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Arachne Webspinner

The Ghost

0 · 149 views · located in The Flats

a character in “White Group.”, as played by Basta

Description

Standing at only 4' 9", Arachne isn't physically imposing. She does cause people to become uneasy around her, though, as her lithe, predatory body exudes danger. She often accessorizes with bone charms and feathers, a tradition amongst her tribe. Her heterochromia also identifies her as specifically belonging to a smaller group in the southern Wastes, the only tribe to have such a defining feature be so common. Arachne often wears a hooded cloak and garb, usually sand colored to camouflage herself in the desert environment. Most of the time, Arachne has the sides of her head shaven, with the top in a mane-like mohawk. She has also sharpened her canine teeth to vicious points, to better give appearance to the name of Spider.

Personality

Arachne is quiet, reserved, patient, and deadly. She pursues every problem with a methodical approach, taking as much time as she feels necessary to solve it. To the unobservant, she appears lazy and stupid, but her close friends know her to be a lethal force. Her "spirit guide" is the Spider, an animal which embodies everything she strives to be. A hunter. A remorseless killer, patient and cunning, using its surroundings to its advantage. The resourceful predator. However, like the Spider, Arachne doesn't like to be disturbed, nor does she enjoy interacting with large groups of people.

Equipment

Since poisons are her tools of the trade, Arachne keeps several types on her at all times. In addition, she carries a blowgun, a bow, and a needle dagger. She also has a special weapon made for her that looks like a pair of dentures. In reality, it is a poison delivery system so if she gets disarmed, she still wouldn't be defenseless. What's a Spider without a bite, after all? Some other equipment Arachne keeps on her are a set of climbing hooks, a length of rope with a winch, and a couple pouches for her to store anything extra she'd need.

History

Born and raised in a tribe of Ochil warriors under the name Takea, the girl who was to become Arachne learned the law of tooth and fang very quickly. She was taught basic survival skills, combat, and how to hunt until she turned ten. At that age, all children are taken to the shaman who reveals to them their spirit guides. Hers was the humble, oft overlooked Spider. Her name was changed to Arachne Webspinner, and she became a woman in her own right. The following five years saw her learning to fight, hide, think and move like her guide. She became unparalleled at stealth, always besting the other children in games like Search or Exploration.

All things come to an end, however, and on her twentieth birthday she left her tribe in pilgrimage. To what end, she didn't know, but a spider wasn't meant for a soft life and she was bound to find a more fulfilling existence. She wandered the desert at random, hoping that eventually she'd find her purpose. Arachne began hearing discussion of a group of assassins as she encountered more and more towns. A life spent emulating her spirit guide seemed like the most appealing existence that Arachne could think of, so she set about trying to make contact with them.

How she got accepted into the group isn't a story she talks about freely, but suffice it to say it involved a lot of work and persistence, as well as a bit of fast talking on her part. Getting caught breaking into an assassin's safehouse isn't exactly conducive to one's continued health, after all.

So begins...

Arachne Webspinner's Story

Setting

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Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Basta
Everyone lived odd hours in the Sanctuary, and Arachne Webspinner was no exception. For her, dawn was the middle of her "day", which ensured she'd have enough time to accomplish anything important before people awoke, but she would also get to visit vendors or other day-goers. This particular morning found her sitting in a dim alcove, practicing her knot-work with a length of twine she'd found. Her favorite knot she called the Cripple's Grip, as it was strong enough to hold a man's weight, but if she pulled the right string then the entire net would come apart. She'd put it to good use on several jobs in the past.

Singing softly to herself as she undid her creation, Arachne scanned the room under her quickly. Something below caught her eye, however, as Mr. Charles had posted two new jobs on the board outside his office. She stowed her rope in a pouch on her harness and broke out her climbing hooks. The rafters were a dangerous place to the unprepared, after all. Her scuttling passed without mishap, though, and she descended with practiced ease.

"Always puttin' the papers so damn lofty..." Arachne complained to no-one in particular. Reaching over her head, she yanked down both papers to read.

"Let us take a peek..Scummy gunslinger in New Mesa. Public bumping and nip the revolvers? Plus, two meatblocks who play tag along. Sounds too heated for my liking." After a few minutes deliberation, she decided against that contract and swapped it for the other.

"So, what's this one scoffin? 'Nother scummer wastelanding about. 'Zeppo'? What a stupid moniker! Hmm...Hello! What's this? 'It’s down to the operative how they wish to play it,' eh? You're a saint, Mr. Charles. Sabotage and murder my way? Winter solstice come early, methinks!"

Arachne replaced the New Mesa contract on the board, though not without a fair bit of swearing and jumping. She returned to her hidey-hole in the rafters to examine her stash and plan.

"No needs to be hasty, right? We've time, we do. Best make the most of it," she whispered, mostly to reassure herself. The pre-mission jitters were already on her, causing her hands to shake slightly. After sorting through all of it, she decided to bring her sand colored garb and cloak, her bow and arrows, tunneling spades, various smoke bombs, and her poisoning dagger.

Anything else, she'd have to procure in the field, not that she minded. A spider would want it no different, after all. Finally ready, Arachne stopped by Mr. Charles' office to pick up the maps and details promised in the contract before setting off. As she stepped out into the slowly brightening world, Arachne flipped up her hood to shield her face from prying eyes.

For two days she followed the charts, doggedly pursuing what should be a trading caravan. On the dawn of the third day, Arachne stumbled upon evidence of other humans being on the same path as her. She slowed her pace, but did not change her behavior or mannerisms. The best camouflage is to hide in plain sight, just like the crab spider. Mimicry can be a powerful tool.

As the sun began to set, a thick column of smoke came into view on the horizon, indicating that she was too late. Arachne ducked sideways into the less traveled dunes and picked up her pace. Nearer to the caravan, manic shouts and agonized screams drifted over her, hinting that her quarry lay before her. She ascended a particularly tall dune and dug a small divot to crawl into so she didn't alter the horizon line. The caravan was set ablaze, the merchants still inside the wagons. The women had been divided up amongst the bandits, who were indulging their wickedness upon them. Arachne sat patiently for many hours, awaiting the inevitable sleep cycle that must come upon them.

Zeppo's gang surprised her, however, as once they'd finished tormenting their captives, they chained them together and began their trek home. The wastelanders moved surprisingly quickly, though it was no challenge for an Ochil like her to keep up with them. They arrived at a fenced in compound around midnight to the cheering group they'd left behind. Within minutes, the screams resumed as the men left behind got a piece of the spoils to sample. Using the distraction, Arachne scaled the perimeter wall and crept along it towards the rear of the compound, where she assumed Zeppo would keep his sleeping quarters.

As luck would have it, the most lavishly decorated tent was indeed where the man bedded down for the night, though he wasn't in at that time. It didn't matter to her. Arachne cut a small slit in the corner of the tent and peeked through. Most of the floor was covered in rugs or pillows, but a fair amount of sand still showed through the ground. Perfect spot for an assassin to hide. She carefully dug herself into the sand, keeping a small slit of her hood exposed so she could maintain vigil of the tent. Hours passed uneventfully, so Arachne used the time to rest and catch a quick catnap.

A loud, abrasive voice shook her awake at last. Zeppo entered his tent with three women, shouting at his guards to go make themselves useful elsewhere. After a moment of glaring at the entrance to his tent, Zeppo turned to his terrified captives and resumed ravaging them. The night must have been hard on him, though, because he tired quickly and went to sleep. Seizing the opportunity, Arachne emerged from her hidey-hole as silently as possible. Quickly applying a particularly nasty type of poison to her needle-like dagger, Arachne plunged it into her target's neck. Almost instantly, Zeppo snapped awake and countered with a straight punch to the face. The three women seemed to have died sometime over the night, so it was just the two of them. Zeppo tried to scream for help, but she'd punched a hole in his windpipe and all that came out was a hoarse whisper.

Still, poisoned and bleeding, Zeppo didn't plan on dying like a little bitch. He drew a curved, serrated knife from his belt and lunged for Arachne. She ducked his first swing, countering with another stab to the stomach and then withdrawing. He wasn't having any of it, though. Arachne began to worry that this man was immune to her poison, as he certainly showed no signs of being any the worse for wear. Zeppo caught her off guard with an underhanded knife toss which sliced through her lower calf. Arachne barely restrained her cry of pain, but couldn't react in time to stop him from closing the distance between them.

Needing to end this quickly, Arachne jumped forward and closed her jaws around her opponent's throat, simultaneously releasing a deadly toxin and slicing through an artery in his neck. Not even the toughest creature could withstand having its throat torn open, and Zeppo was no exception. Defeated at last, the bandit leader collapsed on the floor with hatred in his eyes as the lifeblood drained away onto the rug. Arachne tore a strip from his shirt to bandage her leg and ducked through the hole she'd cut. She needed to return home before the rest of these bandits discovered her deed. Arachne climbed the rear wall, though not without an increased effort due to her wound, and dropped onto the sand below.

A week's passing found her back at the safehouse, exhausted but jubilant. She'd completed the contract and lived to see home once more. Her leg had healed up a bit, but her constant use prevented the wound from closing completely or correctly. She'd most likely walk with a limp after this.

Knocking lightly on Mr. Charles' door, Arachne reported in. "Zeppo won't be doin' no terror on the caravans these days, he won't," she boasted. "I'm a bit tucked, so's I'm gonna have some lax time now." Limping away, Arachne curled up on a cushy pillow and slowly drifted into unconsciousness.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Basta
Angel of Death
Location: New Mesa
Target: Stella Knock/Jenks

Dusk. Also known as the Shadow Hour, the Concealing Mother, and the Hunter's Refuge, Arachne chose this hour to leave. Earlier that day, she'd found another job on the board. Normally she would have just ignored it, but it looked too important to pass up. Plus, she was perfectly suited for the type of work it called for.

Stella Knock, one of their informants, had been compromised and in all likelihood was even now being tortured for information. That meant Arachne needed to get to New Mesa as quickly as possible and infiltrate her building. Arachne packed a few essentials, such as her "Spider's bite", her poisoning dagger, a thief's tool-set, and her climbing hooks. She dressed in a gunmetal colored outfit for this mission, as the building was a warehouse, and as such sand wouldn't be very common there.

Arachne booked the fastest schooner she could find to get her to New Mesa. The captain, a greasy man named Hooker, agreed to rush her over once she'd clubbed him over the head with a bag of money. Arachne didn't like the way his eyes wandered over her form, but she couldn't kill him because then she'd have to find another way to New Mesa.

Three uncomfortable days later, Arachne hopped off the airship in port and hurried away. The captain made several passes at her during the trip, and only her incredible self control prevented her from tossing the man over the rails of his own ship. Still, three days is a very good time and she was thankful he'd kept his word and flew with all haste.

Her destination lay at the heart of the city, the Cavalier Building. As it was Gretch's storehouse for all his goods, Arachne wasn't surprised that this was where they were 'storing' Stella. Her climbing ability still wasn't 100%, so she needed to find an easy way in. As she approached the warehouse, Arachne slowed to better examine her surroundings.

Not many people milled about the streets in this district, probably due to Gretch's men patrolling the area at random intervals. While people weren't stritcly banned from being here, they definitely were encouraged to find other places to be. Arachne didn't plan on being shooed away, though.

Casually taking a meandering path around the building, Arachne scoped it out without being too obvious. She left her hood on, but not so much as to appear furtive. Ochil weren't uncommon around New Mesa, after all, and their customs were very foreign to outsiders. If anyone asked, she'd simply tell them it was a tribal thing and they wouldn't understand.

After an hour of deliberation, Arachne finally settled on a course of action. One of the accompanying buildings' roof jutted out just far enough to make a safe leap into the second floor of the warehouse. The windows were all open, probably to vent or allow circulation, giving her unrestricted access. Ducking inside said neighboring building, Arachne quickly scaled the stairs, favoring her good leg.

"Just a short hop, and in we squeezes. No fear," she muttered, mostly to steady herself. The jump looked much farther in person than it had from the ground. Normally she would have leapt by now, but she was unsure of how her leg would hold up. A week isn't enough time to fully heal a severed calf muscle, after all.

"No fear...no fear...no fear!" Dashing forwards, Arachne pushed off the edge with her good leg, tucking into a ball and rolling through the window across from her. So far, so good. She'd landed in an alcove along a hall, probably an administrative area. Climbing to her feet, Arachne looked back and forth down the hall, checking the carpet for worn patches, which would indicate frequent patrols. Seeing none, she shrugged to herself and took the left side path. Every few doors, she stopped to listen and see if anyone was coming or occupying one of the rooms.

Turning the corner, Arachne arrived on a catwalk, overlooking the main warehouse area. Rows of shelves stocked with boxes and bottles, all probably illegally gained and going to be sold at double their values. Arachne shook her head to focus. That wasn't what she was here for. Her gaze swept the room, looking for a door or area that would indicate "torture cells". She began moving along the catwalk, noting guard positions and movements, as well as sizing them up. Arachne felt confident she could handle most of the guards in the warehouse.

Finally, her luck turned. A man matching Jenks' description stormed out of one of the side doors, looking furious and muttering to himself. Several of the guards took notice and moved towards him, questions on their minds. Seizing the opportunity, Arachne dropped lightly onto an adjacent shelf and then to the floor, slipping up to the door silent as a shadow. Her mood plummeted when she found the door locked.

"Are you putting tricks on me? Barred? My schedule can't work with this!" Hissing in frustration, Arachne unfurled her burgling tools and grabbed a pick and chisel. She scraped the tumblers impatiently, but with a practiced precision. She managed to pop the lock and get inside without mishap, however. The door locked itself again as she shut it, much to her relief. As quickly as she could, Arachne darted down the stairs and around the corner. The cells had barred windows, allowing her to peek in as she passed them, though she had to jump to do so. Near the middle, Stella's cell came into view.

Arachne had no sooner approached the door than Stella appeared at the window, tears running down her face.

"I knew someone would come to save me! Thank you so much! Please get me out of here!" Doing her best to calm the woman, Arachne began to pick the lock on the door to her cell. When she opened it, Stella tried to rush out and make a break for freedom. Arachne jumped on her back and put her in a combination of arm bar and choke hold.

"Stupid! If you rush the guards now, who isn't going to cut you down? When you're peaceful like a still water we can plan." Arachne was afraid she was going to have to choke out this crazed dancer, as the woman ignored her and kept thrashing for several minutes. Finally, the lack of oxygen combined with the pain of the hold caused Stella to relax. Arachne dragged her back into the cell and closed the door behind them.

"What have you revealed?" questioned Arachne. Stella instantly teared up again, but shook her head.

"Please, I had no choice! He had all these knives and he was threatening me! I was so scared!" Arachne got quiet then, debating in her mind. On one hand, this woman was an innocent. On the other, she was a liability. The risks outweighed the rewards of saving this woman. She was simply too much a burden. Stella began to say something, perhaps to plead for her life again, but Arachne silenced her with a gesture.

"You should have been more careful. Your foolishness bit many hands, and they don't like getting bit." Shrieking in horror, Stella backed away from her new tormentor, but Arachne was far quicker than her. With a lightning motion, Arachne slashed Stella's throat, spraying the blood all over the wall. Luckily she avoided the spray.

Arachne watched her victim's life drain out slowly, matching the woman's accusing glare with one of emotionless interest. Death was such an odd thing to witness, yet it never lost its effect on her. She had just extinguished what had once been a bright, vital flame and left behind a pile of meat. The change was always so drastic...almost beautiful in a twisted sense. Arachne heard the door to the cells open, then close and lock again.

She leapt to the opening side of the door, so that she'd be hidden once Jenks entered the room. At least, she hoped he'd enter the room. An angry grumbling, accompanied with light footfalls, grew in volume until he was at the door.

"What the fuck!! Holy shit!" Jenks shouted in surprise. Throwing the door open, he stormed into the room with naked blades. Arachne seized the opportunity to slip up behind her target and plunge her blade into his side. The flesh parted easily before her blade, veins eagerly accepting her toxic gift and spreading it to the rest of his body. Looking over his shoulder in surprise, Jenks managed to gasp some curse or other before collapsing to his knees and into death's embrace.

Well, that's how the scene had played out in her head. What actually happened was Jenks kicked the door open so hard it rebounded off her face. Alerted to the danger, he darted around the door and thrust his blade into the space. Arachne managed to dodge the thrust and counter with a sharp punch to his throat. The blow caused him to recoil, eyes watering, as well as drop one of his knives. Following with a snap kick to the nose, Arachne sent Jenks' head flying backwards. She followed with a flurry of hits to the chest, a knee to the groin and then she shattered his ankle with a stomp.

Like her last target, however, Jenks wasn't a weak man. He grabbed Arachne by the collar and lifted her over his head in a throw. She landed upside down on the hard metal interrogating chair and then bounced off. Jenks buried one of his many knives in her shoulder, twisting it with an angry snarl. Arachne cried out in pain, he free arm spasming on the floor. Her hand collided with the hilt of Jenks' dropped blade, then closed on it and pistoned it in and out of his rib cage furiously. Jenks staggered back, clutching his side in surprise. His look became frozen on his face as Arachne buried the blade up to the guard into his eye, instantly killing him.

Breathing heavily, Arachne looked at the blade in her shoulder. She'd have to remove it if she wanted to get back alive, but the prospect of pulling a seven inch knife out of her shoulder really didn't sit well with her. Luckily, the blade passed through pretty much everything without too much damage. She'd be able to heal this one back to new no problem. If she made it back to the workshop, that is.

Arachne put the handle of one of her hooks in her mouth to bite on as she gripped the knife, taking several deep breaths before yanking upwards on it. Her muffled cry of agony filled the cell, and she wiped the tears of pain out of her eyes. Looking back at the knife, Arachne almost fainted when she realized that she'd only pulled about an inch out of her body. The next twenty minutes she spent removing the blade from her shoulder and bandaging the wound, though most of it was her openly weeping from the pain.

Finally, as patched up as she could be, Arachne slipped out of the cell and ascended the stairs. She peeked out the door to the warehouse, and seeing no one, she slipped out and shut it gently behind her. From the gaps in the merchandise, Arachne could see two patrols, though neither was facing her. Spotting an open window, the assassin quickly sprinted towards it and tossed herself through it, landing roughly but maintaining her momentum and kept going towards the dock.

She booked a longer passage back to the Sanctuary, to give her time to rest and heal up. By the time she returned, Arachne felt much better. She went straight to Mr. Charles' office to be debriefed, recounting the whole tale. When she finished, he dismissed her politely and returned to his work.

Arachne migrated to the common room to do some stretching and practice her forms. She still needed to stretch out her leg, as well as maintain her shoulder's healing. It wouldn't do to be a crippled assassin, after all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Basta
Weariness. That's all that lingered in Arachne Webspinner now. Almost a month and a half ago, she'd accepted a job from Mr. Charles, tasking her to track down Rivian Kytl and destroy his Old World weapon. She'd accepted, though only because she knew Rivian was from a rival tribe and she wanted to kill him for personal reasons.

The first two weeks she spent wandering the Flats aimlessly, questioning any Ochil tribes she met up with if they'd seen or heard anything of Rivian. The answer was always a regretful no, followed with directions to another tribe who might have seen him. After being directed to a tribe she'd already visited, Arachne began to suspect that she was being led on a wild dog chase.

Getting nowhere, Arachne trekked back to her old tribe to replenish her diminished food supply and get a bit of rest. She had to consult with her shaman and see if he could offer her any advice. Her arrival was heralded by a good sized clamor of men and women who remembered the young, but spirited Arachne who'd left their village so long ago.

"Ay, there's a glim we've not scryed in these dunes a fair shake!" cried the shaman upon seeing her enter his hut. Arachne dropped to her knees and respectfully bowed before the shaman, greeting him in the old language. Old Shakeman Coyote chuckled, but said nothing. Some Ochil never shook the old habits.

"I've skimmed a vast sandsea to seek your knowings, Old Shakeman. Rivian be loose with an Old World terrorgun, and I'm possessed to put the breaking on it. Can you give me a twister to chase?" Coyote sat back and stroked his long beard, weighing unknown things and making decisions. Finally, he pushed himself to his feet and retrieved his old bowl of knucklebones.

"Tis a slippery, shaky thing you seek, young Spinner. Know this: I can only give you a wild twister, not a homeward eagle, point? You'll have to make of it what you can feel." Arachne nodded sharply, to which the shaman responded in kind.

Taking a deep breath, Old Shakeman Coyote began to chant, invoking the power of the spirits to guide his hands. He gently swayed back and forth, swishing the knucklebones about in his bowl and rising in crescendo. At the peak of his chant, the old man upended his bowl onto a mat he had laid out in front of him, sending the bones tumbling.

"Now, let's see what the dunespirits have to whisper to us, eh?" Coyote retrieved an old, chipped pair of spectacles and perched them on the bridge of his nose, examining the bones in the musty firelight. He hmmed and hahed for a moment, reading the signs with a frown. Finally, with a quick sweep, Coyote gathered up his bones and put them back in the bowl.

"Your fly hides in the shadow of the setting sun, hoping that the strength of his trees will protect him. Beware, for many jackals guard his treasure. That's all the sign I can read you. Please, child. Stay with us a moon and rest. Not often do pups return to the den, and we should celebrate!"

Old Shakeman Coyote led Arachne to the village bonfire pit, where most of the Ochil had already gathered to partake of the evening meal. He sat Arachne down at an empty seat and took his place in the middle. He led the village in evening blessings and prayers, thanking the dunes for sparing them another day and continuing to provide them with food.

Arachne had just begun to eat when a familiar voice intruded into her thought space.

"Only one person I've ever known wears a hood to mealtime." Arachne turned, only to be attacked and dragged to the ground. Her indignant cry soon faded to a subdued laughter as her childhood friend Armored Serpent bit her ear in a friendly manner. Arachne managed to regain her feet, engaging in casual dinner conversation with her friend and making small talk till the meal was over.

"So what drags you back to the den?" queried Serpent. Arachne looked her friend in the eye very seriously for a moment before detailing her mission. Without hesitation, Serpent informed Arachne that she'd be having some company for the duration of her mission. Arachne made to argue, but couldn't due to a pair of lips pressing themselves against hers. The night passed quickly for the pair, who were very glad to be reunited.

That morning, Arachne woke before her lazing companion, though she didn't want to move for fear of disrupting the peace she felt at that moment. How long had it been since she'd spent a night in the embrace of a lover? Too long, she decided.

"Morning, sleeps-for-ten-hours," Serpent whispered into her ear. Arachne giggled and rolled over, pulling her bed-mate down for another kiss. She brushed some hair out of her face with a smile.

"I've missed you, you know. You should visit more often." Arachne nodded in agreement and got up to get dressed. She could sense Serpent eyeing her form, admiring her from her vantage point on the ground. Arachne turned and was treated to the same show, though of course Serpent made it more sensual and exciting. Arachne's demeanor slowly changed to a more serious tone.

"Arm...You need to get knowing of my work. When we complete the job, you can't be tagging along like a pup. I-" Serpent interrupted her before she could finish her thought.

"Shhh...You gab on like a fowl. Let's focus on the works we've got before worrying if the sun will fall from the sky, eh?" Without waiting for an answer, she pulled on the last of her plate armor and retrieved her Shi'kla, or whip-spear. Sighing in defeat, Arachne followed her and took the lead.

Another week in travel heading west found them at the horizon line of an oasis, the indicator Old Shakeman had warned them of. Once they'd closed the distance a bit more, Arachne could tell that something was amiss here. She picked up her pace, hoping her fears weren't true. Unfortunately, they were.

The oasis was deserted, and neither the Gatling gun, nor the men supposed to be guarding it were anywhere to be found. At first, Arachne simply thought they were mislead and that there was another place they were supposed to be. However, on closer inspection, Arachne picked up signs that there were indeed a group of people camped here.

"I don't understand, Arm. We're here! Why's the terrorgun and all the jackals gone? How could we miss it?" Arachne continued picking over the campsite, as if she couldn't really believe that everyone was gone and she'd completely missed her mission. Here and there, large holes in the ground made it apparent that airships were docked here, and a large patch of dead grass outlined where a huge crate had occupied space for a long period of time.

Arachne bit back tears of frustration. This was the first time she'd ever not finished a mission, and to fail in such a spectacularly mundane way made it even worse. How was she supposed to tell Mr. Charles that she simply missed the deal entirely? Serpent rested her hand on her friend's shoulder, sympathetic but not really understanding.

With a sigh, Arachne sat down and explained everything. To any other person, she wouldn't even consider telling them her real name, but this was Armored Serpent, who had been her best friend since practically birth. She explained her work as an assassin, the White Group, Mr. Charles, everything.

"I've not the faintest whisper of what happens to a nightwalker who fails a tasking. I don't know if I'll be whipped, broken or put in the sand. I've got the shakes about it." Serpent thought to herself for a while, then shrugged.

"Just explain. If you say you had to chase a dog for a month and the deal happened when you were otherwise grabbed, then there's nothing for it. You can't be faulted for bad tails, eh?" Her confidence started to rub off on Arachne, who finally nodded and started the trip back home. Serpent tagged along until they entered their tribe's territory, where she broke away after a long goodbye.

The end of two weeks of grueling travel found Arachne back at HQ and ready to turn in her report to Mr. Charles. She braced herself and entered his office, falling to her knees and bowing till her forehead touched the floor. Mr. Charles looked at her strangely, but listened silently until she recanted her failure. He stopped her then, brow slightly furrowed and lips pursed.

"Arachne, are you telling me that you completely missed the shipment?" She nodded remorsefully. "What were you doing that caused you to lose them?"

Arachne hesitated for a moment before describing her trip. She told Mr. Charles about the tribes she'd visited that kept sending her in circles. She told him about visting her old tribe and seeking her shaman's aid, though she omitted her meeting with Armored Serpent. She described the campsite she'd found at the oasis, and of the remains of airship anchors and the signs she read of men.

When she'd finished her tale, her employer sat back and thought for awhile. Finally, he sighed and shook his head.

"It's a dissappointment that you failed in this, Arachne, but it can't be helped now. You are dismissed without pay as punishment for your failure. Do try harder next time," he informed her flatly. Arachne bowed her way out of the office, trying to regain her composure. The shakes she'd developed from fear still wracked her body. She decided to go out into town and grab a drink to steady her nerves.

She visited her favorite inn, which served the finest Ochilian ales. Taking a seat at the bar, Arachne waited patiently to get the attention of the bartender for almost half an hour. She almost decided to get up when a pint was set in front of her. Arachne looked up at the bartender in surprise, but he simply smiled and walked away. Shrugging to herself, Arachne took a big gulp of the ale, savoring the rich, smooth liquid as it flowed into her belly.

"Only one person I've ever known wears a hood to a bar," whispered a voice behind her.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Basta
Rising at her normal hour, Arachne stretched a bit and climbed out of the soft bed she'd passed the night in. The arms around her waist sleepily attempted to hold her back, but soon lost their strength and released her. Arachne dressed quickly and slipped out the back door of the house/shop.

Armored Serpent had followed her here from the Ochil village, which was a feat in and of itself. At first, Arachne was very angry, but that soon passed and she welcomed the company. An assassin's life could be a lonely one, after all. Putting up a bit of her own money, Arachne helped her friend acquire a long-hut, which she'd converted into half a house, and half a smithy. She hadn't gotten any business yet, seeing as to how she was so new in the neighborhood, but she knew once it picked up, they'd never be short of money. Armored Serpent had created over half the armor and weapons for her tribe, and her craftsmanship was superb.

Arachne stopped by the Safehouse to see if anything new was going on. The first place she checked was the job board, and of course there was a new posting. She had to read it three times to make sure she wasn't missing something.

"Pop a whole balloon? That's not a proper target! What is this trash?" Arachne considered putting it back, but she really needed to redeem herself, both in her own eyes and to Mr. Charles. Sighing to herself, Arachne folded the contract up and climbed up to her stash in the rafters. She'd healed up almost completely, so it wasn't too strenuous an effort.

There wasn't much here that could help her with her work, so Arachne simply grabbed some generic smoke bombs and a knife. She did a quick scan of the Safehouse, but seeing nothing that caught her interest, she left and headed back to Armored Serpent's place. Arachne was greeted very warmly on her arrival, though the pre mission jitters kept her from fully showing her appreciation. Serpent understood the importance of Arachne's work and tried not to get in her way. However, she didn't refrain from expressing her concern over Arachne's saftey and her likelihood to return to Serpent in a body bag, or not at all. Arachne shushed her gently with a kiss as she left, promising to return unharmed.

Arachne decided that the best option was to hire a ship and deck it out with finery to disguise it as a merchant vessel, then when it came under attack, to sneak aboard the Penzance in the confusion and plant explosives. She'd visited Kincaid earlier to see if he had any ideas, and he'd given her a couple gunpowder charges that should be strong enough to tear through the hull of a ship. Arachne thought it'd be more than enough to ignite the envelope of a balloon.

Arachne and her dummy vessel left port and set adrift, wandering the desert at random. She'd neglected to inform the crew of their mission, on the off chance that they did something to screw up her plan. For weeks they drifted about, and it was getting to the point that Arachne started to lose hope. One night, she finally told the captain to turn around and head back to port, stating that the thing she was looking for was nowhere to be found. On their way back, however, disaster struck.

The first sign of trouble was an extra shadow in the sand following them. Arachne wasn't the first to notice it, but she was the first to react to it. She quickly scrambled towards the opposite side of the ship and climbed the anchoring lines to the top of the balloon. She could see the Penzance in the distance, closing on them rapidly.

The Penzance rammed into the balloon of her ship, slicing through it easily. Arachne jumped and snared the side of the Penzance with her climbing hooks, clinging to the underside tenaciously. As the pirate ship circled its kill slowly, Arachne made her way closer to the top. She peeked over the edge of the keel, noting everyone's positions and moving back down. She made her way over to one of the mooring lines and after making sure no one was looking her way, began her rapid ascent.

She'd almost gotten out of sight when someone alerted the rest of the crew to her presence. Arachne's timetable just got accelerated. She scrambled madly up the balloon and pulled out her gunpowder charges. Kincaid had told her that the backs were coated in a wax sheet, and if she pulled it off, they'd stick to whatever she wanted. Arachne stuck one in the middle of the balloon and lit the fuse, then repeated the action near the end of the balloon with the other. Just as one of the pirates cleared the ropes to the top of the balloon, her little surprise detonated, throwing the top half of the surprised pirate careening into the distance. Taking her cue to leave, Arachne leapt off the Penzance in a swan dive.

"Here's to hoping my science wasn't wonked. I'd hate for Serpent to be upset with me," Arachne thought in her head. She pulled at a cord under her cloak, which released a large sheet of cloth that stopped her from plummeting to the earth and exploding all over the ground. The second charge also went off, dropping the ship like a rock into the dunesea and shattering it into many pieces. They weren't going anywhere ever again.

Her invention, which she called 'Newborn spider silk' was a success, causing her to whoop in relief and excitement. Her descent was still a bit more rapid than she cared for, but since she didn't die, she considered it a success. Arachne balled up the silk and stowed it in the pouch she'd designed for it.

A quick examination told her that both ships and crews were dashed to pieces, and neither was salvageable. Still a win in her book, though. Arachne trekked across the desert, foraging as she went for food and drink, and arrived back in the city in a month. Her first stop was the Safehouse to deliver the details of the mission to Mr. Charles and get her payment. Next, Arachne went straight to Armored Serpent's house to shower and change into some comfortable clothes, followed by a long night's sleep.

While she'd been away, Serpent had gotten several jobs and was starting to make a name for herself in the neighborhood. Ochilian goods were rare in this part of the Flats, and Serpent made the highest quality Ochilian armor and weapons. When Arachne had arrived, however, she dropped all her work to embrace her friend, nearly crushing her in an affectionate bear hug. Over the next several days, her work went slowly to allow her to catch up with Arachne.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mister Charles Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Alexander Lancaster Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx Character Portrait: Gretch Character Portrait: Colonel Augustus Autumn

0.00 INK

#, as written by Bosch
Gretch groggily got to his feet and pulled a knife from his coat but he was far too late, Alexander had long since left.

“That little fucking cun...”

“Boss!” Max burst into the room interrupting Gretch . His gun was drawn and he instinctively checked the corners of the room. Gretch noted the small but important display of tactical knowledge. His replacement for Jenks might be a fool but he knew how to handle a gun.

“What the fuck just happened Max? Who was that fucker with Skycove Smile?”

Max knew Gretch was referring to the intruder with the cut up face.

“Dunno Boss, but I know who might know. You know Jimmy No lips who drinks in Gregger’s?”

“How many people do you think live in this town are called Jimmy and also have no lips? Of course I fucking know him! Get to the point!”

Gretch was pacing like a caged animal, he wanted blood and come hell or high water he was going to get it.

“He says he saw the Bartender talking to the guy.”

“Who? The Ochillian?”

“No the woman, whatdaya call her. She only pours drinks.”

“Harper Bell, frigid bitch.” Gretch muttered as he went for the door.

#

Sixty seconds later Gretch was barrelling through the front door of Gregger’s. His nose was still a bloody mess from where Alexander had broken it but he still brought enough fear with him to silence the entire bar. It wouldn’t heal right but Gretch didn’t care. He stood in the middle of the bar and dared anyone to make eye contact.

“Jimmy?” He said finally to the room.

“Yeah?” A hideously ugly man nervously replied from one of the tables. True to his name Jimmy no lips had no lips after an unfortunate tryst with a tribal who was going through withdrawal. Apparently she’d chewed the lips right off his head while he was passed out drunk.

“The little fucker who was in here, chased the girl, who was he talking to?” Gretch asked but his eyes had already fallen on Harper Bell.

“Her!” Jimmy shouted releasing a rope of spit from his disfigured face as he pointed a trembling hand at Harper.

“Everybody out! Now , Now, Now!” He yelled pointing at the door.

“Go on off you fuck!” He said as the crowd made its way past him and toward the door. Harper didn’t move as she was transfixed by Gretch’s stare.

Once the bar was empty Gretch pointed at Harper. Max and another of Gretch’s boys grabbed hold of the woman and sat her down at one of the tables. Gretch removed his Duster and gently draped it on the chair opposite. Finally he removed a large cleaver from his apron and set it in the fire that was burning under the hot water stove.

Silence reigned once again.

“Grecth you can’t trust...” Harper started.

“Shut your fucking mouth!” Gretch screamed his face inches from Harper’s.

The silence was thick and oppressive for a few more minutes while Gretch lifted the cleaver and tapped a knuckle to it. A sizzling sound told him it was ready. He returned it to the fire and pulled out a second Cleaver.

“Arm.” He said.

Max grabbed Harper’s left arm and held it out straight on the table. Gretch shimmied up to the table and watched Harped squirm for a few seconds with a look of utter panic on her face.

“Pleas...” She started but was cut short when Gretch slammed the cleaver down severing her left arm in the middle of the forearm.

“I told you to shut your fucking mouth, Harper.” He said calmly while she collapsed in a screaming heap. Gretch dropped the cleaver and nonchalantly walked back to the fire under the hot water stove where he retrieved his other cleaver which was now dully glowing. He quickly returned to Harper, grabbed the bloody stump and pressed the cleaver against it.

“Gotta stop the bleeding, don’t want you passing... Too late.” He said as Harper’s scream ceased and she slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing Harper remembered was the smell of her own scalding flesh.

#
She came round a few seconds later to find herself still sitting at the table. She first looked at her left arm which was minus hand. Gretch was sitting opposite her using said hand as a back scratcher.

“Wakey, Wakey sleepy head!” Gretch said with a genuine smile.

“Wh.. Why?”

“I got questions, you got answers. Never really saw the point in fucking about with beatings or threats or theatrics. I’ve come in shown you I’m not fucking around. I have shown that right?”

“Right.” She said quickly her eyes wide from fear and skin pale from blood loss.

Gretch slapped her hand down on the table and pointed with his own.

“The man who you were speaking to, chased the slut over to my place, what was his name?”

“He never said.” She said panic and fear choking her answer.

“Ok that’s ok. I believe you. What did he want?”

“Wynn, he was asking about Wynn.”

“Wynn Carnival?” Gretch asked.

“Yes.” She said. Gretch caught the look of surprise in her eye. People always assumed he was just a dumb violent thug who happened to get lucky. It was a perception he cultivated far better to have people underestimate you than overestimate you.

“It’s my business to know stuff, just like how right now it’s your business not to fuck me off. Why was he asking this?”

“He said Wynn worked for the White Group and that he was there to find him. Said somebody had killed Wynn and he was here to find out who.”

“So mystery man works for The White Group?”

“Yes that’s what it seemed like.”

“You’re doing great Harper. Where they headed and why’d he pinch my whore? He sweet on her or something?”

“No, nothing like that. I overhead them he’s going to try to find a woman called Miss Globe.”

“Don’t know her.”

“She’s an Ochillian I think. A mercenary. Barbra was working for her, helped her track down Wynn.”

“Righto. Last question then it’ll all be over.” Gretch said as he stood up and pulled his Duster back on.

“What is it?” She moaned.

“You didn’t juggle or nothing? I mean I’d feel just terrible about this whole...” He managed to get out before he broke into peals of laughter while he waved goodbye to Harper with her own severed hand.

#

Back at the casino Gretch decided it was time to put get some questions answered. He collapsed into his chair and put his feet on his desk.

“Maxy, looks like The Cripple has either gone off the deep end and wants to start something or he’s got a dog off the lead. I want everybody doing everything they can to make New Mesa as unwelcoming to those White Group fuckers as possible. If there’s even a wiff that somebody’s one of their spies he goes on a spike out the front. I want people scared to even whisper the name.”

Gretch opened a drawer and pulled out a bottle a clear liquid Max knew was shine. Gretch took a long swing before resuming his orders.

“Second I want the fucker that came in here broken down until he’s a fucking paste and I want this Miss Globe bitch to explain why she’s bringing her shit to my door. Lastly that crippled fucker Mister Charles. I want him dead.”

Max just nodded this was a tall order. He turned and made his way out of the room.

“Oh and Max get rid of this.” Gretch said lobbing something at Max who was too slow to react which earned him a slap across the cheek from Harper Bell’s disembodied hand.

Max left the office to the sound of Gretch screeching with laughter.

#

Mister Charles approached the Long-hut with the smithy attached, apparently the Ochillian that ran it was something of an Artisan. He was immaculately turned out as usual despite his ride from the workshop but he was travelling light and would be carrying less on the return trip.

He knocked the door with his cane and was soon greeted by a not unattractive Ochillian who was covered in dirt from a hard day of labouring. He knew she was alone as Arachne was in training at the moment, he was sure of her routine.

“Hello how can I help you?” She said with a cheery smile.

“Hello. I’m looking for Armoured Serpent, the blacksmith.” Charles said extending his hand.

They shook while the Ochillian explained he had found her.

“I represent a rather large band of mercenaries and they’re in need of quality arms. I understand you’re the best in the area.”

“Well I don’t know about that...” Serpent began to bashfully explain.

“No, no need for modesty a good friend of mine, Arachne Webspinner, recommended you.”

“Ah a friend of Arachne’s you should have said.” Serpent said as he welcomed him inside.

She offered him a seat and some food but he declined citing the need to return to his mercenary unit.

“I’m simply here to offer you a retainer. This retainer in fact.” He said as he handed her the plain canvas Napsack he had been carrying.

Serpent opened it and sharply drew in a breath.

“Mister there’s more beads in here than I’d make in three months.”

“Consider that your retainer, someone will be by next month with more of the same.”

“What do you want?”

“At the moment nothing, but one day I will call on you and ask you to use your skill as a blacksmith to earn these beads. I expect you to be ready for that day.”

Serpent just nodded as she let the beads fall through her fingers.

“ I’m sorry but I must be going, it’s getting late.”

Serpent stood and extended her hand.

“Mister I don’t know what... I don ‘t even know your name?”

“Charles, Mister Charles. Speak to Arachne I’m sure she’ll tell you all about me.”

He doffed his hat and returned to his horse and the road back to The Workshop.

He knew it was a low move and he didn’t begrudge Arachne happiness, if anything he hoped this would make it easier for her to tell the truth. Charles knew it was near impossible to keep secrets from one you genuinely cared for. He hoped Armoured Serpent would be seduced by the beads and know to keep her mouth shut.

He also knew Arachne would pick up the subtle message of his visit, there are no secrets in the White Group.

#

Augustus Autumn rolled his shoulders and perused a report sitting in front of him telling him increasing numbers of Tribals had been mounting near the camp. It was resulting in small skirmishes between them and his men. While he’d yet to lose one of his specials he was worried about needlessly wasting supplies.

He clucked his tongue and made a decision.

#
Twenty minutes later he had his Captains assembled.

“Cole, the Gating gun is now operational and installed on our Flagship?”

“Yes Sir.” Captain Cole said with a slight note of giddiness in his voice.

“Outstanding. Captains Baker, Franklin and Lewis your groups are rested and ready to move?”

“Yes Sir we can be on the move in two hours.” Franklin responded.

“What about if we disassemble the camp?”

“Give us three.” Baker said.

“Make it happen. We’re marching on New Mesa. It’s time to let these goddamn savages know The Confederates are here and we’re going to fix this rotten excuse for a region.”

“Yes Sir.” The four Captains said in unison as Autumn dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

#

James Costner slowly pulled back the curtain and peeked out the window of the hotel room he was staying in. A blizzard was blowing outside but he was warm from the fire Jenner had kept burning in their small room at the Inn.

“Are they still out there?” Jenner asked from the bed.

“Yes. Three at least, They don’t know we’re here.”

“So we wait it out.”

“Yes.” Costner said as he let the curtain fall back into place. He glanced at Jenner who was sitting in a chair by the fire. She still looked strange to him even though she’d dyed her hair black over three weeks ago.

“I’ve been thinking James. I know someone that might be able to help us.”

“Help us escape?”

“No help me find and the kill the bastard that killed my father. Then whoever ordered him to do that and from there anyone who benefitted from it.”

Costner was only mildly shocked to hear the coldness in her voice. She’d lost her father, brother and two sisters all in a war between business men she didn’t understand. She’d mourned, briefly, then the hardness began to creep into her voice. Costner knew then that her childhood was over, her innocence lost. She ran to The Flats to find out who she was but in the end The Peaks told her. Her path would be one of death, blood, revenge and tears.

Costner knew this because he’d walk the path with as long he could.

“Who’d you have in mind?” Costner asked as he walked over to his own seat.

“Lyn the mercenary who brought me to you.”

Costner exhaled in a low whistle as he sat down.

“I don’t think mercenary covers exactly who rescued you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well... Assassin is probably closer to the truth and they don’t come cheap.”

“Please, James I’m a Reese. I can give as many beads as she wants. Father wasn’t stupid he set aside enough in case of a blizzard like this. Enough to pay Lyn the Assassin to wrest control of my family’s fortune to me, after that beads won’t be a problem.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mister Charles Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Alexander Lancaster Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx

0.00 INK

#, as written by Bosch
“He did what?” Mister Charles asked his mouth agape.

“Bust right in there and give Gretch a hell of a beating. Bastard had a broken nose” Elaine McGovern said with a snort as she threw a cup of Tanu Tea down her neck.

“Then what?”

“Gretch threw everyone outta Gregger’s except Harper Bell. Last I saw her she was minus an arm and talking about getting out of New Mesa.”

“Not a bad idea.”

“Why?”

“I just got word something big is going to hit there soon.”

“Thanks for the warning.”

“Warning you now”

She snorted and took another slug of the tea. It was a viscous dark blue liquid that was popular in New Mesa and with the Confederate Army. Charles thought they would be quite happy there.

“Well C here’s your warning Gretch is on the war path for the White Group. Word is he’s killing people based on even a hint they’re connected to you, which means I’m leaving anyway, good thing to, I’m too old for this dancing nonsense. Maybe I could find a rich man to take me under his wing.”

Charles smiled and stood from the small table they were sharing at the small Pub.

“Until next time Elaine.”

#
Job: The Medua Mission.

Charles returned to the Workshop a few hours later where he found Arachne’s mission was complete but still no word from Alexander or Ada. Alexander would get a tongue lashing for going after Gretch and Mister Charles wondered if he should have Gretch killed. With the Confederate Army on the move to New Mesa though it was possible that job would be taken care of for him.

He was sitting reviewing Arachne’s report when a runner burst in through the door. It was a young boy, one of his “Alleyway Allies”. While he would avoid using a child in a combat role he had found them to second to none at the great game. They could slip in and out of places relatively unnoticed even in plain view. Adults like Elaine had their place, for there were things that people would only share on a bedroom pillow, but his eyes on The Flats often belonged to children.
The child standing in front of him was called Puck.

“Puck how did you get in here!?”

“Mister! Mister! They got the... they got...”

“Take a breath, sit down.”

The filthy child sat on the chair opposite Charles’ desk and struggled for breath. Mister Charles rose and called for a glass of water.

“What is it? How did you find this place?”

Mister Charles never met contacts in the workshop, he didn’t want people knowing the exact location of his bed.
“Followed you a few months back.” Puck explained as he took a gulp of water.

“How many know where this place is?”

“Just me.”

“Good.” Charles said as his heart rate dropped. Puck didn’t know it but the Workshop was now his home, and rightfully so the child had stalked Mister Charles all the way back to his lair. If that didn’t warrant inclusion into the White Group nothing did.

“Now what did you want to tell me?”

“The big man, your big man. They got him.”

“Alexander? Who got him?”

“The Ochillian woman. She’s scary. Hit him with an arrow.”

“Is he dead?”


“Don’t think so they took him away with them.”

“Took him where?”

Puck scrunched his face up in a thoughtful pose.

“Madua, The Ghost town.”

“How long ago was this?”

“Bout a day and a half.”

#

Mister Charles grabbed a pen and quickly scribbled a note to Arachne.

Arachne,

Alexander has been taken, the boy handing you this message is called Puck he will guide you to the town of Medua. It’s a mining town that has been abandoned these twenty years. They say a tribal band called “The Ridgebacks” operate in the area and live in Medua. They are easily the most powerful gang in the east although not the largest. This tells you something about their methods.

The Mercenary group that has taken Alexander is not believed to be a part of this gang however they are operating in Medua so expect there to be some sort of business dealing there.

I’m going to send Ada after you but it is imperative you not waste time. I want you to go to Medua and have a skulk around. See if you can locate Alexander or glean any intelligence. Do not assault until Ada arrives or two days pass from you read this sentence. If possible retrieve Alexander. If not he is to be killed. We can’t risk leaks.

C.

#

Puck handed the letter to the Ochillian woman and scratched his ear.

“So we going or what lady?”

#

A few hours after Puck had left his office Ada walked in looking tired and a little beaten. He knew she had failed her mission. The Guardian’s stance told Charles that her ribs were still in pain and he wondered if he was doing the right thing sending her out again.

If he didn’t though it would leave Alexander and Arachne on their own.

She began by explaining that her mission was not a success but Charles simply held his hand up.

“Later. Right now we have a much larger problem.”

He produced a map and pointed to the town Medua.

“Alexander was supposed to find the killer of Wynn Carnival, a bartender and one of our contacts. Something went wrong. Alexander apparently had a run in with Gretch before getting snatched by a mercenary band led by an Ochillian female.”

He looked up from the map at Ada and wondered if she would be able to pull this off. He knew Guardians were tough but this could be suicidal. Whoever had taken Alexander down was clearly smart and his team would need their wits about them. He continued with his briefing.

“Arachne is already on the way with a boy called Puck who knows the way. She’s going to observe and start working on a plan. You need to follow them and save Alexander. They only have a head start of a couple of hours but you’re going to need to lug the equipment. From the look of you I’d recommend a rifle and engaging from a distance, let Arachne get up close. Kincaid might be able to help you, he’s developed an item called a silencer that may help conceal your position.”

He gave a smile but knew it was weak. He was asking them to go against two enemy forces one of which had already taken down one of their comrades. His operatives were tired beaten and he had precious little intelligence to offer them. It could be a massacre or their finest hour.

“Of course that could all change when you get on the ground. Medua is also home to a tribal gang called the Ridgebacks. It’s made up of Ochil, Tanu and Humans so be careful. I don’t think they are working with the Mercs but they will defend their territory. “

Charles let out a long sigh.

“I’m sorry it worked out like this but this is what we do. Get the job done Ada.”

He waited for any question before dismissing the fragile looking Guardian.

#

Miss Globe watched Alexander rave under the effects of her drug.

The Blackwort was a terrible plant, it’s roots when ground up and consumed enabled the user to travel through their own memories to most painful times in their lives. She’d seen killers turn into gibbering buffoons in a matter of minutes. Alexander though was holding on and she respected him for it.

Wouldn’t change anything though.

So far he’d admitted to being in the White Group and all but admitted he knew where the Workshop was. The location he wasn’t about to give up.

That’s why she would move on to the next stage of her Blackwort interrogation. Blackwort was sometimes called scab. This was because of its highly addictive qualities. Like a child that picks a scab despite reopening a wound, addicts to Blackwort would continue to use despite its effects. By now Alexander would have enough in his system to be dependent.

She ordered he would receive no more and see if he felt like talking after a few days of withdrawal.

Alexander was chained in a basement below a shattered Old World Town. The place had been picked clean by scavengers years ago and was now home to a Gang called the Ridgebacks. Their leader, Blasta was a large man who Miss Globe suspected carried Tanu blood as well as a wicked addiction to sand. An addiction she was able to exploit. That’s how they had been given access to the Ghost Town.

The Ridgebacks provided security around the town while she and her band of mercenaries remained in the destroyed old world basement which was actually part of a larger network of tunnels that ran all over Medua.

Up top the Town was over looked by the Ridge from which the Ridgebacks took their name, this was a tactical disadvantage as a sniper could play merry Hell but if they wanted to get Miss Globe any attackers would have fight their way though the Ridgebacks and Her Mercenaries.

She felt she had enough time to break Alexander before the White Group could save him.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx

0.00 INK

Arachne was roused from her sleep by a frantic knocking on her door. Blearily, she rose and wiped the sleep from her eyes, only pausing to throw a cloak around herself before answering the door. What awaited her came as a surprise. A small child hopped back and forth, clutching a note in his grubby hands and staring into her eyes anxiously.She impatiently snatched the note from him, scanning it with a frown.

"So we goin' or what, lady?" chirped the orphan. She sighed, shaking her head.

"I need a grain or two. Quit fussing," she instructed him. The child frowned, acting as if he was going to argue, but she shut the door in his face first. As Arachne began to dress, Serpent awoke from her slumber with questions already forming on her lips. Arachne assured her that it was just a small job, and that she'd be back soon enough. Thusly reassured, the armorer rolled over and resumed her dreaming. A small grin manifested itself on her face as Arachne kissed Serpent's forehead affectionately. She grabbed her bow and quiver, pulled the hood of her cloak over her head, and stepped outside. The child, Puck, hadn't stopped his frantic movement, much to Arachne's annoyance.

"Okay, youthful. Get showin' me some breadtrails. We've a man to pluck." Puck stopped and cocked his head at her, completely mystified. Her shooing motion, however, communicated her desire effectively and set him of in the correct direction. Arachne trailed behind the child, maintaining awareness of the environment around them. It wouldn't do to be caught unawares, after all.

Meanwhile, Ada began her report, pulling the interesting papers and the wooden case containing a priceless necklace from the small pouch on her waist. Before she could explain where she had found them, or even that she had failed her mission, Mister Charles held up a hand as if he already knew what she would say. Ada met his eyes with a keen intrest that belied her apparent fatigue as he explained the situation. Her eyes widened slightly at the thought of a White Group operative being captured. That in itself told her much about their enemy. She scrutinized the map carefully, quickly noting its location among familiar landmarks and figuring the quickest route to Medua with part of her mind while calmly taking in what Charles said. She felt his eyes on her for a moment as she studied the map, but a breath later, he continued. The mention of an Ochillian female awoke a vague, nameless worry somewhere in the back of her mind, but she paid it no notice as she intently absorbed the information.

"Get the job done Ada.” Ada gave a short silent nod, setting the items in her hand on the desk with little care as she nearly whirled out of the room. Mister Charles could draw his own conclusions about them, but they were of little use to her and she had no need for unnecessary baggage. She quickly gathered supplies, visiting Kincaid briefly, and left within little more than half an hour of arriving at the Workshop. All traces of her previous lack of confidence were swept away as she traveled out across the wasteland with a ground-eating stride. Occasionally, she would move wrong and a twinge of pain would run up her ribs, however she paid it as much attention as she would a fly. She had no time for weakness or recovery now, and no patience for it either.

The trip proved uneventful, but somehow still managed to be tense and stressing, probably because Arachne kept checking over her shoulder every two seconds to make sure they weren't being pursued. Puck tried to make some semblance of conversation several times, but his journey partner remained tight lipped and refused to make a peep. She simply had no patience for small talk while trying to formulate plans and contingencies in her head. She hoped that Ada would meet them at the site, so they could form a plan and not just rush this place suicidally.

Though she was forced to stop for the night, Ada continued as soon as it was light enough to see. Though she wasn't exactly refreshed, a sense of urgency drove her on. She was eager to find her comrade, but she was already preparing herself for the worst. She began fretting and running various senarios through her head as she walked, though she was quickly able to calm herself when she caught sight of her destination. Careful to keep herself hidden, she carefully scoped out the ghost town. Mister Charles was right, this was a great place for a sniper, however, Ada wondered if that was the only way to handle this gang. She took in as many details as she could before heading off to meet Arachne.

Startled out of her reverie, Arachne realized that Puck had been whispering in her ear for some time now, pointing behind him and jabbering on. Appearently he'd spotted Ada and shown her the way to Arachne's overlook. The assassin stood and brushed off her legs, raising an arm in greeting to her fellow.

It was not long before Ada happened upon a boy. She was half startled when he actually noticed her watching from the shadows and softly called out her name this was no ordinary boy, it seemed. He quickly guided her to Arachne, getting her attention.Ada merely nodded in response to Arachne's greeting, immediately getting to the point. "What information have you gathered?"

"The camp tends a fair mass, but their ways are stiff. With a bit of glimming, we shouldn't meet any nasties." Arachne handed Ada her spyglass and pointed out several reinforced points throughout the camp, as well as certain patrols. Examining her partner more closely, Arachne frowned.

"Are you in full shape to be raiding? You look a mite raggedy."

Ada noted eachpoint Arachne showed her, a general plan forming in her mind as she gauged distances and blindspots. She was quickly, though hesitantly, realizing she had no alternative but to use the rifle, though the thought of killing in such a manner gave her chills, and always had. She did not enjoy the idea of killing without giving the opponent any chance to defend, or even see the attack coming. It made her feel cowardly either way. Nevertheless, especially in Ada's condition, this would be the most efficient and least risky. The important thing now was getting to Alexander, and there was no way she would put the enemies well-being above her own comrade, no matter what her feelings on the method.

Ada was half caught off guard by Arachne's observation. She had not realized she had still been holding herself awkwardly and irritation showed briefly on her face, though it was directed fully at herself. She unconsciously straightened, as if denying her injuries, but quickly realized how childish the action was. Her ribs protested slightly, but she gave no further sign. "I will manage. In any case, provisions have already been made," she said, her tone emotionless. She motioned to the rifle strapped to her back.

Eyeing the rifle, Arachne decided not to question her friend's skill with it, nor its origins, and instead simply nodded and jogged down the path down the mountain. At the base of the path, the road widened, morphing into the main broadway through the small town. Every few hundred feet, a guard patrolled whatever route he'd set for himself. There were about fifteen guards moving throughout the town, meaning that at all times, there was at least two sets of eyes in her direction. If she wasn't careful, or missed a step, then the chances of getting Alex out alive (quietly at least) were going to be dashed on the ground. She watched the street for a good five minutes, measuring everyone's movements and when she felt confident that she knew their patterns, Arachne dashed forward into the shade of a nearby house.

One of the guards passed around the corner, whistling tunelessly and playing with his spear. He spotted Arachne at the same time she did him, and the two stood frozen for what felt like a year. Shaking herself out of her stupor, Arachne leapt at the man, clearing over ten feet of distance, and crushed him to the ground with her momentum. She quickly drew her knife and put it up to his throat, hushing the man gently.

"Oi, guardman. I've a few curiosities that I feel you'd be able to satisfiy. Shiny?" Petrified, the guard nodded slowly and swallowed. Her interrogation didn't last very long, as her captive spoke readily and she asked very specific questions. Having finished with her prisoner, Arachne shoved her knife through both arteries and his windpipe, wiped it off on his clothes, and stowed it back in its sheath. She stashed the body within the house and covered up the blood on the dirt, then returned to Ada.

As Arachne loped into the town, Ada wasted no time watching, instead quickly finding a good position to set up where she would have a view with the least blind spots. In her cloak, she nearly disappeared into the shadows. She watched carefully as Arachne came into view again, observing the movement of the guards, before dashing into the shade of one of the houses. Her timing was almost perfect, but her luck was not, and seconds later a guard happened upon her hardly a moment passed before Arachne was upon him. If it had been the other way around, Ada would have shot the man, but for the moment, she trusted that Arachne was in control of the situation. Moments later, as Ada carefully monitered the rest of the guards to make sure none would happen upon the pair, Arachne was done with the man, giving him a quick end. She soon returned, again skillfuly avoiding the other guards. Either she was very lucky, or very skilled at strategizing. Perhaps it was a combination of both. Ada rose slightly as Arachne approached, ready to hear what she had gained from the encounter.

Of all the foolish things Arachne had ever agreed to do, this had to be the most foolish. Not only did she have to cut through a heavily patrolled township, but then she had to make it through an equally heavily populated mine to the very depths to spring their comrade, who the guard revealed was under some heavy drug influence and might not even want to come with them. She explained all this to Ada, sketching a very, very rough plan out in her mind.

"I muse I can ghost the houses with a fair breeze and nary a scent on the wind. Alexander is gonna put some lead in my balloons, though. I've not the bulk to carry him, and if he's truly on the mush, mayhap he won't want to tag along. Should the Dunes smile upon us, we'll need that bangstick of yours to keep any gritters off our knees, yeah?" Arachne got up to leave, but stopped suddenly. She took the bow and quiver off her back and set them down next to Ada.

"If things go whirly and I don't come for these, take them to Armored Serpent back in the flats. Mr. Charles can tell you the way. Don't stay too long, as I can't guarentee she won't be a bit swingy with her fists."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Alexander Lancaster Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx

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The drug had been working it's way into Alexanders brain for days now. He was afraid, but more importantly angry. Now at everyone and everything. Miss Globe opened the door for his annual torture on top of the drugs. She swayed forward coming towards Alexander in an almost alluring manner. Her body was saying that she was friendly and inviting. But, her eyes told a different story. She was angry, but not at Alexander. Alexander was just an outlet for said anger there was something deeper. Some true hatred. Maybe Charles had wronged her in some way. Or maybe the world had. Either way, Alexander had come to love those eyes. Even when she was torturing him all he could think of was fixing that look in her eyes no matter what caused it. But, Alexander was a survivor. And he knew what had to be done. When she stepped within reach of Alexander he grabbed her very suddenly and pulled her to the ground. He then slammed his fist against her face several times, but she was recovering. She kicked him off then stood up. But, she wasn't stupid she knew she couldn't beat a trained white group agent, so she called in Dill. He charged in with sword drawn. He slashed at Alexander in a large arch. Alexander dogged, but his reflexes were slowed from not standing up for several days. Alexander then tackled Dill to the ground. And was about to throw a punch when Miss globe slammed a chair on his back. His forehead slammed into Dill's nose as he was hit. It killed him instantly. Alexander then got up and kicked Globe into the nearby wall. He picked up Dill's sword then stopped. "You are an unbelievable tease you know?" Alexander said, then he ran out and locked the door behind him. Alexander then sneaked through the mine taking out any unsuspecting guard that got in his way. Alexander finally made it outside. There was about a quarter mile to the nearest cliff. That is where Alexander was headed. He continued on with a crouched run, but he didn't see any enemies. He climbed to the top of the hill and immediately hit the deck. It was Ada, she looked pretty banged up. He stood again and tapped her on the shoulder. She immediately had him down with his stomach on the ground, Alexander cried out "Ow, fuck it's me Ada." She didn't release right away. She looked pissed that Alexander had gotten captured. They then gathered up Arachne and when back to base. But, something didn't feel right. There hadn't been enough resistance to his escape. The girls looked like they were ready to go through an army and Alexander had just walked out. Maybe he was lucky, or maybe they had a tail. But, at this point Alexander didn't much care.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Alexander Lancaster Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx

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#, as written by slcam
As Arachne gave her general plan, Ada realized how great the odds against them were. It did not especially lessen her determination, but the thought lent itself to her tension. She nodded as Arachne finished and indicated the rifle sitting across her lap. Despite her dislike of the cold separation the rifle gave from her enemies, Ada would not hesitate to use it to their advantage as much as was necessary.

She frowned as Arachne made arrangements for if she did not come back, stubbornly refusing to accept the possibility of failure. Nevertheless, she nodded firmly. "Understood. May the hand of the Lord guide you," she said, adding the customary blessing without a thought as she scanned the area.

Arachne soon started off, and Ada again took up her position, monitoring the motion of the guards and Arachne's path to the mine. They would certainly need perfect timing and the favor of God to make it out with Alexander. Ada did not know the man well, but she was not much for socializing. However, she still took this rescue mission with the same attitude and determination as if she had been rescuing a family member. In a way, she almost was.

So far, the plan was going smoothly. Arachne was certainly skilled, though Ada had expected no less. However, on Ada's second scan of the guarded entrance of the mine, she found the guards lying flat on their faces. She scanned the area nearby and soon spotted what must be Alexander. He had made it out himself.

Ada immediately began racking her brain for a way to get him out without issue and notify Arachne to get back. "Why did we not agree on some signal?" Ada muttered to herself, irritated by the oversight. Finally, Ada decided on something that would give them a bit of breathing room. Hopefully, it would be no issue. Arachne was sharp enough to figure it out. It would not take her long to realise it was not for her sake that Ada had been firing since she was in no immediate danger.

Alexander's path out was thick with patrols. Not wanting him to run into big trouble, Ada quickly put her makeshift plan into motion. She quickly scoped out a couple guards a few hundred yards across the town, well away from the escape route. Ada aimed and fired, loading then firing again in quick succession. The shots were aimed so the men would turn slightly as they fell, making it more difficult to figure out where they were coming from. Though the gun still seemed loud, Ada could easily see the difference. The guards closest to her had not heard anything yet. Ada dropped a couple others in that region, missing only once when a man unexpectedly stopped to look at something, but that was quickly rectified.

Finally, she was satisfied with the damage and fired a non-fatal shot at a man in easy view of several others. His screams could easily be heard, and Ada let out a slow sigh of relief as the rest of the guards began to run toward the noise with yells of their own. Ada figured it would be awhile before they figured out what was going on and where the shots were fired from, since a quality gun capable of such shots was difficult to come by in the Flats.

While she was observing, she suddenly felt a tap to her shoulder. She moved reflexively, kicking the legs out from under the unknown threat and Pulling her dagger. As soon as the man hit the ground, she had a knee planted in his back and a dagger to his throat. Instead of one of the guards, Ada found herself looking into a familiar, if somewhat battered face. She had forgotten how quickly Alexander had been approaching in her consuming task. She looked him over with a emotionless, somewhat distant gaze, slowly letting him up. She let out a short sigh, releasing the pain the sudden movement had given her before gathering up her gear. They did not have much time.

It was not long before their little group hastened away from the town. Ada frequently left the makeshift group to watch their tail and disguise their tracks however she could, watching for any sign of a tail. Something was off, there should be some pursuit with that noisy of an escape. There seemed to be nothing behind but a long stretch of desert. She returned often to allow Arachne to do her own scouting if she wished, making sure Alexander was moving along despite whatever damage had been done to him.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mister Charles Character Portrait: Arachne Webspinner Character Portrait: Alexander Lancaster Character Portrait: Adalin Nyx Character Portrait: Gretch Character Portrait: Colonel Augustus Autumn Character Portrait: Ruby Gowen Character Portrait: Jenner Reese Character Portrait: James Costner Character Portrait: Puck

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#, as written by Bosch
Epilogues.

Hanzo Guinness was safely in the hands of his criminal gang who had been more than happy to pay Mister Charles and the White Group what they owed. Hanzo on the other hand was too happy with his reversal of fortunes to make much sense.
Mister Charles was happy as well, Ruby had performed admirably and would make an excellent addition to the team. He was slightly concerned about the interest her job would generate in the Confederate army. His concern only grew when he received the report of Alexander’s mission.

Around the same time Mister Charles was learning about Alexander’s Antics Colonel Autumn was doing the same. He was sitting in the office that had once been Fat Nic Escobar’s then Gretch’s and now his. Fat Nic’s Casino had been rebuilt and was now the Confederate nerve centre the gaming tables that had once stood in the place had been replaced by Models and maps of the surrounding areas and towns. Each one, with the exception of Hope, was well detailed thanks to the reports of the Confederate’s sources.

Colonel Autumn was lost in a world of thought and deeply reading a report by a survivor of a caravan ambush. Apparently the Confederate patrol had blundered into an ambush masquerading as a trade caravan. The Attack had apparently been led by a native calling himself the Butcher of the Wastes.

Autumn sighed and dropped the report before looking at the assembled captains before him. They were fighting men, all very good at following plans but poor at coming up with them. They needed Autumn to tell them what to do.

“At this point I see no reason to be worried about this Butcher. I have arrived at this conclusion through method of... Captain Hayes?”

“Deduction Sir?” Captain Hayes offered.

“Correct Captain. What I have deduced is this was not the work of a single man. The survivor, clearly traumatised, is having trouble remembering what he saw. I have no doubt it was a single man who threatened him but I imagine the massacre involved a well organised group. One man taking on an entire patrol? Unlikely.”

Autumn smiled, a gesture designed to inspire confidence.

“Secondly, by leaving a man alive we know this group to be vain. They wanted us to know what they had done, so that we might fear them. The Confederate Army does not fear, in particular we do not fear highwaymen with delusions of grandeur.”

The Captains nodded, happy that Autumn was there to take charge and ease their worried minds. The last thing any of them wanted was terrorist campaign.

“Lastly are any of you aware of who this Butcher of The Wastes is? Apparently our group of miscreants are unaware of the history that name carries around The Flats. Depending on who you speak to he’s either a hero of the weak or a mercenary that murdered fifty three Women and Children to celebrate a victory. Innocent people, not Slaves or Ochil, free Humans murdered by this butcher. Say’s a lot about them that they would choose such a name.”

The Captains stood in silence for a moment before Captain Lewis spoke up, the dead Confederates had been a part of his garrison.

“What will our response be?”

“Of course Captain we can’t let this stand and a strong message must be sent to any who are involved or are thinking about getting involved in this sort of thing. Our response must be swift and decisive.”

Autumn bridged his fingers and returned to his thoughts before standing and gesturing to a map.

“There is a small town, a trading stop really, called Ganhj about five miles south of New Mesa. Your squad is to travel there and select fifty three people. Execute half on the spot, ensure this is witnessed and the reason for the action is made clear. It is a response to the killings committed by the gang calling themselves the Butcher of the Wastes. The rest are to be brought to New Mesa where they too will be executed and displayed as a deterrent. Hopefully this will discourage the Flatlanders from picking up arms in an unwinnable war. The Confederate Army also shows mercy on their opponents even when they do not ask it.”

#

Mister Charles shook with anger as he read the report of Alexander’s actions. His actions had put the entire White Group at risk for the sake of a single Caravan. He waited for the Confederate response which he was sure would be swift.

It was.

Puck told him about the massacre at Ganhj and the reason behind it. Apparently the Confederate troops had really worked the place over before murdering fifty three of the town’s inhabitants as a response to the actions of the Butcher Of Wastes. Half of the bodies were currently hanging around New Mesa, just as Gretch had done when he had been in charge.

Charles collected the report he had received about the massacre and sent it to Alexander. He also included his message alongside the report.

“I do hope you had fun playing the Hero Alexander, However I do feel it doesn’t suit you just ask the fifty three Innocents. Or is it One hundred and six now?”

Charles regretted sending the message but he could not abide recklessness and felt it had to said. For all his combat skill Alexander still had to learn the wider consequences his actions could have especially when facing an enemy like the Confederate Army.

#

Ada as always reported directly to Mister Charles after her mission had been completed, not only had she successfully reproduced the plans but she had completely avoided detection. Charles commended her on her work and watched as the young woman left his office. She didn’t respond to his praise and not for the first time he wondered what Hope did to turn children into such emotionless killers.

#

The next day Charles had the plans Ada copied in his possession and was getting ready for an arduous journey.

“Ready Mister Costner?”

“Ready Mister Charles.”

Charles nodded and threw his pack onto the back of his horse before climbing on. Costner did the same with his own horse.
The two men were setting off from the Workshop and making their way to another meeting. The client had chosen a meeting point deep in The Flats which was becoming more common as the fear of Confederate spies was becoming more real.

Already Charles was seeing more and more signs of the occupation. Confederate Airship were making piracy a top priority as well as increasing their hold on New Mesa and the surrounding lands. It was clear the Confederates thought they were there to stay but what this meant for The Flats remained to be seen. Skycove was an obvious choice to attack as Charles had heard rumblings the Pirates were trying to sort out an Independent Navy although there were voices of dissent that thought it would be wiser to just migrate south and leave the Flats to the Confederates. Hope was something of a mystery as its interactions with the other towns were limited. There was no doubt they had weapons stockpiles but their religious beliefs meant they did not have many soldiers and would be unlikely to attack the Confederates unless directly threatened. Nevertheless Hope would be a place the Confederates would be wise to stay out of. Farpoint would fall quickly as it was a town founded on commerce and the Confederates had the most beads. To Charles it seemed unlikely that the Flats would be able to resist Confederate rule. While there was a willingness there to resist the people of the Flats were too disorganised to present a real threat.

They needed a leader.

The meeting they were travelling to would conclude Ada’s plan copying job. Mister Charles had been approached by a Group claiming to be attempting to put together an Independent Army that could one day dead direct blows to the Confederate Army. Of course Mister Charles had no interest in their fight. The White Group would always exist regardless of which flag the Flat’s where under. However when it became clear the group had substantial financial backing, thanks to Claude Kane who had recently inherited his mother’s fortune. In all the White Group had been heavily involved in starting the Resistance even if they were doing it for beads.

After a few days travelling they eventually arrived at the meet. It was taking place in a cave network to the west, a nice out of the way place where a meeting could take place away from prying eyes.

The two men spent a few hours scoping the place out but could see no signs of life.

Eventually Costner stealthily entered the cave but didn’t find anything amiss. The pair entered the tunnel network and eventually found themselves in the chamber where the meeting was to take place. Charles could feel the hair on his neck bristle, there was something off about the meet but he felt confident with Costner there.

Soon they heard a distinctive clip of heels against rock. Both men turned to face an Ochillian Woman wearing a white shirt and tan trousers.

“Madame Ti’loke?” Charles asked.

“Yes I assume you two are representatives from the Organisation?”

“The White Group? Yes, it’s fine to say the name.”

“Good Then it’s fine to say our name, the Flats Resistance Army.”

“Not an Army quite yet is it?” James asked.

“We’re recruiting.” The woman said a little defensively.

“We have the information as requested and our operative was undetected. In fact she tells me she was feet away from Colonel Autumn himself. Could have ended the whole thing there.”

“Why didn’t she?”

“If you’re good at something never do it for free. The Operative completed her task as instructed. Now to business.”

He opened the bag containing the plans but instead of producing them he pulled out a Revolver and pointed it at the woman.

“Miss Globe, I presume?” Charles asked solemnly as he pointed the weapon at the woman’s head.

“How’d you...”

“Know? The lie was good in fact it almost had me convinced. Until I saw your face. My Operatives told me about their encounters with you and the wounds on your face seemed familiar. The rest was guess work I don’t know any other female Ochillians that would need to resort to this kind of deception to get my attention.”

Miss Globe smiled.

“Very good. I hope you don’t think me a rank amateur but time was against us.”

“Us?”

“Ah it would appear you don’t know everything.”

Charles heard a sudden whoosh pass by his ear. Costner roared a curse of pain and when Charles glanced back he saw the man had a large blade sticking out of his shoulder. Costner quickly wrenched it out but Charles didn’t have time to consider what was happening as he quickly found himself tagged with an similar knife. Immediately he knew it was drugged.

“If it’s any consolation I got your man Alexander in a similar fashion.” Miss Globe explained.

Charles heard Costner hit the floor behind him and knew he was a few short seconds away from unconsciousness himself. He tried to steady his aim but Miss Globe was floating around the sights so he lowered the weapon.

“Bugger it.” He said before raising it and firing off every round he had.

He then collapsed.

#

A slap woke Mister Charles up and he saw himself staring into a horribly scarred face he knew all too well.

“Charlie! Welcome to the party.” Gretch beamed. He was wearing a leather apron that was covered in various knives and cleavers. “Me and your partner here where just getting acquainted, playing us some twenty questions.”

Charles took a second to get his bearings. He still in the cave but was now tied to a wooden chair as was Costner who was about twenty feet away and facing him. Costner had taken a beating to be sure but he was still more or less in one piece.

“I got questions Charlie. A lot of fucking questions and you two fuckers got answers!”

“If he finds the Workshop he will rape and murder everyone he finds in there do you understand?” Charles called out to Costner.
Gretch turned and looked at Costner. “Not even necessarily in that order.” He shrugged.

Gretch stretched and walked into a space roughly half way between the two men.

“Now we’re going to play another game. Twenty Questions is getting fucking boring. What to play though... what to play...” Gretch pondered as he stroked his chin in a theatrical display.

He abruptly clicked his fingers. “Mum’s not here, so why don’t we do something... bad?”

“Could you bloody well get on with it? I don’t have time to indulge your ramblings.” Charles said staring hard at the Madman.

“Alright. See Charlie that’s why I like you. Straight to the point. All Business. We coulda worked together and run these Confederate dickpleasers out of town but you hadda send one of your fuckers after me. So now you gotta die, then that piece of shit assassin you sent is gonna die and finally you know what’s gonna happen? All your little fucking killers are gonna work for me. Wanna know why?”

“As I said, let’s move this along.”

“The War. I’m the resistance, I wasn’t shitting ya. Who else is gonna stand up to these Confederate fucks? Who else can lead men? I took a bunch of fucking know nothing tribals and took New Mesa. I can send these solider boys back to whatever diseased whore spawned ‘em.”

“Eloquent as always.” Charles sighed.

“Here’s the deal, I want to know where the White Group club house is first. You know take care of the past so I can move on. So I’ve come up with a simple game to get me answers. Let’s take a closer fucking look at your friend’s chair.”

Gretch strode over to Costner and booted him in the chest knocking over his chair.

“See all these twigs and straw and wood and shit?” Charles looked at the heap that was tied under Costner’s chair. “That’s kindling! Don’t you worry now Charlie boy. Yours is exactly the same.”

Gretch heaved Costner’s chair back up.

“We’re gonna play us some Eeny Meeny Miney Moe. The loser gets to be barbecue and the winner gets to watch. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Gretch pointed at Charles.

“Eeny Meeny... Wait I don’t want any cheating so before you ask I’ve pulled those fucking false teeth Charlie. You can’t be sucking down no poison to get out of it, the loser is going to feel this shit.”

Gretch pointed at Costner and began his rhyme again.

“Eeny Meeny Miney Moe,
Catch a Tanu by the toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny Meeny Miney Moe.”

He stared at his finger for a long moment before following it to the loser.

“I’m sorry Charlie. To be honest though it was always going to be you.” Gretch shrugged.

“You Fucker!” Costner yelled from across the room.

“Do NOT tell them anything! We WILL be avenged!” Charles shouted at Costner.

“Sure thing Charlie, whatever you say.” Gretch said as he gathered together some flint and crouched down behind Mister Charles.

“Do not let me down. Tell him nothing.” Charles said making eye contact with James.

Gretch theatrically smelled the air.

“I think something’s burning!”

Gretch exploded into gleeful laughter and got to fanning the flames.

“NO you Bastard! You sick fucking bastard!” Costner screamed from his chair.

The kindling quickly erupted and the flame travelled to the leg of Charles’ trousers. The man gritted his teeth and stared at the floor while trying to ignore the pain and Gretch’s frantic waving and dancing. He tried to go somewhere else, to a time when he was happy and undamaged but after a lifetime spent killing people for beads he couldn’t think of a single happy moment.

Like Gretch said he was going to feel the flame.

Costner watched as Mister Charles seemed to ripple behind the heat haze. Blood was running down Charles’ mouth from how tightly he was gritting his teeth but eventually he threw his head back screamed with pain. The scream filled the room and Costner thought it was loudest, longest thing he’d ever heard.

Gretch dropped to his knees with the twisted joy he was getting from the moment.

“Let it out Charlie! Die knowing I killed you!”

Soon Costner couldn’t see Mister Charles through the smoke and flame. All that told him Mister Charles was still there was the screaming but eventually it stopped. Then only the crackling of the fire remained.

Costner dropped his head.

As the fire died Gretch got to his feet and walked to Costner.

“I’m going to leave this here for you to take a right long fucking peep at. Tomorrow morning at dawn you are going to tell me where the White Group call home. What I did to that is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you. I just wanted to kill him. You I want answers from. You’ll be alive for days while I work on you. Fucking days.”

Gretch patted Costner on the cheek before standing and leaving the cave.

#

Eventually the smoke cleared enough for Costner to see what was left of Mister Charles and he felt his resolve waver. Gretch was going to kill him of that there was no doubt what Costner had to decide was if he was going to die keeping his word to Mister Charles or die quickly.

Costner didn’t sleep instead he spent hours just staring at Mister Charles’ immolated body and thinking about his failure. His first time out with Mister Charles and he’d let him died in the worst way it was possible to imagine. Costner closed his eyes and prayed to whatever God he could remember.

He prayed for the chance of revenge.

He was interrupted when he heard shifting rocks behind him and for a second felt fear grab his heart that it was already dawn.

“Psst James?”

Costner tried to turn in his seat but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from, then he felt small hands working at the ropes that held him. Once he was free he quickly stood and turned to face his rescuer.

Grubby faced Puck stood in front of him and wiped his nose.

“Puck how did you get here?”

“Found a hole in the ground.” The child explained simply.

“Why are you here?”

“Didn’t trust the meet. I always watch meets I’m not sure about. I have Mister Charles’ back only he don’t know I do.”

“Puck about Mister Charles...” Costner started as he positioned himself between the boy the horror of Mister Charles’ corpse.

“I know, but we gotta get outta here and tell the others. Ain’t no way we’re gonna take on nobody. No weapons and Gretch got an Army in the next chamber over.”

“An army?”

“Tribals all of ‘em but he sure got a lot. Let’s get out of here.” Puck sounded scared and the courage it must have taken for the boy the rescue him became apparent.

“Ok.”

#

Puck showed Costner the hole in the ground through which he entered the cave and Costner followed him out. On the way they passed along a rock shelf that took them over Gretch’s Army. Costner counted at least fifty tribals and there had to be more on patrols. It wasn’t enough to take on the Confederates but Gretch was building his army.

Eventually the duo found themselves looking at a make shift stable with a lone guard. Costner guessed there were only a few hours left until dawn.

“Don’t worry I know how we can sneak past him.” Puck said but Costner put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“You wait here and don’t come in. I’ll get the horse and bring it out.”
Costner got to his feet and walked to the Stable. Puck waited for about five minutes before Costner returned with a horse and covered in blood.

“James, you’re bleeding!”

“Not my blood kid.”

#

At dawn Gretch was surprised to learn Costner had been able to escape. He had assumed the cave only had one entrance but it was no matter without their leader the White Group would be no more, he’d had his revenge. As for Alexander without Mister Charles’ network to protect him eventually Gretch would track him down.

A thought then occurred to Gretch which sent him to the stable where the stench of death was over powering.

Every horse in the Stable was dead as was the guard. In fact it looked like before he’d left Costner had taken his time killing and mutilating the man. On the wall in blood was a simple message.

“Soon.”

#

“James are you alright?” Jenner Reese asked James Costner after he explained what had happened to Mister Charles.

“It was pretty rough but he took it like man. He was more worried about me breaking than he was about himself. He was one tough old bastard.”

“We have to let the others know. I’ll brief them when I put up this week’s jobs.”

“What do you mean? There’s no White Group, not anymore.”

“I’ve been working with Mister Charles for a few months now I’m sure between us we can keep it running. The operatives all know what they’re doing and I’m sure they’ll be out for revenge, we owe Mister Charles that as well, he took us in. We also need to find information about Mozambique or have you forgotten about that? I’M though running James, we make our stand here. We’ll kill Gretch, Avenge Mister Charles and go back to work.”

Costner nodded and left the office.

Jenner lifted a pen and started to write.

Jobs.

Before the usual posting of Jobs it falls to me to inform you of the death of Mister Charles at the hands of Gretch and Miss Globe. I assure you this action will not go unanswered. I am using all resources at our disposal to track down this man as well as his associates. To this end all operatives are to remain vigilant for any information regarding Gretch, Miss Globe or any Groups claiming to be the Resistance to the Confederate Army as this is the group Gretch is now commanding.
Additionally, according to Mister Costner, Gretch has a particular interest in the White Group therefore Operatives should take precautions while on Jobs.

Lastly while the death of Mister Charles is a tragedy I assure you the White Group will continue to operate. This would have been his will.

The Ringleader.

Jenner Reese.


Leave no Man Behind.


Target- The remains of Mister Charles.

Location- A cave Network to the west, in the Badlands.

Information- The Body of Mister Charles is to be recovered if possible and brought back to the Workshop where it can be interred.

James Costner can offer the precise location of caves, he should be consulted before you set out. The caves are in the middle of the Badlands so expect to encounter feral gangs of Tribals as well as the occasional, hopefully friendly, tribe of Ochillian nomads.
Lastly while we believe Gretch and his army have moved on, you are to collect any information possible about the group. This can be achieved through analysis of physical evidence or interviewing those who may have seen them passing through the area.
Be aware Gretch is a feral tribal and he is considered a legend amongst these groups if you are detected by a gang of roaming psychos odds are Gretch will hear about it.


Zong


Target- Cuervo “Slim” Banner

Location- The Zong.

Information- Unlike on the Flats Slavery is common in the Peaks. All races and genders have the potential to become slaves and once someone is branded a slave that is their station for life. Branding takes place on the cheeks as a method to easily identify slaves.

Slim Banner is a Slaver who is currently operating in the Flats he seems to be specialising in Ochillians, particularly women and children. Apparently they are sought after on The Peaks by the wealthy as they are seen as exotic.

It’s a dirty trade for dirty people. The client is the Ran-du Tribe who are nomadic traders like all Ochil. Apparently five of their group, two women and three children, were captured by Slim and his gang of Slavers.

Pirates are not welcome in most places in the Flats including Skycove, probably because many pirates are escaped Slaves. The Pirates have established a market called The Zong where slaves are traded before being brought north to the Peaks. Apparently Slim and his Slavers are currently there with the kidnapped Ran-du. You are to kill Slim and recover the five Ran-Du if possible. Expect them to be heavily drugged as this is the preferred Method to keep Slaves controllable. The Zong it’s self will be crawling with Slavers so be aware.


Tit for tat for tit for tat...


Target- Captain Melvyn Lewis

Location- New Mesa and the surrounding area.

Information- Captain Lewis led the attack on Ganhj that resulted in the execution of fifty three innocent people in retaliation for the deaths of Confederate Soldiers under his command. Apparently one of the fifty three killed is worth paying for revenge.
You are to locate and assassinate Captain Lewis. The client has specified, and these are the clients own words, “Let the bastard know his death is coming”. I’ll let the operative decide what that statement means.

Security in New Mesa is much tighter after the ambush so it may be easier to engage the Captain while he is on patrol. We have his previous patrol routes and times available in library.