Original Work T h e G o l d e n O d y s s e y

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Tyler Danann, Mar 5, 2015.

  1. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    The sequel to Mountain Hold is almost here!

    For those of you folks who missed book 1 you can find it on this thread:

    Original Work - Mountain Hold - Tyler Danann | Survival Monkey Forums

    Book 2 will continue the adventure into the New Era as the diverse and brave new factions slowly start to emerge. The dark powers are rising too though...

    I am at over 80,000 words so far, just working on the final bits.

    Thanks for all those who have supported and encouraged, it's been a long journey from the dark days of 2012 but here I am, ready to lead you on another tale...

    “Do not give yourself into slavery, as long as it still remains open to you to die freely.”

    -Euripides. 480BC to 406 BC


    It was a cold, windy day in Utah, but inside the family workshop it was warm from the log-burner. The vast workshop table was lit up brightly with electric lighting, creating a contrast of old and new. Strange equipment was sprawled out and in the middle area was where Gregory Wynter patriarch of the Wynter dynasty worked. His only son, Nikolai Romanov Wynter sat at the first area. Some strange green overalls were hung up on a frame and had cables going from them to where his father worked. He touched them gently, noticing that they felt like coarse silk but had a colder feeling. On the overalls various bulges seemed to project out slightly. These bulges had a strange warmth that was seemingly self-perpetuating all by themselves. On the other side of his father was the final section of kit. A helmet and pistol with a similar cable disappeared into both items. He wanted to take another closer look but already he’d been scolded at for getting too close. The overalls station he now was in was tolerable to this father though.

    Gregory worked on a large case and harness frame and had just managed to pinch off a fat cable with a shrouded clamp.

    “Can we build something like this?”

    “I don’t think it’s possible even now, the liquid power-source, the special materials and crystals, it’s all beyond what we have here little man,” the old man smiled for a moment.

    “Remember son,” Gregory Wynter said sternly. “There are some things about these Artifacts that I dare not tamper with and neither should you, not even when you come of age.”

    “Why can’t I play with the helmet? I can see in the dark with it,” the boy sulked.

    “Because you’ll play with the gun again and even though it’s unloaded you might activate its other function. I didn’t handle a pistol until I was twenty-five and that was this one, and shortly afterwards the Pacific War had me use a 1911. You’re only half the age I was so have a while longer to go little man.”

    “That .22 rabbit rifle is ok, but Jerry get’s to shoot his dads revolver!” he complained.

    Being forteen sucked sometimes for Nikolai. It was like being old enough to start to know a lot but not old enough to do anything.

    “I bet Jerry’s dad would be right over with his cheque book if he knew we had all this. But tampering about all the time and toying with it isn’t going to happen, not on my watch anyway.”

    “Why can’t we tamper a bit father? Isn’t that how we get better at things?”

    The curious young boy had asked.

    “Yes we should, but sometimes a person needs to make a big innovation or step over and beyond something. That’s what I think the Soliters managed to do.”

    For Nikolai talk of the Soliters was another family tale he’d heard many times. Yet it never really lost its appeal.

    “Take your toys for example,” The septegenarian said sagely. “They are mostly made overseas in great factories and made without any real care or craft.”

    “I like my toys though dad,” he replied.

    “I know you do son, but most of them will last ten years if you are lucky, five or less is common. Often they break even sooner. Then all the kids need new toys they cannot cherish, keep and pass on the old toys very easily. This is something very common to big business nowadays. They exist solely to make money for themselves and not craft anything to last.”

    He gestured to the overalls, case, helmet and pistol.

    “These are all crafted artifacts. All of this is nearly a hundred years old and hasn’t even aged in comparison. They’ve been crafted to such a high-standard I can’t even inspect the most powerful elements properly. If I did it could result in breakage. Take the liquid that I clamped off just now. If I let that drain out there’d be no way to get it back inside the internal power-source. I could try removing the internal tubing but that risks breaking the delicate nano-turbines inside. If that happens I don’t know how in the world it can ever be mended.”

    “Why not?” The curious young Wynter had asked.

    “I think the makers of this can craft items beyond our very dreams. Yet they despise manufacture and planned obselesience common to big business nowadays. To try and examine parts too closely could result in breakage. If that happens I don’t know how in the world it can be mended.”

    Nikolai stayed quiet and watched his father work on. His grandfather received the Artifacts originally after the sinking of the Titanic. During his families flight from Crimea the man had paid with his life struggling to safeguard them. By the standards of the elusive Soliters it was entry-level equipment he had been told. In addition it had been heavily retrofitted with surface-world technology. Even this was done by a Navigator, according to his father. As a result it was technically Old Era standard, but with high-technology as a basic foundation. No name or make decorated the Artifacts but according to his grandfather the Soliters called it a Ryder Unit.

    His father though had practised with the device a lot in his younger years out in the desert. He’d made detailed instructions about the idiosyncracies and niggles common to the devices. He’d remember seeing him making notes, careful adjustments and customizations for hours in the family workshop. For a seventy-year old his father had been never a dull-blade and his zeal and tinkering skills were undiminished.

    “Remember son, these are a trove of secrets. They are Artifacts entrusted by a special people to us. They aren’t toys or for leisure. That gun for example may look like an over-and-under shot-pistol but if I ever registered it with the ATF, as I’m probably supposed to, we’d probably never see it again. They’d probably just say ‘national security’ is the reason and want to know what else we have.” He chuckled and adjusted the device further.

    “I hear those idiots on tv talking about Area 51 and flying saucers. If only they knew the real truth.”

    “What’s the truth about that dad?”

    “Let’s just say that all of this in the wrong hands would enslave us. It could also set us free if the time was right or we could get it into the right hands one day.”

    His father resumed screwing in the last LCD display. The analogue to digital interface for the small portion of the tube was next.

    “What should we use them for then?” the younger Wynter asked curiously.

    “Nothing, nothing at all until the time is right. Things are in limbo right now in the world, people are crazy in the head with nonsense. You need to find yourself a good woman, raise a family and in time pass this on to the most deserving of your children. Treat all this as a family treasure from our Soliter brothers and sisters. They are the ones who gave this to your grandfather.”

    “Did Grandpa die on arriving here?”
    “That’s right. He’d been mortally wounded in a shootout against a trio of Bolshevik agents over in Crimea.”

    “What happened? How did he die?”

    “He played along with them at first, then tried to get the drop on ‘em. Your granny didn’t remember much after the first few shots. I think she said he fired both his Mauser and this handcannon at once. She was pregnant with me at the time and hide from the shooting. When the smoke cleared one Bolshevick was on the floor bleeding out, my father was badly wounded. He finished the dying one off and the other two Bolshies were already out the door. Another was wounded though then killed by the returning bodyguard. He was an idiot for leaving to check on the boat but at least got that right.”

    “Wow!” said the boy in awe of the violent memory.

    “The last one got away with a head wound I think, the bodyguard took a chunk of his skull or face, so no-one really won anything that day. Mom said that one was a Saken agent, or at least he claimed he was one of them.”

    “How did she know that? I thought they hid themselves?”

    “Not back then so much. ‘Hand over the Soliter items’ she heard him say. ‘Give it up and House Saken will take you in’, she remembered the conversation like it was yesterday.”

    “So we fled Russia, the civil war broke out just as we arrived in this fine country.”

    “The next war was even worse. Your mother still thinks I should have told Tesla or the G-Men. I was more partial for telling Ford or Hindenburg about it to get them commies running scared but looking back it’s just as well nobody got the Artifacts. It’s a case of waiting and watching for what the Soliters told us would happen. The old man took a deep breath. “Do you remember what that is son?”

    “The light from the earth?” Nikolai said carefully.

    His father nodded.

    “At that sign is when we’ll know. Only then can we fight with these Artifacts. Until then, they are passed on in trust.”

    “I need to finish up here, you run along and play with your plastic toys from China! I’ll tinker with the real ones,” old Wynter boomed with laughter and the young child ran laughing from the workshop.

    Years past and the son buried his father when it was time. Nikolai married a fine young woman he knew from childhood fell in love. They were married and had two children. Each year on the anniversary of his father’s passing he would check the Artifacts for function of use. He never forgot and it was always at the back of his mind.

    First came School, College, then University. Military service, his beloved wife and children soon followed. On the fateful day of the Blue Sun he was ready and knew what to do.

    Last edited: Mar 11, 2015
  2. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Chapter 1
    Fallen Reprise

    The Rocky Mountains of Colorado were quiet in the first winter of the New Era. The peaceful ways of nature were interrupted by the sounds of armed men who ascended the terrain before them. A maimed officer named Samze Reyborse climbed the mountain trail before him. Two loyal raiders in body armor struggled to keep up behind him. Further back from them several others followed on sluggishly. Off to Reyborse’s left was Elisha Garcia, even she, his scout and confidente, was starting to lose hope.

    It had been three days following the defeat at Tonswater. The failure to take the town had cost them dearly, all Reyborse's plans were in tatters and now he had to face the music. His ruined arm had been bound tight but with a broken-bone it was unlikely to mend properly, not unless he could find help.
    The raider city of Redmond most of his force hailed from was in disarray. Charrak, their original leader was dead, most of his army had been slain or badly wounded and there was nothing left to hold them together. Like a pack of rabid dogs tearing at a corpse the city descended into familiar anarchy. Reyborse and his companions drove around the city and carried on south until the gas tank was nearly empty.

    Leaving them all behind he ascended the top of the hill. Once there he opened up his back-pack awkwardly with his good hand. Removing a special item he felt the glass gingerly.

    He only had one chance to find the hidden tunnel entrance but the map-glass effects would only last for a few minutes.

    Removing his helmet and sub-machine gun he sat down cross-legged. Then, facing the higher snowy peaks to the west and the imposing sun, he smashed open the lay-glass. The two liquid compounds mixed and mingled giving off a lurid vapor. He inhaled the fumes deeply several times.

    First there was a pinging pain from his skull, followed by a descending numbness throughout his body. As the lucid effects began to take root his mind and conciousness began loosen from the pain of his injuries and bonds of the flesh. He ascended a few feet saw the multi-dimensional landscape to the west giving him clues and pointers. Within thirty seconds he saw the signs he was looking for and found the underground passageway signs. It wasn't far from Crescent Peak and only half-way up the slope with a deer-trail leading there. Flying along towards it he plotted the passage-route required to get to the entrance.

    As his life-force swam out the scent of revenge lingered on and on. Those who had defied him would pay eternally alongside his hated foe the Soliters. He'd previously watched from afar as the siege of Tonswater ended with the deaths of both his most prized assets; Shieda, his warrior-mistress and Zeneth a Diresyn warrior.

    A little ways down below Elisha Garcia, the raider lord's former mistress, could hear the mutterings of the other Wolfhound raiders. Not all were ‘marked’ and sworn and since her lord's death their loyalty to Reyborse, who some saw as only an advisor, was stretched to the point of mutiny.

    A few minutes passed.

    Quin Algerson, an 'unmarked' warrior could take no more waiting and began ranting.

    “This is ****ing stupid! What has he brought us to the mountains of nowhere for?” He ranted obnoxiously. “Redmond is ripe for a takeover with Charrak dead. But he drags us here so he can get high!”

    “You watch your tongue Quin. Remember who the master is around here,” Garcia said coldly to him.

    “Well baby, I never took a stupid mark-chip and neither did Pottar!” Algerson said gesturing to his buddy who nodded defiantly. “And I think with that shot-up arm of his and getting stoned up on a hill it's time for a new leader around here,” Algerson spat.

    He turned back to look upwards again just in time to see the Isier coming down towards them. The barrel of the sub-machine gun was aiming right at Algerson.

    Reyborse's Jatimatic spat lead and his target’s head and neck were shredded apart instantly. As Algerson’s body crumbled it rolled down the hill in a flopping fashion. Before the receding corpse was even halfway the Isier slung the weapon as if he'd merely plinked a few tin cans from a fence in boredom. A few of the wavering ones looked down at the ugly red smear in the gry grass and at the human wreckage now at the bottom of the hill.

    “Follow me or follow him,” he said bluntly to the others. Not a man dared speak out now. He looked at Garcia. “Elisha bring up the rear, we have a trek ahead of us.”

    With any notion of mutiny or uprising quashed the eight men and woman moved into the mountains towards the direction of Crescent Peak. Reyborse moved with a smile on his cruel thin lips, he was a patient man and revenge was a slow business afterall. One way or another he’d be back to avenge his defeat at Tonswater.

    It had taken another day to get from the mountain opening to the tracked Underways deep underground. By then they were all hungry and their water supplies were low. Only he and a couple of others had torches which revealed a featureless and endless blackness. A partially cleared cave-in from a side-tunnel was the marker-zone Reyborse was looking for. He managed to get his force through without too much hassle.

    On the other side was the beginning of a high-grade railway track. Reyborse set off his Sleuth-Beacon — a pre-programmed transmission device designed for underground retrieval. It sent a radiating signal towards the Saken Base Rock miles away to the east. It first struck an outrock-relay, then another and another before finally being answered.

    For nearly eight hours they waited and the grumbling complaints from Pottar was beginning to return. Two of the torches were almost out of batteries and the dim glow from the beacon was not much better.

    “What are we waiting for?” he complained and whinged.

    Reyborse was almost ready to cut him down when a distant whine became noticeable. Base Rock Gammertron had answered his call.

    The pitched noise of a large machine soon reached them fully. Its light appeared, heralding the actual sled-train full of Craiven and Sindle troopers.

    A fellow Saken that Reyborse knew commanded the force, Weel Kandas was a deputy Isier that was like a brother to him. Upon the locomotive grinding to a halt the officer jumped down to face his old friend.

    “Weel! It's good to see you!” Reyborse said in the Saken language. They gripped shoulders in the Saken fashion.

    “Greetings Samze! This is unexpected, I was just transferred in from Spektra. Do you have the Artifacts?” he responded.

    Reyborse hesitated not wanting to speak of his failure.

    “Where's Zeneth and Shieda?” Kandas asked expectantly looking warily at the armed men and woman behind him.

    “Both slain. The mission was a failure, the town was under Soliter support from the mountains. I must deliver a report about the whole mess.”

    “Soliters!? Are you sure?” Kandas said stunned.

    “Of course. They had a sky-carriage and their own private army. I barely got away with these ones you see now,” Reyborse said gesturing accidentally with his wrecked arm. He seethed in pain faintly.

    “Climb aboard then Samze, I must tell you though, we have a new Lord posted to Gammertron. It won't be easy on you if there's a trial...”

    “What do you mean? What happened to Eezkcaron?” Reyborse said with a start. Eezkaron was a familiar Saken commander; one he would be more than comfortable delivering his report to.

    “He's been summoned to Eurasia to bolster the UNAS forces. All of the big leaders are there now with the Glorian and Typhon. We have Lord Juberon from the Southern Fringe instead,” Kandas spoke with shades of the negative on the last part.

    “Juberon?! He was a reject Isier. Lower in status than you or I only a year ago!”

    “I know it, but he's promoted now on the whims of of Overlord Typhon, thanks to the war-effort I suspect.”

    “Dusted tails! Juberon is normally in charge of punishments and playing god with Negro and Kaslar slaves!” Reyborse exclaimed.

    He was rattled and worried at the news - Juberon was infamous as a brute and bully. The last he's heard the Saken was down in the Base Rocks of Africa. This was partly to keep him out of the way from the more serious-minded Saken out to conquer Terra. There was also the matter of his legendary excesses, even by Saken standards.

    “Like I said Samze, it won't be easy on you if you climb aboard and return with us...” Kandas said.

    Kandas felt for his old friend. He was half-tempted to have his Craiven re-supply Reyborse from the Sled Train's supply catche then return empty-handed to the Base-Rock. He knew it would raise suspicions though. The Sleuth-Beacon Reyborse had triggered was signature-marked to him and was already logged-in at the Base Rock. Any return empty handed would surely be open to question. The Craiven that were with him were loyal-enough but the Sindle infantry were a newer element. They’d travelled with Juberon from the east, some even knew Juberon casually. Of those no doubt a handful would be hoping to advance in rank by snitching on him.

    Reyborse read his mind and shook his head.

    “We both know it will cause grief if we play at telling tales to a Lord. Even one such as Jube.”

    “Climb aboard then before I change my mind,” Kandas said.

    “Before I do, watch over me, there are a couple of defiant wolves among these men. Neither are they marked,” the Isier cautioned.

    “Which ones?” asked Kandas and Reborse told him, as well as those that were to be trusted.

    After some orders in Saken were passed to the Craiven and Sindle troopers they suddenly trained their weapons on the suspected ones.

    “Don't make a move or they'll cut you down!” Reyborse warned. “Now remove your weapons and pass them to me. We're going for a ride.”

    “What's going on? I thought you said you were getting help?” Asked Pottar, one of the rebellious men and one who had not been marked.

    “This is help. We're going to my base where we can fight on against those that stand in our way.”

    “Where is it?”

    “Near to the eastern ocean, under the Ozark mountain range,” he answered.
    “**** that,” Pottar said turning around and began walking away.

    Kandas looked with a sideways glance to Reyborse for a response, but he said nothing but watched Pottar carefully. Instead he turned to the others, one of the other doubtfuls made a hesitant move in Pottar’s direction.

    “Are you sure you want to follow him?” Reyborse said with a sadistic grin.

    Biting his lip the man stepped back and handed over his weapon which was taken by a Saken infantryman, then the others did likewise.

    Pottar was almost at the barrier-point when Reyborse pointed to him and nodded at Kandas.

    “Hey Pottar!” Reyborse shouted. As he half turned there was a roaring blast. Reyborse and the Sindle platoon shot as one. In the confines of the tunnel the weapons were deafening. Obscure and strange calibers tore into Pottar, tossing him across the barrier in a grotesque fashion.

    The Saken on board made a space for the newcomers on the sled. It would be a cramped ride but Reyborse faced his fate knowing that no matter what happened, he'd have have a chance to make things right. The failure at Tonswater burned in him, fermenting to the extent that he would avenge the humiliation, no matter what the cost!
  3. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Chapter 2

    Mountain Meeting

    An afternoon-sun melted down on the snowy mountainside. It was the end of spring and like many summers previous the snow was reluctant to fully-melt at the high-elevations of the Rocky Mountains. A wending highway cut across the spine of the White peaks like a lazy-serpent.

    Twenty armed-men from the Mountain Hold waited at a certain point. Above them, adjacent to the highway an observation tower that looked west down the highway. The look-out signalled down to them.

    As promised the convoy from the ISTAR faction was on time, it could be seen from miles away up there. Nuge, the peered back to it, trying to estimate the convoy's speed of travel.

    The east-western highway ran past part the Mountain Hold road. Formerly
    this had been impassable due to felled trees. Indeed nearly two years had passed since Leyson had felled the trees blocking it off. Now it was clear again for the dwellers of the Hold to come and go as they pleased. A great gate of logs and beams was now in its place, set slightly back from the highway, allowing easier access, providing it was not snowed-in at winter of course. Two hotchkiss machine guns manned by Range-Warriors projected out. The emplacements were part of the gateway and built up on the walls, there were embrasures of wood and steel projecting out from a pair of elevated towers. They wooden bastions and a deadly pair of defenses many hoped not to need.

    To Mike Oakley, leader of the Mountain Hold, the arrival of an outsider faction meant their time of near-absolute isolation from the world was at an end. First chaos had come to Terra, then the frantic actions of defense followed by a settling of the ways. Now they were at the settling phase, what this would go into next was anyones guess.

    Seemingly reading his mind Alexander Barber went over from the tower towards the leader.

    Like Oakley, Barber was tall but was a broader and more powerful build, like that of a panther. He was younger, the lead warrior of the Oakley’s Rangers and had a great respect for his actions in combat. Some had said that Barber would make a fine leader one day but leadership was not something that appealed to him. Oakley had the mantle of rule, not he and unless it was thrust upon him he was just a Range-Warrior.

    “I guess this means we're part of the Republic now Mike?” Barber said to him, referencing the ISTAR republic. By now the coalition was spreading from the edges of Wyoming, into Utah up to Idaho and into part of Montana.
    “We're our own Republic Alex. This place will always be the Mountain Hold, even if it has ISTAR territory around it,” Oakley said. “Now remember, if there's any shooting we move back to the gateway into cover and the let the hotchkiss-crews do the rest.”

    “It won't come to that Mike, the Lore-Saints are good folks, men of their word. Spencer did well setting it up on the secure-Nex without prying eyes learning of it.”

    “We'll let soon see,” said Oakley, checking his ancient revolver out of habit. Satisfied he re-holstered it. “I'll wring his neck afterwards if it goes wrong,” he jested.

    Oakley felt the ache of old wounds nag occasionally yet stood tall and ready. It had been one and a half years since the Battle of Tonswater. Following this he'd ushered in a frugal flowering of cautious expansion in his territory. Keeping on good terms with the town of Tonswater to the east had been no problem. The victory his people had helped to win therer had been a double-edged sword though. While it had stymied raider-activity and secured their lands from harm, great attention and renown had spread across to the ISTAR lands. Tonswater had at least stopped making overtures for colonizing the mountains but now came the Lore-Saints.

    Duke Nikolai Wynter of the ISTAR Lore-Saints now approached with his vanguard of humvee's. Some called him 'The Lorien' or 'Lore-Master' due to his supposed illuminated knowledge. Others, mostly of the raider disposition, howled and raved of him with the less savory title of 'La Duque De Sangre' or 'The Blood Duke.'

    Oakely had initially declined the overtures from his advisors to open a communication channel to the mystery faction, yet many others of his faction persuaded him to hear them out.

    Be that as it may, Oakley was wary, distant factions he preferred to be kept at a distance. He also typically disliked royal titles and fancy names. Such things did not cut much ice with him, for a man earned his place in the world with a firm will and a driving heart, not a landed-title.

    The convoy of three bearing the one who was called 'Lorien' now stopped in front of them. The Duke's colors, in muted green ,blue and grey tones were on the sides of the first vehicle. Setting it apart from the other two that black and white, along with green also. Barber thought it was a bad tactical move highlighting a vehicle from the pack.

    Duke Wynter stepped out alone and faced Oakley's Rangers without a shred of intimidation. He was a tall man of over-average build, fair eyed and with trimmed sandy-brown hair. A fiercely intense demenor matching Oakley's own marked him apart from most men, for he was like that of a benevolent warlord. A fine fellow in friendship, but a terrible adversary in war.

    He showed no fear and stepped forward so he was level with the hood of the Humvee. More men now exited their humvees. Unlike Oakley and his followers the Duke did not wear camoflage or outdoors clothing but a matt-grey uniform. The ones who now assembled behind him could be seen in a similar uniform but some wore a beige-brown and the remainder a charcoal black. They wore no body-armor, and presented no intentions of an offensive nature. Aside from shouldered carbines the others looked friendly enough.

    The Duke's advisor Elias Meander moved around to be near him. Meander was Greek with a darker complexion than most of the others. Amber eyes and his unassuming demenour missed few details. As a former intelligence captain the darkest and deepest of secrets could be safeguarded with him. He wore beige-brown like the others.

    The Duke unclipped his belted and holstered pistol. He then passed it to Meander who took it wordlessly. Wynter scanned their faces, and took in their measure.

    “So these are the famed Oakley's Rangers?” Wynter mused cooly to himself and those closest.

    Most of the Rangers were bearded and grizzled, others less so. All had the semi-barbaric looks of those who were lean, sharp and hardened from years of wilderness living. The Lore-Saint fighters tended to be more the homesteaders and townsman than raw survivalists and viewed the rangers warily. A pantherish-looking one stood out among them along with a few others that clustered close to the oldest one of them.

    Oakley boldly stepped forward from his own ranks and did the same ritual, passing his .22 revolver to Barber. Both leaders faced-off.

    “Duke Nikolai Romanov Wynter of the Lore-Saints and the Northern League,” Wynter said declaring himself fully.

    “Mike Arthur Oakley of the Mountain Hold. Welcome to the White Mountains,” Oakley responded gruffly.

    A man was near to the Duke and he was no doubt his advisor, like Barber was to Oakley. He now spoke in the Dukes ear. Who nodded then shook his head. Somehow Oakley instinctively knew the advisor wanted the Duke to do something against his nature.

    Perhaps warning him? The outsiders looked very clean and somewhat professional, almost too smart for his bones to be comfortable with.
    Oakley spoke first.

    “As our guests would you wish to be hosted inside our Hold, it's better than standing exposed on the highway. Our venison is fresh and the mead is fine and waiting.”

    “Well met!” The Duke responded heartily. “Against that I cannot argue.” They approached one another to close the distance. They began talking back and forth.

    A Ranger leaned in to Barber. “Mike’s changed his tune,” he said quietly.
    “Leaders and their whimsical ways brother,” he responded with a sly look.
    The two groups walked off the highway and into the private road that led to the gateway. Wynter left three of his men with the vehicles to park the transport outside the gateway and the others unloaded their carbines at Oakley's request. Then they were shown into the depths of the Mountain Hold.

    A vast cabin reminiscent of a Viking long-hall, functioned as a venue for the Lore-Saints. Recently built it was lit by two roaring wood-burners making it a welcoming place, well served to relax the visitors. Food was prepared and mead served.

    Such things were far from what the Duke was expecting, he'd heard tales of Oakley's faction being feral barbarians; crazed by their isolation and as predatory as the raiders they'd defeated. The Mountain Hold was far from such gossip and nonsense. The people were healthy, family-orientated and a true thriving mountain community.

    After the dinner was over both leaders let the more routine conversations fade as the more serious faction-talk got underway.

    “We now must move forward, the time for expansion is now Mike. It will be dangerous but word has reached me that your faction can make the impossible happen.” The Duke looked at Mike for his response carefully.

    “This is moving forward for us, slow but sure like our trees,” Oakley said throwing back the suggestion and remaining aloof.

    “Don't be so humble Mike. We all heard about the raider-siege. We all expected Tonswater to fall and Stellfeld to follow. I know we made harsh terms that were rejected by Tonswater’s sheriff, but we were on the verge of being ready to mobilize. We had plans to send a frontier force to wage guerrilla warfare. Then we heard you and the town decimated Charrak and his army, that’s something that took balls.”

    “It was mostly the town defenders and their tower that did the real fighting and dying. My folks provided some support at the end was all,” Mike said downplaying he and his rangers role in the fight. By Wynter's frown he could tell that the ploy wasn't working though.

    “Alright I'll cut to the chase. The Battle for Tonswater has put you on the map whether you like it or not. We hear on the Nex-traffic that raiders are running scared, not even daring to move north of Colorado.”

    “You cutting to the chase Nick?” Oakley said with a joking grin.

    “Hear me out now Mike. The ISTAR, partly thanks to you and Tonswater have held the line, but we need to do more than that. We have to establish an outer-frontier forward of this one. Now the way I see things the raiders are no longer on the prowl like before. They stay in their cities and the Raiderlands to the south, some will die off within a year or so more as their resources run thin. The remainder that are less harsh will be like chieftans and warlords, we can deal with them one at time in later years. In the meantime we can see to the the upper-mid-west and help bring them into the ISTAR fold...” Oakley listened and his fears of imperialist overtures from the Duke rang like bells.

    “You risk over-extending the natural borders, this mountain range is our rock. Also I don't like the sound of 'bring them into the fold' either.”

    “I hear you on that, just think now. We keep the core of ISTAR territories close to hand. The defensive border of the ISTAR can extend to your Mountain Hold lands, then outside of that to the east up to the Great Lakes of Minnesota we have an outer territory. Think of it as a satellite of the Northern League. A bread-basket of agriculture. A distant cousin for trade. I have no intentions to force anyone to join us under duress.”
    Oakley nodded. He was open to alliances, but the devil was in the details.

    “I wish you luck Nikolai, but here at my Mountain Hold I don't know what we can do for you? My people only number perhaps one hundred. We are self-sufficient, this last winter we got through with only a few minor problems. I don't want to be a part of any big imperial scheme, the last time we had that it didn't go too well for the country, even before the Blue Sun hit.”

    “It's nothing like that, I give you my word of honor. All I want for the ISTAR is a solid front for our people so we can get back on our feet and be safe.”

    “Ok so what do you want?”

    “The Independent States And Republic stands for what the country didn't have before the fall. You consider yourself ISTAR don't you Mike?”

    “I consider this land the Mountain Hold and it holds true to the ways of the Republic. If this is the ISTAR to you that is not my concern.”

    “Join us,” he said with hand extended “Not like a union or federation where we're stitched together like entangled idiots, or a mob-democracy led by idiots but as a league. A Northern League making up all of the ISTAR territories! From the Pacific North West across to the slopes of Montana, from the Utah lands across to the Wyoming frontier.” Wynter spoke with an inspired wordage and voice that could not be ignored easily.

    “We'll still be the ISTAR individually but in a cohesive, greater territory. Presenting a solid front to others,” he added.

    Oakley hesitated; he'd have to talk such a thing through with his people first. As he brooded Wynter added sweetener-words.

    “The Talon-Wolves have already agreed brother, as have the Kinswarriors. They have joined together to form the Kinslanders, they're with us now.”

    “A wolf should be kept in the wilderness, not brought into the hearthroom. Indeed I have enough quarrels at the Hold between the Heathen here and those who are not...” Oakley said letting his words tail off.

    “The Kinslanders are kept on a tight chain and they've held the line well in eastern Oregon and upper-Idaho earning my trust. You were not the only faction fighting raiders you know.” Oakely look mildly surprized, figuring them to be strictly partisan. “Yes they too have won victories. Besides which...” Wynter paused before smiling. “Since you decimated Charrak's war-tribe eighteen months ago there have been similar words spoken of your faction.”

    “What words?!” Said Oakley intrigued to hear what his enemies spoke of him.

    “Raiders we've captured talk of you as the 'Blood-Hawk'. A mountain king with blue-eyed devils capable of vanquishing them with an airborne war-machine. There's a heavy price on your head, your bodyguards and that of the sheriff down in Tonswater.” Wynter spoke with a banterish laugh that was joined with by Lore-Saint and Ranger alike.

    Mike chuckled and smiled. Deep down he knew, no matter how hard he tried, it was hard to keep a lid on their mountain flying machine, especially in a largely grounded world.

    “My eyes were green last time I checked! It's strange how rumors take hold,” he retorted. “Those raiders have really gone soft if they fear-up so easily.”

    “Of course, the raiders are no match for the northern factions such as we I think.” Wynter said haughtily.

    “There are those that call you the 'Blood-Duke' you know?” Oakley spoke lightly in response. The Duke did not seem too bothered but Meander raised his eyebrows, wondering what next in the game of brinkmanship between the two.

    “Yes, yes, I've heard it all already. My people and I supposedly dance about drinking the blood of my slain enemies in dark caves underneath the Lore Temples in Utah.” The Duke rolled his eyes. “All factions have their detractors, for better or worse.”

    “Alright let me understand things first, then I'll give you my answer,” Oakley said shifting the subject away. Oakley raised his hands in neutrality. “Why join you when the ISTAR factions can independently thrive.”

    “Two reasons. Firstly for trade with the other parts of the landmass. The Northern League can pull in resources of oil, timber, crafts with the other factions.” Mike nodded at this, he had to admit that part made sense.

    “And the other reason. Other factions to the eastern parts of the country and doing the same as what I propose. The league will give us what AmEliasa
    never had - A genuine citizen-army that can fend for itself. If we don't have a Northern League someone else will do what Charrak did and with a lot more than armored-cars and foot-soldiers.”
    Oakley took in a deep breath, his fear of a militarized force seemed ever-present. The Duke seemed genuine but roads of betterment and glory could easily lead to tyranny.

    “We already have citizen armies, you have yours, I have mine plus the other ISTAR factions have their's also.” Oakley responded.

    “I don't mean to sound blunt Mike but things have been going on in Eurasia. There's a big faction forming there, like an empire that will soon be as big as the Asian Empire of Jade.”

    “That's interesting.” Said Oakley, remembering his distant vision so long ago.

    “I've a few contacts on the Nexus that keep me informed and the word is this new faction has been expanding and expanding, building a war-machine. Until last month they were getting a few of our fellow Europan's, 'Rabians not fighting the Blue Star and even a few Africans to join. Immigration controls were thrown up. No-one knows how they are doing it. Anyone who joins them doesn't get to leave. They exercise absolute control. And they came out of nowhere north-east of the Caspian Sea, some are saying it's fulfillment of the destruction-prophecy.”

    “Now do you remember the Valley-Forge prediction they taught at school?”

    “I do,” said Oakley.

    “Well if they move east or west we need to be ready in case it becomes so. It could be five, maybe ten years down the line but for the long term we must form a league.”

    “I hear that, but Europa's still on it's feet though Nikolai, a lot can happen then and in the far-east the Ch'in family have overthrown their communist government.”

    “Indeed, they've re-declared the long-lost Jade emperor found. I'm all for traditionalist ways but the Jade folks aren't going to cut it against this new faction.”

    “What's this new danger-faction called anyway?”

    “No-ones sure, it's like how our ISTAR has an acroynm standing for something, they have one similar. I think it's the 'yunnes', or 'oonus'?” The Duke turned to Meander with a puzzled look, searching for a clarification.
    Before Meander could refer to his notes a cut-glass male voice spoke.

    “The UNAS,” said the man in a distinct accent. He was stood off to one side from Oakley and with him was a woman of haunting beauty. “It stands for the Union of Nations and Sectors.”

    “That’s it! How do you know such a thing, being up here and so far
    removed?” the Duke said warily with a grin.

    “I have my agents and means Nikolai.”

    “This is Oscilon, my adviser on all things far-off and technical.” Oakley said with a smile.

    “I see that,” The Lore Saint said with an enigmatic look at the man. “Now if the UNAS move east it will be bloody war with the Jade folks and if they win there it's a backdoor into Alaska. If they move west it's our folks in Europa. We've got time to prepare and that means the Northern League has to be ready. Either way they move.”

    “They could move south,” Barber said frankly.

    “They could, if it was worth their while, but apparently they are trading with the Rabians, refined oil for parts, mercenary troops and so on. They won't want the south though, it's a deathtrap of desert Kaslar armies and strife best left alone. It shames me to say it my gut feeling is they'll got for the soft-targets of either the east or the west in the northern hemisphere.”

    “Now.” He said decisively. “What say you Mike Oakley? Will you join the Northern League and battle against any Valley Forge? I want the greatness of our land back, our republic to be realized and for us to be a part of that city in the sky?”

    “I'm open to it,” said Oakley harshly. “But why are you so keen to make big plans with my tiny faction of one-hundred.”

    “House Soltier Artifacts,” he stated with a knowing smile before looking to Oscilon.

    “Isn't that right Oscilon of House Soliter?” he asked with a smile.
    Artifacts and House Soliter were faction-secrets and surely only their sworn enemies the Saken could know? Oakley tensed and had a hand to his Ruger revolver, ready for foulplay. Several Rangers looked wary now, themselves almost readying weapons in an echo of Oakley's mind. Before anything terrible could transpire Oscilon shouted out.

    “It's ok Mike! They are not Saken! He is of Soliter lineage. I should have told you sooner but was waiting him out.”

    “Let me explain,” Wynter said. “I was born into a Lore-Saint family, I have no accent unlike your Navigator, but I am part of the Soliters through an ancient lineage and calling. These nine men with me are my hand-picked trusted bodyguard. Outside of my family and Seekers my faction are mostly unaware of the Soliter allegience. I am truly Nikolai Wynter, elected to Duke following the defense of the Lore-Saint capital in the Blue Sun chaos. Oscilon was not to know until I came into his sight.”

    Oakley breathed deeply and brought his hand back up onto the table. “Why the pretence, why not tell me sooner when we were on the highway.”

    “You don't enter a hallway to dance, unless those within are found trustworthy,” he said, invoking a Soliter saying.

    Both Oscilon and the Duke laughed at this and the mood lightened again.

    “Definately House Soliter,” McKaiser said laughing. Oakley and the Rangers laughed also, still half-amazed at the revelation.

    The Lorien extended his hand, Oakely looked first to his Rangers who nodded in agreement then he shook it with vigor.

    “Do you still have the Artifacts entrusted to your fore-father Duke of Lore Saint?” Oscilon asked curiously.

    “Absolutely, they are safe in my base at Salt Lake. With what I have in mind, we’ll hopefully have many more like them.”

    “You can’t craft Soliter Artifacts Nikolai.” Owesion said almost smugly.

    “No, but I may be able to make surface-lander Artifacts Navigator,” the Duke responded with a grin.

    The talk resumed until finally an alliance was made and the Northern League was complete.
  4. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Chapter 3

    Rube’s Key

    Ruben Cohen breathed in the air of the coming summer as a new day in Stellfeld began. The day-traders were setting out stalls to entice any visitors and the distant roar of a Northern League tanker was approaching. In his comfortable home it felt a world away from the events of earlier times.

    Looking down from the second floor he passed his gaze south, taking in the outer perimiter, the long straight road and the hilly boundaries. Beyond them was Tonswater, the town that had left an indelible imprint on him. Not even death could swerve it he felt. For it had been a long recovery from his grevious wounds at the Battle of Tonswater. It was colder but a bright day, one full of clashing conflict as the siege reached its deadly climax.

    He remembered vividly seeing the northern redoubts of Tonswaters in battle and being overwhelmed by the strange super-animals. His vehicle was a lone pick-up with only himself and a Lore-Saint mercenary. Part of him, his calculating side of caution and analysis, whispered to wait for the slow-moving convoy to catch up. Another part of him, from where he could not tell, shouted 'Attack!' and attack he did. The lucid moments revisted him like a vision.

    He'd sent the diesel-engined machine ramming two of the over-dog things clean apart and a third went sideways. This took the initiative away from the beasts as he slammed on the brakes to reverse his way back through them.

    “We should stop and—” the Lore-Saint mercenary had started to say.

    “If we stop to shoot we're dead!” Cohen interupted with a hiss.

    They were all over the vehicle seeking ways in. He'd engaged reverse and ploughed over another two and less than a dozen remained. He stopped again but as he did one of the creatures leapt on the hood obscuring his view. He shook left and right with the wheel but somehow it had either caught or locked its claws on.

    His mercenary let off shot after shot through the windshield, but the thing had a death grip and clung on another two sprang on board.

    More firing, more swerving, then they were off the road and rolling down into a ditch. When the world stopped turning around it went dark, not from him passing out, but from the shear number of Night Crawlers blocking out the light. Grunts and snarls were in his ears along gunshots from the Lore-Saint who fired off a few more times, then somehow the beastlings dragged him out through the passenger window horribly. They were coming for him next but it was too tight and confined in the cab to bring his battle-rifle to bear so he had to make do with his trusty .45 Springfield Defender. His vision was swimming thanks to the concussion from the crash but he remembered stopping them getting in through the passenger side. Then the sunroof burst in and one got in amongst him.

    His body-armor alone had spared his body from being gouged apart. Yet his arms and face were not spared the talons of the fearsome Night Crawlers. He lost an eye as he blasted away with his side-arm. Then in it's death throes his head was dashed hard against the 'A' pillar and he lost conciousness.

    He was saved from death though and recovered back in Stellfeld, the siege was lifted and Tonswater had it's victory.

    Cohen had not returned to Tonswater since that day, he was semi-retired as a trader now and saw little desire to revist the past. Three ragged scars down his head and cheek and an eye-patch covered the empty-hole. He could barely lift his right arm fully and the cold aggravated it even further. Now his only son carried on in his footsteps and was rarely home. His wife had long since passed away and Cohen was given to great moods of melancoly.

    He was about to move away from the window to resume the chores of the day when he noticed a humvee approaching the outer-gates. It was dark blue and green and he saw it had the proud yet vibrant sigil of the newly formed Northern League.

    The former trader had mixed feelings and regarded the newcomers with a critical eye. They passed through the outer gates and Cohen could tell this was no casual visit, a VIP presence seemed to be about them for the mercenary Lore-Saints were saluting and radioing ahead.

    Eddy Hogarth, the garrison commander had gone to the inner-gateway area and leaned in to speak with the passenger in the vehicle. He nodded a few times and pointed towards Cohen's house. Inside the trader made pot of coffee ready and about three minutes later there was a knock at the door. It was Duke Wynter, Connarsby and and two men he'd not seen before. One was broad like an ox and unfriendly-looking, the other seemed more like a lean, grizzled wolf. Both were bearded.

    “Trader Cohen, I am Duke Nikolai Wynter of the Northern League.” The leader said extending his hand. “I ask for a few minutes of your time.”

    “Coffee's already on the boil, come on in, make yourselves at home.” Cohen said indifferently. As a trader and upper-merchant there were few things that phased him and Duke Wynter was not one of them. The unknown ones he did not recognize and arosed his curiousity.

    “This is Sheriff Connarsby who you've already met,” The Duke began. “And this is...”

    “Mike Oakley of the Hold?” Cohen asked speculatively at the lean man. His green eyes flashed in surprise.

    “Yes! Have you two already met?” Wynter said inquisitively.

    “No, but these are not casual times and it is wisdom for the leader of a rising faction such as yourself to have him as an ally.”

    Wynter nodded at the strange response. Cohen was indeed a sharp man with a sharper intellect so he didn't question the eccentic. Behind his passive and reserved ways was a brainbox of dynamic energy.

    “This other man is Wesley Millar of the Kinslander faction,” he explained, concluding the introductions. Cohen gave the giant the merest of cool glances. It was obvious he was not going to get a handshake.

    “I'll cut to the chase Ruben,” Wynter said plainly. “As I'm sure you've heard the ISTAR factions are uniting. The Lore-Saints I already command, Mike Oakley's Rangers from the Hold plus the Kinslander folk north-west of here.”

    “We've already heard,” Cohen responded reservedly. “You have a small empire stretching from the Pacific North-West down through Wyoming and up to Tonswater and here. Moving north-eastwards you have a safe or mostly safe road network going through eastern Montana, the Dakota's and to Minnesota. On Lake Superior the deepwater port of Duluth is your maritime link with the New England territories,” Cohen said smoothly.

    “And the answer is no,” the trader added.

    “I haven't even asked anything yet!” Wynter said with a surprised look to his eyes.

    “You're reason for being here is to entice my small town to join the Northern League. Although this place is a small town our trade-links, in one form or another, go all the way to the eastern-seaboard. I hold great influence on the town council for making such a thing happen.”

    There was a small silence and Oakley broke it.

    “I respect a man who wishes to keep his independence, but that isn't the reason we came.”

    Cohen's eyebrows raised up somewhat and he moved to pour the coffee.

    “You're a hero for what you did at that redoubt Rube!” Connarsby beamed. They'd all sat down at his lounge area. “You saved many lives with what you did! Not just at the redoubt either, I just want to personally thank you for that.”

    “I did what I had to, I could of held back but forces of the beyond pushed me onwards.” Cohen’s mind fluttered over the memory again.

    “I hear that,” said Oakley.

    “The main reason Nikolai is here is for advice. He's not after domination of everyone under a Northern League banner. Nobody is being forced to join either, my town of Tonswater isn't and nor would Stellfeld be.” Connarsby said.

    Cohen looked at the Duke who looked back evenly, he seemed a fair-minded type, if a little too much Germanic for his taste.

    “I'm listening Duke.” The trader said with a sardonic tone to the title.

    The Duke spoke. “Before fiat currency took over, the world had a balance of gold-backed currency. Many Lore-Saints had this invested with your people in the big city banks. Those in New York, New Jersey and so on. I want us to return to that system.”

    “So you wish to move the league from barter-trade to a precious metals-backed currency?” Cohen quizzed.

    “Yes, but to do that we need a large supply of gold that's decentralized. One that can encompass the Northern League and any factions that wish to trade with us. The Lakesiders to the east and the Westsiders in Oregon and Norcal are expressing an interest. Eventually I hope we can start trading with the outside lands like Europa and Asia.”

    The host made a face and looked high up into the air. Within cerebral variables, nuances and logic went into overdrive yet without all seemed normal.

    “I think it’s worth a shot Rube,” Connarsby said. “If we keep on with the barter system it's only a matter of time before someone who is sitting on a gold-horde starts churning out raw bullion. Or worse still it get's seized and falls into the wrong hands.”

    “It would be better if it's in our neck of the woods than a raider-force.” Oakley said.

    Cohen brooded on a while longer then answered.

    “Stellfeld doesn't have a supply of bullion, coins yes, items worth trading with cart folk. A majority of the gold and silver bullion is housed east of the Mississippi,” the trader said slyly.

    “Agreed. We just don't know where exactly,” said Wynter. “Our research has come up with two possible areas that could be the spot. One is at Fort Knox, which is still garrisoned by a general’s army. The other is in the form of city wealth from areas in New York State, New Jersey, Manhatten Island and so on. Since those cities are mostly no-go areas that gives us a problem.”

    “Right,” said Cohen being evasive. Wynter filled the silence.

    “We don't want to take it by force, we want to trade for it. It's simple, they have a lot of gold and little else worth trading in the world we're in now. You can't eat the gold, but you can make use of it as a medium of exchange. Out here the farms are coping, but starvation is getting worse further east of the Mississippi. We've got oceans of gasoline that's flourishing here but in the eastern areas it can't get through. By trading our excess gasoline, food surplus, parts, materials and so on for precious metals we can get a good thing going. It'll help set up the Northern League as an economic oasis and bring about a better world, even better than the one we left behind after the Blue Sun.” Wynter said.

    Cohen nodded but said nothing.

    “With your trade connections Ruben we were hoping you could give us some clues and references to how to go about this.” Wynter asked optimistically.

    “I can, but I don't know why I should.” Cohen said bluntly. “I don't have a problem any of you or your faction, yet having said that there are those who don't particularly like my Kaslar people.”

    “In what way?” Wynter asked carefully already suspecting what it was. In his minds eye he saw a house of cards and winds threatening to waver it before his eyes.

    “Stellfeld merchants were disrespected, insulted and abused despite being under a trade-treaty on Kinslander territory.” He concluded, almost with a hurtful undertone. He glanced at the bearded Kinslander who looked right back at him.

    Wynter inwardly knew that would be a sticking point. It was no secret the Kinslanders were unfriendly to the mercantile Kaslar but it took him aback all the same. The fact that the Northern League controlled the gasoline and refineries gave him leverage but the devil was in the details. Having the best warriors came with a price.

    The Duke turned to Miller. “Well?”

    Millar took a deep breath “Kaslar merchants from this town came to our lands last month. They made outrageous trade-terms despite us honoring the last lot. This time they tried meddling the timber and silver rates. One even tried to set up their accursed usury with our needy folk in Boise! Our mining guild found out and sent those lazy Kaslar scurrying to the border!”

    “Show some respect Kinslander! This is his house not a Heathen tavern!” Connarsby said sternly.

    “I know sheriff, but his folk started it! And he starts it again with his words I think!”

    “Don’t think they’ll ever return to your lands again Kinslander,” Cohen countered.

    “Gods, devils and everything of beyond, cease your noises men!” Oakley boomed at them both. “We might as well be back in the Old Era whining and shouting like those government idiots! Rube, there's a faction out there that hates all what we stand for, and it’s the one we all fought nearly two years ago.”

    Cohen looked startled, a rare sight indeed. Oakley calmed himself rapidly and suddenly before his voice took on a different aspect. “And if you want to know who that is Ruben, just ask yourself why you can't see out of your right eye anymore.” Oakley said.

    Cohen realized upon the mystery, like a puzzle finally fitting together properly. “Those creatures that I fought. They aren't just a random freak or genetic anomoly of the times then?”

    “If only, there's a deadly force behind them. During the siege we killed some of their human kind during the final battle.” Connarsby said.

    “They were lead by an officer who escaped,” said Wynter. “And that officer is part of the faction calling themselves the Saken, the ones that are behind it all. If we're not prepared and have at least one solid front to take them on they'll first destroy Europe and Eurasia, then your Kaslar homeland in the Levant. Eventually, one way or another we could see them come here. Maybe it'll be streaming over the Bering Straits or even from these Underways that run under the earth. Whatever the way, when that day comes I want the Northern League to be ready. That gold to the east is our gateway to being ready.” The Duke said letting it all sink in.

    There was another pause and silence, Oakley filled it.

    “I'd prefer to stay on my Mountain Hold and keep out of the way but it's shaping up to impact us all trader. I've seen the Saken hordes in a vision. I thought maybe I was part-crazy but a few other strange things happened and then all hell broke loose with Tonswater. Then we learn about this new big faction on the borders of Europa,” Oakley said.

    “We heard of a faction called the UNAS in Eurasia. Are these are the Saken you speak of Mike?” Cohen asked emotionlessly.

    “The UNAS are backed by the Saken but that's them to all intents and purposes. The UNAS are like the human face to the Saken monsters.” Mike responded.

    “It could be that the UNAS and Saken will be stopped by the Europan Factions or the Jade Empire but we can't afford to risk it,” Duke Wynter cautioned. “We have to be doing something, anything and if they make a move over the Bering Straits we have to be strong, even stronger than we our now.”

    “Gold does strange things to a man who can't handle it. There’s a lot of power, maybe too much even for one like you,” Cohen responded now up and pacing the floor and looking over at them with ice in his eyes.

    “The gold is for all ultimately and shall help usher in a new golden age. You have my oath on that and my blood!” Duke Wynter said boldly. Before Cohen could stop him he’d drawn a sliver of a cut with a folding blade to demonstrate his intent. Then with a fire in his eye that shook Cohen he spoke loudly. “Now what do you say man of Kaslar, will you join us in our battle and put aside ancient rivalry?”

    “I'll see what I can do.”

    Cohen took a deep breath and pulled up his Nexus terminal then unlocked it with the key cypher. It had been a while since he’d messaged his eastern contacts and he hoped they would still answer.
  5. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    Chapter 4
    New Friends

    It was a warm summer’s day when the New England town of Adams welcomed its guests. Both messengers were dressed in plain-green attire bolstered by body armor. Helmets were gripped loosely at their sides and the uniform emblem common to the Northern League faction made clear their calling. Two more men from their faction waited in the Humvee outside, peering out intently. One of them was a tall, muscle-lean fellow in his late twenties called Ulrich Rheinlan with light brown hair. The other was Troy Brunswick, a shorter statured man. Troy was slightly younger than Ulrich and had a more easy-going demenor for one belonging to the hard-line Kinslanders. He was flaxon-blonde, no stranger to the women and had a light growth of a beard to over-age his youthful looks. Both their respective factions had recently amalgamated and joined with the League. Like Oakley's Rangers and the Lore-Saints, the Kinslanders kept their customs and practices.

    The room they were in was part of a town-hall annex. Out of respect to their host they'd left rifles in their armored humvee but kept onto their side-arms. They'd traveled far from their strongholds to the west; beyond the Great Lakes and into the Rocky Mountain borderlands. One looked out with icy-eyes and regarded their their vehicle parked there. Tomorrow, all being well they'd be heading west again ready to deliver their report of either success of failure. Alexander Barber was not keen on traveling so far from home-territory but Elias Meander, the ambassador he accompanied insisted on him coming. With one member from each tribe of the four factions that made up the Northern League they could be considered an embassy of sorts.

    Meander’s brown-hair, hazel eyes and olive complexion were a beguiling combination. He was slightly built compared to Barber's lean-bulk. Formerly of military intelligence the man made for a clever advisor but it was diplomacy that was his excellence. Before the Collapse and his military service he had been overseas educated in Europe giving him a polish and elan unusual back home. Being a Lore Saint and part of Wynter’s retinue his badge of arms was a cross upon a twin eagle with a yellow background.

    The difference between he and Barber could not be more contrasting. One had the warrior, the other the envoy. Meander was more of a calculating shark than a remora though, with his own brand of ruthlessness. He, like Barber had served in the military but with scant combat experience.

    Fading light from a cloud-ridden day entered the room, but the square building had electric power and this mingled with it slightly.

    The north-eastern areas of New England were largely unscathed from the apocalyptic effects of the Blue Sun but urban areas were the worst affected. Away from the wreckage and chaos of New York City were areas that still held the line. The faction-leaders now entered through a door opposite. Some of the men present had been the lucky ones who got out of the cities before the Collapse set in. Now they were in the New Era it was like a pseudo-normalacy was present, albeit contrasted with places riddled with horror.

    “Welcome to Adams and thank you for coming all this way from Northern League lands.” A grey-hairded and bearded man said to them. Bromsfield was an elderly, grandfatherly-type. He had the aspect of an elder. One who reminded Barber of one of the founding fathers from the previous age. “I am Mayor Bromsfield of the New England Coalition. Jed Bromsfield. This is my councillor and advisor Jerome Stevens and the other Coalition Fathers.” The mayor said waving his arm at the others to his side. Like the Mayor they were dressed casually. In the shortcomings of a post-collapse world there was little need for being overly smart and presentable. After exchanging greetings they all sat down at the conference table.

    Jerome Stevens, a lean and polished-looking character and originally a city-type survivor. Yet Stevens reminded Meander of a lawyer; with tricky ways and dark shifty eyes that wouldn't hold your gaze. Meander instantly recognized this man would be a rival, the real one to watch out for.

    “I understand that you, Captain Elias Meander, represent your faction-leader?” The Mayor began.

    “I do not speak for my leader but represent his wishes. I only hope that this meeting can result in a prosperous trade for the good of all in the ISTAR and those like you who reach out to us.” Meander responded. Using the term ISTAR was risky, not all factions in the land respected it, some were still staunch unionists. The mayor looked slightly offput but smiled with a nod.

    “The Northern League offers a great bounty,” Meander began with a decisive tone. “High-quality, gasoline and diesel that is freshly refined and ready for delivery, plus the ancillary goods requested. In exchange for gold, silver and precious stones at an exchange rate to be determined.”

    “That's correct,” the mayor said. “Do you have the means to transport the metal?”

    “We'll bring spare transport so there's no burden, we can't easily load tankers with metals now.” Meander said explaining the logistics jokingly. He glanced down at the proposed manifest showing this and passed it across the table.

    “You have fuel storage for the tankers? I did not see a large gas station at this location,” Meander now asked. There was a worried and uncomfortable look collectively from them as this.

    “To this location?” the mayor said with a puzzled way about him. “Oh I'm afraid there's been some mistake. The New England Coalition is only brokering the trade-agreement. The actual main trader is based further south. Babylon Island to be exact.”

    Both visitors looked at one another uneasily. Their mission was just about to get complicated indeed.

    “Babylon Island?” Meander asked almost in disbelief. He’d never heard of it.

    “’Rhode Island’ in the language of the Old Era.”

    “Rhode Island?” Meander said thinking quickly. It wasn’t too far away but his intelligence files knew little of what went on there. “Is Rhode Island part of your Coalition? We understood the exchange to take place here.” Meander countered swiftly, trying to change the direction.

    “Not exactly, they are an independent faction but allied with us. There is no way our New England Coalition could meet such a trade in the merchandise you requested.”

    “You tell us this now and not beforehand?”

    “It's only a short distance away and we can guarantee your safety.”

    “Even so middlemen are not our way of doing business. Who is in charge of the trade if not you?” Meander said bluntly folding his arms as he did so.

    “A patrician called Khagen Mordecai or Saul Mordecai to his friends. He rules what used to be Newport; a small island of the Rhode Island state before the collapse. Nowadays it's just called Babylonia or Babylon, after the city there.” The mayor said amiably.

    “So what did you summon us here for then? This Mordecai could have made it known sooner.” Barber said somewhat impatiently.

    “We wanted to see if all that was said of the League was true and you weren't some raider rabble out to work your way in. Now we've had a look at you we can relay word to him all is well and that you are willing to do business?” The councilman said amiably.

    Meander gritted his teeth, this was not going to be straightforward, he'd not heard of the Mordecai faction.

    “We don't know anything of this Khagen, my leader sent us to do business with you, not him or his faction.” He said bitterly. He had a different feeling entirely of this Mordecai Faction. Rhode Island was close to the old New York territory and worringly close to the hostile factions they wanted no part of.

    “We can vouch for him.” Bromsfeld said wisely. “He is no raider or federalist. Mordecai's an independent. He and his family helped the island greatly during the Blue Sun collapse. His faction did much to stop the lawless groups from taking over. When you contacted us with your proposal of fuel for precious metals we naturally contacted him for the size. He contacted Stellfeld, a town you've done thriving business with. Ruben provided a good reference. That’s when we got back to you for this meeting and here you are.”

    “Jerome here has dealt with Saul he can tell you of the man.” The Mayor said, gesturing to his chubby advisor to take over the talks.

    “Jerome Stevens. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Bromsfield's advisor spoke and moved to shake his hand. Meander shook it. He had a grip not unlike that of a clammy fuel hose.

    “He's not about the bullshit.” The advisor Stevens said, smoothing his dark-brown hair. “The surrounding areas can't support the island forever, there has to be a reliable and long-term supply for the infrastructure. He wants his faction to florish as I'm sure you want yours to.”

    “What about nearby factions that are south-west of here?” Meander asked curiously. “One of the reasons we agreed to this trade take place in Adams was its distance from the less friendly-factions. Rhode Island is a lot further south than we're comfortable with.”

    The advisor showed them areas on the map.

    “The raider factions are nothing for you to worry about. Mordecai is officially neutral, some minor trade with a lawless city but nothing open or binding. You'll be ok bringing in your main supply convoy to Adams then down to Rhodes on the eastern approach. Further south-west beyond Saul’s territory are the raiders, maurading nomads and then beyond them is a federalist faction called the FCN or Federal Collective Network. Their cities and territory begin at Philadelphia down to Maryland.”

    “We've heard rumors of them. Will they be a problem? Is the FCN tied-in with Rhodes?” Meander looked up and stared hard into Stevens hazel eyes. He met them only briefly then looked back to the map.

    “Like I said Mordecai is no federalist. Since the fall of New York City a buffer-zone of raiderfolk has helped keep the FCN from spreading out east. So ironically a hostile faction keeps another out. They effectively shield the New England Coalition from the Collective. New York City and the lower state area is unsurprisingly raider territory, a no-go zone.”

    “Good. Now what can you tell me about this island he runs?” Meander asked plainly.

    “Saul provides for all, his faction is loosely called The Rhodians. Everyone is fed, clothed and sheltered but law and order is taken very seriously. Anyone who wants to leave can do so, but few choose to.”

    “Why is that?”

    “It's safer on the island or with us to the north and east. Between us in the coalition, the Raiderlands and FCN further along the coast people have found their own level for the most part.”

    “Tell me more about this island?”

    “There are three ways in, from the east, to the west and the north. Coming in from the east is safer, to the west brings you close to lawless territory and FCN patrols although it's usually ok. From the north means going in by Providence city. That place is a deathtrap for any convoy.” He showed them the areas on the map.

    “What else? Indentured servitude is common, weapons are outlawed, unless you're part of the guard force or a citizen that is but there's only a few of those. On the other hand pleasure, vice and entertainment are encouraged and freely allowed. The best way of describing it is like a liberal-conservative marriage with strings.” Stevens chuckled.

    “Can Mordecai he be trusted? What's his track-record like with others?” Meander asked, surprising Stevens who was taken aback somewhat.

    He hesitated for a moment.

    “Tell it like it is councilor, we'll be bringing a lot of juice and I don't want a faction-war,” Meander said pointing his finger.

    “If you're straight with him, you'll have security, trust and guarantee's. But if you cross him or his family he'll be your worst enemy. Babylon isn't a bad place where they rule from, but they have some 'creative' forms of capital punishment and entertainment,” the councillor frowned.

    Meander took it all in and thought deeply.

    After a few moments the mayor pf the town spoke.

    “Is this proposal agreeable Elias? If it is we can let Saul know.”

    “I need a Nex-link to contact home with. This change is something I have to keep them in-tune with.”

    “Be our guest.” Bromsfield gestured to an office off to one side.

    Both men went inside, on the computer was the log-on codes and Meander took to getting the machine up-and-running. It was an old computer-system, using a CRT monitor. The Blue Sun effects of years past had partially affected the monitor as it showed a retarded screen-judder every five seconds or so. The CPU and hard-drive were less affected though, but even these seemed to whine and screech more than was normal. The envoy navigated using the tracker-ball to click into the necessary junction-link. Next he pulled out a notepad showing the address-script, contact protocols and access cyphers. He effortlessly made the Nex-work look easy, since the collapse the new-internet was much more keyboard interactive, and less seamless than its predecessor.

    “What do you think Alex?” Meander asked during a brief pause. Although Meander was a sharply intelligent man not at home with the rank-and-file types he respected Barber's common-sense ways.

    “Well, the New England Coalition is one thing but this Mordecai is like we're entering unknown territory.” Barber said, his twin-color eyes taking on a far-off look. “Then again at least dealing with either means they're far from our homelands if a faction-war breaks out.”

    “That's what the Duke said and I agree with him. Keeping trade-factions at a distance so we don't get entangled is important. Also remember trade is trade, if the New England Coalition can't meet the trade-request, we're stuck.” Meander surmised.

    “I know and if we don't trade with either the Coalition or the Mordecai someone else will.” Barber surmised.

    “Precisely. Better us than a faction like the Collective or a warlord from one of the big cities.” Meander went on. “For now it's up to the Duke, he makes the final call.”

    Barber had been recommended by Oakley who was now based with a few of his Rangers at The Mount in Salt Lake City. He could see Oakley was not wrong in Barber being a good right-hand man.

    Meander completed the data-indices and port-alignments. They had a link established and now he waited for the other end to pick up. They did and with an open channel he tapped out a few more lines of the message, then hit the send key and despatched the message.

    They waited for over an hour then the message came back from Salt Lake City. It was plain but open to interpretation; just how Meander liked it.

    'Go to Babylon, liase and report back again. We are waiting.' The response said in green machine lettering on a black background. The Nikolai Wynter’s purposeful, date-coded signature block of the Romanov dynasty made no doubt as to who was the originator.

    He looked over at Barber.

    “South it is Alex.” He turned to the two Kinslanders, they were just finishing off a ration pack. “Men we're going to Babylon!”

    They drove out at first light in their Humvee, councillor Stevens traveled with them as a guide and liason. Stevens liked to talk and droned on about things relevant to the area.

    “New York City, like many of the big cities, is a complete no-go area. Lawlessness, ruins and wreckage are all over the place with feral scavangers picking through the scraps.” Stevens rambled.

    Meander listened and Barber drove as the speaker spoke on.

    “We hear on the radio-net there are a few redoubt areas holding the line though. During the collapse and die-off a few thousand managed to flee upstate to country homes up by Erie and a few small towns. Let's see, just neighboring Rhode Island to the north is Providence. Things are kinda rough in that city; there’s an outlaw presence of survivors and enforcers who are semi-friendly to trade. But don't even think of bringing the juice in through there, they are still gang outlaws who will take you for all you're worth. The indentured folks come in through them too.”

    “As slaves you mean.” One of Barbers men grumbled brusquely.

    “No, as servants,” he corrected. “They do their five years of service to Rhodes then they are citizens with full rights.”

    “What are the defences like?” Meander asked.

    “Babylonia is surrounded by water. On the outside you've got the garrison sentry-force. They take care of all three bridges onto the island, plus roving sentry patrols about the coastline.”

    “What about the interior?” Barber asked.

    “That's Mordecai's heartland. Wherever Mordecai goes his Kaslar bodyguard force, The Sohan, go with him. Most of Babylonia though is policed by Enforcers. Then of course there's a paramilitary force called The Drakes, they take care of the outer ring and the Irish quarter. It's a good defensive set-up.” Stevens said cheerily.

    “I don't want to put them down before even getting there, but calling their town Babylon is a bit like overkill isn't it? That used to be an infamous megalopolis in Mesopotamia, not what used to be a Rhode Island town.” Meander said negatively, he was quite the scholar of history.

    “Babylon was a model city!” Stevens said sternly. “It was a place many other cities nearby aspired to, a place of learning, culture and pleasure.”

    “Is that what this place is like?” Meander asked with a touch of hidden sarcasm.

    “Mordecai believes that with the fall of New York Babylon can rise up as a trading hub for the area and eventually the entire east-coast! Eventually perhaps New York can be cleaned-up too. Albany is just a city-state isolated from the Coalition but Babylon has opened its doors. Look at what we're doing right now?”

    “He's got a point, this mission will make both our factions stronger.” Barber said plainly. “Plus I'm sure you'll be getting a cut for your efforts?” He looked at the councillor.

    “Well...” He shifted and rubbed his hands nervously. “We are getting a small handler's fee in precious metals and the like.”

    “Some things don't change,” Meander chuckled.
    Sapper John likes this.
  6. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    That's the taster!

    The book is out next week, 10th June! :)

    Edits and typos are taken care of.
  7. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

  8. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

  9. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey+

    It's time for a mad max, odyssey kind of adventure. :)

    Here she is, took me nearly a day and much, much crafting...

    I kept it short, with not much text but punchy visuals! :)
    Yard Dart and Sapper John like this.
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