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==BACK STORY==
 
==BACK STORY==
  
Call me Raphael. This is not the name I was given by my birth mother. Nor is it the name I was given by my Adoptive Parents, my legal name; the name that shows on my Birth Certificate and is registered with the Government... but it is the name that I choose to be called... now.
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Call me Raphael. This is not the name I was given by my birth mother. Nor is it the name I was given by my Adoptive Parents, my legal name; the name that shows on my Birth Certificate and is registered with the Government... but it is the name that I chose to be called... now.
 
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In the latter part of 2019 the media and politicians called it 'a problem overseas'. In the early part of 2020 when it 'arrived on our shores' they called it 'a Pandemic'; initially we were told by The Experts to 'self-quarantine and isolate', which many did... but 'The World has to keep moving', so not everyone could. Masks were mandated and social distancing was observed... mostly.
In the latter part of 2019 the media and U.S. politicians called it 'a problem overseas'. In the early part of 2020 when it 'arrived on our shores' they called it 'a Pandemic'; initially we were told by The Experts to 'self-quarantine and isolate', which many did... but 'The World has to keep moving', so not everyone could. Masks were mandated and social distancing was observed... mostly.
 
  
 
It was then that I was first a bit fearful. But I did my research and this 'new' virus was no more deadly than Influenza, though it did have some nasty lingering effects for a fair percentage of those infected that did not die from their initial exposure. My fear subsided, but still I was cautious and paid attention to the statistics and read reports... and trusted in my knowledge, my diligence with PPE and 'possible exposure'... and 'my luck'; so I avoided getting 'the vaccine' almost to the point of losing my job.
 
It was then that I was first a bit fearful. But I did my research and this 'new' virus was no more deadly than Influenza, though it did have some nasty lingering effects for a fair percentage of those infected that did not die from their initial exposure. My fear subsided, but still I was cautious and paid attention to the statistics and read reports... and trusted in my knowledge, my diligence with PPE and 'possible exposure'... and 'my luck'; so I avoided getting 'the vaccine' almost to the point of losing my job.
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*Michael James Watson
 
*Michael James Watson
  
After six hours on the road, Raph is getting tired.    He comes up to a Intersection and sees it is busier then anything he has seen on the road yet.    There is a clear guard post ahead, looking well defended.  Created of Cars stacked for hundreds of yards left and right.  It would be hours back to find any reasonable way around it.   
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After (another) six hours on the road, Raph is getting tired.    He comes up to a Intersection and sees it is busier then anything he has seen on the road yet.    There is a clear guard post ahead, looking well defended.  Created of Cars stacked for hundreds of yards left and right.  It would be hours back to find any reasonable way around it.   
  
 
He sees an American flag on one side of the gate.  Then other flags.  State flags, team flags.  Must have hit a tourists shop.  The one across the gate from the us flag is a familiar one but hanging limp he can't see it all.  It might be... but he can't see it all.
 
He sees an American flag on one side of the gate.  Then other flags.  State flags, team flags.  Must have hit a tourists shop.  The one across the gate from the us flag is a familiar one but hanging limp he can't see it all.  It might be... but he can't see it all.
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"I'll be careful about what I 'flash' around here from now on; guess I didn't realize the value of what I have. Thank you Wrecker. Nite."
 
"I'll be careful about what I 'flash' around here from now on; guess I didn't realize the value of what I have. Thank you Wrecker. Nite."
  
After Wrecker exits the RV, I close and lock the door, then I check on Slugger and the Poodle Boys on the bed in the back. Returning to the sitting area I open the vent in the ceiling/roof then the window behind the seating area around the table, then I pour myself another couple of fingers of Pappy and put the bottle away in my pack. I pull out my leather bound journal from my pack and set it on the table before me. Finally, I roll up a fat but tight joint and light it with the light blue Bic lighter from the pocket with the ciggs.
+
After Wrecker exits the RV, I close and lock the door, then I check on Slugger and the Poodle Boys on the bed in the back. Returning to the sitting area I open the vent in the ceiling/roof then the window behind the seating area around the table, then I pour myself another couple of fingers of Pappy and put the bottle away in my pack. I pull out my leather bound journal from my pack and set it on the table before me. Finally, I roll up a fat but tight joint and light it with the light blue Bic lighter in the pocket with the ciggs.
  
 
As I smoke and sip and muse about the day, I pickup the Sakura Prima Micron 05 archival ink pen I grabbed from my Best Friend's supply to go with the journal, before leaving the apartment... only just this morning... it seems so long ago already. I begin writing.
 
As I smoke and sip and muse about the day, I pickup the Sakura Prima Micron 05 archival ink pen I grabbed from my Best Friend's supply to go with the journal, before leaving the apartment... only just this morning... it seems so long ago already. I begin writing.
  
At one point I go to take a puff but the joint has gone out and when I try to light it with the light blue Bic, it only sparks but no fire. Damn. I knew it was mostly empty when I left home, as were most of the lighters I had collected. I really didn't want to get up from the table to go get another lighter out of my pack. So, just like I used to do during gaming sessions with My Friends back in the day, I try to light the joint with a Firefinger Cantrip. Yeah, Yeah, I know Magic isn't real... or doesn't work here on Earth... or at least not on the Earth I was from... but I would always try it anyway, just for fun, and I would always say 'I'm gonna keep tryin' cause maybe one day it'll work.'... and perhaps here it might work. Who knows. If not, there's always another nearly empty Bic in my backpack.
+
At one point I go to take a puff but the joint has gone out and when I try to light it with the light blue Bic, it only sparks but no fire. Damn. I knew it was mostly empty when I left home, as were most of the lighters I had collected. I really didn't want to get up from the table to go get another lighter out of my pack. So, just like I used to do during gaming sessions with the friends back in the day, I try to light the joint with a Firefinger Cantrip. Yeah, I know Magic isn't real or doesn't work here... or at least not on the Earth I was from... but I would always try it anyway, just for fun, and I would always say 'I'm gonna keep tryin' cause maybe it will work one day.'... and perhaps here it might work. Who knows. If not, there is always another nearly empty Bic in my backpack.
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
When he flicks his finger he feels a sharp. mild electric shock and he sees a little electric arc about a 1/4" long. It wiggles on the finger tip expectantly. He feels a little rush of warmth on his forehead.
 
 
 
In surprise he looks around the room. Seeing Slugger's forehead he sees the dark red Mesob symbol on her forehead. The dogs are cuddled around her protectively. He looks at Curios, who leans over and licks the symbol on Slugger's head. He flips over to groom his cathood.
 
 
 
Shocked at the magic working he feels a light sense as if he was steaming, a light cooling feel. He looks at his hand and sees the Medallion symbol on his palm and notices his hands are clean. Taking a whiff, after the day he has had, he does not detect any body odor.
 
 
 
Running a hand through his hair he notices it is clean as well.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
My eyes wide. I marvel at how not horrible I smell... how clean my hair is... My mouth is opening and closing but no sound is coming out... but my inner voice is screaming:
 
 
 
~NO FUCKING WAY!?!?!?!!!~ ~That was AWESOME!!!! THIS IS AWESOME!!!~ ~I can't believe that really worked!?????~ ~It. Really. Worked!!! Do it again, but this time actually light the joint.~
 
 
 
I focus again and light the joint with the Cantrip, inhaling deeply.... then I ponder on what I just did, what I just saw on Slugger's forehead and on my palm... there is a connection, certainly... the Medallion... I exhale smoke... yes; the Medallion.
 
 
 
I was going to wait until morning to do some research on my laptop, but now, I just couldn't wait. I put the cap back on the pen and place the pen back in the journal's special pen pocket, then close the journal. I get up and get my laptop from the padded pocket inside the main pocket of my backpack... and another two Bic lighters, one for each breast pocket.
 
 
 
I sit backdown, power up then sign in to my laptop computer, then go straight to a file on the desktop labeled 'Gaming Wiki Files'. This is not an internet shortcut but a local one; I downloaded all of my ADRPG GM's wiki pages pertaining to his ongoing ADRPG Campaign to my laptop... for when I was camping and out of cellular range but still needed info for writing posts to be sent later.
 
 
 
I begin with a search query: foot shaped medallion. Somehow I know... or maybe just feel, that I know what is going on and what that foot shaped medallion was.
 
 
 
If those three words don't bring up anything, I will begin searching the images in the wiki files for the design on my hand and Slugger's forehead.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Immediatly he finds the following:
 
 
 
https://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Grog_and_Mikon
 
 
 
https://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Medalion_of_Mesob
 
 
 
https://wiki.rpg.net/index.php/Guiness
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I hit the joint again and click on the first link, reading...
 
 
 
...the first two links (alphabetically) only make hints, but the last link tells all, to my amazement.
 
 
 
As I read with my mouth hanging wide open, a part of my mind wants to disbelieve, while the other part of my mind wants to silence 'the disbeliever'. My Best Friend once said: 'A person that can see the strange and amazing and accept it for what it appears to be, without trying to disbelieve it or explain it away, will usually make better decisions in an emergency situation and has a better chance of surviving.'
 
 
 
So I shut up the disbelief and see this for what it appears to be: I have found a Medallion of Mesob, and its powers are becoming accessible to me... it's powers are most certainly what saved me from the Omega Variant and what brought me and Slugger here to 'Shadow Run World'... or maybe it was Slugger that inadvertently brought us here, as it appears that she has found one too, based on the Magic Tattoo on her forehead.
 
 
 
So, after rereading the Medalion of Mesob page several times, it would seem that I have the following Powers; Clean Body, an Immunity to Sickness, Shadow Walking... most likely and Improved 'Statistics'... yeah, that might explain the odd feeling of strength in my hands I felt earlier in the evening, and the fact that I am not 'wasted drunk' considering how much I drank. And most likely a form of Immortality... as well as a possibility of other powers... maybe that's why I can do Cantrips. Well, I'm going to have to do some experiments to see what all I can do.
 
 
 
~OH MY GOD THIS IS AWESOME!!!!~ I scream in my head. Then I take a deep calming breath and let it out... then take a deep hit off the joint, then shoot down the last of the Pappy in my cup, then exhale hard and try not to freak out / geek out over everything that has happened today and all I have just learned.
 
 
 
I try another Cantrip, just to see if I can. I try a Clean Cantrip on my Army Field Jacket, where Curious got blood on it from his fight in the pit. I focus for a moment, then make a back and forth wiping motion with my hand in the air over the blood stain.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Momentarily he feels tiny push and swaths of the jacket appear clean. Without think, distractedly, he points at a buzzing fly and watches it fall dead. Zap.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I get giddy with excitement over the Cantrips... especially 'zapping' the fly, almost to the point of squealing. But instead of geeking out and waking Slugger, I relight the joint with a Firefinger and take a deep hit, grin from ear to ear, then contemplate the possibilities of my future, just knowing what I do right now... can't wait to find out more. Exhaling smoke, I wonder; how much of what I played in that game is real? How much is fiction? Or will it all be Shades of the Truth, Shadows of Reality?
 
 
 
In the morning I will surely need to do some more experiments to see what else I can do... and what my new capabilities are; just like I would do if I were a character in a game trying to figure out the powers of a new magic item... which, oddly enough, is EXACTLY what I am trying to actually do.
 
 
 
~GOD this is WEEEEEIIIRRRD... and COOOL as FUUUUCCKK!!!~
 
 
 
I finish the joint then pull the bottle of Pappy from my pack, pour one more drink, three fingers this time, then put the bottle away. I pull out a cigarette from the pack in my right breast pocket in my field jacket, now sitting on the cushion next to me. I use a Firefinger to light the cig, then I smoke and drink, timing both so I have a swig of Pappy left after I finish the smoke.
 
 
 
Then I roll up my Field Jacket to use as a pillow then I lean over to one side of the long cusioned seating area around the table, then pull up my knees and feet to the other side and try to get some sleep. Weapons belts and weapons are on the table in easy reach.
 
 
 
==CHAPTER FOUR: THE JOB==
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Sleep comes easy but there is something dreamy to it. Memories of games. Old books. Gandalf fighting the balrog.
 
Waking up he sees Slugger and the dogs are outside.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I wipe the sleep from my eyes and rise slowly. I put my laptop away in the backpack, finish my journal entry from last night, then put the journal away in my pack.
 
 
 
Then I grab my rolled up field jacket and my weapons belts off the table and I head outside. I set all my gear on the ground and begin stretching the night's kinks out of my body.
 
 
 
"Good morning Slugger" I say while stretching. "How did you sleep?"
 
 
 
I begin doing some calisthenics, about five minutes worth, to get my heart pumping. Then I sit down and do 20 crunches, flip over and do 20 pushups, then rise to my feet and do a little more stretching. Then I put on my weapon's belts and make sure everything thing is secure.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"I slept good.. But hard... One of those Arco boys came by a few minutes ago said they would be leaving at dusk. We slept for a whole day and a half. I was deaming of that ring movie with wizards and the monster on the bridge. That was dad's favorite part. YOu know that part? all the fire and stuff.. Then he is in the next movie all white...and he makes that guy on fire jump off the cliff building. and that creepy midget bites the other midget's finger off and falls in the fire....Thats a good move... Did you see that movie? Oh,, three movies! Did you see them?"
 
 
 
A thought comes to him. He was concerned that it was Slugger that brought them to this world. But she wouldn't know Shadowrun. A stray thought about an old shadowrun game during 6 hours on the road might have brought them here. It certainly cut the dive time from Tuscon to Colorado down by a huge chunk. But she has a Mesob Medallion and she does know Lord of the Rings. Apparently really well......
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"We slept for a day and a half?! Wow! Guess we really needed the sleep! And yes, I saw that movie, all of those movies in fact. And I love them too. And yes, I had dreams like that too. I also dreamt about Gandalf fighting the balrog. Strange... We both had the same dream."
 
 
 
I look Slugger up and down, wondering what powers she has already acquired from The Medallion.
 
 
 
"So, there are a couple of important things we need to talk about. The first being that the Arco Boys have asked me to join them on a gas run. They said that it could be dangerous and that I will be gone for a couple of days. So, I know your Uncle Buck said not to leave my side, but he also said you need to do what I tell you. So, because this is going to be a dangerous run and I don't want you to get hurt or killed, I would like you to remain behind to keep an eye on the poodles and the cat. I'm sure I can get Rodak to keep an eye on you while I'm gone."
 
 
 
"Secondly, we need to talk about that invisible tattoo that you have on your hand and your forehead, and the new powers you may be gaining. So, answer this for me please... when did you find the foot shaped medallion? And what strange things have you figured out that you can do?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"You're leaving me behind? But...but.....He said to stay with you....You are leaving and leaving the dogs too? Buck said you wouldn't do that...."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Oooohhhh, Slugger, I'm not leaving you behind" I say as I kneel down and give her a hug. "I'm just... going to work... for a few days; I'm coming back..." I trail off.
 
 
 
~But what if you don't?"~ I think to myself, still hugging Slugger. ~What if for some reason you can't get back here? Then Slugger would be alone and you would have broken your promise. Besides, Adventurer's Rule Number One: Never split up the Party.~ I release the hug and look Slugger in the eyes.
 
 
 
"Okay, Slugger, change of plans; you're coming with me; overall I think you'll be safest with me. But this is not a 'road trip' or a 'vacation', this is a Job. So you're going work too, as my Backup. Okay? Now, let's go talk to Rodak about this Job and then go get some food. We will talk about the Magic Medallion later. And just like we don't talk about where we came from with other people, we also don't talk about our Magic with other people. Okay?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
She jumps up, "Ok!" She runs inside the trailer and grabs her Molly rig, clipping it in place. SHe seems ready to go in moments, as if she had planned it. The dogs can be left in the trailer but the cat seems intent on following.
 
 
 
Walking over to the Rodak's he sees morning business going on in what must be normal for here. He sees 3 tanker trucks, painted, with a number of dwarves moving around them. Wrecker and Rodak are inspecting the lead vehicle.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I raise an eyebrow at Slugger's sudden mood change, but smile inwardly at her readiness to go. I put on my jacket then grab the AK from inside the door and sling it over my right shoulder, then order the Poodle Boys inside, then tell them "Dog Brothers; Garden Kill." then I close and lock the door before leaving for the Arco Station.
 
 
 
I look over the three tanker rigs as I approach Rodak and Wrecker.
 
 
 
"Mornin' Gents" I say with a smile and a jovial tone. "Love the paint jobs! So, I'm interested... but if I'm going to be involved in this Run, I would like some information... like... how many tankers are going, how many escorts, who's drivin' what, who's packin' what, what route we're takin', alternate routes, possible hostiles, possible ambush sites, what my part in all of this is, and what I'm drivin'... yours or mine?" I flash a friendly smile. "Please and thank you."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Rodak looks to him, "Morning Flasher. Well, Fitz here is the leader."
 
 
 
A well groomed Dwarf with a pipes approaches. He looks R over and looks at slugger.
 
 
 
"You trying to out small us? Is everything ready?" He looks to Rodak
 
 
 
He nods, "Just getting Flasher up to speed. We got three rigs, empty. Two in the rig, one bike assigned to guard each one. Ive a hog with a sidecar if you don't want to risk yours but yours is in far batter shape then mine. We will go over the maps. Take the 160 to the 25 north. 3 hour drive. Not much in the way of alternate routes. The problem is that we have to go through Pueblo. Taking 285 would be nice but the Arkensaw river flooded a few years back and the Department of Transportation never got around to fixing it. After the Change a fucking whalloping lake grew up. The road don't go through and we don't want to pay to get us across the lake."
 
 
 
"Pueblo is an Indian town. We might glide through. We might have to pay a toll. They might try and take it. Our last run we paid a toll. It depends how many of the locals are Elven Indians, American Indians, or Orcish Indians. Or just how many fucking orcs there are. We heard a Big group of the White hand are there.. But we are damn near out of gas and our guy is in Denver."
 
 
 
Fitz says, "as for gunnery. We got a shitload of AR15s. Lots of handguns. I was going to tell you, Rodak , I got 3 of Junior's elves on a deal. They have bows and are fucking deadly; I'll put one on each trailer. So, Flasher, I hear we are taking you as far as Colorado Springs. Shitton of Feds there. Or are you going there and back here?"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I smile at the first mention of my new nickname. I listen to the intel, I am mostly familiar with the route. I address Fitz first.
 
 
 
"Pretty sure Slugger and I will be going all the way to Denver and back with y'all on this one... but there is a chance we may stop off at The Springs... if so, then we'll pick back up with y'all on your way back through."
 
 
 
I turn to Rodak with a smile.
 
 
 
"I'll take you up on that offer of the hog with sidecar. How bad of shape is it in? I'm a fair mechanic... but might need to borrow some tools."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Rodak and Fitz chuckle, but Rodak says, "We mech for a living, brother. I wouldn't put you on the road on something questionable. Its got a little left balance issue but with Slugger her in it i doubt there will be an issue. If someone jumps in IM sure the cat can take care of them. I hear he is hell on orcs."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I nod my head at Rodak's assessment of the hog.
 
 
 
"Okay. Fair enough. I mean, I don't know you guys... yet, and I don't know how well you take care of your vehicles. I had to ask. But thank you for the loner and by all means put it on my tab. You know I can afford it." I chuckle.
 
 
 
"And Flasher? Really? You're going to make me sound like some sort of pervert in a trench coat." I laugh, knowing full well that that is not the meaning of the new nickname I have acquired.
 
 
 
"So, anything else I should know before you show me the hog and I started gearing it up for the road?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"We shoot for knees. Might mean they get another shot off but I'd rather bust a knee then a noggin. I wasn't a pycho before the Change. Disable vehicles rather then take kill shots. But i won't complain if you kill them if they are attacking. Truth is its a short trip and running empty we shouldn't have trouble. Its coming back heavy thats trouble. We ride open, flushing the bandits if we can. Keep them away from the tankers. You'll ride tail so you don't have to start anything and can pitch in on a running fight we started. I don't know about Slugger on the run but i get not wanting to be seperated. The sidecar is armored. Have her tuck inside to stay safe."
 
 
 
He walks to wear the group is forming up. Points to the yellow harley
 
 
 
"We go in a couple hours."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Okay... so I'll be bringing up the rear, shoot to incapacitate not kill and disable vehicles. Got it. And Slugger is tougher and more capable than her size and age might indicate."
 
 
 
When he points out the Harley I let out a low whistle.
 
 
 
"Well, helloooooh beautiful. Where have you been all my life? An armored sidecar? Oohh... Nice! Ya know Rodak, when we get back from this run I'm gonna want to talk to you about a trade. I think this Badboy is the type of vehicle I'm going to be needing for my travels. And that armored sidecar is EXACTLY what I need to keep Slugger and the animals safe."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"Really? I was thinking that trike was set up pretty good for a small group. Well. Take her out, take a few laps around the town to get used to her When your done we'll top off the tank and go. I've got 4 mayors coming over soon to talk their end of the ride. "
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Oh, the trike is a nice rig, for sure..." I say, not taking my eyes from the Harley. I walk around it, looking it over, looking inside the sidecar. "But it's loaded with electronic parts, and if one of over a half dozen of those parts fries out, I'm fucked. Electronic parts are hard to come by on the road and off the beaten path... even more so now. However, this Bad Boy was made before all that unnecessary electronic crap became standard. THIS bike I can keep running easily enough. Plus, the armored sidecar is perfect to keep my precious cargo safe from stray or intended bullets." I turn to look at Rodak. "Yeah, let's talk when we get back."
 
 
 
I turn to Slugger. "Ok, Slugger, get in. You too, Curious." I say to the cat. I hop on and start it up. Once Slugger and Curious are aboard, I put it in gear and head out, slowly at first.
 
 
 
As I make my 'laps around town', I don't just 'get the feel for the bike', but I also check all the important parts; clutch, brakes, shifter, accelerator... I also check the operations of them; smooth, rough, sticky, etc. Once I get the feel for it and have a better understanding of it's quirks, I open it up and really give it a work out on the last lap and finish at Woody's at my rented RV.
 
 
 
I let the dogs out and tell them to pee. I tell Slugger to grab anything important, just in case something happens and we can't get back here. I go inside and grab my backpack, Buck's Helmet, my katana, the throw away guns and spare ammo and my 30.06. I leave the nearly full case of Pappy, nearly full case of hand grenades and all the other foodstuffs and assorted supplies I had scrounged in the RV. I lock the door behind me.
 
 
 
I slide the 30.06 down inside the sidecar, barrel first, on the side closest to me, then put the katana next to the rifle. I strap the throw away guns on the bike and inside the sidecar in easy reach of me or Slugger, except the .50 caliber Desert Eagle, which I slip under my wide leather weapons belt near my navel. I give the spare ammo to Slugger and tell her she may have to reload for me at some point. I pull a protective facemask that looks like a skull from my pack and hang it on the handlebars, secure the pack, put the pack on my back and snug it down, then pull on the mask but leave it hanging around my neck for now, then the helmet, then pull on my heavy leather gloves.
 
 
 
"Slugger, while we're on the road, you need to stay focused on watching for bad guys and paying attention to where we are going, not thinking about movies or someplace else. It's really important. Okay? Now, everyone load up. It's time to hit the road."
 
 
 
Once Slugger, the Poodle Boys and Curious are loaded in the sidecar, I start it up and head back over to the Arco Station.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Gathering at the east gate is a bit of a crowd.  Rodak is arguing with a heavyset man sweating in a tshirt despite the cool weather.  He has a molle rig packed with things that R identifies as things bought because the guy thought he was being manly before the change.  He and Rodak are arguing away from everyone.  On one side is  the three tankers, the dwarves on bikes, 3 guys dressed like road bike riders with what look like heavy recurve bows.
 
 
 
On the other is a Hummer h1 with modified gun ports and 6 guys who look dressed to kill.  They are packed heavy and armored but at a glance R can tell they were the overweight, out of shape, poorly trained, heavily armed, military wannabes who gave gun owners a bad name. 
 
As he pulls up to Wrecker and Fitz he is introduced to the other Arco Boys making the trip. 
 
 
 
Wrecker says, "Rodak is arguing with Duffy Drummen.  He led a milita group in Fort Garland before the change.  Half his group became orcs.  Two of the guys over there are orcs.  They have been running "patrols"  He is insisting to join our caravan. His crew is going to Fort Collins. Wants to join up to push through Pueblo.  Says there are a couple of the tribes there and it won't be a walk or Tax.  I hate the fucker and if a spare round lightly grazed him in the hippocampus I wouldn't be sad.. But if two tribes are in Pueblo now he might not be wrong.  No one will think poorly of you if you back out.  But we got about three days of gas left and so we have to go."
 
 
 
Rodak walks over with Duffy.
 
 
 
"Ok, Duffy and his boys are taking lead. We may have no choice but to fight our way through Pueblo. Form up. Ready to roll in 5 minutes. Its 3 hours to Pueblo. Flasher, lets take a minute. "
 
 
 
Leading R aside as other load up he says, "This won't be a cake walk. there are maybe 40 warriors of two tribes in Pueblo and they are raiding not taxing. One of Duffy's patrols was hit. 3 of 6 dead and he is hot as hell to hit back. Duffy gives batshit crazy knuckleheads a bad name but a lot of people in the town support him. If you want out, its ok. If you make the ride, I give ya three things. We hadn't really talked pay. First, take the bike. Second, i'll squish the Flasher nic and we can negotiate a new one. Lastly, I'll give you a Arco cut. Skip right over prospect. You get a fair share."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"That all sounds more than fair... but I still gotta make it back alive... maybe I shoulda brought the rest of those grenades..." I pause a moment, thinking about how quickly I could get back to Woody's then back here. "The Militia Meatheads in the lead is perfect; they got the armor and firepower, let 'em do their thang, less for me and the Arco Boys to worry about."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
When the group gathers it looks like quite an entorage., The millitia guys have two motorcycle guys with the hummer and a Pinto station wagon pulls in behind. A hole in the roof has a crude ring around it for a guy to stand. The sides are armored but as they climb in R sees wood crates packing the interior.
 
 
 
Behind them the 3 tankers each with its escort cycle. Last he and his pack. slugger sitting up in the sidecar.
 
 
 
As the gate east opens R realizes this isn't cosplay. They really have a mad max thing going on and he may have to kill.
 
 
 
An hour out, coming around a corner a collection of Indians on motorcycles are in a turn out. One of theirs is near the highwway. The Hummer pulls over put a guy pops up out of the top looking to Fitz.
 
 
 
Fitz and the tankers stop.. Fitz walks out and shakes a few hands. Then the Indians push their bikes over and Fitz sees them filled up. He talks to the leader for a few minutes. He then talks to Duffyy. Then talks to each driver before coming to R.
 
 
 
He says, "Those are the Walsenburg Rangers. Utes. They confirm that Pueblo is full of raiders. Close to a hundred. We'll fight our way through. Duffy is excited and thats not good. He isn't big on being rational. But we have to get through. Our only other choice is to go to Wiley. Take the 287 up to Cope, and come into Denver from the east. 6 to 9 hours and its across the the whole range the raiders live in. So its up and in at Pueblo. We will get help but not till Pueblo. The rangers will start fires east of Pueblo and hope it pulls some of the heat but whats there is there. Load heavy: Shoot to kill"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
As the gate opens and the realization, the fear, hits, I take a deep breath and calm my mind; I will do what I must do. I was trained by the Army to kill, I have shot firearms nearly my entire life, I knew one day I might have to take a life living in the ghetto that I did...
 
I keep my mind on the here and now; I stay sharp and watch the surrounding and think about how I will react if something happens. I check on Slugger and make sure she is also paying attention to our surrounding.
 
 
 
When we slow then stop, I get off the Harley and I unstrap the AK47 strapped across the handlebars, I look around for ambush. When Fitz comes my way I lower the AK and listen up.
 
 
 
"Shoot to kill; got it. We got you covered back here. I got a couple grenades, for when things get really ugly. But the AK should do the trick til then."
 
 
 
I give it to Slugger. "I'm gonna want that back soon, so don't stash it away... or get too attached to it." I give her a smile and a wink.
 
"Ready to go at your order, Fitz."
 
 
 
I know this is real. I am scared. My heart is racing.
 
 
 
Courage is not the absence of fear, it's facing fear and doing what must be done anyway.
 
 
 
So, my courage will be tested again.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Fitz nods, "Ya, gitcha. Don't waste ammo though. If something gets back this far it survived the rest of us. If we are attacked from behind some of the boys will come back"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"I rarely waste ammo; my philosophy is: one mind, one shot, one kill. And if anyone survives all the way back to us, Slugger and I will make sure they don't survive beyond us."
 
 
 
I sit back down on the Harley, grab the AK from Slugger, set the butt of the rifle between my legs and rest the barrel on the handlebars.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Pushing on beyond the turnout the caravan approaches Pueblo. Ahead is a checkpoint of cars stacked.
 
 
 
The Fort Garland militia boys accelerate immediately with a pair of people hanging out the windows laying down fire. The road block people are firing back. Getting an angle R sees the hood of the Hummer flip to cover the windows in a manner that looks like its been gerry rigged to do it.
 
 
 
Fitz's cursing can be heard over the gunfire.
 
 
 
Coming up the sides are a half dozen bikes on both sides bikes with three people on each. they parallel the tankers and two from each leap up on the sides
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
At the sight of the Militia Meatheads laying down fire, I yell over the roar of the engine and the wind and gunfire to Slugger.
 
"SLUGGER! Watch behind us! NOW!!! Shoot anyone you can! Shoot to kill!"
 
 
 
Seeing the people jump onto the tankers, I calm my breathing.
 
 
 
One Mind. I reach down with my left hand, grabbing the upper wooden rest beneath the barrel of the AK47 and lift it upwards, my right hand releasing the throttle, knowing it sticks slightly, and grabs the wooden pistol grip and brings the butt to my right shoulder and the barrel in line with the person farthest to the left on the tanker in front of me who my eye has been on since my hand touched the AK.
 
 
 
One Shot. When he is in my sights, headshot or center mast body shot. I pause just long enough to squeeze the trigger.
 
 
 
One Kill. Then move on to the next person to the right. And repeat the process as quickly as I can, until all are gone from the tanker in front of me.
 
 
 
I rely on my Army Training, my familiarity and my experience with firearms, and all the shooter games I played in the arcades that had actual gun shaped controls to shoot the enemies, to get me through this. And my sheer force of will. I was told I could do anything I wanted, if I put my mind to it.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He has one easy target and it quickly falls away after he fires. Seeing him fall its very real.
 
 
 
The second guy is a bit out of angly but he suddenly falls back, two arrows in his eyes. The elf then looks behind and draws arrows firing behind R.
 
 
 
He feels Slugger stand up in the side car. Turning to look behind he sees two spidery dune buggies coming up fast behind. Looking at her he sees a hand grenade in each of her hands. She thumbs out the pin rings out and tosses them underhand. They arch out gently as the buggies follow, each landing in the floor of the two person vehicles. They fumble on the ground till they explode, sending the vehicles off the road.
 
 
 
She slips down, pulling wehrmacht helmet over her head. The Arco logo is painted on the side.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I would have turned to my right to see what Slugger was doing and to see the dune buggies behind us, releasing the stock of the AK with my left hand, gripping the pistol grip tighter with my right hand to hold up the weight of the weapon as I bring it up and around over Slugger's head.
 
Seeing her release the grenades I laugh beneath my Skull Mask and as she sits back down I bring my attention back forward, seeing the motorcyclist on the right near the back of the tanker ahead of me, I swing the barrel in his direction... one handed. One Mind. One Shot. One Kill. I squeeze the trigger. (if unsuccessful I will try again.)
 
 
 
My left hand grips the left handle bar grip, my attention back on the road ahead. My right hand places the AK back between my legs then grabs the throttle. I accelerate to keep up with the tanker. I glance to the left, looking for the other motorcyclist on that side, simultaneously drawing the Desert Eagle XIX 50AE from my belt with my left hand.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
he sees the Hummer and the knucklehead's pinto stationwagon turn into right, into the blockade guards. THey flee with the knuckleheads on their tail.
 
 
 
A tanker swerves as it looks like its had a flat on the rig. R sees a Pueblo man hanging shooting at tires on the far side. His angle is good and he takes the shot as trained. the guy flops and hangs. Two... two... life has changed so much with two raiders.
 
 
 
One of the arco boys rides down and signals to him.
 
 
 
"Those assholes are going for the barracks. Fitz says Fuck em. Ride hard for Denver. We have a flat on the rig but can't all stop to change it here without risking the lot. You follow the other two. Some of us will stay and change the tire,"
 
 
 
He rides over to the stopped rig. R sees Wrecker, the driver leaping out to change the tire.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
When I see Wrecker get out of the rig I pull over and stop. I call out to him.
 
 
 
"Wrecker! I've been told to continue on with the Convoy. But I could stay for a couple minutes to give you cover fire if you need it."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"Hang back a bit, give me a couple minutes to flip the tires. If no one jumps me in the next couple minutes I'll be clearThey got more trouble with those asshats attacking their barracks. I swear im going to shove a granade up his.. "
 
 
 
He jumps down and helps the elf work on the tires.
 
 
 
Slugger says, "They got a drone up there!" Pointing up in the air."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
Looking up in the direction Slugger is pointing I search the sky for the Drone. My intention is to shoot it out of the sky. If it's low enough I simply grab the AK from between my legs and pop off a round. If it seems further away I reach inside the sidecar and grab the 30.06 with the scope, take aim then shoot it out of the sky.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
The Drone is a good distance up and weaving about. R chooses the AK. Spraying bullets in a burst clips it and the handler guides it quickly out of danger.
 
 
 
Wrecker jumps into changing the tires. gives cover but he notices that Wrecker grips a lug nut with two fingers and twists it free.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
At the sight of Wrecker removing a lug nut with his fingers, my first instinct is to make a funny or smart-assed comment... then I hear the voice of one of my Drill Sergeants from Basic Training screaming in my head:
 
 
 
~'This is not the time for jokes or distractions! Keep your mouth closed, your eyes open, your head on a swivel and your mind focused!'~
 
 
 
So I did exactly that. I keep my back to Wrecker watching for approaching enemies, looking for snipers in the places I would sit to snipe. The butt of the AK held to my shoulder, the barrel up and level following the movement of my head and upper body as I scan left and right, finger inside the trigger guard but not resting on the trigger.
 
 
 
I feel the adrenaline coursing through my system; the fear and the thrill, the fight and the flight. I let them wash over me like water. I control my breathing, keeping it even, slow deep inhales, slow controlled exhales. I keep my mind focused on what I am doing, not allowing my mind to wander. Keep watch. Look for enemies. Be prepared for attack at any moment.
 
 
 
Periodically I look upwards in the sky, also periodically I look over to Wrecker to check his progress.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Looking south 3heavily armed technical trucks are diving up around the curve at extreme range.
 
 
 
They fade off the road making straight for the barracks . They look to be mounting .50cals, a driver and a gunner.
 
 
 
Slugger yells, "They are going after those asshole guys! "
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Wrecker, you just about done?" I ask as I head for the Harley. "The Militia Meatheads are about to taste .50 caliber with their assholes. Three of 'em mounted on small trucks."
 
 
 
I mount up and place the AK between my legs, barrel on the handlebars. I rev the engine, having left it idling when I stopped.
 
 
 
"We should help or hit the road soon; they'll be coming for us soon enough."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"30 seconds! If they turn to us shoot. If not the knucklehead wanted a fight so they get the whole magazine."
 
 
 
Watching the 3 bounce over the prairie R hears a high pitched engine coming quick from the west. Looking up he sees something outlandish...but his game knowledge itches making it familiar. A dwarf on a small engined gyrocopter flying a couple hundred feet above.it swings around to look down at the escort bike who waves him off. It continues east several hundred yards then hovers.
 
 
 
Wrecker leaps in the cab and the thing is moving before his butt hits the seat. It makes off north.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
Though I felt bad for the Meatheads, Wrecker was right; they only came on looking for a fight and they got one. I know I could help, some, but I wasn't working for the Militia, I was working for the Arco Boys, and they were headed to Denver.
 
 
 
The Dwarf on the Gyrocopter struck me more as Warhammer than ShadowRun, but what the hell, he was on our side, or so it seemed, so what did it matter. Cool, regardless.
 
 
 
"Keep your eyes open and your mind focused, Slugger. Watch the sides and rear. Great job with those grenades, by the way."
 
 
 
I let the tanker get rolling then I fall in behind, watching the sides of the road for trouble and checking the mirrors for pursuit. Ready to do what must be done.
 
 
 
I wonder briefly if I'm even going to bother to slow down, let alone stop, as we pass through The Springs... really doesn't seem there's much of a point anymore... especially not here, on this world.
 
 
 
I turn my full attention the tanker ahead of me, the road we travel and the potential dangers laying in wait around the next turn.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Driving on they pass the dust up at the roadblock. The dwarves are gone north but the milita guys are deep in it. There seems to be a lot of hiding and shooting over cars.
 
 
 
R takes a moment in passing to note the terrible placement and tactics of both sides. Sloppy fire patterns, wasteful use of ammunition. A barracks with big windows all shot to pieces. Neither side looks to have a pip of warfare between them.
 
 
 
Heading after the others it take half an hour to catch up. Fitz hanging back races back and waves, eyeballs, then brings Wrecker into the group.
 
 
 
An hour goes by till they pull over at a place with a two M1 Abrhams, a couple of m113, a Armored Bus as a command center. There is a flag pole with three flags on it.
 
 
 
The caravan stops. Fitz rides forward talking to the duty officer.  Wrecker hopes down, walks up to R.
 
 
 
"I owe you for hanging back. I won't forget it. We should talk. "  Looks up ahead at the flags.  "Been a couple months since we were up this way. The flags are new but I know what they mean. The top is the national flag of Colorado. 5 stars for 5 states. The next is the state flag of Denver. The bottom is the Bronco Banner that the military of Colorado uses. Watchout..If you are un aligned the Army will push to enlist you. I hear there are press gangs. Feel free to say you are a Fort Garland guy and with the Arcos."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"You don't owe me anything Wrecker. I was just doing my job. Rear guard stays at the rear, stays with anyone lagging behind and stays with anyone that falls out. And rescues them if necessary. But, still happy to sit and talk with you, when time permits. And thanks for filling me in on the who's who and what's what. I'm not sure if Rodak told you but I've been away from people and civilization for quite a while. You could almost say it was like I was living in another world."
 
 
 
I chuckle then I go to the Sidecar and let the dogs out.
 
 
 
"Poodle Boys. Stay close. Go pee."
 
 
 
I keep an eye on them as they go about their business.
 
 
 
"How you holdin' up, Slugger?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Curious slips out of the very tip of the interior of the sidecar and herds the dogs out, waiting till they pee before doing so himself. Her then nuzzles the dogs till they take a squat for business, after which he does. He then herds the dogs back to the side car.
 
 
 
Slugger says, "That was scary. I am down two softballs."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
“Softballs?” I snort in mirth. “More like a Hardball.” I smile at my own joke. “Well, I got two in each side pocket of my field jacket here. If you need one, just reach in and grab it, carefully. And yeah, that was pretty scary. I was scared too. But you handled yourself extremely well, Slugger. Good job on taking out those buggies; excellent double toss there, kiddo. And good job on keeping focused on what's going on around us and alerting me to it and on taking care of the animals while we travel.”
 
 
 
I pause a moment to let her feel good about her accomplishments.
 
 
 
“But it's going to be even scarier on the way back, because our tankers will be full of gas and all the bad guys are going to want to take it. And they will to do what ever they can to get it, even if it means killing all the Arco Boys and us too. And they know we're coming, and how many of us there are and what we're drivin' and packin'. So I need you to be just as focused and alert, and even more careful. Okay? I'll see what I can do about getting' us some fast grub and a place to pee before we head back. I don't know about you, but I'm a little hungry.”
 
 
 
I turn to Wrecker. “Any possibility of getting some grub before we head back? Even something for the road?”
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Wrecker nods. "We'll pig out. We'll probably stay the night after that pueblo business. We are in safe territory now."
 
 
 
The caravan is let passed the barricade and drives off nearly an hour till it pulls over. Fitz takes the crew off from the road.
 
 
 
He says "Ok we are good into Denver. Our contract has been picked up by the state gov. That's good for us... but... the problem is going home."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Is this a good news, bad news situation? Or a bad news, bad news situation, Sir?"
 
 
 
I am not making a joke or being snarky. My tone is serious and I am being respectful.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Tapping out his pipe and refilling it while talking he says, "Its the wild wild west. The old federal government has stabilized and Colorado isn't part of it. Neither are Texas, the Pacific states, Mexico, or western Canada. The Fed can't do much west of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers except fly over them and humans don't control the sky since the Change. They control everything east of the rivers up to Winnipeg and South of Hudson Bay. The general at that Border crossing tells me that Fort Garland is either the east border of Pacifica, the northern border of Aztlan, Northwest Texas, or Southern Colorado."
 
 
 
Puffing his pipe furiously to light he goes on.
 
 
 
"They are happy to see us, will help us fill our tankers, then escort us back to the FG for our own safety. Good or bad, I would hate to be one of our mayors. Cell service is down, or being jammed, so I can't tell Rodak what's a coming down on him. So....into Denver, fill up, rest two days while they assemble our escort, then home."
 
 
 
As R hears the tale he thinks that he left a dying disease-filled world and went into a world deeply transformed by the emergence of magic that lost at least a third, maybe half, of the world's previous population. What did such powerful magic have in mind to summon two traveling Mesobians here?
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
As Fitz begins speaking and fiddling with his pipe, I pull a cigarette from the nearly empty pack in the right breast pocket of my field jacket. I realize there is no lighter there because it died the other night and I never bothered to replace it with one from my backpack. So, I light it up with a fire finger cantrip, not really worrying if anyone sees. After all, this is a magical world now. I take a few drags while I think over what Fitz has relayed to us and wonder why Slugger and I ended up in this particular world. Was it random? Was it my stray thoughts? Or was there something guiding us with a purpose?
 
 
 
"Ya know Fitz, if it's important enough, you could send someone out ahead after we clear Pueblo to let Rodak and the mayors know what's coming their way. Or... You could send someone on the alternate route, the one with the lake crossing, to avoid Pueblo and get back to Fort Garland well ahead of the convoy. I'll volunteer for that mission, if you deem it vital."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Fitz nods, "I appreciate that but I'm going to send Candy. You have a menagerie to put at risk. She is fast, agile, and not suffering from testosterone poisoning. She'll make the run in a couple hours. Look, we'll be in Denver in about 15 minutes. If you want to head on North things should be safe. If you stay with us, we'll be at the Park Meadows on the Bronco's dime. Then we will be going south. Its likely to get very messy. You've been here a couple days. You don't owe us anything. But if you come back, well... its your call."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I smile at Fitz's concern for my companions and I nod my head at his decision to send someone, most likely, more capable than I.
 
 
 
"I'll be staying on and heading back with y'all to Fort Garland, if that's ok with you. Things have changed and I no longer have a need to visit The Springs, or anywhere else local for that matter. And Fort Garland seems as good a place as any for me and Slugger to figure some things out. Plus, you Arco Boys have treated me and mine fairly... more than fairly, and I feel I should do what I can to help y'all out. And my menagerie is more capable then they look; as scarred up Orcs and destroyed dune buggies will attest."
 
 
 
I smile and give Slugger a look of approval and a nod of my head.
 
 
 
"And I knew the risks coming into this, including a more dangerous return trip. But maybe I can pickup a bulletproof vest in the Mile High City, might help when things get messy."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He nods, "Pay cash for armor. The Broncos will be eager to supply us and we are already getting free gas, but they will want credit for the free bees when they get to FG. I suspect we can get almost anything while we are here. Everyone, go shop. There is s favorable exchange rate of Colo-dollars to gold. I am going to trade 100 sovereigns for Colos. That'll run us a tab of around 50k colos. Look for body armor, ammo, seeds, kitchenware, medicine. Cell phones, target systems, needles. Things that might get scares if we have to start making it ourselves."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Well, to be honest Fitz, I don't want to owe the Broncos anything. Or anyone else for that matter. So I will definitely be paying for everything out of my own pocket."
 
 
 
I turn to look at Wrecker.
 
 
 
"And I'll try not to 'flash' more than necessary."
 
 
 
I give him a playful wink and laugh then turn back to Fitz.
 
 
 
"Now, you said it's safe here, Fitz, but every place has it's dangers... So what should I be wary of or watchful for in Denver?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"Be wary of Broncos buying drinks. The bastards will press ya. We will be passing Colorado Springs. There is supposed to be a Federal District. Not sure now. What used to be the city of Castle Rock is now the border of the city and state of Denver. Guys, i know its been a scary ride, but if you drink too much you'll wake up a Bronco. Stay safe. Stay south of Willow Creek. Stay in the 470/25 commercial area...2 days and we are out of here."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I give Slugger a playful shove.
 
 
 
"You hear that Slugger? No drinking. So I guess you're going to have to curb your alcoholic ways for a couple of days."
 
 
 
I give her a playful smile and a wink, then I turn back to Fitz.
 
 
 
"Good advice. We'll heed your warnings."
 
 
 
I take a last drag off my cigarette and drop the butt to the ground, snuffing it under my boot heel. I pull my skull riding mask back into place.
 
 
 
"Ready when you are, boss."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Slugger snickers, "I will if you will!" She pulls the helmet over her brow.
 
 
 
A motorcyclist comes over and speaks briefly to Fitz. Fits yells, "Mount up"
 
 
 
==CHAPTER FIVE: DENVER & SOME SURPRISES==
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
The drive into Denver up 25 is eerie. The sides are well armed with m1 tanks, hummers, and personnel carriers, as well as some technical vehicles. The coloring on the military vehicles is standard except some side panels are painted orange. R sees the version of the 1st Cavalry they are using and is probably both amused and annoyed.
 
 
 
As they advance there is a sudden air raid horn and the tanks aim their barrels skyward. The military escort signals to pull over and Fitz does so.
 
 
 
A flight of three F15s rushes westward splinting in different directions over the roadway, flying upward circling.. After a few minutes an all clear horn is sounded and the caravan continues.
 
 
 
The caravan is brought to the Park Meadows motel and is checked in. Fitz is annoyed that even though it only just past midday he can't fill the tanks till tomorrow.
 
 
 
He speaks to an officer ath the Motel who changes gold for Colos.
 
 
 
Coming over he says, "Here... a 1000 Colos. Get what you can. Nothing we can't make ourselves."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I refuse the offered colos with a polite hand gesture and slight shake of my head.
 
 
 
“I got my own money, Fitz... and I think everybody knows it” I finish with a short laugh. “I got your list of needed supplies and I'm happy to spend some of it getting them for the good people of Fort Garland, as well as myself and Slugger. But thank you for the offer. I'm...” a slight pause, “well...” another slight pause. “I'm not really doing this for the pay... more the benefits, to be honest. I think there's a reason Slugger and I ended up in your fine city when and how we did. There were a few ways I could have gone to get to The Springs and still avoid interstates and major cities... but for some reason, having come from deep in southern Arizona... or what once was, we ended up in Fort Garland. Completely unmolested and in record time, I might add... I gotta believe there's reason. And in this new Age of Magic, I'm willing to start believin' in aaaall sorts of things.”
 
 
 
I change the subject, getting my mind back on track.
 
 
 
“Have you sent Candy back yet? I'm curious because I had a weird idea. I don't know what status FG wants to be or not be; by that I mean, independent or incorporated, and with whom. But if Fort Garland wants to remain independent... perhaps they should hurry up and declare themselves an Independent City State, BEFORE the convoy arrives. They will need a Flag and a signed Declaration, or something, to make it official. Oh, and claim as much land around the city as possible as part of your new City State... gonna need room for expansion. And if they get it done before we arrive... they could, as an Independent City State, accept the 'free' gasoline as a Tribute of Good Will from a Neighboring Nation, with nothing owed in return... maybe. Set the place up as a Neutral Trading Port between the other New Nations of the Americas.”
 
 
 
I pause a moment, realizing I let out a lot of my thoughts without knowing all the facts or the desires of those involved.
 
 
 
“But hey...” I shrug, “it was just a thought. I mean... being part of a big five State Nation could have it benefits as well.” I shrug again. “Who am I to say. But... I... I just felt I had to say it out loud... ya know. Any away... got some shoppin' to do. See ya later, surely in time for dinner. Oh, do you think I should cash in some gold for colos? Or do you think the merchants will accept them?”
 
 
 
I ask with a straight face, then a bit of a smile hits the corner of my lips and a playful twinkle shows in my eyes as I head for the same officer I just saw Fitz with, exchanging gold coins for colos.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Fitz listens then pulls his pip and lights it, looking around.
 
 
 
"You got your own gold, great. Keep it. I got a sweet deal on my exchange and i bet you won't get 2/3 of it. IN the mean time, take this. WHo knows what you will find and if its stuff we need and you don't want, buy the stuff we need with my colos. Don't fret it."
 
 
 
"As for the Nation of Fort Garland...Rodak told you what happened, i am sure. We run tanker caravans. Have for years. 4 or 5 of us have similar hauls and similar directions, it just worked for us to buddy up. That's what we did. We had a long caravan of tankers, shipping crate haulers, box trucks. The change happened when we were in Fort Garland. We hardly knew the people there. Just in passing. But we have been there for 6 months.. We like the locals. and if there is going to be a dust up.. Well, i told Candy to tell Rodak everything. We won't be declaring ourselves a country. to small a place. As for the nation of Colorado.. well,... Rodak, Wrecker, Candy, myself, and the rest of us....We come from Texas and that's where i sent Candy"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I accept the colos when he offers them again. I shove them in deep in my right front pants pocket and continue listening. When he finishes I let out a low whistle.
 
 
 
“Well, that's gonna have an effect on the landscape. I do recall Rodak mentioning y'all were based out of Texas. Arco is too, right? And I get that y'all are most likely loyal to Company or State... uh, Nation now... or both.” I sigh heavily. “I guess there's gonna be a fight for Fort Garland... most likely.”
 
 
 
Another heavy sigh. I am quiet for a moment as I let it sink in.
 
 
 
“Guess we should get busy then. Is everybody just going where ever they want, willy-nilly, or is there a plan or strategy for the shopping? I drove through here on the 25 a few times, several years ago when I lived in The Springs, to visit some cousins in Aurora... I seem to recall a Mall to the north of us just on the other side of the 470 here. I'm gonna start there... take the Menagerie shopping... could be fun.”
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Fitz nods, "The Centennial Promenade. its something of a swap meet now, being indoors some people live in their booths."
 
 
 
Wrecker comes over, "Mind if I go with you? I have a contact at the Promenade that should be able to help us. He used to be a UPS driver. After the Change he migrated hee. Got a job with security at the Promonade. I ain't talked to him since the change but we've exchande a few notes. I sent few people up here on earlier runs."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"I'd be glad to have you along, Wrecker. Hop in the sidecar, I'll have Slugger ride in front of me. Mind the dogs and cat... and weapons."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Arriving at the Promenade it is clearly a center of commerce in a post apocalyptic world.
 
 
 
Wrecker says, "I sent a message ahead so he should be waiting around the main entrance..."
 
 
 
Driving around the crowd parts as vehicles pass. People pulling wagons with various household goods.
 
 
 
Stepping out into traffic as the trike passes a very large orc plants himself in front of the bike. He raises his hand to halt the bike.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I pull in the clutch and hit the brakes, front and back, hard. I kill the engine then glance to Wrecker, but remain wary... this could be his contact, or maybe not.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Wrecker stands in the side car..."Reg? You're an orc? I can't believe you became an orc!"
 
 
 
He nods, walks to the sidecar. "Ya? and you seem to be a Dwarf. How's your sister?"
 
 
 
He shrugs, "Well, she's a dwarf.... but otherwise ok...ah. Reggy, this is Raphael. That' s Slugger."
 
 
 
Hesmiles a fangy smile, "Hey. Up ahead on the right, look for the green area. I'll lead ya in. "He pulls a Razor board and starts skating off. R sees its motorized. He weave in the drive to the green painted parking lot. a dozen people, orc and humans ,stand around the border. a dozen cars sit in the green.
 
 
 
Reggy says, "We don't watch kids or pets. But your bike is safe. 2 Colos."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"And the contents, I hope." I say with a friendly tone and a smile as I hand him 3 Colos.
 
 
 
"The kid and the dogs are coming with... the cat... well, he does what he wants, and for my own safety, I let him. Do we need to check our weapons before entering, or is it open carry?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy says, "Its Open carry. No one likes leaving things in the car. But there are snipers in the rafters and they take no shit. There is almost never any trouble. The Broncos make sure trouble is local and short. An army with police powers is efficient and deadly."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
Since the hunting rifle and katana are already packed in the sidecar, and the throwaway handguns, minus the Desert Eagle, are strapped to the bike, I leave them, but I bring the AK, slung over my shoulder right shoulder and everything else that was already strapped to me, including my back pack. I leash up the dogs and attach the leashes to Slugger's belt with D-links. I leave Buck's Helmet and my Skull Mask in the sidecar.
 
 
 
"Reggy, any recommendations on where to find some good body armor?"
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy leads the way in, playing tour guide.
 
 
 
Wrecker asks, "Ya, body armor. Kevlar helms. Sewing needles. Mirrors."
 
 
 
Reggy laughs, "You putting together a hope chest little man? "
 
 
 
Wrrecker quickly grabs his crotch and squeezes, making Reggy bend over yowling and laughing, "I was always shorter then you Reggy but I kicked your ass the last time you ran your mouth. Be glad its me not Sassy. She would have shived you"
 
 
 
Reggy laughs, "Ok! Ok! all good, Wrecks. "
 
 
 
He leads the way into the maul. Lit by skylights and solar, the place is dim and shadowy. The interior is tight. Stores looted and rebuilt for residences and sales. As if several swap meets were crammed into a high class mall that had been raided and looted."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
Upon entering the Maul/Swap Meet I order the dogs to "stay close" and "be good". I look to see if Curious accompanied us, then I turn my full attention to the stalls and people around us.
 
 
 
I let Reggy and Wrecker lead the way, with the Poodle Boys and Slugger ahead of me where I can keep and eye on them. I periodically look behind me. Though I am looking in the stalls/shops to see what wares are being offered, I am also watching the people to see if they are watching us, and I am looking into the little niches and darker spaces for spying eyes and ambush.
 
 
 
Besides looking for the things on Fitz's List, I am also looking for ammo for the guns I have, high protein foodstuffs like MRE's, protein bars, etc., water purifying pills and/or personal filters, various medical supplies to supplement my Field Medic Kit, and medications and other supplies specifically for dogs.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Cat stayed with the bike, intimidating the orcs. (2 pip enemies-Orcs)
 
 
 
As they wander through the place a thought crosses his mind. The place looks like a junk drawer. Looking closer he thinks that many of these people look as if they are selling off a life time worth of personal possessions. But he realizes these people have been scavenging abandoned houses to collect the stuff her for sale.
 
 
 
Numbers he didn't know he knew pop into his head. The metropolitan area of Denver once had 2,963,821 people. If half dis appeared and half turned into other races, a million and a half places at least were filled with personal goods. Now those things are here. Its less like a Surplus store and more like an estate sale or yard sale.
 
 
 
He finds home first aid kits. Slugger picks up a tin of danish cookies and finds it full of sewing supplies.
 
 
 
Slugger looks over the kit and looks up at R with what look like tears. "Can I have it?"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Of course you can, Slugger." I say with a smile, wondering if it reminds her of her mom, the reason for the tearful look.
 
 
 
I look to the seller. "How much for this sewing kit? And do you have any other sewing kits? And first-aid kits; got any of them?"
 
 
 
I know I won't really need them, but the Citizens of FG might... especially the first-aid kits if a 'dust up' happens.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
"2 Colos for that.. I have a sewing machine and a box of thread and other sewing stuff.. Not another box like that...100 Colos for the lot" The orc nods as if its a good deal.
 
 
 
As he fishes out the money he looks down to see a man in exquisite black platemail as if he is a major LARPer. With him is a strikingly beautiful blond woman in forest larp clothes with a long bow and swords. They are sitting eating burritos and talking. Then man stands, she stands beside him. He snaps his head and makes eye contact with Raphael. He has the Mesob medallion on his forehead. He pushes the woman and they start walking east fast, and fade away, leaving the world.
 
 
 
He realizes he saw someone shadowwalk away, after recognizing him.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
As I see the man in armor, I hand over the Colos reflexively... I can't take my eyes off that armor... armor that I recognize... ~THAT'S Shatterbound!~ I think to myself. ~Is that Vander? And Carissa?~ I wonder. As the man's head snaps my direction I see that it's not Vander, by the Mark of Mesob alone... but still he seems familiar... and that armor certainly looks like Shatterbound... from the pics in the Game Wiki files that is. ~So if that's not Vander, I wonder who the hot blonde with him is? She looks capable.~
 
 
 
The man seems surprised to see me... or perhaps more accurately, a fellow Mesobian. As he moves to leave, he appears to be hustling off the beautiful woman, as though he didn't want to stick around to associate with me. ~He looks really familiar... kinda like Johnny Depp from Fear and Loathing...~
 
 
 
As I watch the two Walk off into Shadow, my mind reels and races. I feel a strong desire to follow them, off into Shadow... But right now I know I can't; too many responsibilities. But I would like to know if I CAN follow them. I don't take my eyes off the spot where they faded out, I focus my eyes and my mind on the spot. I try to extend my 'awareness' to that spot to sense... 'see' or 'feel', something about that spot where they exited this world. If the Wiki is correct about the Medallion raising my Attributes to Chaos Ranking, then with my now higher than Human Ranked Psyche I should be able to 'detect something' there, a Shadow Trail, while it is still fresh. I know I've never done this before, but I have a great imagination and I KNOW it can be done, so I try.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He senses a trail but also that it will fade in moments unless he abandons everything to follow it. Knowing there was a choice is enough for now.
 
 
 
The man brings out an old singer sewing machine and a box of sewing stuff, looking like it was taken from the home of some one who was once an avid seamstress. Well used and cared for.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Excellent. Thank you." I say to the seller with a smile and a nod. "Reminds me of the one my mom had... someone's gonna get some good use outta this beauty." I grab the sewing machine in my left hand; I carry it hanging at my side, the box on my right shoulder. I begin looking for something to carry my purchases in, there are sure to be more... perhaps a little red wagon, if a shopping cart is not available. I look around and follow Reggy's lead, smiling to myself at the glimpse I got of other Shadow Travelers, now being able to detect Shadow Trails (and probably other phenomenon), and knowing I COULD have followed.
 
 
 
"This place looks like a huge swap meet to the Nth degree." I say to Reggy, sounding a bit awed or overwhelmed by it all... though I'm not. "Any actual businesses left? Or more specialty vendors?" I ask with a friendly and truly curious tone in my voice.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy says, "Depends what you mean by actual businesses. The place was gutted by the riots within days of the Change. People went hard into hoarding. Vey little was around for the first few month that hadn't started in some store and gotten raided. Bad and bloody days. Same All over i hear. Once the Broncos started securing things, restoring transport and supply chains things got better. Then a few of the businesses reopened. One or two employees survived and they brought their friends and family to secure the old work shop. Dress Barn and Stickly furniture are like that. Alot of places people moved into they reopened on name recognition; Denver Leather, Conn's Appliances. Conn's supports group foraging out in the burbs. Lot of places do. Some things went fast. Wagons, wheel barrows, shopping carts. With gas so expensive and hard to get people walked, abandoned the burbs, moved in here. Any business that did food like like Firehouse Subs or Wahoo fish taco reopened as food services with...creative menus."
 
 
 
He looks R over, glances at Slugger and the dogs, "You look well heeled. Friends with Wrecker. Must have been fairly rural during the change. Most the rural places did ok. at first. Still are, like Fort Garland. But the big cities became warzones. Aurora became a stronghold for the asshole orcs. Golden went elvish. Indian Hills went Dwarf, as I am sure you know. Hey Wrecker, if Rodak is doing a deal with the Indian Hill Dwarfs let him know I got about 40 orcs that hate the Aurora tribe. We are in the Willowbrook area foraging and running our parking lot business. We would love to get the hell out of Denver. The Bronocs are recruiting anyone with military experience and that's a lot of the Aurora orcs. And a lot of assholes."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I nod my head a few times and stop wasting my time looking for a wagon or cart.
 
 
 
"Well, I wasn't sure how well or bad things went here, or how well organized the recovery has been. Just trying to get my bearings. I had been spending a lot of time in the wilderness, camping, when the Change happened... really had no idea what had happened until I came back one day and found Slugger here at the scene of a massacre... she doesn't really talk about what happened much. Before he died, her Uncle made me promise to look after her... so we came up north and found ourselves in Fort Garland just a couple of days ago, and now I'm riding with Wrecker and the Arco Boys. Been a real eye-opener and wild ride so far."
 
 
 
"And as far as the specific businesses... I was kind of hoping a GNC had survived" I chuckle. "They had excellent protein bars that would keep a long time if unopened. I was also hoping to find a Garden & Patio department that survived; looking for seeds for a vegetable garden."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy laughs, "GNC? Meds are gone. People ate them like candy trying to reverse the Change. Idiots.. Seeds might be hard to find but possible. Anyone with seeds at this point is trying to farm."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Well then, I guess that leaves the specialty items" I say to Reggy with a hopeful smile; "body armor, ammo, meds and medical supplies... and any veterinary supplies, if at all possible. I know these items are surely more scarce and certainly very expensive, but I gotta ask. You never know what you might find in a place this size."
 
 
 
I keep looking around at the people, watching for lurkers in dark places and pickpockets as people get too close. If I see anything big or bulky on Fitz's list I will point it out to Wrecker, since I'm already carrying a Singer and box of sewing supplies.
 
 
 
I tell the dogs Poodle Boys they are 'good boys' and 'behave', 'stay close', but I also try to gently project the feelings of my praise for their good behavior and my desire for it to continue to all three of them. I'm not sure if I can affect them with my now more powerful Psyche, but I am willing to try. Part of being a Gamer (playing a character, specifically); Try Everything... sometimes more than once, you just don't know what will or won't work until you try.
 
 
 
I return my attention back to the great Swap Mall, with its stalls and shops, its myriad of scavenged stuff and plethora of people buying and selling.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy weaves through the clutter to a big box store. Moving to what was once the recieving for a big box store. Its been converted to a metal working place. He is taken to an area where they are making body armor, sewing Canvas and 500 denier Cordura around steel plates. Several orcs are working the metal and the fabric. An orc comes up, nods to Reggy and asks what you are looking for?
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Full body armor, if you've got it. Something that'll protect me from bullets and melee weapons. Not too heavy, not too bulky, not too restrictive."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Wrecker agrees, "TYa, All ive got is leather and things are getting dicey on the road. He looks at Reggy who nods.
 
The man says, "Reggy vouches for you guys.. "
 
 
 
Reggy says, "These are the Arco boys from Fort Garland. "
 
 
 
He nods, "oh.. and we want to go south, don't we Reggy....Ok. I got ya. I got a dozen of these. Raided some reenactor's place. I got four of them complete and pieces that once sorted out could make 7 or 8 more. I know we want to go south but i can't give them to ya for free."
 
He walks back into piles of boxes, crates and to a van. Opening the door he pulls a pile of metal and straps and pads. Clearly a reenactor's bag. (Roman Style; Lorica Segmentata)
 
 
 
"There are 4 full rigs here. 1 was in the bag with all the pads and leg pieces and shit. The workshop has 3 other body sets and 6 other helms. And cut out pieces for 8 other rigs. I was putting them together but if you want to buy the lot i'll make ya a good deal. "
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I look the stuff over, seeing that it's in good shape I nod my head.
 
 
 
"We'll take the lot of it" I say. "I'm sure we can piece it all together when we get back to FG. I was hoping for something a bit less flashy and a little more modern. But, Beggars can't be choosers. Especially in this market." I laugh.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He says, "I got the modern stuff. Lots of it in fact. But most of the stuff is refits. This crap won't fit us. Too..." he looks around, "Human" And all the modern gear. Tac suits, airsoft, are people are using. "
 
 
 
He looks at Reggy who nods again, " We hit a militia group early on. They were hunting us like sport. Tacticals, scoped rifles. Like it was thanksgiving. Like a month before we weren't all Americans hoping the country didn't go down to shitter because of the ragheads and beaners. They knew where we all were because we had all been in the same Milita group. The Stalwart Americans. The Stal Ams. They knew who all of us were, by name. Our families.. Thats the worst thing about the Change... I've brother who went elf and now he won't talk to me...So they raided us, killed a dozen of us. People who had been their friends.. We said fuck em . Our eyesight is better now then night goggles. We snuck into the compound and butchered the bastards. So all the tac gear I have needed....repairs."
 
 
 
Reggy says, "And cleaning"
 
 
 
He pulls up a tac vest. "Slightly used. Only one owner. 20 colos."
 
 
 
Slugger says, "DO you have one in green and blue circles?"
 
 
 
Wrecker says, looking at Slugger, "You know, R, I love the armor but i think we should get a couple of the tac vests and piece together something smaller for Slugger."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Good idea. I think we should get as many as we can. But with the tac vests needing work, we won't be able to use them right away, maybe a few of them before we leave, I did just get this old Singer and a box of sewing supplies, plus I know a few tricks about sewing and cleaning."
 
 
 
I try not to smile at my realization of the Cantrips I can do and the possibility of more to come, possibly making repairs go much faster.
 
 
 
"Now the armor" I continue "we can sort out before we leave..." I look over Wrecker's Dwarven proportions. "and maybe do some restrapping... we should get some leather belts to use for straps, if needed. Saw plenty of them on the way in... one or two in every other stall it seemed."
 
I turn to the Orc selling the armor.
 
 
 
"I'll take all the armor and whatever you've got in tac vests too, as is. How much you want for the lot of it? And is there any chance we can pay for the use of that van to get it all to our rooms? We're close by."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He nods, "10,000 Colo. I got probably 40 tac suits, some of them really messy.. these rigs and the parts and I'll toss in a spool of webbing and use of the van. Deal?"
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
Before answering I turn to Wrecker and say quietly.
 
 
 
"This one's on me. We need this and I can cover it. Tell Fitz if you like, but I can do some good here and there's no reason I shouldn't."
 
I turn back to the seller with a smile.
 
 
 
"Deal. Half up front to hold it until we get back, we have a bit more shopping to do, and the other half when we return."
 
I reach under my wide leather belt near the buckle and unzip the belt pouch hidden beneath containing the gold coins and draw out one, keeping it hidden within my closed hand I pass it over to the Orc seller.
 
 
 
"How many of those will you take instead of Colos?" I ask, knowing that Fitz got an exchange rate of 500 Colos to 1 Gold Coin, but I might get less.
 
 
 
I also take into consideration the different weights that gold coins come in... came in, back on my world; the Canadian Maple Leaf alone came in 1/4 ounce, 1/2 ounce and full ounce, with the full ounce selling at nearly two thousand US Dollars... before the Pandemic wiped out everything.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
He licks his lips, a bit of tongue licking the tusk in a move that looks like a new nervous habit...
 
 
 
"Ah..Reggy?"
 
 
 
Reggy makes obvious hand signs, looking like bad baseball signals.
 
 
 
"Call me Tickle. Under no circumstances would I make a deal for gold, sir. I run a legitimate shop and only accept Colos. "
 
 
 
Looking around carefully he whispers, "Vultures, vultures, everywhere." Tapping his ear. " Reggy wants us to go south. So...2000 colos till you can change enough gold legally. Pay off at your place. When you get ready to ride there swing by the docks and ill drive the van myself and close the deal...maybe ill bring some good tequila I got saved to seal the deal? "
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
I nod my head thinking to myself that I've never had such a hard time spending money in my entire life.
 
 
 
"Tickle, Well Met. Call me Raphael. And I understand. You guys gotta run your business all up front and legal like. And I know you don't want to draw any attention or trouble from the Fed's. Unfortunately, I don't happen to have 2,000 Colos on me at the moment."
 
 
 
I turn to Wrecker.
 
 
 
"If you can cover the down payment, I'll pay you back after I get more Colos. You know I'm good for it. I'm sure Daddy Warbucks gave you more Colos than me... I think he likes you better." I say playfully.
 
 
 
I turn back to Tickle.
 
 
 
"Tequila sounds like a great way to seal the deal. And when y'all make it to FG I got some Pappy Van Winkle Reserve I'll be happy to share. Call it a welcome to the neighborhood kind of thing."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Wrecker digs out his pouch and pulls out 2000 colos.. Set it down.
 
 
 
"Covered. Meet us at Park Meadows to get the rest. Lets fit one of these bad boys to me and I'll wear it out! "
 
 
 
Looking to R wrecker says, "Lets talk settling up back at the Fort so we don't have to deal with middlemen for walking money."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"No middlemen is fine by me" I say to Wrecker, then turn to Tickle.
 
 
 
"And I'll take this complete rig now as well... looks like it'll fit me perfectly. And this Tac Vest too."
 
 
 
While Wrecker is getting fitted, I use a Clean Cantrip to clean the blood off the Tac Vest, knowing it will take a few of them. I focus on the 'feeling' I get each time I use the Cantrip, identifying it as Magic, so I can recognize it again when I feel it... and so I can teach myself more Cantrips. After all, I have read all the original Cantrip descriptions in the Unearthed Arcana on multitudes of occasions... I was made to act them out by one DM who shall remain nameless... but perhaps now I should honor him, for that knowledge could prove very useful.
 
 
 
Once the vest is clean, I focus on the 'magical feeling', then make a sewing motion over one of the bullet holes, while saying a little rhyme:
 
"A Stitch in time, saves nine." I whisper as I work, repeating the motion and rhyme (somatic & verbal components) of the Stitch Cantrip over each bullet hole until all are stitched closed.
 
 
 
After cleaning the vest (and hopefully stitching closed all the bullet holes) I set it aside. I then button all the pockets closed on my field jacket to keep from losing the contents then remove the jacket, pull the sleeves outside in, then wrap the jacket around the sewing machine, pull the sleeves criss-crossed under the top of the machine, bring them around the top and tie them in a knot, but not so tight I can't slip my hand under the knot for carrying purposes. Then I zip the jacket closed leaving the knot exposed at the neck hole, then I pull the drawstring at the bottom to cinch it all together.
 
 
 
Then I take off my weapons belt and lay it at my feet. I button up my flannel shirt then put on the tac vest, tightening it up nice and snug, intending to use in to replace some of the padding for the Roman armor. Then I put on the other pads I will need. Once done, I start with the leg armor, repositioning the .45 strapped to my right thigh as needed, then the upper body armor, getting help as needed from Tickle or Reggy. Then I put on my leather belt pouch, then the weapons belt over it, adjusting it a bit to make sure it's snug enough to allow for easy draw of my Moro Sword and Khukuri Knife. Then I slip the Desert Eagle back under the belt near my middle. Lastly, I grab the helmet and put it on.
 
Suddenly I wonder if there is a mirror or other reflective surface nearby that I can see myself in... I'm suddenly very curious about how I look.
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Looking around there is a sheet of steel nearby that is fairly reflective, if not a mirror. Looking in it he wonders how much has changed in a couple days.
 
 
 
The clash and clatter around the area dies away to silence.
 
 
 
Looking around he sees Wrecker and slugger turn to look quizzically as all the orcs stand silent.
 
 
 
Through the mall walks a well dressed man who R think at first glance is too vampiric for his taste despite the daylight. He walks through slowly, looking to make eye contact where he can. The orcs look away to avoid it and the man ignores them. Some impulse makes R meet his eyes and they exchange glances. Some deep function of the medalion brings a race and class to mind and he feels it as a very differant feeling then having a memory of his own.  Drow mage.
 
 
 
The man moves on, up to Tickle's counter, opens the cigar box, riffles the bills and takes out about a 1000 colos. He shuts the box, taps it, and walks out the loading bay.
 
 
 
Tickle rushes over to the cigar box, opens it, counts quickly as most his staff turn to watch him. After a moment he nods to them, makes a pleased face and a hand sign. Then everyone returns to business.
 
 
 
The orc working on Wrecker's armor says. "The cold fuck....Someone need to stick him with a nice glass knife..."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Careful; that one's a Mage." I say quietly to the Orc working on Wrecker's armor. "He's probably got all sorts of spells active on his person... and he's not exactly what he appears to be."
 
 
 
I turn to Slugger and bend down to whisper in her ear.
 
 
 
"If you ever see that one again, you let me know immediately. Don't let him get close to you for any reason, and don't listen to anything he says. And his skin should be black like my belt or boots, so he may look different if you see him again."
 
 
 
I turn to Reggy and move a little closer, speaking at less than conversational volume.
 
 
 
"Enforcer, right? Didn't seem like a regular pickup.... Bosses rarely make collections personally." I sigh through my nose. "Shame that bullshit didn't go away with the Change. Sounds like y'all are eager to get out of here... Our convoy rolling through Pueblo is sure to thin 'em out some, but stir 'em up somethin' fierce for the next group comin' through. If you're going our way, it might be advantageous to follow our convoy very close behind on the way through... or try to join us... if possible... if you can be ready quickly."
 
 
 
I pause, adjusting my armor near my shoulder, two fingers on one hand showing for just a moment.
 
 
 
"Look; I know you don't know me and I don't know you... but I cannot abide Racial Intolerance... And I cannot abide 'bullying' in any form, including Extortion and Protection Rackets. And it seems All Y'all need to get out of here fast.... I just thought I should say something, maybe give you an edge..."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Reggy says, "Mr Small. Eugene Smaldone III. He works for the South Mountain Mob. He's a capo. Does his own collections... likes torture magic. He ran protection rackets in Denver for his father Big Gene Smaldone before the Change. Checkers Smaldone ran the Colorado mob for decades. He hasn't been seen since the Change but all of the Smaldones everyone knew went Drow. Albino Drow so they all went goth. They were creepy violent psychos before the Change. Now.....well, we kick in. As long as we pay they only take a taste. The Broncos leave them alone."
 
 
 
Wrecker sighs, "Hey Reggy, think about what Rafe here said. Round up your boss and see if he wants to come when you bring the armor. Fort Garland might be a good move for ya."
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
"Fort Garland is a nice little place." I say to Reggy and the others listening. "No real signs of organized crime or racism. But the place is growing fast, perhaps a little too fast. Already starting to get a bit of a bad element there. The community could use a few more strong and upstanding citizens to help keep the place safe, maybe help re-educate the bad element."
 
 
 
I turn to Wrecker and say, "If there's one thing I've learned about building strong communities it's that it's better to be inclusive than exclusive. I know you talked about getting rid of the bad element, but maybe we should give them an opportunity to amend their ways and become contributing members of the community. And if they decide they don't want to change their ways then we can politely ask them to leave. And speaking of bad elements, there is one thing about Fort Garland that rubs me the wrong way... The dog fighting. When we get back I'd like to put an end to that. Hey I understand you guys need some sort of spectator sport so maybe we could start up a sports team of some sort... Or some pit fighting, if it has to be violent. Gives the spectators something to watch and it's good exercise and training for those who participate."
 
 
 
*Michael James Watson
 
 
 
Walking back the the bikes Wrecker says, "Ya know Rafe, the Arco Boys control the gas station and we have a piece of a lot of things going on, but Rodak is just one of 5 mayors of Fort Garland. You've only been with us a couple days, so careful about committing us to anything. This time though I agree. I've known Reggy a long time. Since before the Change. I like the idea of he and his guys coming south but They became orcs for a reason. Keep that in mind"
 
 
 
Getting the trikes R, Wrecker, Slugger and the Poodles are greeted wit the sight of Curious sitting on the seat of the trike( bike with side car), licking his paws. The 4 guardian orcs are several rows away from their area, still guarding but at a distance. One of the guards has a bleeding paw scratch on his face and another has several bandaged wounds on arms and shoulders.
 
 
 
Reggy says, "What the fuck are you doing out of the zone? What if Cattle or Cable saw?"
 
 
 
One says, "Cattle said it was ok. He was here. We were walking by the sidecar, admiring it, and that fucking monster went crazy on us!! We didn't steal nothing but it ran after us and chased us out of the zone! . Cattle was yelling at it and that thing lept on his face and about clawed its eyes out. He threw it back on the sidecar and it curled up like nothing happened! I tell you the Change made that thing a monster!!!"
 
 
 
Reggy says, "Fucknuckle, how close was Cable to the bike?"
 
 
 
One of the other orcs looks chagrined, "Cable sat on it, grabbed the handle bars. The cat attacked. We tried getting it off him and it attacked us. "
 
 
 
Reggy looks to R, "Nice cat. Want to sell it?"
 
 
 
Back to the Park Meadow the others had varied luck shopping but the Armor is the best. Fitz is interested in the idea of Denver orcs coming south.
 
 
 
*Daniel Eric Van Campen Sr.
 
 
 
When we get to the bike and I see the scratched up Orcs I try to keep the smile from my face, I mean really hard... straight faced, poker face.
 
"I'm sorry fellas, but I warned you. And no, Reggy, I don't want to sell the cat. Not really mine to sell anyway. Not really sure he's Slugger's either. Somehow I get the feeling it's more like Slugger is his Human."
 
 
 
When we are pulling out of the parking garage, I say to Wrecker:
 
 
 
"I wouldn't normally overstep my bounds, Wrecker, and I'm sorry I did... but I saw how you two are with each other and you mentioned having a history, pre-Change.... Plus I got a good feeling about him and the others. And do I understand they became Orcs for a reason. Just as I understand you and the Arco Boys became Dwarves for a reason. Just as I understand that I was brought here for a reason. I know Slugger and I will not be staying in FG for too long... but I know I can help all y'all while we are here. And this is a time of change and new beginnings, a perfect time to build things better. I just want to help y'all build a strong community. And I had intended to meet the other Mayors, but apparently I needed sleep more. I will be meeting with them soon after our return and talking with them to see what I can do to help out without getting in the way or upsetting too many apple carts."
 
 
 
Upon our return to the Park Meadows and our meeting with Fitz, I suggest to him that maybe we could try more shopping tomorrow, different areas, maybe a little further out, perhaps.
 
 
 
If there is still daylight left, and time before we all gather for dinner, I will take my 'menagerie' across the street to the west to a fenced area covered in grasses bordering a small wash on both sides.
 
 
 
Not sure if it was a park or just a grassy area next to a wash... but it will be good enough either way to let the dogs run and play a bit, and I will take some time with the Poodle Boys to work on their training, which I have been neglecting since leaving the apartment.
 

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