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Southern Glacia, Sunday (Fandom time)
"We should be seeing Dalarnas over the next rise," Mark said, slapping the reins against the horses' backs. Dinah had gotten out of the wagon to walk for a while, the bumpy road making for an uncomfortable ride.

"Do they have a tavern in town?" she asked. "I can run ahead, order us some lunch."

"They do," Samantha said from the back of the wagon. "Although it isn't much."

"I need the exercise. Back in a minute, guys." She took off, needing to work off the frustrated energy of a week of small towns and suspicious looks, and not much progress. The frost on the ground was only a light powder, not enough to slow her down.

At the top of the next rise, just like Mark had said, the town was visible. A couple dozen small wooden buildings, a town square....

...something was off.

[for heromaniac, although open for phone calls after events.]

The wagon crested the hill and Mark pulled up on the reins to stop them beside Dinah.

The stop actually woke Momoko, who'd had the last watch the previous night, and she yawned, floating into the air above the wagon to see what was going on. "Are we there yet?"

Obviously not, since they were not in a town. "Yes we are. This is our room at the tavern."

Samantha gave Ulrich a slap upside the head for that.

Dinah gave Ulrich a sideways, distracted smile of amusement for that, but her eyes were scanning the town. You would sometimes find a very quiet village in Glacia; night-time, especially. Or the height of the farming day. There might only be a couple people visible out in public. So it wasn't-- quite-- that. Although this close to dinner-time and sunset, there were usually more people around.

No. That wasn't it.

"Why is that horse loose in the middle of the square?" And still wearing a saddle and bridle? Just wandering?

Momoko stopped fake-choking Ulrich and turned back to Dinah. Not only what she'd just said, but they way she'd said it... That was Dinah's 'there's something in the shadows' voice.

She let Ulrich fall back into the wagon and floated over to join her BFF, staring out over the small town. A second to glance up at the sun's position, then back to the town again. "I don't smell any food. The wind's coming this way, so I should smell the evening meal. At least someone's."

"There's no smoke," Mark leaned forward, squinting.

Dinah shivered, and not just from the temperature. "Forty degrees out here, and no one has a fire going?" Her eyebrows came down, then she looked up at Momoko. "Scout ahead? We'll catch up in a couple minutes."

She was scanning the forests around them too, hoping like hell this wasn't an ambush, wasn't a trap. "Be careful."

Momoko nodded, her face grim as she took off. She settled into a nice grouping of stratocumulus until she directly over the town, only then dipping down far enough to see details.

Not that there was anything to see. She took a few minutes to be sure, even going so far as to fly at street level to make sure.

Her face wasn't grim when she landed back with the rest of the team. It was downright stone.

Inside the town, it was downright eerie. Now Dinah could see doors left open; one banging erratically from a slight breeze. The lid of the cistern was off, with the bucket left on the ground... that never happened in communities like this, they had to be careful.

The horse wandered up to her, and whickered, pushing its head against her shoulder.

No shouts. No conversations, far away. Nothing moving. Ghost town.

"Anything?" she asked Momoko, as she floated downward. "Anywhere at all?" Even if her partner's expression already gave her the answer, she had to ask.

She shook her head tightly. "Loose or dead animals. Doors left ajar. Rotting food just left out, some even still on stoves." Not a ghost town, a ghost story.


Mark's expression was stormy, and he'd already handed the reins over to Kirt, getting down to pat the horse's nose and catch its bridle. "We need to get the animals seen to. Get them fed and watered. Settled into barns or stables." He set his jaw. "Maybe take them with us, to the next village. Osilis is only fifteen miles away. We could make it just after nightfall, maybe."

Trust Mark to think of that. Dinah heaved a breath, and looked over at Samantha. "Are you getting any-- impressions? Images?"


Samantha got out of the wagon, and as soon as her feet touched the ground, her eyes closed, and she was swaying against the wagon-side. Ulrich reached out from the cart to steady her. "Samantha!"

"I'm fine." She swallowed. "It's very faint. More than a couple weeks old. Just... ugliness. Fear. But it's fading into nothing."

"Fear... Ugliness..." Momoko repeated slowly, mulling this all over in her mind. She started them down the hill and into the town.

The first house. The door was wide open as if it was welcoming them. Momoko stepped inside and had to choke down her usual apology for disturbing the household- there wasn't one to disturb.

Inside were signs that the house had once held a young couple. Heavy work boots just tossed in a corner, dry mud caked on them, which contrasted sharply with the flowery knitting basket sitting on one of the chairs. A shattered water glass on a table was the only sign of any real trouble. The only sign that the occupants weren't just in another room.

Edited at 2013-08-25 11:03 pm (UTC)

Dinah walked down the cobbled street, stopping to look in the doors of a tavern. Destruction everywhere, tipped-over tables.

Something moving over--

Before she could call out to anyone, the shadow moved again: a cat. Crouching on top of a barrel of alcohol, hissing at her, tail lashing.

"Do you know what happened?"

The cat gave her an icy-green glare.

"Yeah, didn't think so."

She backed out of the doorway, and turned back to the group. Stopping every once in a while to track movement. It was always an animal, or the wind.

When she rejoined them she asked:

"What are the odds this is one of the towns Hobart used to conscript people from for his mind-controlled army?"

What were the odds it *wasn't* that?

"Even Mark wouldn't take odds on that," Ulrich's attempt at humour was weak. He was holding a small puppy, feeding it jerky from his satchel.

Mark didn't even rise to the bait. "He took everyone."

They had heard as much from Karla, but it hadn't really sunk in.

"There was a house with an empty sickbed," Kirt nodded, not able to complete what else he'd found.

In a town this size, there had to be children, babies--

Dinah cut off that train of thought before it could bloom into full nausea and rage, and said, "We'll take any loose horses with us. Can the farm animals forage for a few more days?"

"They've been getting by until now," Kirt said, hugging himself. "A few more days won't matter."

"Let's get on to Osilis before we report in. Maybe the people there will know how many used to live here." Died.

Dinah turned to Momoko, trying to hide how shaken she was. "Am I forgetting anything? Got any better ideas?"

Edited at 2013-08-25 11:38 pm (UTC)

"You guys start out." Momoko was pale, but determined. They did need to get people here to take care of the animals and property by Glacian customs, but... "I'll check each of the houses. Make sure everything's okay. None of the animals have gone feral or are trapped. I'll catch up."

"I want to close the doors, too, and," She glanced over at Dinah. "I know it's not my world, but this many people... I want to say a few prayers. Leave something to let their spirits know that someone knows what happened."

The others could stay, but she wasn't sure that they wanted to.

Dinah opened her mouth, then remembered something, that she'd probably heard from Momoko, come to think of it. About shutting doors, and the Day of Remembrance in Japan, and... She leaned forward to give her a quick hug. "Don't stay too long," she whispered.

"Osilis is about two hours down the road," Mark said as he got back up onto the wagon. "But I bet we can push it to less than that."

It was more a case of trying to make sure the spirits of the dead were appeased and not going to linger and become restless or vengeful, not that Momoko was sure that was how things worked here.

And she went through each house, making sure to take note of any items that named occupants and carefully paying her respects to the former residents. She freed a few animals and, with much regret, had to put down a dog and a fox that both had gangrened wounds beyond help.

After about twenty minutes, she had the village locked up, prayers said, and she'd found a large enough piece of wood for her purposes. She couldn't name all the people, so she simply wrote the name of the village and hoped that it would be enough.

She set the homemade ihai firmly in the ground in the center of town and jumped into the air to follow the others to Osilis.

Mark pushed the horses so they made it just under two hours. But it didn't help.

Dinah didn't have to get any closer than the edge of town to realize it was the exact same story here, as it was in Dasarnas.

No smoke from chimneys. Full night, and no lights anywhere. No sounds aside from wind, and snow falling on treetops and roofs.

No one said anything for a long, long while. Then the wagon lurched forward, into the main thoroughfare.

The puppy curled up in Ulrich's lap gave a small whimper as he slept, as if expressing the feelings of the whole group.

Glacian Kirt

Kirt jumped from the back of the wagon, too antsy to stay still, and ran into one of the houses. It only took a moment for him to rejoin the group.

"Exactly the same." He was gripping a small doll.

Dinah rubbed her head, ignoring the stinging in her eyes. "Mark, how far is the next town?"

"Twenty miles." He sounded exhausted. "I don't think the horses can take more today, though."

And Dinah didn't want to face the possibly of finding a third village abandoned. That would just wreck her completely. And maybe the others too.

"We'll find a place on the outskirts. Report in." She dropped her hand. "Keep going in the morning. Maybe..."

Maybe what? Someone would come home? And I alone returned to tell thee.... An evil Pied Piper had come through and whisked everyone away. Without even one straggler to bear witness. Just them, going from empty town to empty town.

Momoko hovered just above the group, taking a moment before landing. "Again?"

That was all she could manage with her voice cracking.

Dinah looked at her, and opened her arms. "I need a hug. C'mere."

Momoko pulled her in close and tight.

It's almost worse. Seeing this.

Knowing they were taken - just taken.

I know. And how many more villages like this, that weren't in their path?

Large arms folded around Dinah, squishing her into Momoko. Then slimmer ones, over Momoko's shoulder and Dinah's as well. Dinah's laugh caught in her throat, and she squeezed her eyes shut tight as two more pairs of arms joined the group hug.

Edited at 2013-08-26 05:06 am (UTC)

REPORTING IN

It was dark enough now that Momoko had turned her lantern on. She'd finished marking her map, and writing her notes in her log book, but she still had a little more to do.

She reached for her phone and took a picture of the map, her pencil marking the location of the two villages they'd been to today. She added the image to a text message that she sent to Jono, Warren, Karla, Raven, and Dinah:

Reporting: Found two villages completely emptied (map attached). Suspect them to be location of group that attacked you. No survivors. Images to follow.

After sending that message to everyone, she then flipped through her phone to find the best photos of the villages to send along as, well, proof of no-life.

Sent to K,W,J,R,D. End report. Questions?

Done, she tugged her bedroll closer and waited.

?

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