The Ghost Town

Ursa Diner(#179RAJ)
You step onto a cracked but clean tile floor that was probably once red, but is now a faded salmon pink. A large, rectangular communal table seating about 10 takes up the middle of the floor, with mismatched smaller tables arranged near the large front windows. The long counter in front of the kitchen door sports plates of fragrant bread, cookies, and muffins and bowls of fresh wild fruits. A small, rattling fridge in the corner holds a selection of juices and cold spring water in reused bottles and jars. Atop the refrigerator is a can for cash donations; next to it is a box for barter payments. Scrawled on the box in black marker are the words "Pay what you can, when you can."
Menu Board(#168)
Obvious exits:
Curtain Main Street Kitchen
Batjac has arrived.
Layla has arrived.
Rahne has arrived.

Menu Board(#168)
Today's menu is jotted in white chalk on a large, flat piece of dark grey slate pegged to the wall behind the counter.
Trout on Lily Roots
Roasted Gobo
Dried Cherry-Cattail Flour Muffins
Blackberry Cake
Chicory Coffee
Layla scans the menu.

Eos scans the menu.

Sashenka bustles out of the kitchen to put a new pot of chicory coffee on the hot plate.

Sashenka wipes up a small splash from the coffeepot and turns to the new arrivals. "Hi! Nice to see you all. Can I help you with anything?"

Nodding steps into the diner.

Nodding has arrived.

Eos folds her wrinkled face up into a smile. "Would love the trout and coffee."

Layla asks "May I please have a muffin and some coffee?"

Rahne tucks her borrowed book into her backpack and smiles, "Birch beer for me, thanks. Just a bit thirsty tonight."

Sashenka grabs a couple of battered, mismatched mugs, pours coffee, and sets it before Eos and Layla. "Anyone else need anything before I head back to the kitchen?" She gestures toward the menu board.

Nita has arrived.

Sashenka hands Rahne a birch beer from the fridge. "Gonna need to bottle some more o' that, it's been a hit."

Rahne smiles and takes the bottle, tucking her hair behind her ears. "Really? I'm not terribly surprised, it's good stuff."

Batjac steps in, looking around quietly before entering fully. He wears a thin smile as gets comfortable.

Sashenka grins at Rahne. "Thanks." She walks into the kitchen and returns a few minutes later with a tray of muffins and a plate of trout for Eos.

Layla takes a seat a the long table. She gives the stranger at the door a quick glance before she turns her gaze towards the kitchen.

Rahne takes her drink and secures herself a spot at the big table, letting her pack fall at her feet with a soft *thump*.

Nodding shuffles over to an empty spot, settles his bulk down, and with not so much as a bye your leave, seems to promptly go to sleep.
Eos digs into her trout with gusto. "How you liking your sudden influx of customers, Sashenka?" she asks in-between bites.

Sashenka sets the muffins on the counter, selects a big, cherry-filled one, places it on a small, chipped green plate, and delivers it to Layla with a napkin. It's still a bit warm.

Sashenka grins at Eos as she passes. "It's splendid. I haven't had this much fun in ages."

Layla takes a bite out of her muffin. "It helps that your cooking is splendid," she says with gusto.

Batjac reaches out a hand to get Sashenka's attention on her way back from serving Layla. "Can I get some coffee?"

Rahne takes a long sip and smiles brightly, "I'll drink to that." Setting the bottle down, she reaches down into her pack and roots out the book she'd been carrying.

Sashenka chuckles and ducks her head at Layla's comment. "Thanks." She hurries over and fills a cup for Batjac. "Here you go, sir. Nice to see another new face. I'm Sashenka."

Batjac looks Sashenka over carefully before smiling again. "Thanks. Batjac, by the way."

Sashenka pushes an escaped lock of her back behind her hair and smiles. "Nice to meet you, Batjac."

Batjac's eyes travel over the rest of the group, slightly wary but overly curious. "Think I could get something to eat, too?"

Sashenka chuckles. "Of course. The menu's up there" -- she gestures toward the menu board -- "and there are some cookies on the counter, too."

Layla says "I can recommend the muffins. Although, you really can't go wrong with anything on the list."

Batjac scans the menu.

Sashenka blushes and mumbles unintelligible thanks.

Eos mops her mouth with a napkin. "I can highly recommend the trout. And, well, anything at all, really."

Andreas steps into the diner.
Andreas has arrived.
Andreas is the sort of man who makes tailors rich, and also makes them weep into their fabric. He has the massive, neckless build of a wrestler or bipedal ox, a habit of making expansive gestures while holding mugs full of impossible-to-clean-off beverages, and a passion for wearing layers of clothes matched only by his complete lack of fashion sense. (His favorite outfit these days is a pair of mustard-yellow baggy pants, a purple shirt open to the waist, a green vest, a red sash, and a dozen necklaces that, combined with his chest hair, almost obscure the large rat tattooed across his front).
From the top of his bald head to the soles of his sandalled feet he is the dark brown of someone who's spent his entire life outdoors. The lines on his face and white in his beard suggest it's been a fairly long life; the gold and glitter that twinkles on wrists and ears indicate a prosperous one; and the faint tracery of scars hint that it's been one full of interesting people and events.

"Muffins are great." chimes in Rahne, who has immersed herself in the pages of her book rather quickly.

Andreas enters with a clomping of large feet and the aroma of travel dust, bright eyes scanning the place quickly.

Batjac looks from Layla to Eos to Rahne and then chuckles. "Muffins for now, then."

Sashenka nods. "Great." She waves to Andreas as she heads back to the counter. "Be right with you, sir!"

Andreas tilts his head Sashenka-wards, hands waving floridly. "At your convenience, madam. I'm letting my bloodflow adjust to standing upright, and rather enjoying it."

One heavy lidded eye half opens under the napping man's bushy brow to take in the new arrival...but then it closes again. If anything, he wiggles down further into his snooze.

Sashenka places a muffin on a sky-blue plate and brings it, and a napkin, to Batjac. "Here ya go. Oh, and everyone feel free to help yourselves to refills, muffins, whatever. Make yourselves at home. No need to be formal."

Andreas scans the menu.

Rahne glances up from worn pages, blinks at noting a new face, smiles welcomingly, and returns to the pages again. Quiet murmuring comes from her as she reads, bits coming out slightly louder, identifying the muttering as poetry.

Andreas turns sideways to move forward and get a closer look at the menu, squinting a little. His lips sound out the word 'cattail' slowly and suspiciously.
Andreas scans the menu.

Eos scans the menu.

Sashenka turns to Andreas, watching him for a moment. "Can I get you anything? I particularly recommend the trout. The muffins have been popular too. The blackberry cake is new, and it turned out wonderfully."

Dusty steps into the diner.
Dusty has arrived.
Weatherwax pages: See? Your cub back safe and sound! :)

Dusty bursts in, panting. Red fluid is dripping from his pouch and down his pantleg. His eyes are of fire with terror.

Andreas smiles at Sashenka, white teeth gleaming in his dark face. "Two servings of the trout, then, please. And some coffee, unless 'gobo' is an alcohol I haven't heard of."

Andreas turns, hand reaching for his belt knife as he takes in Dusty. "Possibly to go."

Sashenka, turns from Andreas and runs over to Dusty. "Dusty! WShat happended? Are you okay?"

Layla stands up, downing the last of her coffee.

Rahne blinks up at the sound of a rushed entrance, and her eyes go wide briefly as she stares at Dusty. "What the hell?" The book is dropped to the table as she stands.

Dusty stumbles to the counter, struggling for breath. "By... the... bridge...."

Nodding is startled awake by the commotion, blinking.

Sashenka grabs a chair and sets Dusty in it. "What happened to your leg?"

Eos spins around, both eyebrows rising.

Batjac stirs from his seat, seeing Dusty. Instinctively, he looks outside to see if anything's following Dusty into the diner.

Dusty's heavy breathing subsides, and he looks down at his leg. He trembles. "I'm n-n-n-ot hurt, i fell on some tomatoes, but there is something up by the ruins, and I dont' know what it was but it was like an icy cloud, and something tripped me.. and... and..." Dusty slows as he notices that everyone is staring at him.

Sashenka sits back on her heels, relieved that the cub isn't hurt.

Dusty's face grows red.

Rahne lets out a held breath and leans forward, resting her hands on the table.

Dusty looks about and whispers loudly to Sashenka. "But I think there is SOMETHING up there..."

Andreas sets down the chair he'd picked up as a makeshift missile weapon, looking surprised to find it in his hand.

Sashenka nods and stands up. "Like an icy cloud, you said? Can you tell us anything else?"

Batjac listens closely to the cub's explanation, but his eyes occassionally dart toward the door again--to see if anything eventually does follow him into the diner.

Dusty casts a nervous glance over the others, then returns his eyes to Sashenka. "Well, there was some kind of bush that moved by itself, and something tripped me but it wasn't a vine, and..." Dusty blushes further. "I KNOW this sounds stupid, and I KNOW that that place is creepy anyway, but I SWEAR that there was something there and it was messing with me."

Sashenka gives Dusty a quick hug. "It doesn't sound stupid at all." She hands him a pile of napkins to wipe off the tomato pulp and looks around at the others.

Layla is still standing. She's gripping the back of her chair for support.

Andreas leans down, muttering to Rahne "Does this sort of thing happen often?"

Rahne looks to Andreas, and quirks her mouth in a slight smile. "What, this? Stranger things have happened."

Sashenka considers Dusty, gauging the extent of his fear. "Are you willing to show us the place?"

Dusty eyes grow wide with panic, as if he hadn't thought about this part of the bargain. "Uh... Uh... well..." He glups. "Yes, I will, but I need to rest for a sec."

Sashenka nods. "Of course. D'you need something to drink?"

Miss Alison pages: I'm going to make a cameo appearance, if I may. :) What you know about Miss Alison's behavior is this - she always acts like this, everyone in town gives her food and/or clothing (some even go out of their way to do so) and no one ever asks for anything in return. There's a weird sort of respect, but no one likes to talk about her, or enjoys her company.

Dusty nods, then dabs at the mess on his pantleg and looks miserable. "I found some beautiful tomatoes, but now they're RUINED."

Nodding leans forward slowly, and from the pockets and folds of his tattered layers of clothing, he produces a yellow hard candy, which he offers to the frightened boy. "Lemon drop. Its restorative properties are not to be underestimated." His voice is thin, but kind.

Dusty looks nervous, and looks to Sashenka for approval.

Sashenka looks at the little boy before her, and her eyes fill with tears. "Oh, Dusty...." She gropes for words of comfort. "You found the plants, and that's the most important thing. There'll be more soon." She blinks, looking at the man with the lemon drop, and nods -- then, blinking back tears, she goes to the fridge and grabs a big bottle of birch beer for Dusty.

Dusty takes the gift from the stranger and says, earnestly, "Thanks, mister." He pops the drop in his mouth.

Rahne taps her fingers on the table, then takes a breath and calms herself slightly, tucking back her anxiousness to go find whatever's out there.

Nodding leans back, his hands going back into his pockets after that exertion.


Dusty casts his eyes across the room. "Has anyone else noticed something strange out there by the ruins and the bridge?" he asks, nervously.

You paged Miss Alison with 'Of course. There's a bit of confusion at the moment, but feel free to join in.'.

Miss Alison slowly totters in, her dark eyes flickering from one person to the next and finally settling on the Menu Board. She doesn't bother to greet anyone.

Andreas gives a massive shrug. "It's odd under m'feet, doesn't smell right, and there are strange noises...but I've been noticing that for the last fifty miles."

Sashenka looks up from filling a napkin with muffins and cookies for Dusty. "Oh, Miss Alison! You almost missed me, I'll be stepping out in a minute. Can I get you anything?"

Miss Alison scans the menu.

Miss Alison turns slowly from regarding the Menu Board to look at Sashenka. "Iff'n you've got any bread, I'll take that, if it's less like a brick than last time. And some muffins and a cake."

Dusty eyes the newest customer of the Diner. "Um, Miss Alison, have you seen anything strange up by the bridge and the ruins?" he asks cautiously.

Sashenka nods. "I'm afraid I don't have any bread today, but I'll bring some out to you tomorrow if you like." She begins putting muffins and a cake in a paper bag for the old lady.

Miss Alison glances over at Dusty, then looks back at Sashenka. "Humph," she says deep in her throat. "To someone your age everything is strange."

Miss Alison sighs at the cake as though she's doing Sashenka a favor by accepting it, and replies grumpily, "You c'n leave it by the front gate."

Dusty stares at his shoes following Miss Alison's comment. "I know..." he murmurs. His gaze raises back to Sashenka, "But I know there is something there... I'm ready to go, if you still want to."

Batjac looks as if he's curious enough to go investigate, as well, as long as no one else minds him tagging along.

Sashenka nods to Miss Alison. "I'll bring it by in the afternoon. Nice to see you." She hands the old lady the bag of goodies, then hands Dusty his napkinful. "By all means, kiddo, let's go."

Miss Alison takes the bag and shuffles out. "Won't do you no good," she mutters under her breath. "Messin' with ghosts and all. Won't do you no good at all. Hmph."

Miss Alison pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.

Miss Alison has left.

Layla mouthes the word, "Ghost?"

Dusty eyes grow wide. "g-g-g-g-ghosts?" he gasps after the closing door.

Andreas clears his throat. "I heard her say 'posts'. No mistake."

Batjac looks amused at the insinuation, smirking to himself. "I wouldn't mind seein a ghost."

Rahne leans over and grabs her backpack, hefting it up onto the chair she'd been sitting it with a small grunt. "Well, whatever she said, shall we go see what there is to be seen?"

Sashenka watches the old lady leave, shaking her head. She sets a hand on Dusty's shoulder. "I think we'll have plenty of company, kiddo. It'll be okay. Lead on."

Nodding, with the casualness and smoothness that bespeaks a lifetime of practice, nicks a bit of muffin off the table while folks are preoccupied with foolishness.

Eos rises to accompany the group. Her face is a study of confusion, puzzlement, amusement, and sympathy.

Dusty casts a look over the assembled group. "Ok... I'll lead." His voice seems smaller than usual.

Dusty pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.

Dusty has left.

Layla sidles over to the basket over the fridge and drops in a few crumpled bills.

Layla pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.

Layla has left.

Sashenka follows on Dusty's heels.

Batjac pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.

Batjac has left.

You push open the well-oiled door and walk outside.

Main Street

This brick-paved, north-south street is in significantly better repair than the roads leading into town. It's nearly impossible to tell what color the original bricks were, or in what pattern they were laid, but someone has made sure that no hole gaped too large without being plugged with something. The roadbed is a patchwork of multicolored bricks, chunks of cinderblock, and large, flat stones. The mere thought of riding a vehicle over the resulting uneven swells is almost physically painful.

Most of the buildings along the street have not fared even this well. In fact, it is clear that much of the brick in the road was scavenged from the more ramshackle structures. Yet there are signs of life: a cafe with a newly painted sign, a clean welcome mat on the library's decrepit porch, a windowbox full of vivid flowers clinging to a crumbling windowsill. The brick-paved road extends less than a quarter mile before disappearing again into grass and chunks of decaying asphalt.





Miss Alison

Obvious exits:

Ursa Diner Dock Farm Road LIbrary Post Office Katahdin Road Edge of Town

Andreas comes out of the Ursa Diner and steps onto Main Street.

Andreas has arrived.

Nodding comes out of the Ursa Diner and steps onto Main Street.

Nodding has arrived.

Dusty gives Miss Alison a cautious look as he passes.

Rahne comes out of the Ursa Diner and steps onto Main Street.

Rahne has arrived.

Dusty moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Dusty has left.

Miss Alison is ambling towards the edge of town, dragging a rickety wooden cart behind her. It is piled high with various foodstuffs.

Layla moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Layla has left.

Andreas moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Andreas has left.

Miss Alison has left.

Batjac moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Batjac has left.

Nodding moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Nodding has left.

Rahne moves north on Katahdin Road, leaving the center of town.

Rahne has left.

You leave the bulk of the town behind, moving north on Katahdin Road.

Katahdin Road

Like most of the roads in the area, this one is comprised of flat space and some asphalted gravel. The lowlands are taking back their own space: trees, shrubs, and weeds are dutifully cracking what little pavement there is left. Unlike the road south of town, this by-way is nearly unused and thus, is nearly unusable. Certainly an automobile would never make it through here, although a horsecart might -- and evidently has, to judge by the ruts. Some homesteads and small farms lurk along this road, hiding in the shadows of the forests. Ancient shacks, part of some long-gone resort or campground, huddle here and there under the assault of nature. Just visible through the trees to the west is the vast Lake Millinockett, a vista that opens up at the northernmost extreme of the road, where a dilapidated bridge crosses the Mud River just below its emergence from the lake.

On the far side of the bridge, the road peters out into a dirt trail, the pavement vanishing at last.








Obvious exits:

Katahdin Trail LAke Main Street

Dusty says "It's this way..."

Dusty crosses the bridge and moves north onto the trail.

Dusty has left.

You cross the bridge and pass into the wilder areas, following a dirt trail.

Katahdin Trail

This trail, which varies from a narrow, nearly invisible, dirt track to a broad, flat space with detectable fragments of asphalt underfoot, rambles generally northward and upward for several miles. Through each break in the trees, the massif of Katahdin looms closer. The trees thicken, sightings of moose, deer, and other wildlife become more frequent, and signs of human habitation grow scarce. Occasionally, there are signs of a hermitage or homestead well off the trail, and the ruts in the track betray the occasional trip to town for market day.

To the South, the trail winds its way towards Katahdin Road, and to the North it becomes more and more uninhabited.



Obvious exits:

North Trail KAtahdin Road

Andreas comes up from the area of the bridge and town.

Andreas has arrived.

Layla comes up from the area of the bridge and town.

Layla has arrived.

Eos comes up from the area of the bridge and town.

Eos has arrived.

Nodding comes up from the area of the bridge and town.

Nodding has arrived.

Rahne comes up from the area of the bridge and town.

Rahne has arrived.

Dusty has left.

Eos has left.

Fork in the Road(#204RJh)

You reach a fork in the road. There is nothing here of note, no landmarks or features -- not even a clearing -- that would suggest that this is a better or more logical place than any other for the path to split, yet split it does. The trees that march off into the close underbrush on all sides are the same trees you've been passing among for the last few miles, and they look to continue for at least the next mile or two, no matter which path you take from here.

Someone has set waystones roughly the size of breadloaves a few feet along each path. One of the three has two wavy lines painted on it, one has a pictogram of a house, and the third has an irregular outline almost certainly meant to represent the profile of a mountain. There's nothing to say that some joker hasn't switched the stones onto the wrong paths, though.




Obvious exits:

Northwest Fork Further North South Trail

Andreas has arrived.

Layla has arrived.

Nodding has arrived.

Dusty looks about. "We keep going north.."

Dusty rounds a bend to the north and is lost from sight.

Dusty has left.

Layla rounds a bend to the north and is lost from sight.

Layla has left.

You make your way through the thick of the forest. The trail at times seems little better than an animal track, but the occasional piece of broken asphalt still distinguishes the old road from the deer paths.

Roaring Brook(#87RJh)

The sound of water is everywhere here -- not the musical laughter one generally expects from brooks, but a constant white-noise roar that one more typically associates with waterfalls or large crowds.

The forest is opened here by a series of clearings of various sizes; underbrush has claimed most of them, with young trees and the forest proper not far behind. No one makes a home here now, but it's clear that people once did, as the collapsed hulks of clapboard huts poke their chimney bones up through matted creepers, and a curiously sparse meadow is in fact growing through a jigsaw of old tarmac. A roofless log building has fared better than the huts, its thick walls still chinked and stout-looking, but the blank holes of its windows and doors make it look eerily out-of-place amongst the ruins, like something that should have died long ago, but refused. Overall, the noise of the brook is jarringly loud and alive in this dead place.

To the northwest, a reassuringly new-looking plank bridge crosses the brook well above the high water line. Due west, a broadly beaten path strikes out uphill beside the brook's rocky bed. The trail toward town disappears into the trees to the south.




Obvious exits:

Over the Bridge South Trail Along the Brook

Eos emerges from the forest to the south.

Eos has arrived.

Andreas emerges from the forest to the south.

Andreas has arrived.

Nodding emerges from the forest to the south.

Nodding has arrived.

Andreas pauses, trying to wipe of pine sap and mopping away sweat. "Hellfire! Were these ghosts or mountain goats?!"

Sashenka, breathing, heavily, flashes a grin at Andreas.

Dusty shivers, and points to one of the many clumps of growth between the ruins. "It was over there..."

Rahne has arrived.

Batjac emerges from the forest to the south.

Batjac has arrived.

Despite the overall breeze this evening, there is an odd stillness here that is accentuated by the crash of the stream.

You paged Eos, Batjac, Andreas, Nodding, Rahne, and Layla with 'Just got a phone call. Dusty should be back in a minute or two. Sorry.'.

You paged Eos, Batjac, Andreas, Nodding, Rahne, and Layla with 'And if we suddenly vanish it's because our two lines hate each other, but I really hope that doesn't happen.....'.

Nodding begins tamping tobacco into a pipe, prepatory of a good smoke, it appears.

Dusty checks to make sure he is surrounded by people far laeger and able than he, then starts to cut across the undergrowth. "Over here."

Sashenka stays close on the boy's heels.

Batjac follows after, though he doesn't look too eased even by the large group around him.

Dusty peers into the gathering gloom. He points to a clump not far off. "There -- you can even seem some tomatoes left."

Sashenka puts a comforting hand on Dusty's shoulder. "Good find, kiddo. It was over there?"

Dusty nods furtively, and mouths yes, though he seems to have lost the breath to make the sound.

Rahne rests one hand on her hip, well above the hilt of her knife, but near enough to it nonetheless as she looks in the given direction inquisitively.

Sashenka looks around at the assembled group and asks, belatedly, "Anyone have any experience with, ummm, posts?"

Layla shakes her head in the negative.

Nodding puffs. "Aside from sleeping it off? No."

Andreas shakes his head. "Ships that sail eternally never reaching their home port, there I could help yah. Bush-rustling bloodless rapscallions, on the other hand..."

Rahne coughs briefly and smiles, "My experience is quite limited to post stories, unfortunately."

Sashenka raises an eyebrow at Andreas. "Umm. Well then. I guess there's just one thing to do." She turns back toward the spot and squares her shoulders, ready for... whatever. She teakes a step forward.

A cold breeze breathes over everyone's skin.

Dusty shivers and looks about quickly, eyes wild.

Sashenka rubs her hands over her forearms and takes a few more steps forward.

Batjac gets goosebumps, his hand coming up to rub the top of his arm. A shiver runs through him.

Rahne inhales slightly and raises an eyebrow, skin breaking out in gooseflesh.

Nodding frowns, but continues to puff determinedly, sweet smoke curling around his head.

Eos peers around, rubbing her arms slightly.

The cold wisps away, to be replaced by the warm, humid, summer night.

Andreas comes up behind Dusty, looming like a boulder in the dark. "Steady, lad, show the stout heart that's in you. Tough crew like this, we'll be alright unless yon ghosties pick up the hill and drop it on us."

There isn't a cloud to be seen.

It is windy, and blowing from the north.

Eos rubs the cold sweat off her upper lip. "Well."

Dusty looks up at the huge man beside him and relaxes a bit. "I know, I promise I won't leave. Besides, its much safer here with all of you then along this road at night."

Andreas squeezes Dusty's shoulder briefly. "We think alike. Though in my case it's more a matter of walking full-tilt into a pine tree. Again."

Sashenka rests her hand, for a moment, on a slender young maple tree, then continues forward.

Dusty waits for a few more moments, and then, sensing the skepticism in the air, he sighs impatiently. "I KNOW there was something. I really do. Look, it was over in this bush..." Dusty cautiously walks toward a small bush which lies on the other side of the old garden.

Deep in the shadows near one of the rotted hulks, a hand reaches out of the undergrowth. The hand belongs to a woman, who crawls into sight, trembling and shuddering. A juddering whimper surges out of the gloom. "Please..." she weeps. "Please... please help..."

Dusty jumps back to Andrea's side.

Sashenka turns her head, searching for the owner of the voice in the gloom, and then hurries to her side.

Layla follows closely on Sashenka's heels.

Andreas's knife leaps from its sheath soundlessly. Putting himself between the woman and Dusty, his first instinct is to search the darkness for other signs of movement.

Rahne posture straightens sharply, hand going to her knife's hilt as she, too, follows Sashenka.

Nodding trundles along behind.

Batjac finds himself on the other side of Andreas, looking as well for other signs of movement. His eyes continue to return to the woman crawling out of the undergrowth.

Eos jumps forward first, then pauses to look up and behind warily.

A number of thorn bushes get in the way of those moving toward the woman.

Sashenka pauses, blinking at the thorn bushes, and lays a gentle hand on one of their branches.

The bushes yield to Sashenka's touch, but when everyone gets past them, there is no sign of the woman or her torn and bloody clothing.

Dusty trembles and grabs on to Andreas' trousers.

Layla finds a long stick and pokes around the shrub.

Rahne comes to a stop and frowns, peering into the area longly, as if hoping to see...something, anything.

Sashenka bends toward the ground, shifting, as she does, into a large, cinnamon-colored bear with black muzzle, ears, and paws. She sniffs curiously at the ground where the woman was laying.

Layla steps aside to give Sashenka room to move.

Nodding peers at Sashenka from under his brows with interest.

Andreas gives a small 'ahhh' of appreciation upon seeing Sashenka shift, then squats to free his boot knife (and be more on Dusty's level). "Lad, have you worked magic before?"

Dusty eyes grow wide at the question. "I helped my father when he was still alive," he says with a trembling voice, "but I don't know any on my own."

Sashenka's head moves over the spot the woman was laying on, then shakes in annoyance, as if to remove flies from her ears. She moves forward a bit, sniffing around, then shrugs her massive shoulders.

Layla asks Sasha, almost in disbelief, "Nothing?"

Andreas hands over the knife, hilt-first. "Close enough for this. See the round bit here, on the pommel? If we get into life-threatening danger it'll start to glow. Could you do me a favor and keep an eye on it for me?

Sashenka looks at Layla and shakes her dark-furred muzzle again.

Dusty nods and accepts the knife, gripping the hilt so hard that his knuckles turn white.

A thin wail, like a baby crying, drifts from another ruin.

Layla whips around to the new sound.

Sashenka chuffs questioningly and takes a step toward the cry.

Eos frowns, squinting and blinking into the darkness. Her lips are pressed together into a thin line.

The sound ends in a soft hiccough.

Dusty's vision locks to the end of the knife, waiting for the inevitable glow.

Sashenka is drawn by the baby sounds and crosses to the ruin from which they come, trying to find the source of the sound.

The wail rises insistently, seemingly further on, in the fashion of a child who is either hungry or in pain.

Layla follows the sound. She is still wielding her stick.

Sashenka's walk turns into a ground-covering lope as she rushes toward the sound.

Deep in the shadows near one of the rotted hulks, a hand reaches out of the undergrowth. The hand belongs to a woman, who crawls into sight, trembling and shuddering. A juddering whimper surges out of the gloom. "Please..." she weeps. "Please... please help..."

Dusty cries out "Who's there?! What do you want?!"

Andreas unconsciously takes a few steps forward, trying to keep Sashenka in sight.

The baby's cry fades away on the wind.

Dusty follows closely behind Andreas.

Layla hesitates.

Sashenka skids to a stop, not sure whether to follow the baby or go toward the woman. When the baby's cries fade, she shakes her ears and moves quickly toward thje woman, trying to get to her before she vanishes again.

The woman raises a pale, bloodied face to Sashenka's approach and opens her mouth wide. A high, cold, piercing keen comes forth, rising and falling and rising again. Then the woman is no longer there, and other voices join the wail: infants and women and men, crying out in a long exhalation of fear and pain.

Layla moves closer to Sasha. There is safety in numbers.

Sashenka, just feet from the bloody woman when she vanishes, slumps to the ground with a thud and shifts back to human form. "Damn it." Her eyes are anguished.

Dusty grips the knife tighter, scanning the darkness for anything unknown which might be approaching.

The wails rise in volume, some of the voices breaking off their disharmony to emit glass-shattering shrieks that echo under the trees.

Dusty clutches his ears and screams above the wails, "STOP IT!"

Layla drops her stick and places her hands over her ears. She calls out, "What do you want," unwitting repeating Dysty's question.

Sashenka grips the tall grass she sits in, knuckles white around great fistfuls of it. "What can we do?" she asks, her voice shaking. She leans her head back and calls out, "How can we help you? LET US HELP YOU!!!"

Eos grips the trunk of a young tree so tightly that her knuckles shine stark white in the moonlight. She grimaces painfully.

Andreas winces, crouching into a compact mass, head lowered, knife out in front.

The cries cease suddenly and the temperature plummets for a moment. Then the air warms slowly. The wind rustles the trees overhead. Crickets begin singing. A firefly rises from the grass on silent wings and brushes past Sashenka's nose.

Sashenka watches the firefly pass, then buries her face in her hands.

Layla places a hand on Sasha's shoulder. Her hand is only trembling a little.

Eos sighs very quietly and lets go her tree.

Nodding's pipe has gone out, unnoticed.

Dusty's breathing is rapid in the summer air. After a few moments, "Are they gone?"

Sashenka raises her damp-cheeked face from her hands. "I -- I think so." Under her breath she adds, "Mother, I hope so."

Andreas lets out a sigh. "It seems that way, poor wretches."

A late bat flaps overhead and ajunebug buzzes Nodding's ear.

Nodding jumps and down a bit. "Haloo? Wretched ghostie bastards? Any more keening for us then? Right."

Nodding sets about trying to relight his pipe.

Sashenka lets a reluctant laugh escape and stands up, brushing grass off her backside.

Dusty takes a deep breath, and lets out a nervous sigh, trying to calm himself. He turns to Andreas. "I don't think we'll be needing this anymore. Thank you." He holds out the knife.

Andreas shakes his head. "Hold onto it, if you want to. I'm just a spice merchant--you're the one roaming these hills at night."

Eos takes a deep breath. "Well, whether they're gone for good or not, I think the show's over for tonight."

Dusty's jaw drops, and his eyes grow wide with wonder. "Really? Are you sure? I don't really have anything to give you in return..."

Andreas purses his lips thoughtfully. "I'm new here, remember? Don't know the markets, don't even know my way around--you could be a Guide and Financial Advisor. Work it off that way. Plus your commission, of course."

Dusty bows to his new friend. "Anything, anything at all. I'd be overjoyed to help you, anything you need." He gazes happily over the knife.

Sashenka watches Dusty with his new friend, wary but hopeful. She walks over to the boy. "Well, kiddo. You sure weren't imagining things." She sighs.

Andreas blinks, both at the bow and the vow, and gives Sashenka a crooked smile. "Any ideas, Milady?"

Dusty almost manages to grin. "I TOLD you." Then the grin comes in earnest. "Thanks for believing me."

Sashenka puts a hand on Dusty's shoulder. "Of course I believed you." She looks up at Andreas. "Ideas?"

Andreas points with his chin over at the ruins. "For yon...on second thought, these might be things to discuss indoors. In well-lit surroundings."

Nodding says "Muffins."

Dusty says "Journeycake."

Sashenka nods. "I'd sure like to go home. And have a muffin." She smiles. As for ideas, I don't think I'm your gal. But we can brainstorm."

Eos says "Coffee."

Andreas's stomach rumbles. "Brainstorming and eating then. At this point I'd even try one of those cattails you advertise. Poor cats...but that's what local cuisine's all about, I suppose."

Eos nods. "Back to the Diner, then?" she inquires with a glance over her shoulder at the ruins.

Nodding regards Sashenka thoughtfully. "A pretty trick child.", he says quietly.

Andreas heads off southward into the forest.

Andreas has left.

Dusty heads off southward into the forest.

Dusty has left.

Sashenka looks at Nodding and smiles. "Which one?"

Nodding gestures with is pipe. "Bringing a better sniffer to bear on the situation." His eyes have the temerity to twinkle.

Sashenka chuckles. "One closer to the ground, too. Thanks." She gestures toward the path. "Shall we continue over coffee and muffins? I promise, the cattails don't come from cats."

Nodding nods.

Nodding heads off southward into the forest.

Nodding has left.

The roar of the water gradually fades as you make your way deeper into the woods to the south.

You pull open the beautiful maple door. The small bell tied to the handle cracks against the wood, drowning out its own cheery jangle as you step inside.

Ursa Diner(#179RAJ)

You step onto a cracked but clean tile floor that was probably once red, but is now a faded salmon pink. A large, rectangular communal table seating about 10 takes up the middle of the floor, with mismatched smaller tables arranged near the large front windows. The long counter in front of the kitchen door sports plates of fragrant bread, cookies, and muffins and bowls of fresh wild fruits. A small, rattling fridge in the corner holds a selection of juices and cold spring water in reused bottles and jars. Atop the refrigerator is a can for cash donations; next to it is a box for barter payments. Scrawled on the box in black marker are the words "Pay what you can, when you can."





Menu Board(#168)

Obvious exits:

Curtain Main Street Kitchen

Eos steps into the diner.

Eos has arrived.

Dusty looks sheepish. "Um, there's birch beer, but I don't think that's what you are looking for." An idea suddenly pops in his head. "Sasha, do you still have any dandelion wine left?"

Sashenka walks in, tucking a wayward ribbon back into her braids, and looks up at Dusty's voice. "The last batch is done, but I think the new should be ready by now. I'll go check."

Sashenka disappears into the kitchen and returns with in a few minutes with a big ceramic jug. "Dandelion wine all around?"