a frown appeared on the woman’s face.

There had to be something that had caused the initial wave of death. On her right had been the ruins and judging by the sun, it was the east. The scavengers had come from that way. Nothing else that she could see gave her any clue. Illyn looked to the north, again nothing but dirt and ruins. Turning her head to the west, Illyn’s left, was something entirely unexpected. Her expression never changed she stared back at the wolf. It was watching the chaos as if, like her, it was fascinated with watching the people flee.

Illyn stood slowly, the chain still in her hands. Those bodies closest to her moved slightly with her, including her brother’s. She paid them no mind. Her eyes never left those of the wolf’s. Licking her lips again, Illyn stepped towards it. Something about the way it stared, that it was staring gave the wolf an almost human quality. Illyn was both terrifed and unafraid of it.

She knew she should run. Neman would have wanted her to run, to try and flee but Illyn couldn’t bring herself to do it. Chaos was behind her and calm in front of her, yet everywhere was death. Whatever killed Neman had not killed her and now it seemed she had a choice. Scavengers or the wolf. Moving as best as the chains allowed Illyn moved towards the wolf. She was pulling lifeless bodies behind her, like the train of a dress.

“A choice in death, than I chose you”

Illyn kept her eyes locked to the wolf’s.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cammara Character Portrait: Tyr The Fierce Character Portrait: Milo Ratchet Character Portrait: Illyn

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Cammara made herself small. It hadn’t worked when Johno had accused her of trying to escape. As she’d learned, there were too many vulnerable places to protect them all, and it was easy for anyone to pry her open like a clam. She’d hated freshwater clams. Silly thing to think about now. She dragged her forehead across her forearm and buried her face into the crook of her elbow. PET nestled uncomfortably in the tangle of her limbs; it was large enough to shield her if she wasn’t trying so hard to wrap herself around it and hide it from the Scavenger. She heard the final blow, but didn’t know for whom. Acrid ozone burned her nostrils, along with cloying minerals that hung in her dry throat, making her closed eyes water and her lungs spasm to find fresh air. It overpowered the scent of blood and offal, meaning it was closer. Her ears pricked on the sound of his weapon pulling free and she looked up, meeting his eyes.

Cammara unraveled her limbs out of the defensive crouch, letting her feet hang off the wagon before dropping the short distance to the ground. Her focus went to the dead Scavenger. The size… she could only assume it had been a child. She regarded the man’s face and saw the surety there she lacked. He’d killed it. It looked dead, but so did a sleeping snake. Just in case the thing was faking the stillness of death, she kept him between them. Scavenger mortality wasn’t something she wanted to get close enough to confirm.

He began talking. Introduced himself as Milo. Names were details she didn’t think were important at the moment, and the inane details of his preferences bordered on surreal. But if they survived this, she’d get him his coffee. As green and creamy as he wished.

“Cam,” she returned, feeling acutely uncomfortable with the name exchange. Imogen had told her horror stories of mages able to curse or control a person if given a name. She found herself hoping he wasn’t a mage. If she’d saved a mage and in turn been saved, they were even, and she had only to wait for him to turn on her, which was only what she expected from anyone in the Wastes. But it would gnaw at her that she’d given the key to a mage. It would be akin to setting Gozer free. Only she could trust Gozer wouldn’t save her life. That was it, was it? She didn’t want to owe her life to a mage.

She listened to his plan. She was about to tell him outright he was crazy, but she held her tongue in check. He’d told her to stay behind and he’d protect her. They’d each done exactly that, and had come out of it alive. It was something to consider. Then again, she would have done it anyway. And he’d have done it anyway, because the Scavenger had attacked him. Mustn’t give him too much credit.

Only it was terribly hard to not be impressed. He’d killed it with a fork. In less than a minute. She was staring, wasn’t she? Cammara made a conscious effort to look away.

But his plan was still terrible.

Who retreats closer toward the city of gnashing hungry cannibals? Seriously, might as well crawl into a Scavenger’s mouth now. They have better technology, are on their territory, and already know we’re here. We have no advantage. We’re going to die.

Cammara’s fingers were back in the wagon. Where her fingers were, her eyes were, and at least this way she could keep track of them. It made sense that items used often would be within easy reach. It wasn’t proving true in practice. Surely there was something more. Better than possibly spoiled grain and a bag of salt, she amended. An idea struck her, and she stuck her hand under the carriage of the wagon, blinding searching out with her fingertips until she closed over something smooth and cool. Ripping it out from its hideyhole, she dangled a flask by its short chain. “For you. Use later,” she said before tossing it to Milo. It was alcohol, something better than the rotgut the other slavers had access to, and not at all like the smooth spirits Cameron made to keep them warm in winter. She knew whose it was. He wouldn’t miss it. She was confident it would dissuade Milo’s abused flesh from becoming septic.

“How long did it take you to decide that structure was defensible?” she said. Cammara couldn’t bite her tongue forever, and she rationalized there was no nice way to communicate how horrible his plan was. She spoke quickly, hoping he wouldn’t have time to be offended, and in no small part because there was a panic lying in wait to swallow her should they stay here a moment longer: “If it is good, that building hasn’t been vacant in seven centuries. Not my first choice for holding out a siege. It is a fine tomb. Very tall. I think though the locals would know best where the nearest watering hole is. They probably eat there regularly.”

Speaking of which, the furry beast had impeccable timing, like it had heard a dinner bell. Or maybe it had followed them in. It couldn’t have attacked in the ravine. Too many had been alive then. Predators didn’t attack herds (and there was no doubt in her mind that this was a predator); they attacked individuals that strayed from the group, or those too weak to adequately defend themselves. It was large, very large, so it didn’t need a pack to take down a human. There had been mountain lions and bears back home that hunted solo, but this creature wasn’t acting at all like either species. Its paws, massive as they were, were not structured for the terrain of the Ruins, which suggested strongly that the Ruins were not its native environment. Like a nut around a nail, it didn’t belong. “Milo, what kind of animal watches a chained lamb but does not eat it?” The question wasn’t as rhetorical as her tone implied, and despite the slew of analytical ground she’d covered, came quickly on the tail of her last words. The beast might not be hungry. Or it might be suspicious, familiar with the concept of traps. Or, as she suspected, it did not eat humans. Even if it wasn’t harmless, it wasn’t a flesh-rending Scavenger or the ancestral family home of a flesh-rending Scavenger.

“I think we should go back through the ravine. I don’t want to be trapped in a dark tower with no clear escape route and who knows how many Scavengers.”


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cammara Character Portrait: Tyr The Fierce Character Portrait: Milo Ratchet Character Portrait: Gozer the Kinslayer Character Portrait: Illyn

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Illyn’s eyes remained on the wolf. Around her there were screams, yells of survivors trying to escape and utter chaos. All she could focus on was the eyes of the beast in front of her. Her body felt warm, her heart was pounding but her breathing was slow and deep. The blue of her eyes were like a blue sky, calm and serene.

Illyn was about to step towards the beast again when something hit her calf. Confusion flickered in her features. Eyes darted watching a man run towards the caravan. He was free, no chains. Illyn looked closer. There were others moving about, free of their bonds and looking to flee.

The large man, the one who had yelled for keys was free and carrying something very large. Illyn realized it was a piece of the caravan wagon. He was running with it. Illyn’ brain was struggling to come to terms with the image. Yes he was big but he shouldn’t be able to do that...

Blue eyes blinked and the man was now airborne, landing with a sickening thud. She was certain he was going to be dead soon. He would be too damaged from the attack to fight off anything that came at him. Eyebrows lifted in wonder as the man stood, wrenching his arm back into place. He smiled and Illyn shivered.

She licked parched lips and turned her eyes back to the wolf. It hadn’t moved. Blinking once it occured to her that something had hit her earlier. Looking down she saw the key laying in the dirt. “Key.”

Illyn knew that it could be used for something but her mind was failing to make the connection. She looked up again at the wolf and then at the caravan, there was movement there. Others, moving, searching...

Everything suddenly clicked her mind. The key was for her shackles, to unlock them, to get away like everyone else.

Illyn crouched, grasped the key in her fingers and watched the wolf as she inserted the key in the locks. Her breathing was slow and deep as she struggled to fit metal into metal. The beast hadn’t moved, hadn’t come at her but was still watching. There was scraping click as the first shackle released and dropped at her feet.

The key was moved to the other shackle and again with a click it fell at her feet. Illyn stood slowly. She looked around.

“Now what?” Her mind mocked her. She had been ready to walk into the wolf’s teeth than be ripped apart by a scavenger. She was free and yet defenseless. Wolf on one side, scavengers on the other. Illyn still felt there was more to the wolf than appeared. It was too calm and too curious. If was here to feed it would have joined in already.

Looking at the wolf again, Illyn began to back away slowly. She locked eyes with it again and began to edge towards the caravan. There were others there, maybe food she could take or water.

Glances stolen over her shoulder allowed her to keep track of the large, now even more intimidating man as well as any other creature that would come between her and the caravan.

Illyn reached behind her and felt the wood structure. She could hear voices. The wolf still hadn’t moved. A slow huff out and Illyn turned to find the source of the voices. Two figures stood and seemed to be discussing where to run. Fear gripped Illyn. “Don’t leave...”

She opened her mouth and at first nothing came out. Illyn looked behind her at the bodies that lay there. Neman’s was there and he would want her to live. The man had a weapon, the woman sounded like she knew what she was talking about. The body of a scavenger lay at the man's feet. They seemed ready to fight and do what it took to survive. Illyn looked them over again.

He was tall, very tall and lean. Stubbled faced and long haired but held the pronged spear as if he was more than capable with it. She was a tangle of hair and torn clothes.

Illyn found her voice, interrupting their discussion. “Take me with you. Please.”