Previously: Cannibal monster children set almost everyone on fire.
Ashly swung her fists at the passenger-side, trying desperately to dislodge it before the superheated air suffocated her or the truck’s gas tank blew, and rolled off of the cot she’d been lying on and onto the cold wooden floor. The temperature change – from the unbearable oven of the truck to cool air – came as a shock, and for a few precious moments she could only open and close her mouth like a fish, unable to even scream.
Vera was under no such restraint, screaming from the cot next to her, patting at her clothes, doubtlessly trying to extinguish flames that were no longer there.
“Vera! Vera!” she could hear Nick’s voice. “It’s okay! We’re okay! We jumped again!”
Vera’s screams trailed off and, from the floor, Vera could see her grasping at Nick’s arm.
Ashly started to get up and then froze, a lance of pain through the small of her back and down her left leg. There it was – the old injury, the legacy of that mistake, the car accident, she’d wondered when it’d get around to showing up. She shifted her right leg under herself carefully, using it to stand, rather than her left, moving gingerly.
The characters that died – everyone but Marco and Nick – are still injured by everything save the fire that killed them.
Nick has 8 hp.
Vera has 5 hp.
Ashly has 6 hp.
Marco has 10 hp.
Josh has -2 hp, and will need to make a HT roll to stay awake if he wants to do anything other than lie there.
Ashly has the Chronic Pain disadvantage. It hasn’t come up yet, but essentially every day she makes a roll. This is the first time she’s failed it. As a result, she has a -2 to DX and IQ for the next two hours, at which point she can roll HT to recover from it.
Now on her feet, Ashly assessed the situation. The others were holding each other, crying, Marco in particular looking relieved. She could understand it – they’d been through something traumatic, she had, they all had, but while she was the newest member of the group they’d known each other for years, since before high-school. They were her friends, yeah, but still, to Ashly, virtually strangers.
More importantly, she could understand that they’d all died, they’d all just experienced burning to death in the truck, or being torn apart by those creatures. It was traumatic, and she could still practically feel the flames.
She took quick stock of the situation. She was dressed in a short dress… more of a shapeless shift of rough wool, with a linen head-cover… and nothing else. The others were dressed similarly, barefoot, with simpler haircuts than they’d sported in the 90s.
The building itself was rough – a single long room with a hardwood floor, wooden slat walls, glassless window letting in the moonlight, simple cots. Ashly tuned the others out and walked to the window, gritting her teeth against the pain, seeing European-style construction – more wooden buildings, cobblestone streets, no streetlights. Someone with a torch was hastening their way.
She turned to the others, who were finishing up their love-fest. “Hey, somebody’s coming.”
“Where are we?” Marco asked.
She pulled the hem of her tunic out. “Looks European? Medieval maybe?”
Marco’s eyes widened. “Do you think we really jumped back that far? Nick?”
“What?” Nick asked.
“You’re the history nerd, what do you think?”
He looked around helplessly. “Art history nerd. Tunics are pre-industrial? Show me a tapestry or something and I could tell you more. Josh?”
Josh did not answer.
Ashly stopped by his cot, taking a look at the member of the group whose company she enjoyed the least. His face was pale, and while he was tracking her with his eyes he wasn’t terribly responsive. “Josh is… he’s really hurt. We really need to get him looked at.”
“Shit,” Vera said.
It was at this point that the door to the room was opened by a middle-aged man with a big bushy mustache pulled open the door, smoky torch in hand, wearing a chain-mail… dress… thing… with a cloth shift over it. She didn’t know what it was called, but the others probably would.
He spoke in a gruff voice, some language Ashly didn’t even recognize – it sounded vaguely European. German? Polish? She glanced at Vera, but the woman seemed just as clueless, so it probably wasn’t Serbian. And it certainly wasn’t Arabic.
He looked from uncomprehending face to uncomprehending face, then to Josh, who was still in his cot. The man made another quizzical noise, then asked another question.
“We don’t understand,” Marco said. “But Josh…” he indicated his friend. “He’s hurt. Hurt?”
The man stared at him for a few moments, then turned and walked out of the room.
“That went well,” Vera said.
“Vera.” Josh’s voice was weak.
Vera moved to his side. “Josh. Are you okay?”
“You are the worst fucking driver. Nick, give her your crown.” Josh closed his eyes again.
Vera smiled, frowned, then smiled again. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Okay,” Marco said. “That guy was in chain-mail. We’re definitely somewhere Medieval Europe. Sounded… Germanic maybe?”
“Maybe,” Nick said. “Not modern German, I don’t think. But medieval languages were pretty different from modern ones.”
“Guys, does it matter?” Ashly asked.
Vera sighed. “The sooner we know what our situation is, the better. Like with the zombies. Like with the plane. If something happens here, if something goes down… we need to know the situation.”
“The situation is that you and I are women in medieval Europe,” Ashly said. “No rights. No respect. No prospects. And Marco and I, we don’t exactly pass for the locals. I mean, this could be during one of the crusades as far as we know.”
“You’re right,” Nick said. “No, we need to be careful. Oh shit… I don’t have my glasses.”
GURPS: Nick has Bad Sight. Without his glasses he’s at a significant penalty on Vision related checks, at -2 in melee combat, and ranged combat penalties are doubled. Sucks to be him.
Ashly looked down at Josh. “I can’t do much for him without, well, anything. God, I bet all they have around here are leeches.” She returned to the window. “He’s in no condition to move.”
“We can’t just leave him here,” Nick said. “Right?”
“Where would we even go?” Marco asked. “Listen, when it’s bright out we’ll try to figure out our situation. That guy didn’t look surprised to see us here, so we’re not out of place. Like in Florida, like on the plane. We just need to figure out what that place is.”
“Sure,” Ashly said, not liking any of it.
“Door’s not locked. That’s a good sign,” Vera said. “At least, we’re not prisoners.”
Nick sat on his cot. “You guys… Ash, Vera… you died in that fight, right?”
“Right, when we flipped into the flaming ditch.” Ashly shuddered at the thought, the sense memory of her flesh burning, bubbling, the air in her lungs like fire… “Didn’t you?”
“No,” Marco said. “We fell outa the truck early on. Too many of those… things swung down off the roofs.”
Vera paled. “Oh god, I had no idea!”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “Then you peeled out and there were like… dozens of those things between us.”
“We hoofed it out of there when they ran after you.” Marco said.
“We couldn’t find a way out,” Vera said. “I tried to jump the ditch, but… I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry.” Marco said. “We abandoned you.”
“There wasn’t anything you could have done,” Ashly said. “But you guys made it out?”
“We found a place to hole up for a few weeks. Far from any of the monsters.” Nick cast a glance at Marco, who simply looked down and away. “And then we were here, in this room.”
“For me… for us it was just the fire, then here,” Vera said.
“Yeah,” Ashly agreed. “Did help ever come?”
“To Austin?” Nick asked. “No. I mean, I didn’t see anybody.”
“Let’s get some sleep,” Vera said. “I keep dying… you know I haven’t slept since the zombies. It’s just been running… and dying.”
“Oh Christ, you’re right,” Nick said. “You guys rest, Marco and I… it was mid-afternoon, so we’ll keep watch. Okay?”
“Okay, Nicky.” Vera lay down.
Ashly had to admit she was exhausted. She didn’t trust this place, didn’t know what new danger would come for them, but she was very tired. She lay down on her cot, and was asleep almost immediately.
GURPS: Rolling to see if Ashly’s Chronic Pain passes
9: It does. We’ll need to check again tomorrow or if anything significantly stressful occurs.
Morning brought another visit from the mustached man, rousing them, bidding them follow.
Ashly stopped by Josh’s bunk, checking on him. He was awake, but weak. “He needs help. He’s hurt. He needs medicine.”
The man said something and bid her accompany him.
Reluctantly, she did, following Nick, Vera, and Marco. She had a better look at the community by the cool morning light… the structures were definitely medieval, wooden, probably European, real Game of Thrones shit. The grass was cold and frosted under her bare feet, with a faint mist rising as the sun warmed it – if she had to guess, it was early spring or late fall, and the inadequacies of her simple woolen tunic made themselves known.
Mustache escorted them across a grassy field to another one-room building, this one filled with wooden benches and long tables, most of which were occupied by men in simple peasant garb, a few women sprinkled in their midst. Many faces looked up at them as they were escorted to an empty table, where Mustache bade them sit.
“This seems… almost military?” Marco said. “Bunk rooms, and now a mess hall?”
“Or a prison camp,” Vera said darkly.
Ashly was acutely aware of most of the men watching them, conversation growing softer. As much as Marco was probably right about them having a place to occupy whenever they appeared in a new situation, it was obvious to her that their place this time was Foreigner. They didn’t even speak the local language.
She stared down at the patterns in the table. She hated being gawked at.
A young man – younger than she and Nick were – came by, putting bowls on every table, followed by a pair with a cart holding an iron pot. At each bowl they stopped to slop out a ladle full of what turned out to be a thick porridge containing some kind of nuts and what Ashly hoped were currants. Sitting at the last table, she and her friends were served last, and the serving was cool, congealed, and slightly burnt.
She ate it anyway, suddenly realizing how hungry she was. Something about it made her think back six months to when she’d first met Nick, how he’d always asked if she could eat whatever was available before she patiently explained to him that she wasn’t religious and didn’t keep halal. He was such a funny kid… she didn’t know why she liked him, but he had this naive charm about him that she found kind of cute. Refreshing, anyway, and right out of juvie it was the kind of wholesomeness she needed in her life.
His friends – she appreciated Vera’s sometimes brutal honesty, and Marco’s genuine loyalty, and Josh… she tolerated Josh. But they were really the first friends she’d made in her new, post-trouble life. Even so, they had so much history, so many in-jokes, that a lot of the time she still felt like a bit of an outside.
And now this. Whatever it was. Whatever hell they were caught in.
After breakfast a bell rang, and everyone started filtering out to the field.
“I guess we go with them,” Marco shrugged.
Ashly followed as well, behind Nick and Vera.
Outside the entire assembly – three dozen of them – were standing in a line stretching from the palisade wall surrounding the community to the other end of the field at the row of what she guessed were barracks. Down at the far end Ashly could see Mustache handing things out and having quick conversations, though she couldn’t make out what the details were. Once again, she and her friends were at the end of the line.
When he reached them, Mustache handed out heavy leather armor and spears. Ashly held hers awkwardly.
“Guess we are soldiers,” Nick muttered, turning the armor over in his hands.
Mustache gestured to them, took the armor from Nick, turned it around, and indicated the laces in the back.
“Ohhh,” Ashly said, turning hers over and unlacing it.
Mustache stepped back to watch, face hard, while she and her friends fumbled their way into figuring out how to get into the armor and helped each other fasten it. Once they’d finished, he gestured for them to follow.
“Does anyone else find it odd that they’d give weapons and armor to strangers who don’t even speak the language?” Ashly asked.
“Everything here is weird,” Vera said. “Just like everywhere else we’ve been.”
Ashly couldn’t argue with that.
Mustache led the group between buildings and down a narrow street past clothing stores and what Ashly took to be a leather-worker, past what she took to be locals getting ready for their morning activities, all the way to the wall around the town. He marched them up a set of stairs to its top, and then a short distance to stand just next to a taller tower set into it.
There he stopped, pointed at his eyes, then pointed west.
From this vantage point, Ashly could see that the walled town sat at the end of a chain of hills running to the northeast. West, where the man had indicated, were flat plains marked by copses of trees broken by a road running all the way to the horizon. To the south a wide river ran alongside the city.
“Guard duty, I guess?” Marco said.
Satisfied that they were gazing off in the appropriate direction, the mustached man marched off, patrolling the top of the tower.
Ashly turned around, looking behind herself at the town. By modern standards it was hardly even a village, buildings built close together within its walls, a castle or keep at its east end. She also saw what might have been a church, she guessed.
GURPS: Rolling History (Renaissance Art) for Nick.
“Definitely more medieval than renaissance,” Nick said, following her gaze.
“What does that tell us?”
“That I’m more familiar with renaissance art than medieval,” Nick said.
“So we still don’t know where we are?” Ashly asked.
“In very general terms?” Nick asked. “It looks bigger than a fief, which is really just a noble’s manor and the village supporting it. Not quite a city – those were super rare. Probably some kind of trade town, but unless someone mentions a name we recognize we could be anywhere in Europe.”
“That’s not helpful.”
“Hopefully a traveler will come by speaking some language we understand,” Marco said. “For now, though… I guess we keep watch.”
Time passed. Mustache returned and sent Nick on a walk down the parapet, then Marco when he returned.
It really was a beautiful morning, Ashly mused, and if it wasn’t for the confusion and sense of dread – she was just waiting for that other shoe to drop and zombies or aliens or robots or something to attack – she could enjoy the feeling of the sun on her armor. She supposed she should try to enjoy this part – the part before all the running and the screaming and her friends dying.
GURPS: Perception roll for everyone. Marco does the best.
“Got something,” Marco muttered, turning towards their leader. “Hey! Mustache Man! Check it out!” Marco pointed towards a horseback rider approaching the gate at speed.
As the rider drew near he tumbled off of his horse, falling to the dusty road beneath.
Mustache shouted, beaconed, and started heading down the stairs to the gate. Vera followed, along with Marco and Nick, Ashly a bit more hesitantly. This is when it happens, she thought to herself. This is when he turns out to be a vampire or a werewolf or something.
Next Time: Or something.
Not yet revealing the nature of the scenario yet – too much of a giveaway. Everyone earns 1 character point, except for Josh, who is honestly injured enough that he’ll likely sit the whole thing out.
The language barrier is a significant obstacle, and not just something they can spend points on to make it go away. Simply put, it just takes time and exposure. Everybody earns 1 CP… Marco has 10 banked, which he’ll spend to boost his Strength by 1. He’s been doing enough to warrant it.