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IC: Savage Rifts: Here Comes Tomorrow #1: "When The Other Shoe Drops"

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It’s mid afternoon, towards the end of August, in Prince’s Landing, and all was not well.

The town has two major means of trade; mining, assisted somewhat with the town’s exoskeleton, a worn-down patched-together not-fit-for-combat suit from the bad times after the coming of the Rifts. It ran on jury-rigged e-clips and would probably disintegrate if you stared at it for too long, but it could break rocks and lift them, and that was enough to get the local zinc vein mined without back breaking labor from the other miners, who mostly ran the less dangerous parts of the job.

Except presently it wasn’t enough – the left hip actuator was out and it had been officially deemed unsafe after the last miner to use it had suffered injury. It was currently up on a rack in the foreman’s house in town, and the foreman – a human named William Marks – stared at it a lot before heading off to work, as the town debated who to ask for help: the more open and tolerant Kingsdale that was finding its political fortunes on the wane with consolidation of Coalition strength in the region, or the more prosperous Whykin, which was putting a lot more skulls on its armed forces lately.

The other major means of trade was agriculture. Barley was a boring thing to farm, but it paid the bills – and was assisted by the local hedge mage, a demonic-looking woman called Ianoko. She knew one spell expertly, and it was a spell that blessed fertilizer. It was an inglorious spell compared to shooting lightning or fire, but it helped the town immensely.

But recently she was attacked on the street by assailants unknown, the one eyewitness saying that they wore makeshift skull masks and shouted phrases like “you’re not pulling your weight” and “go back to your home planet.” Ianoko is expected to fully heal, but as someone who is pacifist even for a d’norr, she was badly shaken by the incident and there’s rumors that she’s considering taking their advice and moving back to the small town in the Federation of Magic that she was born in. Regardless, it’s true that she’s scared to go outside alone. She lives in a modest house on the far end of down, the interior full of strange knickknacks that are nonmagical but of spiritual significance.

Finally, in the local watering hole, where they serve surprisingly good beer made from the local crop of barley, some newcomers have drifted in and out of the town. But there’s two regulars: the bartender Grep, a trimadore of nonbinary gender who is a very good listener and answers to “they” and “them,” and a young woman whose stage name is Glitter Girl and dresses in what she calls “Golden Age glam rock” style, and who is always trying to put on some kind of show to lift spirits…

… fairly unsuccessfully, since everyone in the town knows things are bad.

The local tavern is adjacent to the local flophouse, which is run by a fairly easygoing older man, named Simon - no last name known - who cooks breakfast for everyone staying there. He's not a great cook, but the food is included in lodging, at least, and he's pleasant enough to be around. He gets nervous around weaponry and open displays of psionic or magical power, though, and the hitch in his step combined with the strictness of his routine lead people to believe that he's an ex-military man who has no desire to ever see another firefight up close.

Spoiler

If you're just entering the town, the closest to the main gates is the tavern and flophouse. If you've been in town a while, you have your pick of where you want to start out and who, if anyone, you want to help.

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The reinforced mining pick dug into the rock, tearing open furrows of stone and the occasional additions of the blue-ish white flashes of zinc ore intermingled. Muscles that did not tire, that not slow or strain, with easily as much if not greater force than the power-suit assisted miner might, powered each swing. Self-contained systems that left the user free from fear of environmental troubles, or most human frailties altogether.

The might of a living titan, fused with all the creativity and canniness that had kept humankind on Earth in spite of uncounted centuries of continental change, monsters, magic and psionics.

And what did they give it to BB for? Sure as hell not making big rocks into smaller rocks. 'They' being: Doctor Professor Old Man McCrackpot (maybe?), Sexy Cyclops and anyone else who happened to be working with the mad scientist in question. Mind you, he didn't know why they'd made him into a cyborg, but... details. Minor details in the forthcoming greatness of his life.

Which really shouldn't have included boring manual labor like this, but he was with Fi and the engine cost a fair amount to repair and she would have not let him off the hook if she was doing work to help pay for things and he wasn't. And given the loss of the exo-suit, it was well, primo excellente opportunity to put in some time and gain definite value from the townsfolk.

Still boring as boring boring mind growing blank NEED BOOST. BB stopped, opened a hip flask and chugged down a spurt of whiskey. Buzz restored, he went back to knocking free and piling up loads of ore.

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The soft clouds drifted by, pillowy and serene, it was so easy to image that the whole world was just fluffy and white. The wind ripples along wings as she drifted...

The spurs dug into her neck and brought Kensie back to reality. <Your going to High getting hard to breath and I can't see anything from in the damn clouds> she picked up Adam's thought and craned her head around back over her shoulder to glare at him. <What did I tell you about the spurs...>

“Well tapping your shoulder and shouting didn't seem to get your attention.” the armored Knight riding her back shouted into the wind as he brought his fist down hard on her scaly shoulder. She barely felt the blow.

“Hmmph” she snorted and curved her wings to bleed some of the lift dropping them, maybe a little too fast for Adam's comfort, out of the clouds.

Blow them in the darkness they could make out lights and not the scattered campfires they usually saw when the flew, which they mostly did at night, but rather electric lights like in a settlement or town.

Kensie banked and dropped lower circling So Adam could get a better look. <What do you think> she asked her partner with her mind.

“Cant make out much detail. But if nothing else we can get supplies and maybe some news. Land in those hills there,” Adam pointed off to their left, “We'll go in in the morning.”

After Kensi had landed and Adam had unloaded their meager belongings from her back, they both stood on the crest of a hill overlooking the Fields where the town farmed. In the distance no more than a few miles they could make out the town proper. “When we go down into town just remember I can only hold Human form for a few hours. You better get some sleep we'll have to walk from here in the morning. I'll watch.

As Adam settled into his bedroll, Kensie found some rocks to sit among and watched over her human the only person she had known since her birth. The only being on this cursed world she could trust.

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Trust.

It was a strange thing for a man like Adam.  At one point in his life he was honorable, noble, willing to lay down his life for his lord and land and help those needed it.  His people trusted him, he trusted his lord... now he looked upon what he'd become with disgust and revulsion.  Kensie had no idea who he really was.  She had no idea that the day she was hatched it was not simply happenstance that he was standing over her as her new born senses took a tight grasp on the reality she'd woken up to.  She didn't see the man whose blade, Agabeddon, was poised at her neck ready to remove her head so that he could harvest her heart for a dark ritual.  When she'd finally focused and saw him, he just couldn't do it.  She lay there so innocent and confused.  For once in his Adam's blade faltered and he failed to do as his lord instructed.  Then the hunters came.  Not quite awakened to the world the young dragon watched as the Black Knight faught valiantly to protect her (or protect what was his?), and the rest had been several months of eventful history...

She'd never even seen his face.  Sealed within his black armor all she ever heard of him was his modulated voice.  He'd shown her much, and everyday he showed her something new.  It was in those short months that he'd discovered that she was showing him so much more.  The darkness within his was ceasing it's endless call for death and murder, but his soul was blackened and the longer he denied the darkness, eventually it would consume him.  Pacts with evil were not so easily broken.

Kensie watched as the large man tossed and turned in his sleep.  The nightmares always assaulted him the worse right before dawn and she was left to wonder how long it had been since he actually slept peacefully.  On cue, like every morning since she'd met him, he awoke with a start and thew himself upright with a shout.  The first several nights, she'd tried to comfort him but that only led to yelling and him being evasive and surly (well, more surly than usual).  Now, she just let it happen each morning, letting him stand and angrily pace back and forth mumbling to himself to kept the darkness and rage and desire for murder in check.  Each time he kept his sword clenched tightly in his fist, as if he were making demands of it, telling it to be silent.

Kensie hadn't transformed into a human yet as they made their way through the forest and hills leading to the small town.  In her dragon form she was big, to be sure, but not so large that she couldn't use the nearby forest as cover until they'd gotten close.  "Remember," his modulated voice making him sound dark and menacing.  Well, not Kensie, but to others he could be down right scary.  "Do not stray to far from my side.  If soemthing goes wrong, I need to be near in order to protect you."

"Uh, dragon." she said to him.

"You are young, arrogant, and foolish," he scolded her, like he always did.  "You have power, of that we're both certain.  You lack skill, experience and the lessons in life that build upon the former two.  Do not think that because you are a dragon, that all your problems will make life easier, if anything-"

She rolled her big dragon eyes.  "I was kidding, Adam, I know.  Every time we get supplies you give me the same lecture.  When are you going to let up?"

"When you start listening." He said flatly.

By now they were hidden well enough just a quarter of a mile or so away from Prince's Landing that she could change safely and not waste too much of her time.

Adam waited, his frayed cloak fluttered fluttered in the morning breeze as his hand rested firmly on Agabeddon's hilt.  He wasn't going to enjoy another supply run, people bothered him more and more these days, like he was losing touch with his ability to empathize with others.  He sighed and waited for his companion.  "And Kensie... we're here for supplies.  Not fantasy or romance novels."

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"We should do something nice for Ianoko," decided Squidge.

Phere looked over at her, expression mingling a moment of confusion with a dawning 'here we go again' expression. "Squidge..."

"No, hear me out!" protested the psychic. She had her brown hair down from its usual ponytail, like usual when relaxing at home, and outside of her armor was a pretty, but unimposing figure. Even so, her words had a kind of...weight to them. It was hard to ignore Squidge when she was really into something. It was a talent that even Phere's psi-stalker senses couldn't quite decide if it was psionic or not.

"She's important, Phere. It's not just about her...even though if it was it'd still be worth helping her. But if Ianoko goes, Prince's Landing doesn't have enough farmers to make enough money...to...you know, make things work. Especially not with that mining rig they have down. And no..." Squidge answered the question Phere may or may not have asked, since they'd discussed it before once. "...no, I can't fix it because I know computers and that thing is so old it's just...mechanical actuators and pressure-sensitive...it's barely got electronics in it at all."

Squidge sighed and let some of the tension rattling around in her skull out.

"Look. I just feel like it can't be coincidence. The mining suit's sabotaged and Ianoko's threatened at practically the same time. Someone's trying to sabotage Prince's Landing. And...I want to help her just because that's something that's good to do but...it'd also be a chance to try to find out what's really going on. That's all."

She looked hopefully at Phere.

"So. Want to hit up Grep's with me and get Ianoko a care package?"

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"Fucking shit and burning rifts!" the magenta-haired woman cursed sourly as she stomped down the main boulevard of Prince's Landing, her helmet banging at her hip. Not many went about Prince's Landing in body armor, but Firanis' accounted for half her engineering and mechanics tools, as well as being protection. A cerasteel-toed boot kicked a rock as she headed towards Grep's before she went to find Marks. "I so shoulda went for the Skelebot Graveyard instead of winching up that booze-hound of a cyborg."

It was an regret voiced more than once. She'd taken a look at the town's exoskeleton and it had been hard to keep the contempt from her face. It was a relic that belonged in a museum. She'd fixed the couplings on the e-clips powering the thing so it wasn't in danger of exploding if someone looked at it cross-eyed, but she couldn't do anything for the trashed hip actuator, and didn't have the parts to rig something serviceable. Well, she supposed she could have taken it from BB, but Fi supposed he might object.

If she'd gotten a couple of skelebot corpses instead, she'd have been able to fix up the exoskeleton no problem, and maybe even given it a real power source, possibly even fixed up a skelebot and reprogrammed it do to the mining itself. Also, the Rambler might not have gotten shot and ended up with the intermittent power issues. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

She could probably scrounge something up in a real city, if they weren't too picky where it came from. There was a person or two in Kingsdale she could see - or there had been anyway - and she was sure BB wouldn't mind a short road trip to break from hammering rocks. She planned on going to see Marks and find out if he could spare a few credits for the part, not that Prince's Landing had much to spare. But only after she took a break. She'd spent the morning going over the town's clean-water converter, getting it back into tip-top shape - that had just been routine maintenance that it had needed.

Firanis passed a pair of women in the street, giving them a brief glance with eyes that were slightly too bright a shade of green to be natural as she made her way to Grep's . The shorter of the two was still an inch or two taller than she was and pretty, naturally pretty, not like her own cosmetically enhanced symmetry. The other was an imposingly tall female Psi-Stalker, nearly as pale and hairless as milk.

Ah, right! She'd seen them a time or two around town. An odd couple. She didn't see the attraction - the hairlessness, the paleness, and the fact the Psi-stalker might just eat the smaller psychic - and besides, she much preferred cock. But hey, this wasn't the CS - whatever floated their boats. She gave them a small nod and a smirk as she entered Grep's.

"Hey, Grep! One of those wonderful local beers, and another to keep it company!" Fi called out as she claimed a stool by the rustic bar and tossing a couple of chits onto the battered surface.

The town didn't have much spare credits to pair for her services, but they were willing to hand out vouchers for beer and food. She struggled out of the top of her Grease Monkey body armor - skelebot parts, or an actual inoperative cyborg would have gone a long way into building it up in real power armor - letting it hang loose at the waist. A sweaty, once-white tank top clung to perky - also cosmetically enhanced - breasts, and revealed hints of tattoos on her neck and part of her left arm, depicting interlocking gears.

She known several Trimadores growing up in Ishpeming, had learned some of her tinkering from a pair, and was rather fond of the long-limbed D-bees. Grep plunked down at pair of beers with their two-fingers hands, taking off the caps with a flick of thick thumbs. Fi nodded her thanks and chugged down half of first beer in one go.

"Ahhh! Hey Grep, y'know, if I can get my hands on a new - relatively new - okay, a functioning hip-actuator for the mining exoskeleton, if the town has some credits to spare? Or even something to trade in kind?"

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They walked up the path they had found after coming out of the woods, a few workers in the fields stopped and stared. Kensie waved at them and smiled but didn't stop Adam hated it when she stopped to meet new people. If He noticed (and surely he did) he gave no sign other than to growl under his breath as he put one heavy boot after another walking beside the girl.

They were certainly a sight, Kensie slender with a flowing mane of scarlet hair, barefoot, wearing a pair of cutoff shorts and a sleeveless tunic which in another life had been a sack of potatoes. And Adam, The Black Knight in full panoply including his terror inspiring helm, his breath echoing through the helmets modulator making even his breathing sound menacing.

The guards at the gate were flabbergasted at the sight when these two came round the bend. A shout and quickly they were joined by two more regular guards and a man who appeared to have some autority who raised his arm palm out ward and called to them. "Halt there, come no closer. State your business." He was addressing Adam and was a bit surprised when Kensie stepped up and in front of Adam.

"Hi, I'm Kensie and this is Adam, we are here for supplies... and no novels" She gave the guard a very obvious wink.

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"It is as she says," came the hellish rasp of Adam's voice through the helm's modulator.  "From the sight of things, this place could certainly use our credits.  We are here for provisions and call upon one of your residents, Winston Cambridge.  We'll be an hour, three at the most and we'll be on our way."

"Ol' Cambridge?  Wot you want wiv that ol' codger?"  Asked one of the guards, forgetting his place amongst his betters.

"That is our business.  I'm telling you as a courtesy, us being strangers and all,"  The thin slits in his helmet were where the receptors for his vision were lit up in a hellish red light.  Within the helmet it gave him readouts, recorded faces for future reference and delivered a H.U.D. in his field of view that came him a complete run down of his health and armor system functionality.  His black armor was midevil only in appearance, everything else was straight out of Tony Stark's wettest dream.  "Now, are we to spend our money here, or do we venture elsewhere?  This place looks in bad shape, would be a shame if word of poor hospitality reached the outlying settlements."

"Aye, go on," the leader guy said, thumbing over his shoulder.  "But we'll have no trouble out of ye', y'got that?"  Adam nodded and the servos in his armor didn't whir, they silently hissed in a devilish sigh.  "If, ye don't mind me askin', sir.  I'm a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to armors... is that a composite duraplast chassis?"

Adam stopped and turned to face the man, towering over the gate guard every this line within his armor lit aglow with a pulsing red light that streamed through it's workings.  "Duraplast?  No.  My armor is is forged from the calcified screams of the nightmares of innocent children.  Hammered by the weight of regret, tempered in the infernal balefire of whorish lust, and cooled in the tears of a wailing unicorn."  He looked down, leaning into the man who reflexively leaned away, now a bit (more) intimidated.  "It's vintage."  The man only swallowed hard and Kensie and Adam were on their way.

The pair had made it maybe thirty steps when Kensie had to ask.  "You're armor... is it, really...?"

"Nah," she could almost imagine a smile on his face.  "It's a layered cerametal with a composite gel weave to absorb impacts.  But he doesn't know that..."

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"A care package?" Phere asked Squidge, somewhat confused. "So like a 'Sorry those CS sympathizers tried to kill you, but here's some soup, and magazines' type care package?" she asked, glancing at the magenta haired girl as she walked past them. Prices Landing really did have all types, far more of a variety than any of the Coalition cities she had Squidge had worked in. It was a nice change of scenery, though with the likelihood of more magic and psionics around, Phere kept her acute, supernatural senses open, noting possible dangers and warning Squidge of them when she did.

They were an odd pair, but seemed quite close and nearly inseperable, which of course led to talk and suggestions of them being an actual couple, but it seemed to be a topic that nobody had the courage to broach with the pair, or at least with Phere present. Though 'civilized' by the CS, there was still something about the large, pale, hairless woman that put people a bit on edge. A casual, predatory hint to her gaze along with her intimidating size, unusual visage and the knowledge that she fed off of psionics and magic all combined to generally keep people away, which was a counterpoint to Squidge's charm and beauty. As a par though, they always worked well together, complimenting each other and making a potent team.

"Why not find the gutless punks who did it and give her a 'severed heads in a duffel bag' care package? At least that would actually mean something." she countered. 

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"Mmm...more like a 'sorry you had a rough time, but you have friends here in town who are thinking about you and hope you feel better soon,' kind of care package," Squidge corrects with a smile. "Cutting off heads just escalates the situation. You cut off someone's head, and all their friends and family get into the issue. Give the head to someone else, and now they're all after the one you gave it to. The way you fight someone trying to tear a community apart is to bring the community together."

She gave the gal with the funny-colored hair a friendly wave. Squidge had seen her around town every so often, along with that 'borg friend of hers. Scuttlebutt was that they were involved, but Squidge had firsthand knowledge of how that kind of rumor could grow.

"Plus, giving her a gift gives us a good excuse to talk to her about what happened, and what she saw. I do think we ought to find those guys and look deeper into this. Lets just...avoid the beheading part. At least for now."

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"That's just hurtful." Phere said, shaking her baled head, feigning insult.

"Huh? What is?" Squidge asked, concerned.

"That you think anybody would even know who killed them. I'm not that sloppy. I'd clear out their whole little den. There's nobody to see me do it if there is nobody left to see me do it." she answered with a grin. "And besides, in my experience, decapitations tend to resolve most situations, not escalate them." she added teasingly with a small shrug of her shoulders and a satisfied grin.

"Yeah, you are right though. It wouldn't hurt to interro-" was all Phere got out before catching a narrowed eyed look from Squidge, "-view. Interview her. What? Old habits." she said, shrugging it off. "besides, you handle that stuff anyways. Finger wagglers," Phere's occasional term for magic practitioners, "...tend to get uncomfortable around me anyways. Which is kind of offensive, really. I mean, if I was stalking them to kill them and feed, they wouldn't even see me coming."

"Anyways, what do you mean by 'friends in town'?" Phere asked, again with a bit of confusion. "How long are you wanting to stay here? I thought we were resting and swapping gear. Are you wanting to put down roots now?" she asked her friend.

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After the town militia, consisting of a few men and women in the cheapest armor possible and armed with laser rifles about half a step above a flashlight, determined there was no way they could stop either Adam or Kensie in a fight, they waved them through. They were directed to the trading post, which was run out of the flophouse that Simon oversaw. Simon was at the post, currently fidgeting with the refractory prism in some kind of ion weapon. There were not a lot of weapons or armor on the walls - most of what Simon had were dried rations, a stack of books, e-clips in various states of charge, jars of universal composite which was often used to patch armor, and the usual trading essentials.

The mining shift changed, and BB was informed that a group of miners were going down to Grep's for a drink. A few of them mentioned live entertainment, which caused BB's audio receptors to perk up, but it was explained that they meant local theatre. Still: booze.

At Grep's proper, things were starting to pick up a little. Grep kept their booze relatively cold, a source of constant back-and-forth debate between Grep, who felt that chilling the booze killed the taste, and the town, who felt that the whole point of a cold drink was that it was cold. Currently the town was winning, on this front at least.

On the stage, Glitter Girl was setting up what looked to be a minimalist play, and judging by the two props - one, a stick with a star tied to it, and the other a stick with a battery tied to it - it was the one-act play "Who Killed The World." The premise was that two actors would play Magic and Technology, respectively, and each would argue with the other over whose fault it was that the apocalypse had happened. There were many different versions favoring one side or another, and since it was the first performance, no one knew which way the eccentric performer would go.

At the bar, the trimadore nodded at Firanis as they provided the twin drinks. "You'd need a T262 actuator, along with a BX-98A adapter, I'd reckon. Suppose both Kingsdale and Whykin would have something like that. I'd recommend Kingsdale, but there's been 'bandit trouble' on that road lately." They made single quote gestures with their fingers at that. "Strange way to refer to Coalition mercenaries, if you ask me - "

"No one asked you, monkey boy."

The words came from someone else at the bar, a young looking man glaring daggers at the bartender, while his drinking companion froze in mid-sup.

Slowly, Grep turned to the man. "Don't call me 'boy.'"

"Sorry, sorry. He, uh, we just got back from Whykin, and he talked to a deadboy recruiter - " The man's companion turned to his friend. "Sy, c'mon, this isn't the place - "

"Your friend isn't welcome," said Grep, with some firmness to their voice. "And if you're his friend, you aren't either."

There was silence for a long moment. Towards the back of the establishment, a d'norr woman - recognizable as Ianoko - slid back into her booth, trying to disappear.

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Kenise looked around the store when they entered. It fascinated her the various ways these humans built things and furnished them. She looked at all the goods and items not knowing what half of them were for when her eyes fell upon the stacks of books and she smiled widely.

"Can I help you miss?" Simon was talking at the little girl who looked, maybe seventeen, maybe fifteen, but his eye was on the armored figure who had followed her in.

"We need provisions. I don't know what but he does," She pointed back at Adam without looking as she went straight to the books and began going through the stacks wide eyed with wonder.

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"I was asking him, Citizen," Fi countered with a biting drawl, using the term most often used for the folk of the Coalition States. She took a sip of beer, then twisted around on her stool to face the now unwelcome patrons. "Some of us, like me and them," she jerked a thumb over at Grep, "care enough to try and keep this place running without selling it out to the CS. And if you're not, and can't even shut your gob in their place of business, where they are kind of enough to poor you a beer, you can just go run back to Whykin and bend over for the Deadboys."

She wasn't a big woman, but she'd grown up on the streets of Ishpeming, and had learned backing down to bullies and loudmouths just told them they could walk all over you. She shrugged her body armor back up to her shoulders and surreptitiously powered up the cutting torch on standby. She didn't think they'd actually start anything, but if they did, Fi found a focused lance of plasma fire did wonders in suggesting they rethink their position.

"But you heard the bartender, Sy," Fi added, shoving her beers down the bar. "Seems like your having some hard luck. How 'bout you and your friend take the beers of a Northern Gun Girl who knows better to piss where she drinks and find somewhere else to down 'em?"

Firanis turned back to Grep, affecting to ignore the two potential trouble-makers, though hidden cybernetic sensors tracked their position and movements and displayed the info at the side of her vision. She tapped the bar for a new beer and kept her voice low for Grep's aural receptors alone. "I was thinking Kingsdale myself." She tapped the side of her nose. "And I'll keep an eye out for 'bandits'. Maybe see if anyone needs a ride there for a little extra muscle along the way."

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Adam's foot falls were like thousand pound weights on the floor with each step.  His armor made little noise, but the seams all throbbed with a soft reddish glow beneath his black mantle that draped over his body.  He produced a list from beneath the cascading cloth.  "We require these items," he said in his cold, modulated tone.  "As well as the location of Winston Cambridge's home."

"Winston?"  Simon asked, a bit confused.  Sure, Adam scared the hell out of Simon, but he'd seen all kinds come though his place at some point or another.  Some people ere intimidating in appearance only while others were trouble from the onset.  Whatever these two were up to, he'd decided that as long as Adam's sword remained in it's scabbard, there was no reason to press issues of social propriety.  However, bein in a small town he possessed the same flaw everyone else did: he was always asking about everyone else's business.  "What do you want with him?"

"I believe that is between us and Mr. Cambridge." Adam replied flatly, looking down on the old man.

"Look, son, I don't mean to mean to pry-"

"If your intent was not to pry, then you would not have pried." The Black Knight shot back with all the Imperial badassery of Darth Vader in his A New Hope prime.

"Fair point," Simon replied, his tone betting a bit belligerent.  If he was going to die today it sure as hell wasn't going to be cowering to this metal headed degenerate getting smarmy with him in his store.  "But fact and fairness of my point is, sir, that we're a small community and we look our for each other.  Ol' Winston's a good man, keeps to himself, and don't bother no one.  If you came here looking for trouble, sure as hell you'll find it," his tone shifted to what a southern woman sounds like what she says 'have a blessed day' when she really means 'go fuck yourself'. "That's all I'm sayin'."

The thin visor in his helm that displayed all his tactical readouts thinned with a slight whir and the band of red deepened as Adam's eyes narrowed.  This man had fie to him, and Adam could respect that.  "Mr. Cambridge will not come to any harm by our hand.  If trouble is what we came her for I'd be picking out that list myself from a smouldering ruin, but no, he is a sage, a man of knowledge.  I require that knowledge, we shall parley, that is all."

With a dubious nod Simon told Adam where to find Winston Cambridge and told him his list would be ready in a half hour or so.  Kensie barely heard his footsteps as she was lost in the pages of one Simon's books.  His heavy gauntleted hand rested gently on her shoulder and she turned back to look up at him with an innocent smile that no one could believe would belong to a dragon.  "Pick any four, child.  Hastily, however, every moment is precious for you."

"Really?" her smile grew wider and she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug that creaked his armor as the cerametal plated ground together.  "You're the best, thank you!  I'll hurry, promise."

The Black Knight loomed over her as she sifted through the titles like a twisted gargoyle poised to lash out at anyone who came close to her.  "Heya, Adam?"  She didn't wait for a response.  "How come we need to find this Cambridge guy?"

"Mister Cambridge, not 'Cambridge guy'," he corrected her, trying to instill some semblance of manners.  It was a loosing battle, but he tried anyway.  "He is a sage of things far older than you and I.  Although not magically inclined himself, he is an expert on magic, most notably, curses,"  his modulator was down to a hushed whisper.  "I believe he may have some answers as to my, condition.  Perhaps a way to free me from the dark sword's control.  Breaking a pact such as the one I made shant be easy, I'm sure."

"But that's awesome!" she said happily.  "Once you're okay we can... we can... well, do all kinds of stuff without you being all 'eat babies, kick puppies, Devil, Devil, evil, evil song!  Arrrggghh.', so, that'll be cool.  Hey, what do you look like under that armor anyway?"

"I'm horribly scarred from head to foot, in dangerous need of a tan and wrapped in nothing but a 'Sloth love Chunk' tee shirt." He replied with uncaring sarcasm.

It was Kensie's turn to narrow her eyes and she glared up at him and his wanton use of snarky replies today.  "So you know... there are times when I really don't like you.  This is one of those times."

"Uh, Black Knight.  Devil, Devil, evil, evil...," his helmet turned and looked down at her, expressionless.

"Fine.  I'm getting six books, and Twizlers.  Keep being Captain Smarty Pants...," Adam's armor convulsed like he laughed but she heard nothing.

Simon had seen some strange things in his day, but these two?  These two were a piece of work.

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"Well, we've been here for a little while," Squidge said to Phere as they followed Firanis in. "Seems like a nice place to stay a while longer. The more people we're on the better side of, the better off we'll be, you know?"

She broke off at the hullaballoo at the bar, watching the two men and Grep and the purple-haired girl talk with an abrupt focus that Phere recognized well. That subtle tension of someone ready to act, but holding back to make sure it was necessary. When things didn't immediately flare into violence, Squidge heaved a little relieved huff and went over to the bar. She wasn't really dressed for a scrap at the moment with her fancy stolen armor in its locker back in the flat she and Phere were renting.

"Hi, Grep! I'd like to buy a gift for someone, a local, and I thought you might be able to help me out."

The Trimador looked over at her queryingly.

"I, uh, heard about what happened to Ianoko," Squidge went on in a lower voice. "I thought maybe if she had a favorite food or drink, or something...well, it might help her to know that she's got folks in her corner, you know? You know most folks in town, I figure. What kind of thing does she like?"

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BB eagerly headed for Grep's. Booze! Ok, their kind of entertainment sucked, like theater?! Hell of a way to make yourselves seem posh and sophisticated, if you ask, him, unless it was properly lively and exciting. And in this sort of small town, lively and exciting it would not be. But booze, wonderful booze! That would make up for a dull day of mining. Pleased, he sauntered along the street, pausing only to notice an odd pair.

A vivacious young girl, and someone in armor that screamed 'most likely to be pointed at by lynch mobs.' Well, if the person in question wanted to paint a constant target on their back, that was their choice. Their funeral too if they couldn't back it up. They were going into the trading post, and BB gave no further thought to them.

Ah, finally, glorious Grep's! BB nudged open the door and let out an exuberant "Grep! Three cold ones, buddy and..."

It trailed off as the cyborg noticed the pair of men getting hard looks from an already present Firanis and Grep, and themselves looking like they'd done something terribly stupid. Which more than likely was the case. Cybernetic eyes zoomed in on them in good detail.

"Need me to do something about those bozos, Fi?"

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Sy's spine seemed to dissolve upon facing what suddenly looked like a heavily armed bar, and with a sneer on his face, he rose from his stool. "Beer's lousy anyway."

His friend looked to Grep for absolution, and found none, and the two made their way towards the door, muttering to themselves along the way. They exited, walking past the trading post, and while Kensie was new to the ways of the world, Simon had heard enough Coalition propaganda to recognize a phrase or two that was getting repeated.

"Kids," snorted Grep. They then returned to Firanis. "Looks like you got enough muscle on your own, but couldn't hurt to ask around, I guess." They then turned to Phere and Squidge. "Ianoko, eh? Well, her favorite food's out of season, but it does grown on Earth soil. She likes peaches. She likes books and works of art, especially religious art. You could ask her. She's in the back - oh, wait."

Phere and Squire turned to see Ianoko gathering her things as if to leave. Phere knew instantly that she was a mage, and old instincts briefly stirred.

------

Meanwhile, up on stage, Glitter Girl was taking the stage with another young lady, this one bedecked in a cheap gas mask and with various imitation talismans - clearly meant to be a line walker, in contrast to Glitter Girl's blocky, shiny costume which was meant to evoke the chromatic hues of a Glitter Boy. Glitter Girl was holding the stick with the battery taped on, while her companion had the one with the star.

"Hi!" said Glitter Girl, tapping on the mic. "Hi. Welcome. We're going to be performing 'Who Killed The World" for you all. Tips are appreciated and we're glad to have you here. We'll be performing the version that - well, you'll see."

------

Outside, at the trading post, Simon hurried about compiling Adam's list. The slightly high pitched noise he made while he walked indicated an artificial limb of some kind, though he hid it well. Simon could see that all e-clips had their safeties on and all grenades had the fuses removed - whoever Simon was, he was a cautious man, uneager to be shot with his own stock.

"I should let you know, Winston moves around a great deal. There was trouble with some bandits over where he was staying last, and I haven't heard from him since. I hope he's alive - or barring that, that whatever you're after is something you can find from what's left behind."

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While Adam settled up with the storekeep,  Kensie took her books and her Twizzlers and stepped outside onto the covered walkway.

Sy and his friend, Trep, slowed after the doors closed Sy looking back at the door they had just exited, a black scowl shading his countenance. Trep, on the other hand was watching something that in his opinion was whole lot more interesting.

Kensie stood on the edge of the walkway her attention on the books she shuffled in her hands trying to decide which she should read first, the red candy dangling from her lips occasionally twirling as she nibbled a bite without touching it.

Trep elbowed Sy and silently nodded toward the store next to the bar. Sy looked up and over and took in the beauty standing there in short shorts and a tunic. He gave a low whistle of appreciation. Not only good looking but he didn't recognize her which meant she wasn't from around here.

Kensie heard the whistle and of course had no idea of it's connotation. She looked over at the boys and took the Twizzler from her mouth, "Hi, I'm Kensie." she said cheerfully.

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"Yeah, but asking someone what kind of present they like kinda spoils...oh hey..."

Squidge glanced at Phere and nodded at Ianoko, then headed over to talk to the mage herself.

"Hi," she greeted in as kindly a voice as she could muster, holding out a hand to shake. "Me and my friend are kind of new to town and meeting people, folks just call me Squidge, and that's Phere." She leaned a little closer to and dropped her volume a bit, "She looks kinda scary sometimes but she's a total sweetheart, don't even worry."

"Anyway. I'd heard you had some trouble with out of towners lately...just wanted you to know that, well, we're looking to get away from that kind of thing ourselves so if you ever need help or anything...feel free to let us know okay?"

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"They broke faster than a tin-foil tank, BB," Fi scoffed as she reclaimed her neglected beers and slid the Cyborg the fresh one Grep had opened for her. "I don't need any busted heads at the moment and Grep doesn't a mess. So, drink up, BB. In the morning, we're taking a trip over to Kingsdale for a day, I think. See if we can get their relic of a mining-exo repaired."

The sub-audible hum of the plasma-torch faded as the busty engineer powered it down and shrugged her mechanic's armor back down to her hips. She spun her bar stool around and hopped off, skirting around the looming psi-stalker and sauntered over to the cork-board hanging next to the front door. She scribbled out a quick posting in black marker and tacked it to the board over a couple of old postings.

Run To Kingsdale
-Room For 4 - Passage Paid With Defense Duty
-Supplies To Be Acquired At Request and Full Credits Handed Over In Advance
-Credits Returned In Full If Request Unavailable Or Price Exceeding Credits Offered
-Requests and Credits to be submitted by Mid-Morning

Her spontaneous posting pinned up, Firanis reclaimed her barstool, ordered a Fury Beetle Steak Sandwich, then spun back around on her stool and leaned back, elbows resting on the bar. She tossed her head to shake a lock of magenta hair from her face as she watched Glitter Girl and the other girl on stage begin their performance of "Who Killed The World' with idle interest, as she toyed with an unregistered credstick.

It was a performance she'd seen and participated in more than once as a kid in Ishpeming. Admittedly, it usually ended up turning into a game where either side beat each out with the sticks. In Northern Gun, the magic side usually ended up with the worst of it. Fun times - I wonder what GG's version will be like...

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Hallejulah! BB felt, thrilling at the thought of not having to break rocks again! That was definitely going to add an extra boost to the three beers Grep was lining up for him. His grin faded off when he realized what Glitter Girl was going to be doing. "Oh geeze..." BB muttered with lowered vocal projection - he may have found himself instantly dreadfully bored, but he wasn't that tactless - "another one of these?"

"Hush, BB." Firanis chided, but the cyborg was already on his quiet diatribe.

"C'mon, Fi. They argue whether Magic or Technology did it, deciding on whatever side the people in question support, and it doesn't even matter. No one really knows what caused it, and the end result is the same: Rifts, The Dark Ages, and now. You see one, you've seen a thousand." BB finished by just drinking up the first of three beers.

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Trep and Sy looked to each other, and Trep gave a bit of a smile and a shrug to Sy's mild headshake, and Trep waves to Kensie. "Hi! I'm, uh, I'm Trep, and this is Sy. Are you new here?"

Sy found an interesting flurry of dust to admire across the road, as Trep and Kensie talked.

Simon was in the back, filling the order, so he wasn't present to react to the discussion.

---

In the bar proper, Ianoko gingerly took Squidge's hand, looked to Phere, and then whispered to Squidge. "I do not know if I'll be staying. I know you want to help, but..." The d'norr looked fearfully at the exit.

"If it were just those men who want to be the dead-who-walk, that would be one thing, but they are not the ones who attacked me. I feel that the Coalition will inevitably put down its boot, and when that happens, I'll regret staying. I've heard of troubles back in the Federation, but..." She shook her head. "They can't be as bad as this."

---

On stage, Glitter Girl and her companion started the play. The siblings in question met, referring to each other as "Sister." Glitter Girl was a born natural when it came to theatre, but her companion wasn't quite as good, taking a while to warm up.

Initially they were polite, but soon it degenerated into argument, the two of them gesticulating with their props. The thrust of the argument of Technology was that Magic opened the rifts, ruptured the weave of space and time, and allowed the unfathomable to roam the Earth.

Magic countered that the golden age had built enough nuclear weapons to blow the world up twenty times, and the mass deaths that started the chain reaction that led to the rifts was entirely the fault of those weapons being used when they never, ever should have been.

"Everyone lived under the threat of death by laser and robot and armor and bomb." Magic waved the stick around for emphasis, getting into the role with enthusiasm if not much skill.

"And now everyone lives under that and the threat of demon, of rift, of spell and psionics," countered Technology. "If humanity knew of you, then they would never have used such weapons. You hid yourself from the golden age. No one knew of the threat you posed." 

"Whereas everyone knew of the threat you posed," countered Magic. "Which is worse, the threat you live under every day or the one you never see coming?"

Technology raised her stick, as did Magic, looking as if they were about to duel - the traditional climax of the play, as one would beat the other in the fight and therefore have won the moral argument.

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Kensie tucked her pick to read first into the back pocket of her cutoff shorts then slipped the rest in the the carry bag she had hanging from her shoulder. All while smiling at the two friendly humans.

"Yes I am. Just passing through actually. Just stopped for provisions."  she pointed back into the store. "Are you both from here?"

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"You and..." Phere leaned closer to the horned woman, looming over her somewhat. Even if she were not trying to be intimidating, but it was somewhat unavoidable. She sniffed at the air lightly at the woman and continued, "...your magic... help this place. They depend on you. Scurry away if you must, but understand what you will do to this place if you do." she said matter of factly.

She looked over her shoulder at the two men leaving the bar after being ejected by Grep, looking them over for a moment before turning back to Lanoko. "And if it wasn't them, then who was it?"

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"No one's going to judge you for doing what you have to do," Squidge hastily assured Ianoko, "I'd just...encourage you to think carefully. This is a good place, mostly. But every time a good person leaves, it gets a little worse. Good people have to stick together in times like these. Flying apart just makes it easier for the bad to have their way."

She sighs. "I'm just...trying to tell you you're not alone is all."

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"I dunno. I would judge her. Prolly others too." Phere said with a shrug of her broad shoulders. 

"She came to this town, with her magic helped it grow and... thrive... by making herself indefensable. Hmm.. wait." the large psi-stalker woman said, taking a moment to recall a word and then pronounce it slowly, "In-di-spen-sable.." before she continued, "to them, and then scurry away at the first sign of danger, instead of trusting they had her six. A coward is one thing, but a coward that makes people de-pen-dent on them and then runs off and leaves the people screwed is another." she explained in a casual, matter-of-factly tone.

"Anyways, who attacked you then, and where?" Phere asked and then added, "And do you know where I can buy a duffel bag?"

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Outside, Trep warmed up to Kensie, as Sy paced behind him. "Born and raised. We're getting out of here first chance we get, though. Don't wanna live and die in the same 40 acres, you know? We figure the army'd be the best way to do it. Ride around in a UAR-1, carry a C20 rifle, you know?"

At her blank stare, Trep started to launch into a detailed explanation of Coalition war machinery, with the zeal of a young man getting to explain to a pretty girl the details of a young man's passion.

---

Inside, Ianoko regarded Phere with no small amount of fear - it was obvious that Ianoko had concluded that Phere was a psi-stalker, and had no desire to be someone's dinner. As the conversation progressed, her temper flared slightly.

"I know it was not those two because their voices were different, and the Coalition doesn't use disguise magic. And that makes it even worse because I have no idea how many there are out there who would do such a thing - or, just as bad, that would stand aside and let it happen.

"Do not mistake me. I am happy to have helped with the harvest. I like the people here. But I wound up feeding the ones who attacked me, who looked fully at the work I do and decided that hate would nourish their spirits more readily than food. I can't - " She closed her eyes and held up her hands.

"When you say that I am making them dependent on me, that is what they say too. That I'm here to take over and change their way of life. I'm not here to take over. I'm not scouting for the Federation, which they like to say I do when they think I cannot hear. I just farm. I give thanks for a world with six inches of topsoil and rain enough to grow the wondrous plants of your planet. And they will never believe me."

She sunk into her chair, then spoke after a long pause. "As for a duffel bag, you can get it at Sy's trading post, in front of the flophouse. Why, are you leaving town as well?"

---

On stage, the two performers prepared for mock combat - but then, they both lowered their sticks. Their faces were hidden by the props, but their body language suggested that both were defeated, not by a duel but by dawning understanding.

"What does it matter," said Technology. "They're both threats."

Magic took a long moment to respond, and then...

... then Phere felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, as something - something large, and unfathomable, and most of all, magical made its presence known, like the change in barometric pressure before a storm...

... and outside, Adam felt the sword at his side vibrate with a heat he had not felt in a long time...

... and then suddenly, everything in the bar - and on the street outside - changed.

All the buildings were still there. All the seats at the bar, all the tables, were still inside the building. But instead of the general loud state of disarray the bar was in, everything was neat and tidy and quiet. Outside, all of the buildings suddenly looked in much better care - fully restored and freshly painted. There was a paved road down main street.

The town's walls, flimsy before, were suddenly massive, to the point no one could see over them. It was raining slightly, and the air smelled clear and sweet instead of the faint metallic tang of pollution.

The sword at Adam's side was still warm, and Phere's involuntary sniff of the air was met with a strange sensation - the background magical field that she could make out was both much stronger, and somehow sweeter and more refined, like water that had been cleansed.

And then, the six of them noticed one more thing: there was absolutely no one else around them - with the exception of one person, on the stage, her head hung low and holding a stick with a star taped to it. And the performer was also a mage, of some kind - and hadn't registered as such, until a moment ago.

"So we both did it," said Magic, dropping the prop stick and finishing the play.

Then she paused, and looked up at the four remaining people in the bar - Squidge, Phere, BB and Firanis, her expression unreadable through the gas mask, headwrap and prop lenses.

Outside, Adam and Kinsie's quick look around town revealed one thing of note: a plaque in front of Simon's trading post and flophouse, that described it as "Simon's Trading Post and Flophouse, Preserved As It Was in 109 PA."

 

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Adam's armor shuffled with the faint sounds of cerametal plates shifting as purpose suddenly filled his stride.  "Kensie!"  He called out for his charge, swiftly exiting the Trading Post with one hand on the hilt of his blade.  It was only just now that he'd noticed she'd ran off on her own and a pang of regret, guilt and shame flooded his emotions.  She was his responsibility, h was supposed to be protecting her!  How could she have slipped away?  How could he have been so irresponsible?  He may had gone a bit easier on himself had the strange occurance not suddenly got him agitated and concerned.

"Kensie?!"  He saw her standing outside, not far from the Trading Post and with long determined strides met up with her, clutching her like a concerned parent might after losing their child.  With one hand on the hilt of his blade his other arm cloaked her in the mantle of his concern of worry.  "I told you not to wander off." He said softly, his modulated tone was filled with more relief than anger.

"What's going on," she asked, returning his concerned hug before gently pushing away from him.  She looked up into his crimson lit visor.  "What happened?"

"I do not know," he replied.  They scanned the area together, a bit to confused and weirded out to wander too far from where they stood.  "We will look others, perhaps more have survived this, or been pulled through... or, whatever has happened."

"I see movement, in the bar." Kensie pointed to where people where barely visible.

"Then let us investigate.  Perhaps they are responsible for this, or know who is," he drew Aggabedon half way from it's scabbard and looked down at the blade.  A dark aura seemed to waft off from it and it Kensie knew it was mutter dark whispers to Adam that only he could hear.  She hated that sword, it creeped her out.  "Be on guard, and stay close to me.  Defend yourself if you must, but remember, do no-"

"...not reveal what I am unless it's absolutely necessary... yeah, I got it."

Adam and Kensie walked into the bar, Adams heavy foot falls and the sound of his armor gave their presence away almost immediately.  They could all see the small, pretty red head standing behind him just off to his right (his shield arm, like they'd practiced), his visor focused in and out, the gleam of crimson widening and shrinking as it collected data.  His head swiveled slightly to take them all in, and had they not seen him moments ago out in the streets they could easily had mistaken him for an adversary or the one responsible for what was occurring.  "It appears we are not the not the only ones unaffected by this phenomena.  Are any of you responsible for this?  Or know who or what might be?"

"Or, y'know... what exactly is going on?"  Kensie said in that flat charm of a teenager.

Adam looked back, his helmet cocking slightly to acknowledge her.  "Yes, that too."

Spoiler

I moved Kensie and Adam into the bar with the others, it made sense since they're the only ones here and movement would be the first thing one would gravitate to in a 'crisis situation' where everyone has disappeared.

 

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"I'd ask her," Fi said in understatement dry enough for a world of deserts, gesturing at the woman on stage with her beer bottle. In contrast to her tone, her slightly too lustrous eyes were flickering through distinct shades and colours: green, silver, blue, gold, purple, copper, black, and red. Fi stared at the beer bottle in her hand, then chugged down the rest of its contents in one go. "There was no 'we' doing this, wiz-girl," she protested in rising, accusatory tones as she stared at the 'mage' or Mage on stage, the shifting colours of her life-like cybereyes slowing. "This was all you."

The vibrant-haired engineer almost fell off her stool in disorientation, the readings from her cybernetic sensor array having changed in an instant in a way she'd never experienced before. Even more bewildering, passive diagnostics claimed all systems were all in 100% working order. The readings were no system error. Where before there had been over a dozen people in the bar, and more outside, now Fi was only registering six blips on radar, sonar, motion detector, and her own - very expensive - eyes, including the tall dude in the overly thematic modern armor and the girl at his side.

Collecting herself, Fi looked around the bar, noting the differences and discrepancies - in particular the notice board - logging them in her internal minicomp, as she pulled up her body armor, working her arms back into the sleeves and fastening it up. The booted the wrist-mounted computer from standby to active, a holographic display springing to life in light of white, blue, and green at the touch of a button. More than just a computer and media storing and playing device, her Pip-boy she called it, was also an advanced, holographic communication device.

"What did you do?!" Fi exclaimed, looking for the Red Rambler or any other comm-nodes she had encountered before on her system that should be in range. Worry and bewilderment subsided slightly as she cocked her head to the side, wondering in growing curiosity. "What did you do? And how?"

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"Phere, this isn't about..."

Squidge looked around, startled to witness Ianoko literally vanish right before her eyes, or just about. She'd only been distracted by the stage show for a second or two. Surely that wasn't enough time for her to get entirely out of sight? But no...the bar was nearly empty now. And...

The door burst open, letting the armored fellow and his...wife? Daughter? Companion?...well whoever she was, into the bar.

That kind of incredibly rapid change...not just people, but the whole environment...

She focused on the player on the stage as well. For the moment she held her questions back. The ones others had asked were fine for the moment, and Squidge wanted to see how she reacted before adding onto things.

This isn't real though, is it? How could it be?

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"Ok, now this is an original one." BB commented as the changes set in. While he may not have had the full sensory array that had been implanted into Firanis, he had much the same visual and auditory acuity and sensory data that she did. Then the conspicuous armored man and attractive young girl barged in, and all attention quickly placed itself on Glitter Girl's counterpart. Except BB, who was taking the opportunity to walk around the bar counter and take advantage of free booze.

"Hey, cutie!" He called out to Kensie while pouring a full glass. "While we're browbeating her, how about a drink for you?"

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Kensie had followed Adam as he instructed, into the drinking establishment, she made quick note of each of those in the place and listened to the words they spoke. She didn't really understand what was going on are what had happened to the nice man she had been talking to but most of those in the bar seemed to think the being on the stage was responsible.

As Kensie was about to speak the mechanical man catcalled her.

Both her and Adam looked at BB, her look was somewhat confused as she dissected what he had said. Adams baleful red eye was much easier for BB to read.

"Manners, tin-man," Adam spoke his modulated voice low and menacing, his hand tightening on the hilt of his sword, "she is just a kid and not your cutie."

Kesie smirked and turned back to the stage. "You on the stage, what did you do to the boys outside? I was talking to them. They were nice."

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She sniffed lightly once at the air, the action barely noticeable, as her eyes scanned her surroundings, taking note of the people and their positions, sensing the magical and psionic energies radiating off of more than half the people in the room. Even the faint, ever present residual magical energies in the background had changed. Somehow it was stronger, cleaner even sweeter, to her senses.

She nudged Squidge with her elbow, and when the smaller woman turned to look at her, Phere's expression had changed, even if most others might not notice it. She was serious now, almost predatory. She displayed a very brief series of one-handed gestures for her friend and then took a step forward while slipping an arm across Squidge's body, guiding her friend behind her a bit protectively, interposing herself, as best she could, between Squidge and the others in the room, while doing her best to not obscure her vision. With her friend somewhat shielded, her thumbs began to lightly brush over the releases for her vibro-blades, waiting for a clear threat.

"Wherever where are, there is more background magic here.. and it is more powerful too." she said aloud  and over her shoulder to Squidge, though she made no effort to hide what she said from the others in the bar. 

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The actress playing Magic on stage looked around the room, calling out quietly, and then more loudly: "GeeGee? Where are you?"

Then, upon seeing who was left, the person was startled. "I didn't - do - what do you - " She grappled with the prop concealing her face, finally slipping the gas mask of the ley line walker off.

She was some kind of d-bee, or a mutant - definitely not human. She was, essentially, a cat girl, with fine brown fur, a small snout, and ears on top of her head. She smoothed the fur on her face back into place, then - a little more composed - tried speaking again. "I'm Tamika. Please, I had nothing to do with whatever - this - is. I'm just a performer, ever since - I'm just a performer. Now where's GeeGee? Where's the rest of the bar? Why's it smell so nice?"

Tamika hopped down from the stage - not threateningly, but she leapt down nonetheless. She looked around. "Wait, it's more than a smell. It's almost - as if - " She narrowed her eyes, looking at something in the air in a catlike fashion.

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"As if... what?" Fi urged with impatient curiosity, her own eyes - the irises now an almost incandescent orange - narrowing in turn as she glanced away from the holographic display of her wrist-comp to regard the feline woman. "What smell?"

Atmospheric readings were odd - there was definitely considerably less background radiation - but Fi didn't notice any particular smell, other than the bar smelling... new, rather than used, clean in a way a public business never did. And her instruments couldn't read magic, so she couldn't verify the psi-stalker's claims.

Fi's lips quirked to the side as the red-headed girl's query about missing boys as she headed towards the bar's front entrance to look outside. In passing, she asked the girl and her armored chaperone, "Is the entire town like... this?"

Holding the door open, the mechanic looked around, studying Prince's Landing as it was now, and to see if the Red Rambler was where she had left it, or if it had gone the way of the villagers.

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"Not so much a smell as lack of a smell, maybe," Squidge speculated, giving Phere a quick nod. She cleared her throat.

"Look, I'm inclined to believe Tamika about this for the moment. Lets get everyone who has not been affected together, get some introductions done, and see what we can do about fixing this. Folks call me Squidge, this here's Phere. We've been in town for a little while, but we aren't natives. You all can tell she's a psi-stalker, and I'm psychic."

She nodded. "It's nice to meetcha, even if maybe not the best of circumstances."

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Inside the bar, Tamika's eyes widened, and at first she didn't seem to hear Squidge - but she found herself soon enough, and nodded. "Hi! Hi. Uh. So..."

She rubbed the back of her neck, as her tail flicked nervously. "So, here is the thing. I can see the Spectrum - I mean, we all have a different way of describing it and that's how I describe it." Off the blank stares, she winced, and said "A different way of describing how we perceive machinery, I should say. I'm a techno-wizard. Well, here is the thing: I used to be."

-----

Outside, Firanis saw what Adam and Kensie saw, that the town was not destroyed so much as preserved; everything kept the way it would be in idealized circumstances.

Her Rambler wasn't there, but what she saw instead was an unusual sight; a woman dressed in a strange uniform, who locked eyes with her from across the street. The young woman looked human at a distance, and upon seeing her, tapped the side of her own skull.

-----

"See, I ran into one of the Federation's worst - someone who had a real vendetta against techno-wizards, claiming that the industrialization of magical skill was cheapening hard-earned magical training. Which wouldn't be a problem except he was part of Lord Dunscon's unification campaign, with access tot he Federation's most coveted artifacts and spells, and - this is a long and boring story, but he put a curse on me." She looked to the side, looking like she was reliving a raw memory.

"Afterwards, everything I built didn't work, I couldn't see the Spectrum, I didn't even register as a mage. And while I was great at turning a pistol into something that shot telekinetic bullets I never seem to do well with regular machinery. So I wound up playing the guitar for my supper and that's how I met GeeGee. And listen, now that that's done, two important things.

"First, there's tiny machines in the air - that's what I was looking at. They're not malicious, at least, I don't think they are, but they're in the air. I think they're just generally scrubbing out toxins and pollutants. That's Golden Age tech if not even more advanced. And these aren't conventional. They're techno-wizard machinery, beyond anything I've ever seen. And secondly..." She swallowed thickly, and licked her own nose out of nervous habit.

"Secondly, the condition of the curse was that it would negate my magical abilities until a hundred years had passed."

------

The young woman outside held her hands up, disarmingly, and after a few seconds, Firanis heard a computerized voice speak. "Translation spell complete."

"Sorry about that, I had to load a translation spell from the Weave into my exocortex." She winced. "You probably don't understand a word of that, if what the sensors say is correct. So - you look lost. Are you lost?"

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BB shrugged at the armored man's paternal interference before swallowing the drink in a careless, 'more for me' fashion. The booze bottles in the bar was alarmingly empty. He followed Tamika's explanation, until she reached the critical mention of a century-long minimum of time travel. Silently, he took his drinkable booze, placed it back in the booze stash in his chassis. Any god that there might be forbid - this might be the only thing left to drink for a while.

"I sincerely hope that guy was exaggerating." BB drawled before going outside and slamming the door behind him, which shuddered from the forceful action of the cyborg.

Outside, BB saw Fi and the strangely dressed uniformed young woman. "Hey, are you the future police?" BB promptly thrust a middle digit towards the sky and in her direction. "Sorry, but I have to do this as a matter of principle."

 

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"That's a whole lot about you, Mageling, yet you've failed to recognize the fact that whatever curse has befallen you, it seems to have drug us along for the ride.  You've glossed over that portion because you either one; don't care.  Or two, enjoy sharing your life story with strangers so much, you haven't noticed yet that a majority of us, don't care.  You're a stranger to this lot.  My charge and I are on a deadline, we have duties and tasks to tend to elsewhere."  At the mention of 'deadline' Kensie casually lifted the Dark Knight's gauntlet and read the digital countdown ticking away on the inside of his wrist.  Her lips tightened and she looked a bit concerned.  They'd been in tighter spots in the last couple of months... but still, no sense in tempting fate.

"Now," his modulated voice was nothing short of terrifying.  "Start addressing the topics that are useful to us and how we, six strangers whose journeys you've interrupted, can begin getting our lives back on track.  Be useful, mutant.  I assure you, I have ways coaxing less boring and more pertinent information from you, Tamika."  The way the man tightened his grip on his menacing looking sword did not go noticed by those assembled.

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