Gulch of Fire
June 27, 2012
Eighty years ago, things changed.
Eighty years ago, the Great Kingdoms were attacked by the Famine and people died. Civilization died. Things changed.
Eighty years ago, the mountains shook and shuddered and rumbled. Down from the peaks came whole clouds of the Famine-Flyers. Insects as big as a fist that’d eat anything. Especially steel. Especially the flesh and armor of the great Knights, our Heroes, our Kings. They ate up all of the defenses and all of our food until we adapted. Until things changed.
Eighty years ago, the Famine started. It lasted for five years and killed nine in ten. If not from the Famine-Flyers, from the starvation. From the cold. From the fear. Now things have changed and the world’s moved on. The knights and soldiers carry hard iron now. The wizards and will-workers use science and genius to supplement their magics, since the world is weak and faithless. Clerics have taken up The Black and the serve the Saints in their own ways, burying the dead and healing the sick. Trappers, Trackers, and Scouts have taken up the Rifle to claim the land back from the Famine-Flyers – even if it is just a desert now. The common people have had to become hard-bitten and competent, honing their skills to razors. And over them all are the Marshals, keeping the peace and serving the Righteous Law since the Temple Knights all died fighting the Famine.
Things changed, the world’s harder now. But we get along.
Before The Famine, there had been nine Saints. Now, though, only eight are remembered. Saint Barthas the Holy, Patron of the Sick and the Poor. Saint Emily the Strong, Patron of Women and Soldiers. Saint Gorreck the Wise, Patron of the Educator and the Old. Saint Rittana the Just, Patron of the Victim and the Criminal. Saint Worthan the Caring, Patron of Children and the Crippled. Saint Varia the Enlightened, Patron of Willworkers, Doctors, and Artificers. Saint Terramore the Brave, Patron of Heroes and the Oppressed. Saint Quistes the Steadfast, Patron of Mothers and Radicals. In every temple, in every church, and in every cathedral stands a ninth statue – sundered – from before the Famine. The name of that ninth Saint is forgotten, their role unknown, their purpose long-since left to wither and fade.
When Martha Dawkins first took up ecclesiastical studies and put on The Black, she was devoted to Terramore, The Knight in Gleaming Armor. She studied and knew the prayers and miracles of the Old Heroes, those who had lived and died in the Kingdoms of Resallia before The Famine. She had memorized their names, their families, and their personal touches. How they fought, how they talked, how they worked. She knew of the horrors they defeated and which Kingdoms were started by which Heroes. She even knew which of those had survived and become the Thirteen Towns. She had heard those stories growing up in Therras, which used to be the Kingdom of Wozzan and had the the largest cathedral dedicated to Terramore in the world at its heart. Her family had been saved from The Famine all those years ago by dedicated Clerics who warned the farmers at the cost of many of their own lives. When she graduated, though, and she was sent out into the world to minister to the gunslingers and artificers that prowled the Wastelands, who led the cattle from town to town to feed the masses, she heard stories of clerics that weren’t devoted to any Saint.
She heard stories of men and women who wandered from place to place in black dusters and clerical hats but didn’t carry the Book of Songs or wear the Saint’s Cord of their order. Instead, they wore a tin star on their coats and on their hats and carried a big revolver on their hip and a rifle on their back. The spoke of the Law and they called themselves Marshals. They always seemed to show up either where the Famine had been the hardest, where desperation drove people to unrighteous action, where greed drove people to unrighteous action, or where the Famine was about to strike anew.
While her devotion to Terramore was absolute, she was drawn to these Marshals and how they carried themselves like Clerics of The Black, how they knew some of the Old Truths and could work a few Miracles. She was drawn to the missing Saint and the fall of the Great Temple. The only temple dedicated to the Ninth Saint, and where the old Temple Knights had been headquartered – long since consumed by the Famine and lost within the Wasteland. So she took up her Book, her Cord, and her gun and set off into the Wasteland to find the lost temple. To find the Ninth. To fix the pantheon. To answer her questions about the Marshals. And, more than anything, by serving Terramore in the way that made Him proudest – to become a Hero.
To Feed the Many
The first thing the Famine-Flyers ate was our heroes. The second thing, our homes. The last thing, our crops. My family, three generations past, grew rice and barley on our farm outside of Ring Sands, or as they called it the Kingdom of Vortin. When the Famine came, the Temple Knights took us from our homes and got us safely into the keep in the city before the bugs came. Before they ate everything. Inside, my great grandfather helped save the wheat, the orchards, and the herds that the last King kept so that they could be used to feed everyone. It was the last order given by King Terra Vortin before she rode out to meet the critters that threatened her people.
Like the other great heroes and knights and soldiers, she never came back.
So now the Kingdom is called Ring Sands after what it looked like when the Famine-Flyers left. Concentric rings of dust and debris surrounding the circular castle at the center. Everyone in my family studies Artifice now, learning the Secret Arts to monitor the herds and the plants kept safe behind the stone and glass walls of the Keep. The oldest, as well, in each family learns the Way of the Gun. That was my duty, to go out with our herd of buffalo and keep them safe from the robber-barons of the ‘Tweener Towns along the route, the clapboard cities set up to pray on the survivors of from the Thirteen Towns and their stone keeps. Because we have to keep our herd moving, and because so many of the blasted Flyers died around our Keep, my father discovered the Thunderdust that the insects leave behind, the same dust that we use in our cartridges for the guns, and discovered how to treat and grind the Flyers into firepowder to fight the damn things.
There aint nothin’ quite like spraying fire into a cloud of those hellish beasts and watching them explode, let me tell you. It’s the little things that makes life worth living.
If I could unroll for you a map of the Thirteen Towns you’d be hard pressed to know that we’re one nation. There’s ten thousand miles between the farthest of us and the whole of the land we sit on is desert, scrub, and rock. What little grass grows naturally can be eaten by buffalo, by steer, and by lamb but not by man nor Famine-Flyer. The rest of the beasts and brush in the Wasteland is either poisonous unless cut right, dangerous to hunt or pick, or downright madness inducing. While there are Wastelanders out there, living off of the desert’s bounty, they’re all broken in the head in some way and see the world through Vision-tainted eyes. Between the Thirteen Towns are the Between Towns, or ‘Tweener Towns, who try to steal our herds and our lives. They aren’t safe and the Thirteen go to great lengths to send Clerics and Gunslingers with every herd to make sure nothing happens to the most important source of food for us all when we’re feeding and running the herds. At any point during the year, rain or shine, there are five herds of Buffalo, Cattle, and Sheep that are run between the towns, with the smallest of those herds left for breeding and building at Great Rock in the middle of the Wasteland. It’s the largest keep and the home of the largest standing army of Gunslingers in the Wastes. It’s also the city with the largest Waterstone, making enough water for the people, the sewers,and the herds every day since it long ago stopped raining.
The distances, too, are not what’s most surprising. Before the Famine, the people of our nation were shattered. We were separated by rich and poor, devout and infidel, man and woman, brown and pale, black and white. Now we’re a stronger nation, a united nation, since we all remember the losses of the Famine. We all know the price paid by the People when the Flyers came, and how we all suffered the same. We all remember the sacrifices of the Last Heroes, those kings and princes and warriors who rode out to their deaths to spare us the moments to escape.
That’s why we share the Herds, why the Thirteen Towns have bonded together to keep each other safe and fed. That’s why no Keepborn will ever turn away another and why the Thirteen Towns let anyone in their gates. The Marshals call this Righteous Action, to do what is Right, regardless if it’s holy or not. To tend for the weak and support the oppressed, to feed the hungry and cloth the naked, to make everyone feel like they’re part of our home when they come calling. Hospitality. Family. Strength in the many rather than in the one. To live with, and like, the Herds that keep us fed rather than as the individuals who died to let us live.