[Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

The story of magic in North America.
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Mr. Blackbird Lore
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[Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Ruarc, Laoise, and Eryl emerged from the portal into a gust of wind under a predawn sky. The sudden loss of light cost them a few moments as their eyes adjusted. They were on the southern edge of a valley running East to West. From their vantage point hundreds of feet above the valley floor they could make out a small town or two strung along a single two-lane road. A lattice of dirt roads bound them to farms in the area. Foliage was sparse where it wasn't being coerced into neat little rows, and rarely taller than a man.

They were also alone, despite having been joined by several other staff members through the portal. Nothing but them and the eerie blue wash of the portal.

Abruptly, Jane came crashing out of the portal, stumbled at the sudden shift in terrain, and caught herself on one of Ruarc's arms. She was breathing like she'd been running scared, but recovered quickly at the sight of familiar faces. Her eyes met Ruarc's first and she nodded to him. Yes, I'm fine, it said.

Then she looked out. "Where..." Her breath caught in surprise as her eyes drank in the vista. "Shit." She glanced at her companions ruefully. "Welcome t Texas, folks. Welcome t Sundry Valley."
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Kokuten
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Eryl leapt from the portal with her bladed wand out, merely a knife at this point. She scanned the area around them, wildly, staff and wand ready for threats. When there seemed to be nothing, she started to ease herself. The day was already moving much more quickly than she had ever imagined.

First she looked for Jane, and found she wasn’t there. Anxiety gripped her in an instant, but she fought down the urge to panic. The gunslinger had been right behind them. She continued to look, but her anxiety only mounted as she realized there were much fewer here than there had been at the festival. Moreover, none of the children were there.

“I don’t see Ms. Kagami, or Ms. Alstad. I think… I think I don’t see many people that were on the grounds,” Eryl squinted, trying to pick out a familiar face that wasn’t Ruarc or Laoise. “I… This isn’t everyone.”

In a merciful gift of peace to her heart, Jane emerged from her own portal, shaken, but fine. Once they knew where they were and that had a moment to sink in, Eryl spoke again.

“Should we… should we wait and see if anyone else emerges?”
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Straken
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Despite Jane’s look of assurance, Ruarc let her hold his arm for as long as she had needed and then put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He’d be hard pressed to remember a time when he’d seen her shaken, but his gesture was two fold as it also reassured himself; a slight tremble could be felt before he withdrew his hand. Looking around to take in the area they now found themselves showed a landscape of rugged beauty. Not quite Ruarc’s preference, if just because of the heat. After Cairo however, he wasn’t about to complain about this just yet; whether that remained the case when the sun came up was another matter.

“Ruarc and I were one of the last ones followed by Jane.” Laoise spoke up. Perhaps it was because of her role as Ruarc's Guide, but she appeared calm and collected as she swung her backpack off. “Is anyone injured? I have first aid supplies and water with me.”

“Jane, know if we’re somewhere secure? We need to get our bearings and…” Ruarc started to say before his and Laoise’s faces screwed into a look of discomfort.
"Attention all druids in all corners of the world. This is Silas Clarke, your Ard Rhys. A dark hour is upon us, and I speak to you now to urge caution and care. Mere moments ago one of our cloisters was besieged by unknown assailants, and in its defense Mealla Brennan, Chief of the Circle of Keeper, fell in battle. Therefore it is for your safety and the security of our Order that I urge each of you to find safety so you may shelter the coming storm.

To all Keepers: I am issuing each of you special assignments. Keepers within the area of the United Kingdom are to make their way to Carneath Keep so that we may shore up our defenses. To the rest of you I bid you stay mobile, stay vigilant, and help us learn the breadth of this threat. Should you need to fight; fight smart, and use your environment as only you know how to. Fight as the druids have done for thousands of years.

We have survived before. We will survive this. Though we may be scattered, we are a family, and we will not be broken."
Shaking his head, Ruarc blinked a few times to reorient himself. The emergency communication hadn't been used in his lifetime and had been unfamiliar with how it functioned. Unlike a base telepathy spell, this bore with it a mental weight. Almost like being aware of being connected to every other druid.

"Heh, we're all in this together," Ruarc mumbled. Stretching, he looked around to the others present and gave an apologetic wave. "Druids just sent out the Red Alert. This is serious."

"Mealla died," Laoise added, her tone sounding like it was trying to keep calm and collected. Ruarc lowered his eyes to the ground. His feelings regarding Mealla were varied, but she had been a good druid. She had always enjoyed teasing him, but had been sympathetic to him during his troubled years to the point where she'd even convinced the Council to leave him alone for a time. He was going to miss her, but right now he needed to focus.

"Aye, she did."
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Mr. Blackbird Lore
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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As if in answer to Eryl, the portal winked out. Jane didn’t look back. The sooner she could stop thinking about those screens and the thing that watched, the better. She released the Druid and took a few steps forward to get a better look at the valley. She didn’t need to, she had memorized this place long ago, but she needed a distraction.

News of Mealla's death carried little weight for Jane, but she saw the way it weighed on her friends. "We'll make it right," she assured them. "We'll make it even."

“We're safe nuff,” She murmured, changing topics. Then there came a sound. shik shik shik. it was a slow sound, like dragging stone against stone; like using flint to light a fire…

Jane approached the rough edge and peered down. In a small flat space there knelt a man dressed like Jane. A cowboy. His hands worked gingerly to nurse the small flames he had just sparked.

Jane silently beckoned her companions and made her way to a smooth decline in the slope, one hand on a gun. They descended to a humble camp. The fire was small, the sleeping bag was dusty, and the backpack was rough around the edges. These attributes could also easily be applied to the man. These facts made the pristine guitar in his lap stand out like a lone neon sign in a dark alley.

When a pair of gray eyes looked up at her with their familiar intellect, the gunslinger paused. She knew those eyes, that rugged, weary face. "Traveler?"

The name or title evoked a smile. "Calamity Jane Smith," responded a deep, velvety voice; his was the kind of bass you expected to break into song at any moment, but you were never disappointed when it didn't. The voice was beautiful speaking, singing, or whispering. "Ye got yerself quite the posse these days."

"An ye ain't got a lick more o sense these days," she answered, gesturing generally to him and the camp.

"Say true, I say thankee."

She snorted derisively and made introductions. "Ruarc, Laoise, Eryl." She indicated each comrade in turn, then gestured to the worn man. "Traveler."

"Good, good. Well met. Now sit. I was just bout to play a new song."

There was a subtle shift to Jane's posture at those words. Eryl would be most familiar with it, those moments as Jane tried to prepare herself to face something she didn't know how to. Like their conversation about the mountain. But she settled on ground, knees up and arms loosely wrapped around them and bid her friends to follow her lead.

With everyone seated, Traveler shut his eyes and began strumming. It was a song and a story- Jane's favorite kind. Her face was serious and contemplative as she listened, but one boot bounced along to the rhythm.

The soft lilt of Traveler's voice as he sang seemed at odds with his heavy speech and gave the impression of great range. The emotions in his face were perfect reflections of the tale's own melancholy, anger, and eventual righteousness. He bobbed along, keeping time with one heel. When the song finished, his body stilled and his eyes slowly opened. They passed slowly over each of them, but gave Jane the lion's share of their time. "So... What'd ye think?"
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Straken
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Following behind Jane with a bit of trepidation in the darkness, trusting the cowgirl’s pathfinding to keep them moving safely in the right direction. Similarly he trusted Jane’s decision to approach the stranger’s camp in the night. By chance or by design the portal he and the others entered had placed them near an acquaintance of Jane’s; this man going simply by Traveler. Offering up his own simple greeting amid the introductions, the Irishman and his familiar opted to remain standing during the musical interlude. Minutes ago he had seen his home invaded, his sense of place upended, and a woman he had known for almost two decades had perished. So while he didn’t want to be rude, he also wasn’t entirely in the mood to relax as he found himself wondering if he should have stayed and fought.

“I’ll be back, and Hell’s coming with me,” Ruarc repeated under his breath. It felt unnecessarily edgy, but the sentiment was appropriate.

“It was a good song, you have a good voice for it,” Laoise said. She had taken a seat near Jane, sitting much the same way, but hugging her knees a bit tighter for comfort.
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Kokuten
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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"It sounds like Cairo."

Eryl spoke uncomfortably at a distance from the stranger. He was a handsome fellow, and her senses took kindly to pretty people, but he was still a stranger. Jane didn't seem at ease, nor did Ruarc, but the latter was just then dealing with the loss of someone that sounded important to him with an amazing sense of grace. She didn't feel comfortable with what the song bubbled up within her. Looking into the middle-distance, she saw several, lifeless eyes of triclops staring back at her. She hadn't reflected on it, but the lack of feeling at so much death gnawed at her.

The triclops hugged herself, trying to focus now. It was not the moment to decide whether she had been the righteous hand of god or the devil that the Library forgot; she could not accept being both. She was being stupid, she told herself; the meaning, the point of the song was something else, nothing to do with her.

Her spindly fingers curled, feeling drawn to pain now. Ruarc found the triclops float over to him and place a hand on his back in an attempt to comfort the druid. Eryl looked at him with a sense of growing concern at his continued silence, respecting and fearing his restraint.
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Mr. Blackbird Lore
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

Post by Mr. Blackbird Lore »

Jane eyed him with a neutral expression. "Powerful as always."

"An timely," he suggested with a knowing glance. "Not my favorite venue, but we don get to pick the stage, do we?"

She shot a look back that was difficult to read then rose to her feet and offered Laoise a hand. No Name, who had been masterfully silent until this point, nudged Jane's other shoulder as if he also desired her consolation. She smiled fondly and stroked his nose with her other hand. "Looks like we got a long day head o us." The purple horizon was burgeoning orange and red. The sun would soon rise on Sundry Valley to start the day for its locals. For five foreigners, it was like resetting the clock without an ounce of rest. The worst jet lag. Jane was sure she'd heard a mage call it something else. Dimension drag?

"We're gon be draggin ass, so les get started." She pulled her gunbelts from No Name's saddlebags and threw them on. "I have... a place we can go."

Traveler watched them all with a curious gleam in his eyes and a friendly smile, but said nothing.
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Straken
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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It wasn’t until Eryl approached that Ruarc realized he’d been clenching his jaw, and his knuckles were white before he relaxed a bit. Turning to look at the triclops, his eyes were sharp and intense in the flickering fire light. He recognized the concern on her face, as it was a look he’d been given a number of times in his early twenties. Never speaking of things that troubled him, more often than not he appeared to glower and brood when times were tough. Admittedly he wasn’t very good at having friends.

“I’m fi…” Ruarc started to say, but then stopped himself as he could see Laoise looking at him as Jane helped her up. After a brief pause he exhaled a deep breath. “I’ll be alright.”

Turning and falling in with the rest of the group, he hefted his own pack while hooking Laoise’s pack onto the end of his black staff over his shoulder. The familiar smiled solemnly in thanks as she dusted herself off.

“Thanks, Jane,” Laoise offered the cowgirl as she turned to look at No Name.

“We’re with you Jane,” Ruarc said as he moved to stand next to her. His tone was more grim, but the sentiment was the same as when they were in Cairo. Ruarc would trust Jane, and use that to make up for the anger and doubt he was feeling now.
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Kokuten
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Ruarc’s answer didn’t seem to satisfy Eryl all that much, but she knew to keep her distance when needed. She had done her part in letting him know that she was there. If he needed her, he knew he could rely on her now. That was the painfully small thing she could do, as she had learned over her years with the Hexers. For monster-slayers, missions and taskings out into the field had a survival rate of about 70%, and every team she sent out had a large chance of coming back one fewer.

She dawdled behind, watching Jane, Ruarc, and Laoise start ahead, wishing she could do more for them. There was yet another nagging feeling in her heart, like she didn’t belong, but she couldn’t explain it.

Then, she took a sharp inhale.

“Er… Thank you for your song, Mr. Traveler, it was very emotive. I do hope your musical career is successful,” Eryl nodded her head politely to the lone wanderer at the fire, and then tapped after her friends in her fine boots. She tugged out her stiletto wand, another bladed focus that wasn’t the dangerous, Librarian one. “There’s no reason to walk around unprotected, my dears.”

With a quick whip of her hand, a small light danced from the edge and bounced on Ruarc’s shoulder, then to No-Name’s flank, Laoise’s shoulder and then lastly to the brim of Jane’s hat. It was an enchantment, one of the Abjurer’s trademark, personal shields. “And so you know, Ruarc speaks for me, as well. He said it first, but I definitely thought it first. We are quite in sync these days, he and I.”
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Re: [Texas] Chapter 2.1: You Shouldn't Have Come Back

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Traveler laughed cheerily at Eryl's encouraging words. "Thank ye, sai, but ye won be hearin none o my playin on the ole innernet. I play fer people what need to hear it. Get along now." He pointed at Jane's back. "Yer fren gon need all the help she can get."

Jane stopped and turned to face her friends. "Thank ye, Eryl. Preciated as always. Now, I feel like I should tell y'all somethin..." And before she could begin, something caught her eye over their shoulders-- back in the direction of the small campfire. When they looked, it was clearly the absence that had caught her eye. Traveler, the guitar, the pack, and the campfire had vanished-- smoke and all. All that remained was a small, flat space perfect for a soul or two to camp the night on the mountainside. "First time I met him was the first time I realized magic was real," she said, voice somber with the memories surrounding the one she recalled just then.

Then she turned and resumed walking, leaving a silence in her wake as she gathered her thoughts. "The thing is..." She sighed. "We... Y'all were chosen to come here. I dunno why, precisely, but I reckon that portal wasn spose t be there." She took another deep breath to steady herself for her confession. "I met my Patron n he's a right bastard. An he's the one what put us here, what put that portal there when our fren's needed us."

She gave them time to digest before revealing to them just how truly screwed they were. "Sundry Valley's like a dead zone. Maybe a dozen trucks. No signals. Nearest ley line is..." She gestured vaguely to the East. "Days away. I get why I ain't believed much in magic fore I left. No feng shui here, mana gets... stale. It's gonna be tough goin. But when the goin gets tough...

She sighed again. "We're gon go see my mama."
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