Sitting around a campfire built at the base of the old tower, where only hours before they had been fighting for their lives with bizarre dog beasts, were Rydell, Roland, Shiva and Brittomart. As they’d been assembling dry wood from the edge of the dead forest they’d left to come here, Bradamante has phased out of existence again. She might return in a minute, she might return in a year for all they knew.
Rydell lay on his back, looking back and forth between the three maps they had at their disposal. One was a paper map they’d taken from the poor wretch whose head exploded, another was a leather map they’d found in the house in the woods and the third was some master map the cannibals had been updating with whatever information they gleaned from their kills. “So okay” Rydell spoke “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m having trouble keeping track of everything new…let alone remembering anything from before we woke up in the lighthouse
“Well” Roland answered “That’s where it started, of course. We woke up with nothing on us but these durable, lightweight black clothes and our masks with their different colored headdresses. Exploring the lighthouse and the larger building it sprouted from, we found a few simple objects that each of us was specifically drawn to – mine being this pistol, of course.”
“We also killed that small, hairy creature.” Shiva chimed in.
“Right” said Roland “Soon after that we had to try to get to land over that gap, which luckily was temporarily plugged by a passing boatman’s ship. We couldn’t understand him and vice versa, but managed to negotiate a trade where we helped him get his ship unstuck in exchange for some rations, some footwear and a few sacks to carry things in, things like all that old cereal we scavenged from a shipping container.”
“We still have some of that left.” Brittomart complained.
“Barely on the mainland, still with the frigid coast at our back, we met some starving wretch with machinery crudely put in his head. He’d just lost a map to some strong wind and seemed miserable about it. We tried to talk with him but he spoke yet another language, different from us or the boatman.”
“Yes” Brittomart spoke up “And soon after I tried to speak to his mind, his head exploded! The best I could gather was that he’d traveled a very long way and he was scared of disappointing some master or owner or some such. Luckily we were able to grab his other map, one he’d clearly only just begun after running out of space on the map which was blown into the sea.”
“Then we headed south through those grey, ashen hills.” Rydell continued “And oh boy was I glad we got into that first cave before the grey snow began. That acid stuff was terrifying, it was like listening to bacon spit on a pan as it came down.”
“I’m not sure” Roland interrupted “But I swear I saw a lone figure out in the distance.”
“You mean the little guy who had the same machinery in his head as the first one?” Shiva spoke up “The one who made it VERY clear the snow was deadly, what with his melting and all?”
“No” Roland answered “There was him, but I definitely spotted someone in the far distance who seemed to be unaffected by the snow.”
“Do you think it was that Talus guy?” Rydell asked. Brittomart blushed and looked away.
“No.” Roland replied “He was on his own, no dog beasts, and while he plainly has better equipment then us I don’t see how he’d have anything that could protect him from such horrible stuff.”
“Okay.” Rydell continued, still shuffling the maps “So that first cave was nice as it had a small geothermal vent in the back that warmed the place up. We left in the morning and eventually found a similar cave with a small sign by the door that had some blue symbol on it. It seems like these caves were part of a known series used by travelers when they have to go through that hellscape.”
“Yeah” Shiva agreed “That one was pretty unremarkable but the day after we went much further south and found that cave with the green symbol sign by the door. That one was much more eventful.”
The others all nodded their heads in agreement. Brittomart played with the pale blue feathers in her gas masks headdress, happy not to have to wear the thing to be comfortable.
“That was where Bradamante showed up for the first time.” Shiva continued “I still don’t know how she feels and speaks like one of us, but looks like some stone age hunter-gatherer. She even has the same instinctual feeling of being hunted that’s been nagging at the back of everybody’s minds.”
“That is weird.” Roland agreed, chewing on one of the seaman’s biscuits they’d gotten from the boat captain “After we agreed we all trusted each other, we set off the next morning and passed through some more rolling hills before eventually getting to the base of that huge mountain with the top sheared off. It and the other mountains in that range seemed to form a wall against which the terrifying weather of that region buffeted against and was stopped.”
“You would focus on the weather, not the three legged living metal statue thing that shot red streaks of deadly light at us.” Rydell quipped “Remember how I finished it off by dumping that rock on it from up high?”
“I suppose my bullets didn’t contribute?” Roland retorted.
“Never mind my wrestling the damn thing and tossing it down the mountain.” Shiva added.
“Yes, well, you were all very brave.” Brittomart offered, trying to be conciliatory “Then we got to the top and came to that gated cave, spending the night just outside before exploring the following morning. Inside we found what seemed like the beginning of a massive installation build into the body of the mountain.”
“Right.” Rydell remembered, “I certainly enjoyed that automated machine gun, that would have killed me, if it hadn’t run out of ammunition blowing away some other poor souls. One looked like another machine head wretch. He had the map that showed us where…where that house in woods was located.”
“There was also that cave in we could probably get through with the right tools and either a lot of time or a lot of help.” Shiva offered “Roland spotted that first aid kit, then we all agreed to leave but that we should come back later when we decide we really want to explore further down into what that painted diagram on the wall suggested.”
Brittomart looked at Roland with admiration. “As we left, everyone agreed that we needed a clear leader and that Roland was the right choice”. Roland grunted.
“Yes” he said, “and my first wise decision was that we head south to that house in the woods.”
They all sat quiet for a while, nobody being in any particular hurry to recount what had gone on there. The fight with the cannibals had been a victory, but Shiva nearly died and the manner in which they had to gang up on the leader didn’t feel terribly noble even if he was guilty of such horrors as what they found in the basement. Finding an elder one of their own might have felt more encouraging if he hadn’t died of being partially eaten, but at least he’d handed off an old vinyl record that Brittomart now kept close on her person at all times.
After leaving that house they’d headed east through the dead woods, eventually coming across the tower where they currently camped. Sensing that they’d all replayed the events in the woods through their minds, Brittomart took the reins of their communal storytelling.
“So alright, that happened. Then we came here and had our encounter with someone else like us.”
“He’s not like us.” Roland muttered.
“Well, he is.” Brittomart argued, “He is very much one of us, but I got a strong feeling that he had been forcibly recruited for the purpose of hunting us. Maybe those dog beasts weren’t so much his pets as his keepers, never mind who held the leashes.”
“I dunno.” Shiva answered, “But he had some great gear on him. If we could get that rifle into Roland’s hands I know I’d feel a lot safer traveling this wasteland.”
“I’ll feel a lot better if we find somewhere with beds and other comforts, somewhere without a bunch of corpses in the basement.” Roland added, rubbing his feet and loosening the wrappings, which provided little comfort.
“Well, that’s at least part of why we’re heading to the village the maps say is not too far east of this tower.” Rydell said, “Maybe that one legged guy we set free from the house was from there?”
They all sat quietly, hoping but not really knowing the answer to that.
“Well, I’ll tell you this much.” Roland said, “After we get to know this land a little more, I really want to sort out some kind of home base where we can sustain ourselves while we figure out just who the hell we are, where we’re from, who’s after us and what we can do about all that. This nomad’s life has a certain appeal to me, I admit, but it’s not really what we need per se.”
The others nodded in agreement. This adventure might feel more like one, if they weren’t worried about being hunted, eaten, killed by horrifying weather or just plain starving to death. Hopefully the village would provide a turning point in their struggles.
Continuing on like this forever was just…unthinkable.
I did find some more notes for The Tower section, here they are almost verbatim.
Wake up still in the Dead Woods, far east section. Traveled to the edges of the woods.
Woke up, spent a day resting to heal from wounds incurred in the backyard battle with the cannibals.
Some chatter, Rydell scouts ahead in the evening and then you all approached The Tower.
A soft rain begins. It’s not as horrible as the snow, but basically acts like a soft bleach.
Two large wooden doors were taken off their hinges, one door used for fire fuel and the other as a cover from the stairs heading down into the tower basement.
Another day of rest to recover from cannibal-inflicted injury.
Early morning, Rydell and Roland head to the top of the tower where they spot Talus & the hounds off in the distance. Talus releases the hounds, who race towards the tower. Those at the top run down to ground level, grab the others and hide downstairs.
Talus perched himself at the top of the stairs with his rifle, sending the dogs down. Bradamante spooked them by vanishing, causing them all to engage their strength enhancements.
Two charged Roland & Rydell while the third, the alpha, engaged Shiva at the bottom of the stairs. It relatively quickly grappled her to the ground and bound her hands with a length of rope.
Roland’s eyes saw true and he gunned down both dog warriors (with a little help from Rydell’s sling). Brittomart cleverly used mimicry and ventriloquism to distract the Alpha with the sound of Talus saying “Heel!”, before Roland gunned it down as well.
Bradamante reappeared to help Shiva to her feet. When the pair of them verbally confronted Talus, he fired at Bradamante…who went insubstantial at just the right time. The bullet slammed into Shiva’s chest, knocking her onto her back – winded but unharmed. Roland, Shiva and Bradamante shot threats and vitriol at Talus but Brittomart did something else. She offered herself as a hostage so he’d feel safe leaving.
Talus took her up on this and the two went north-east to the top of the same ridge overlooking the tower that Roland & Rydell first spotted him on. They shared a brief exchange that Brittomart has largely kept to herself, before he turned and left. Every time Brittomart tried to peer into his mind she was rebuffed by a strange mental technique he used which put a chant in her head each time.