Understanding

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This story is based on the events from a Dystopia Rising event. Dystopia Rising is a Live Action Roleplaying game (and tabletop roleplaying game) put out by the company Eschaton Media. It’s epic and amazing and best of all, it has zombies. So, please, check it out.

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It was cold. Jeanie was bundled up in her jacket in the hospital. The jacket was reinforced to provide some protection but it was broken right now. The Iron could easily have fixed the jacket, but it was too cold to take it off right now. Autumn had come early and brought with it winter cold. Even Bravo had been cold, despite only just being finished with the burning season. Here in Ripton Falls it was almost freezing out. When she got back to Hayven, she would have to get out her cold weather gear.

There were two others at the table with Jeanie. On her left was a familiar face with antlers and paws, but the eyes were different. Instead of the protective glance Sliphox would give,there was something else. There was fear. Sliphox wasn’t there. Instead, this was Caleb. Sliphox had been sleeping for a day now and Jeanie had been protecting the young Ascensorite as best as she could, praying that Sliphox would wake up soon and bring the spark she loved back into those eyes. On her right side was a Rover, covered in flowing scarves and named Miss Rayleen. In front of her was a bundle of food, however she was missing the gentle smile that she usually had. In it’s place was a stern and sad expression.

“Jeanie, when you leave this room, you will tell your young friend here, and Charles, and that young lady, you will tell them my husband’s message. You will not come to see me again. And when you see Ruth, please forgive her.”

“But we can still try to fix things?”

“It’s too late for that. Now, go.”

Jeanie nodded. She was confused but she would listen. It seemed safer to listen. Something was about to happen. Things were going to be bad. Everything felt wrong.

“Caleb.” Jeanie stood and moved over to the Ascensorite. “Caleb, it’s time to go.” She could see the fear in his eyes. He knew something was wrong. Whatever would happen, Jeanie had to protect Caleb from it. She hurried him out the door and towards the still. They had to be away from the hospital.

“Jeanie, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. But we had to leave. It wasn’t safe.”

“What was in the bundle she had.”

“Food.”

“She’s a Rover. Why didn’t she share the food? What’s going on?”

Jeanie shook her head. How could she answer what she didn’t really know? Caleb’s eyes were wide and he kept glancing over to the hospital building. Jeanie followed his gaze to see Charles walking over to them. “It’s a bomb,” he told them.

“A bomb?” Caleb’s face paled. “We have to go help them.”

Jeanie grabbed Caleb’s shoulders. “We can’t.”

“But people will get hurt!”

“We can’t help them, Caleb. We have to stay here.”

How do you get someone to not help? How do you sit by and do nothing? How do you cope with understanding what no one else sees? Cadence and Slink had both been right. She never should have learned or tried to get involved. Jeanie trembled as a loud explosion rang out from the hospital building and smoke poured out from the doors. Charles ran over. Jeanie tried to stop Caleb, but she couldn’t. She watched and shook. To help would lead to Ruth and Randall hurting the young Iron as had happened to Cadence on the beach. To help the farm was to be condemned by Ripton, one of the few places she felt at home.

Charles returned, a body in his arms. Miss Rayleen was dead. There was a large, gaping hole in her chest. Jeanie didn’t say a word as she grabbed Miss Rayleen’s body to help Carles carry the Rover. Neither had to speak. They both knew where they were bringing her body.

I went down to the river to pray, studying about that good old way. And who shall wear the robe and crown? Good Lord, show me the way.

Down the hill. Across the field. Past the morgue. Past the beach. Down the path to the lake. Jeanie carefully let go and watched as Charles waded out into the lake and let Miss Rayleen’s body float off into the water.

Oh, Mother’s let’s go down. Let’s go down, don’t you wanna go down. Oh, Mother’s let’s go down. Down to the river to pray.

Jeanie turned and walked back into the field. A lump seemed caught in her throat. Her body shook as she began to pace back and forth. The Iron brought her hands up to her face, trying to keep away the tears that threatened to fall. Why did Jeanie have to push Cadence? He had told her that he was afraid of it all. He had told her to slow down. He had told her that it wasn’t safe. He had told her that she might go crazy from it. He had very clearly warned her and she kept pushing him to teach her. She begged Bloom to teach her and explain. She made a deal with Bloom just to learn what Cadence and Slink already knew. She wanted to understand. but now, now all she wanted was to forget. She wanted to go back to when she knew nothing about the gravemind.

Jeanie heard bells and turned to see Caleb walking toward her. The tears began to slide down Jeanie’s cheeks. She didn’t want to talk to Caleb. She couldn’t tell him all of the things that were going on. He wouldn’t understand. She needed Sliphox. But he wasn’t there to help. He hadn’t been around since Coyote had killed him. Sliphox was sleeping and Jeanie was alone.

“Jeanie, I’m sorry,” the Ascensorite whispered as he wrapped his arms around the shaking Iron. The worst part of Caleb was how he sounded like Sliphox without being him. “I’m sorry that I haven’t been here all day.” Jeanie shook even harder as she latched onto the man holding her. Caleb had finally gone back to sleep. Sliphox was finally back. The tears fell harder as she tightly hugged her Ascensorite. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there when you needed me.”

“Everything is bad right now.”

“I know.”

“Everything hurts.”

“I know.” He held her close and let her cry.

“I wish I didn’t understand. I wish I didn’t know what was going on. I wish I could go and forget it all.”

“I know, but you can’t.”

“Why not? Why do I have to be the one who understands?”

“Because the cycle made it your job. Because someone has to know, so that when the time is right you can go help them.”

“I hate this.”

“I know, Hun. I know.”

The Bravo Trip

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This story is based on the events of a Dystopia Rising event, put out by the amazing Eschaton Media. If you haven’t checked them out already, you should. No really. Go look them up. The game is amazing!

Also, the songs quoted are
1 – Delta Rae’s “Bottom of the River”
2 – Tool’s “H”

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Heat. Oppressive heat. Only instead of the heat coming from the forges of the assembly line in Motor City, it came from the unrelenting sun shining down. It had been a few years since Jeanie had last been in Motor City. She had almost forgotten what this kind of heat was like. On top of the never ending heat was this overwhelming emptiness. Open fields. Quiet. No noisy forges. No chattering of the different gangs. No screaming Yorkers. No where near as many trees. Just open space and emptiness.

This was where everyone lived? Cadence, Slink, Honey, Sal, Dorito? This was where they all lived? Empty, quiet, and scorching? This was Lone Star? Was this what Bravo would be like when she arrived? Jeanie shook her head. She could never live here. Visiting was hard enough. Nothing was right. It was calm, yes, but not peaceful, like the farm. There was a breeze but it didn’t bring relief. What would Sliphox think of this place? Would he be okay with the heated breeze that refused to help or would he miss the cooling breeze of Ripton?

It was so different here, so off putting, that it was almost difficult to think. Almost, but not quite. In between cinder attacks and the many raiders was time to think. The thoughts would often wander to the nasty heat or emptiness, but they would never fully leave the farm, the reason she was here, or the strange feelings that she had now.

Things were easier before the gravemind, before emotions and deals, before freedom and love. Things were easier in Motor City. They were awful but definitely easier. The rules were clear, effortless to follow. The situations were simple to understand. Listen. Follow orders. It all works out. Only, now everything was different. Now there were strange emotions to deal with. Now there was knowledge that could not be forgotten. Things were confusing. The answers were no longer straightforward. Things were no longer, what was the phrase everyone else used? Things were no longer black and white? That phrase was just as hard to understand as the rest of this. Of course things were not black and white. Things had color. Why did people say they were black and white when they weren’t? People didn’t make sense.

Jeanie reached into her bag and felt the four bottles inside. They weren’t as cool as normal due to the Lone Star heat, but they offered a hint of respite. Still, the Iron could not drink these brews right now. They were for Cadence. They were to be shared. Hopefully, they would fix everything. Cadence liked hooch. He liked Spirit Walk. Maybe he would look at the bottles and not be so angry anymore. Besides, he had been the worst kind of angry. Not the normal Yorker-yell-at-everything kind but the kind that would mention over and over what you had done wrong. The kind that kept reminding you of how you failed.

Luckily, the Bravo trade meet was in a few days. Luckily, she would get the chance to make things right with Cadence.

**********

The brew was cold. Cold and sweet. It was the first time she had a bottle of Spirit Walk instead of Shisha. It was interesting to notice the differences between the two, aside from the obvious. One was warm. This was cold. They had similar tastes, similar but not quite the same. The Iron glanced over at her Yorker companion, sipping at his glass of the hallucinogenic brew. He had suggested the library. It was quiet and in the back of the saloon. No one would bother them here and they would be able to experience their journey without anyone interrupting or getting hurt.

“Slink doesn’t like when I do Spirit Walk,” Cadence had mentioned. “I tried to kill her.”

But right now, they were quietly sipping and chatting. Out of the way of everyone else.

Hold my hand. Oh baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.

Ruth? Jeanie went quiet as Ruth’s voice began to sneak its way into her ear. There, in Bravo, so far from Ripton Falls, Jeanie could still clearly hear Ruth’s voice as she dropped her head onto Cadence’s shoulder.

“Jeanie, you have to share what you’re hearing.”

Oh baby, it’s a long way down, a long way down.

The Iron didn’t answer. She didn’t want him to get mad at her.

If you get sleep or if you get none. The cock’s gonna call in the morning baby.

“Venomous voice, tempts me, drains me, bleeds me, leaves me cracked and empty.” Jeanie turned her attention from Ruth to Cadence. He was muttering. Mumbling. His words… they… It was hard to describe. A shiver ran down the Iron’s spine. His words were right. They said all the things that Jeanie was thinking and hearing.

Check the cupboard for your daddy’s gun. Red sun rises like an early warning.

Cadence started rocking back and forth as he muttered. Jeanie rocked with him, the movement eerily matched what Ruth was singing. Jeanie shifted her head. She wanted to hear more of what Cadence was muttering. Ruth was singing loudly into Jeanie’s ears. Cadence was just barely loud enough to be heard.

“I am too connected to you to slip away, to fade away. Days away I still feel you touching me, changing me, and considerately killing me.”

“That is creepy accurate,” Jeanie muttered her answer.

“It’s from before the fall,” he replied.

Jeanie closed her eyes and continued to rock back and forth. As much as she tried, it was hard to hear Cadence right now. Ruth didn’t want him to be heard right now. He was trying to leave Her. He was a non-believer. He didn’t want to be one of us anymore. Poor, poor, Cadence.

The Lord’s gonna come for your firstborn son. His hair’s on fire and his heart is burning.

“I’m sorry,” Jeanie muttered.

“For what?”

Wait, why was she sorry? She had already told him that he had been right about the need to be careful, about why this was so dangerous to study.

Jeanie. Now there was a new voice. A gentle and worried tenor. An Ascensorite. Her Sliphox. Jeanie, are you okay?

So go to the river where the water runs. Wash him deep where the tides are turning. And if you fall, if you fall.

Jeanie, I think she’s talking to you.

“Sliphox is afraid.”

“Of?” Cadence glanced over at the Iron.

“Of me.”

“Because of her?”

“He thinks she’s talking to me. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I felt sorry for you.”

Hold my hand. Oh baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.

“Jeanie, do you meditate?”

“Every time I call. I sit with the glow and think about the tenants.”

“This is more like thinking about your thoughts.”

“Why?”

The wolves will chase you by the pale moonlight. Drunk and driven by a devil’s hunger.

“You need to know when someone, when she, is messing with your mind.

Jeanie, she’s talking to you. She’s in your head.

Cadence took Jeanie’s hand into his own as the two kept rocking back and forth. Start with breathing. In and out. Focus on each breath. Focus on how it starts. Focus on how it ends. Focus on how the body reacts to each and every breath. Control it just a tad.

Drive your son like a railroad spike. Into the water, let it pull him under.

Focus on each thought. Focus on the breathing, not on Ruth. Focus on the body. Cadence led. Jeanie listened, followed his guidance. He had been dealing with her for awhile now. He knew what he was talking about. He helped guide Jeanie’s focus outside of her mind til it felt as though she were watching herself from above.

Don’t you lift him, let him drown alive. The good Lord speaks like a rolling thunder.

It was a strange feeling. Looking down at Cadence and herself as they, or was it we, rocked back and forth with hands held. Cadence continued to speak. He continued to guide. He spoke about looking at the thoughts to know which were from Jeanie and which were from Her.

Let that fever make the water rise. And let the river run dry.

A growl caught Jeanie’s attention. She glanced from where she watched Cadence and Jeanie… herself, to the source of the growl. A familiar set of antlers were the first things noticed. A blade gripped in a black paw. Her Sliphox. He was angry. The same angry that he always got when someone tried to hurt her.

And I said, hold my hand. Oh baby, it’s a long way down to the bottom of the river.

Jeanie followed his gaze. Brown curled pig tails. A blue and maroon striped shirt. She was leaned over, singing directly into Jeanie’s ear.

Oh baby, it’s a long way down, a long way down.

“When you look down at your thoughts, you can see when they come from you or when they come from somewhere else,” Cadence explained.

Jeanie glanced at Ruth. The song wasn’t from Jeanie. The song was Ruth’s. The song was from somewhere else. Jeanie glanced at Sliphox and nodded. He lunged with his knife. Ruth glanced to where Jeanie was watching outside of her own thoughts. Ruth grinned and was gone. Sliphox stood and slipped the knife into his belt. Jeanie watched as he planted a kiss upon her own forehead and disappeared.

Once again, Jeanie was just watching herself and Cadence. Once again, the only sounds were from the saloon and Cadence’s voice as he quietly spoke with her. She slipped back into her own body. Back to leaning against Cadence with empty glasses that once held Spirit Walk in front of them. Cadence sat up. Jeanie leaned back to stretch out her spine and then glanced over at the Yorker.

“Well, that was a depressing trip,” he sighed.

Jeanie smiled. It was sad, yes, but it was a learning experience. It was a reminder. It was proof that maybe things could be fixed. Cadence was helping her make things right again.

Now, Jeanie could go home.