The scrap metal cage hangs suspended over a fire; the flames lick at its base, and the thin floor rapidly heats to an uncomfortable degree. The bars are not thick, but sturdy enough-- too sturdy for Fern, caged as she is, to escape! All around her, men and women in wooden masks and wigs of leaves chant her name, dance, and play primitive instruments.. save one, who has an old acoustic guitar. A circle of trees surrounds them all.
"Goddess of the Gully! Bringer of the Green! Come to us, come to us!"
Clouds slide thick and fluffed across the sky like a spread of butter; through the gaps between them shines the noontime sun, until all the horizon melts cream-gold. Along the broken highway, littered with asphalt, cans, and the husks of cars abandoned like an insect's molting, walk a man and a girl. She's a very very little girl, and he's a very very big man-- an odd pair, to be certain, one red like a demon, the other parading around in a skull helm.
"Remember, Fern," the man begins, and his voice booms like thunder, rolling over the faded glitter of the tar. "It is an unholy place; the air itself can give a sickness of the brain."
|Fern|| Kids don't often listen to their elders. They think they know -everything-, so it's no surprise that Fern had earlier just rolled her eyes before running off and calling for Ashur to join her on the invasion. Fern has an active imagination that hasn't yet been squashed out by adulthood, and she often tries to get you to join in the games she plays. This isn't the place for games.. and sometime later in the day she's learning that the hard way.
Holding on to bars and clinging to them like a monkey, Fern tries her best to keep her feet off the bottom of the cage. She has her shoes on, but it's starting to get too hot. She's a sweaty mess, and she's as pissed off as she is hot.
"You crazy fucks! When I get outta this cage I'm gonna rip your spines out and tear your eyes outta your sockets and I'm gonna kick your asses!" she growls, shaking the cage angrily. This isn't the way she planned to die!
|Ashur|| One masked man, a tall and lanky native whose mask is a little more ornate than the rest, dances up to the fire's edge. He grasps a stick and smacks it against the cage hanging-- by rope, it can be seen, using the trees as support-- over the fire until the whole thing rattles and shakes and you quiet. "Goddess! We know the prison of flesh hurts; to be so restrained, leashed to the earth by manacles of bone and sinew! We burn you to free you! The goddess Fern will return to the gardens of Eden! Be not afraid."
Elsewhere, Ashur storms through brush and branch, bleeding from a gash in his head. Those crazy fucks thought they killed him when they cracked open his skull, but they underestimated the vitality of a super mutant, especially one that's absolutely fucking pissed.
He's still a bit far away, though.. an unavoidable result of the ambush.
|Fern|| "Hurts?! What hurts is gonna be you when I get outta this thing!" Fern yells down to the crazy man as she shakes around in the cage again. The kid is wild inside, trying her best to slam herself against the side and break something. They got her in the same way she can get out, and she's trying to either break a hinge or pop a bar out. She isn't very strong, but she makes up for it in other ways.
She thrashes about for another minute or so before she starts to calm down. Idea! Fern leans into the bars and calls down to the crazies, gasping as she stagewhispers down to them, "A vision! Ahh-natwangu... mnnnnf.. nahhah-bibwobba.." Just a bunch'o'fuckin' jibberish. She's winging it. The kid flinches and straightens in the cage, eyes wide and staring down. "We are wrong! The return to Eden.. is impossible this way!" Uhhh sure..
|Ashur|| "That damn fool of a girl," Ashur growls, pausing near a slim-trunked deciduous tree, barren and infected with some sort of wood-rot. "I'll wallop her ass when I find her!" The mutant grumbles and tenses, metal-cased fingers curling into a tight fist that presents the pistons of his gauntlet; howling in rage, he swings his arm with all the primal force of a landslide, and the area echoes with the crack of it as shards dust the air. The tree topples and falls with an even louder crash.
As if summoned by sound, the wind picks up, and the dust storms that have been ravaging the area come in full force once more. For the second time in the day, Ashur is blinded by the choking dust, prowling through this mad tribe's wooded territory.
Back in the clearing, the dancing has stopped, the music has stopped; the crowd has heard the sound of something drawing closer, and heard the snapping of wood that sent a flutter of birds into the sky. The moment drags on in silence.. and then the storm picks back up, shaking the trees! It hurts you, exposed as you are; the grit in the air moves fast, and blisters the skin, not to mention if you don't cover your mouth it gets inside. The gale is strong enough that it drowns the fire and strains the rope.
"A spell! The goddess casts a spell on us!" The tribals wail. Some say to run. Others say to cut out your tongue. Their shaman, with his horned mask, goes, "Lower the cage! She must burn-- we will wait for the storm to end!"
A few struggle through and lower the cage onto the embers of the fire, and another comes over to undo a latch. This is your moment..
|Fern|| Fern hears that loud crack.. It could be a deathclaw or Ashur. Let's hope it's the latter. The kid feels the winds sweeping up again and she quickly pulls the side of her jacket up, covering her face and hiding inside of it as it's zipped up tight. She coughs a bit while the sand swirls around, and she doesn't pull her head back out until she feels the cage lowering and hitting the embers.
Taking a deep, clean breath, Fern pulls her head out and looks through squinting eyes at the cage, watching how the latch is undone. She leans back against the hot cage then and lifts a foot, kicking with all her strength as she tries her hardest to kick the opened cage hard enough to hit the person unlocking it. She's trying to make a run for it.
|Ashur|| You fly! A mad dash to freedom that takes the man pulling you out of the cage off-guard; he goes off balance when you run past and falls flat on his ass, landing on a not-quite-cooled ember from the fire. "Ow! Hot hot hot!" He cries, rolling over and patting at his ass.
You're gone before the cage door open swings back shut, just a rusting metal creak in your wake.
"Get her! The divine spirit is confused! Slit her throat!"
|Fern|| If Fern ever needed a to run as fast as she could, it's now. The kid lifts her jacket slightly to cover her mouth as she runs as hard and fast as she can towards the trees, towards that cracking sound she had heard earlier. If it's a deathclaw out there, maybe it will eat the crazies. If it's Ashur? Maybe he'll kick her ass later and focus on the crazies first. One can hope!
Fern runs as fast as she ever has, not looking back for even a second as she goes. Shoes dig into the earth and she races to the treeline, glancing as far ahead as she can in the sandstorm. It's hard to see where she's going, but that doesn't stop her from running. She can't stop. If she does, she's dead, so she may as well run straight ahead and hope for the best!
|Ashur|| The tribals hoot and holler and crush grass behind you, all of it drowned out by the endless drone of the sandstrewn winds. It's hard to see, hard to keep track of direction, but luck and cleverness see you distancing yourself from the ritual site.. though at one point you do trip right over a massive rubber tire, from one of those old eighteen wheelers, that's been partially lodged into the dirt for some reason or another.
When the winds abate, you see glimpses, here and there, of their settlement. Tents, mobile homes, rusting vehicles, with decorations ripped from the old world and the new-- too obscured to make out clear details, but.. is that an inflatable tube-man?
Doesn't matter. You run, and run, and run, trying not to choke on the sand or get too much in your eyes, until you run, WHAM, right into something huge and dark and rock solid.
"About time, girl. Been following the yells for an hour."
|Fern|| Fern crashes into you and yelps, instantly pushing against your form and hitting at you.. until she realizes it's you! The kid instantly hops back up, and she quickly moves around behind you for protection. "They're out there! They had me roastin' over a fire in a cage! Said they were gonna slit my throat!" She growls at that, now angry instead of scared. no need to be scared when Ashur's your best bud and is gonna take care of you!
Fern nudges you as she stands behind you, and she growls, "Put me up!" She wants to get on your shoulders as she sometimes does. Someone has to drive the beast, after all! She'll hold on tight and point the way!
|Ashur|| "Profligate scoundrels," the behemoth roars, incensed by your words! Since Sparrow jabbed that needle in his butt, he's been talking more like he used to, with bigger, angrier words! He takes a knee as you growl and nudge him, low enough now for you to scramble up over his white cloak-- the hood of which is over his massive head, shading his eyes a little from the sandstorm-- and wrap your arms around the muscular swell of his neck. Conveniently, the almost 'hump' he has on his mid-back, where the muscle grew especially large, serves as something of a seat when you piggyback.
"Mm.. I should take you to safety," he rumbles, reaching into a rucksack he's got and pulling free your helmet. He holds the bone trophy up to you. "I picked it up by the gas station," he says. "They left it. Put it on, Fern, and keep your head down. I don't know if they have guns or not."
In the distance, their yells and their movements can be heard, as the wind dies down a little.
|Fern|| Fern hops on to Ashur's shoulders and holds on tight. her helmet is taken and she puts it on quickly, wearing it backwards for now so the sand doesn't get into her mouth or eyes. She keeps her jacket lifted enough to protect her from the storm, and once they get going she holds on tighter like a cowboy riding a bucking bronco. She's not about to fall off!
As they race towards the yelling, Fern growls, "We can't let them escape! They woulda killed me! They'll do it to someone else!" She pauses. "We get rid of 'em and then go see what sorta stuff they have," she says. There should be interesting things back home, yeah?
|Ashur|| Despite his mention of safety, Ashur moves toward the sound, not away from it-- and it's like riding a dinosaur, your head nearly thirteen feet in the air, looking down on smaller trees! He's running, damn near galloping, his bare feet kicking up a cloud of dirt and grass when he leans forward and throws himself against the wind. And oh, how that wind whistles, even besides the storm-- you're moving fast, fast, fast, a thousand pounds of muscle dedicating itself to sprinting through the trees and over the hilly terrain off the highway.
"When I was your age, I'd already killed a hundred men," the behemoth boasts, and as he does he hits an incline. His feet skid through fallen leaves and he surfs down perilously quick, arms windmilling as he pitches forward. There's a moment's worry he might lose balance, but instead the brute just keeps going and going until the ground levels out!
"What--" And there, through the sand and trees, you can see a few of them, armed with spears and guns,
"Are a few--" They were so much further away a second ago, and it seems like you crossed the length of a football field already,
"More?!" The two of you explode from a dust cloud and you're on them, the mutant lifting one of the tribals up by the head and cracking it like a walnut in his bare hand!
|Fern|| Laughing as the running makes her bounce around, helmet turning to face the right way, Fern calls down to Ashur, "Hah! I've killed -three- hundred!" She lifts her right arm as if holding a sword and commanding a charge, and she laughs even more. Sure, now that she's safe it's all fun!
As the clearing is again reached and the tribals seen, Fern holds on tightly, grasping those black braids that dance against her. She holds on tight and gives her own little battle cry, eyes widening almost madly as they come into contact with the people. One is soon squished right before her and she growls, shouting a war cry as she grins ear to ear. "Get them!" she snarls!
|Ashur|| The wooden mask splinters around Ashur's grasping hand. The crunch of the wood is as loud as the bone, his face collapsing inward until it stops looking like a human's face-- jaw unhinged, one caved-in eye socket hidden behind a dangling bit of decorated wood. The tribal's legs kick and twitch until his brain dies properly, at which point Ashur tosses him aside.
"The demon! The goddess' demon is back!" The cry goes up, the sound carried through shaking branches and the howling winds. "Surround the demon! Our Fern must be taken, or the blight will take us all!"
What, exactly, the blight is is unknown still, though in the back of his mind, Ashur has an idea.. and maybe Fern's seen it, too, how so many of the trees seem to be rotting and dying.
Gunshots split the air. Ashur whirls around to face them, rather than dodge-- puffing himself up as big as he can, face twisted by rage. He tenses his body as the bullets strike his skin, sinking in as far as they can before being stopped by bone or muscle. He bleeds, but it means nothing to him.
It's pure coincidence, of course, that you are entirely unable to be hit if he faces every attack head-on, rather than dance around and risk your wellbeing.
"Which one tried to burn you, Fern?" He asks, as he slides behind a rotting tree. One of the men there has a spear in each hand and is jabbing at him. Ashur darts forward, shattering the spine shafts when the blades lodge in him, and driving his right fist into the man's stomach. And then lifting the man up in one fluid motion, as the gut-punch becomes an uppercut..
And the man is off the ground, and that's when the power fist's pistons activate with a metallic wrr-chnk, and the behemoth's massive fist swells with power, as the body literally achieves take-off and goes flying up into the air like a rag doll!
"Or do they all die?"
|Fern|| "All," Fern says in a stern way as she narrows her eyes, staring down the people as Ashur defeats them one after the other. While holding on to Ashur's hair, she stares down at them like a queen grasping the reins to her war horse in battle. Her gaze shifts and she nods, saying, "That one." She tugs your hair lightly, pulling to the right to put your focus there. "Over there.. But they all were just as guilty. Not one of them wanted to help me!" she growls.
Fern then gives another little war cry as she hangs on for life, not wanting to be thrown from Ashur's back while fighting. She's staring through the eye sockets of her helmet, the blood of enemies splattered over both of them.
|Ashur|| "You hear that?" Ashur screams, and for a moment the storm stills, and grows silent-- due deference to the war god that'll surely ring its neck if it does otherwise. "She says every last one of you die! We'll murder your men!" and another gunshot resounds, striking the mutant in the hip, but it's a superficial wound. He reaches down and hefts up a branch, charging in the direction of the bullet and swinging wildly. There's a cry of pain and the impact of it runs right through him and up into you! From the looks of it, he just broke a masked man's arm-- hey! It's the one that burnt his butt when you got out of the cage!
"And we'll rape your women!" You tug on his braid and he turns, spying the lanky man in the horned mask, next to two tribals wielding old-timey Tommy Guns. Where'd they even get those-- trophies taken from the Tax Men that used to be working around El Dorado? He lets out another war cry and moves again, arms held up in front of his face, protecting his eyes as he charges into a storm of bullets.
"We'll burn your homes, burn your crops, burn your animals, and sell your children into slavery!"
The mutant grabs one of the men by the arm and flings him right up into the air, and smacks another away, before wrapping his hands around their shaman's throat and lifting, squeezing. The mask falls away to reveal a middle-aged balding native, with long, thinning hair. He wasn't handsome to begin with, and now his face is turning purple right in front of you.
|Fern|| At first it was all fun and games. The anger was fresh and made it hard to think clearly, but now Fern has had time to reflect. The sound of bones breaking, the sight of blood splettering.. and now a man turning purple right before her? It's a bit much.
the kid holds on to Ashur tightly, and she swallows hard as she says, "A-Ashur!" She looks around quickly, saying, "You're getting hurt.. Just.. Just.. Let's get the fuck out of here!" she shouts, trying to shake Ashur from the current situation. It's scary!
|Ashur|| The shaman claws at Ashur's hands. His face is the color of the veins that line the super mutant's hands; a vibrant, purpling blue, like a berry plucked from a bush. His eyes are bloodshot, his lips swelling, all the little capillaries in his face bursting. Sweat pours down his brow and he kicks, over and over, trying to break free.
Ashur'd always told you violence was a man's duty, mentioned, in vague detail, that he spent his life in the Legion, fighting and killing. It's always been abstract, a fantasy-- some big ol' mutant hero friend of yours beating stuff up and facing monsters.
It's only now, in a very real, concrete way, that you see his anger. Those huge hands that have pat your head and taught you how to throw a punch and picked you up are crushing a man's esophagus, and slowly strangling the life out of his body. The man he'd flung into the air comes crashing some fifteen or twenty feet back down, through branches of trees, and lands wrong on his leg; it twists, and the bone breaks, and maybe his spine, too, because he's screaming and crying and you can see the bone sticking out. Actually sticking out, bright white.
This is suddenly not a very fun place anymore. The tribals that are still alive are running. It smells of blood and.. grosser things. The wind can't hide the fact people are crying and moaning.
"They wanted you dead, Fern! This is justice!"
But maybe it's just violence, really.
|Fern|| "But.. But this..!" Fern doesn't know how to handle such a thing. She gives another look to the man you strange, then glances to where she heard the fall. Her eyes widen when she sees the bone sticking out, and you can soon hear Fern beginning to cry. She cries. Hard.
"I wanna go home.." she sobs, tears rolling down her cheeks as she clings to you now. "I wanna go home!" she shouts, louder this time. It seems the right time to retreat anyway, with the people running and fearing for their lives. They can't help the wastes have warped their minds. Fern closes her eyes tightly and cowers on your shoulders, trying to hide behind your skull.
|Ashur|| Ashur lets go. The shaman falls to the ground gasping for breath, clutching his bruised, bleeding throat. The color returns to his face slowly. "Run, cowards!" The mutant bellows. "Run, and don't ever lay a hand on another traveler, or I'll be back! RUN!"
Those who can flee, or try to help their injured friends back up. The dead.. well, they stay right where they are. Ashur sucks in a deep breath of his own, heart pounding, muscles tensed.. and then he turns, and begins to stalk back off toward the little hill he'd slid down before, to climb back up through the trees and start the walk back to the highway through the storm. It makes it hard to see, but he knows the way; he's a bit of a survival guru.
He's silent as he marches away from the carnage. But then he reaches up behind him and gives your head a little pat, so long as you don't flinch away. "Let's go back to the gas station first," he says. "I found a candy bar there, missed by scavengers. You ever had chocolate, Fern? Then we'll go back to El Dorado."
|Fern||As you leave the area you can hear the soft sniffling from Fern and the occasional sigh. She's calming down now, and she remains quiet. The grip on Ashur's hair loosens, and soon Fern feels relaxed atop Ash's shoulders. She sniffles again and soon murmurs a soft, "No.." when he mentions chocolate. She is silent again for a while, then asks, "What's it like?" She is quiet once more, a quiet kid, not her usual self, perched there on the human-monster Ashur.|
|Ashur|| Through the trees some more, and the storm's settling down. The sky's visible again, and while the sun's moved further in the sky, the horizon's still a buttery gold, all toast-scraped cloudfluff. It'll be a fifteen or twenty minute walk back to the highway, and it'll pass without incident.
"I tried it once when I was your age," he says. "I found it in.. some pants, in a basement." The truth is that he found it in the pants of a dead boy in a basement, holding onto the skeleton of his mother; both of them died hundreds of years ago when the bombs fell. But there's no need to make you think of death again.
"It was very sweet. Harder than I thought it'd be, and it broke apart in my mouth. There were some nuts in it, but they were stale. It made my cheeks pucker because of all the sugar." The mutant laughs a little, and reaches back to give your head another muss.
"It's okay, Fern."
|Fern||Fern is quiet for a bit, only murmuring, "Sounds good.." as they go along. They're safe now, and nothing is after them. The sandstorm isn't even that bad anymore. Fern is looking out over the horizon then as she wonders, "What will happen to them? The ones that.. can't walk, but.. are hurt. What happens to them?" She takes her helmet off and holds it in her hands, looking it over carefully for any damage.|
|Ashur||"The ones who could walk with help will have been helped back," he explains, away from the trees now and baking in the sun. The yellow-brown grasslands surround you. "And once they're sure we're gone, they'll come back for the others. Broken bones can heal; they'll make splints, rest in bed, and in a few months be back in action."|
|Fern|| "Ohh.. Okay.." Fern falls into her silence again, and soon you can feel her shifting on your shoulders. It's a drop down, but hopefully Ashur can feel what she's trying to do as she moves to slide down his back and hop to the ground.
Once on the ground she stands up fully and glances back toward where they were, staring for just a bit. No one is after them. Fern moves up to Ashur's side and walks along with him. "Thanks for coming back for me," she says. "Sorry I pissed you off."
|Ashur|| "It's dangerous to run off by yourself out here," he chastises, with a severity in his barking voice rarely seen; less anger, more frustration. "The world.. is not kind to little girls your age, off on their own. Crazy tribals are not the worst things around here."
He chuffs, a puff of air through flared nostrils, then reaches over and claps you gently on the back. "You're tough, but it'll be a few years before you're tough enough to handle those things. So be a little more cautious when we're out. You be the lookout for me, make sure I don't wander into any trouble."
|Fern|| There is a moment where Fern leans into your side after having her back patted. She rests there for just a second, still walking, and once she's standing straight again she glances up to you. "Okay.. I won't go running off, and I'll be your lookout.. Sorry again," she says, finally giving a little grin.
She looks down the road and watches the scenery. "That -was- kinda cool, though.. when you were killing them so easily. Too bad we couldn't go loot all their stuff. I bet that had cool things in their tents. Did you see one had a guitar!? Aughhhh, that was fuckin' sick!" She grunts. Shoulda grabbed the guitar.
|Ashur|| "That'a girl," the big lug says, flashing a smile down at you and walking along. "They wore strange masks, but behind them, they were merely men-- and I cannot be stopped by any man. I am the blood of Mars." He stretches his arms up reeeaaaal high, elbows popping. "What is a.. guitar, Fern?"
No reason for the question, honest. He's definitely not going back later.
|Fern|| Fern looks up at you like you're the coolest person ever. The kid really admires you, and it's clear.
"A guitar is an instrument.. Kinda rounder down this way and then thinner at the other end. has about six strings.. and when you pluck them they make different tones. You can play music.. I was out once and came across this old music store.. found a bunch of books. Kept a few.. Some were how to play guitar. Some are books of music. Found one by some dude named.. Johnny Cash? Something like that. A lot of the songs are pretty cool. Kinda warped. I bet they'd be fun to play."
Fern smiles a little more then, and as she looks up to you again she asks, "You have any friends, Ash? Not your wives. That's different. But.. real friends?"
|Ashur|| "A round-ended string instrument," the former Legionnaire says, following your hands with his eyes as you make the shape of it in the air. "I see." That tidbit is filed away in the back of the mutant's mind for future reference. Up ahead, now, the highway, and the gas station branching off it down a little gravel road can be seen. Take a left and follow the highway back, and they'd make it to Roswell-- from there, El Dorado's a stone's throw away. "Do you like music? I've never heard of this Johnny Cash. Perhaps David Ghoulie-- the DJ in Roswell's radio tower--would. When I last went there, I got something he called.. rock star clothes. A feathered shawl, and a pair of pants with glittering stones like bottlecaps in them. They don't fit me, though. Even before.. this." He gestures at himself.
At your question, he pauses and contemplates. "No."
|Fern|| "You got glittering stone pants!? Cool!! You have to show me. I wanna see them," Fern says, sounding excited by it. She looks down the road and sees the gas station. Phew! Almost made it back home. "I like music though, yeah. I'm hoping that one day when I learn how to play the guitar I can teach myself those songs.. see how they would have sounded way back before the war. I get kinda tired of the same old shit on the radio all the time. I wanna hear something else," she says with a little grin.
As they near the gas station Fern looks to you again and says, "Well, ya got me, yeah? that's at least one friend." She pauses her step and lifts a hand, patting the side of your leg, cause she can't reach your back. "I've got you, kay? Ya ever need anything, just let me know. That's what friends do, right?"