Knowledge comes in bits and pieces, if it ever comes at all. I’ve come by this news all out of order — talking a couple nights ago with Pan ((Pandorah Ashdene)), who saw it all end, and the day afterward with Tsu ((Tsukiko Dreamscape)), who saw what came before. As for what came before that, I still don’t know — but I’m piecing it together best I can.
Tsu’s story began in the Cape, where she was visiting with Flit Ulrik. A slim girl neither had ever seen before ran along the road, panting and panicked, her red shoes thumping against the hot asphalt. She said she had a message for Jordy and the barkeep ((Harvey Jillybean)), though Flit said neither had been seen in days. Tsu and Flit offered to relay it for her, but before much could be told, the Ghouls of the Black Market — along with Kitty, the Ghoulcat ((KittyKat Borkotron)) — came running. The three women ran up Flit’s watchtower and along the planks that made a shortcut to the cliffs, then sped away through the Junkyard and along the Wastelands roads.
As they ran, the stranger said she was a courier. She tried to relay her messages, though they came out brief and cryptic. Rumor from a few moons back said that Moy-Moy, the mysterious and missing brother of Loonella, had fallen into the Fissure. That he’d become a Ghoul. Suppose someone slurred their words a bit — because the courier revealed that Moy-Moy was not as lost as we thought: Moy-Moy is Lajka, the Firestarter. He’d become a girl, not a Ghoul — and remembering what I’d seen, though briefly, of Lajka, it made a speck of sense. She had a fairly flat chest beneath the dirty pink dress, and was stick-skinny enough that she didn’t have many curves elsewhere. Besides, it ain’t only women who can have a shapely face, or grow their hair out long. Wastelanders know full well that the outsides of things don’t always match their insides, anyhow. Though the insides of Lajka seemed mighty scrambled — whether from the fall, or from whatever “Mother” might have put her through. She was looking for Moy-Moy when the Ghouls led her to the well, after all, but seemed to have a few moments of lucidity. Maybe she’s gone a bit daft, and maybe she’s forgotten who she is, and maybe she spoke more sense than we understood. Time alone will tell.
The courier revealed more: that the Ghouls had also killed Edward. My heart sank at that news, and I asked Tsu if she was sure. She was. All I could do was keep listening to the tale, to try to make sense of it all. Mournful news as that was, it wasn’t the most chilling thing. The courier said that Ozgram was gathering a whole group of fighters. Any attempt at war would be sad for certain, with most of us already near death by Rustmouth, and with the healthier people generally unfamiliar with these Outlanders and their dealings. Though if what Doktor Aeg says is true, many other settlements have suffered the same sickness — perhaps they’re just as poor off as any of us or worse.. Future worries for future times I suppose. Tsu said that the Ghoulcat soon overtook them as they fled, standing on the road in front of them and trying to block the path. She and Flit took up the fight — Tsu fighting Kitty and Flit against Smokey, while the courier ran away into the west. By the time the girls woke up from unconsciousness, they were alone.
As for what happened after… that’s what I found out first. I’d been walking the western borders a few days back, and had made my way toward Kronbelt, when I spied a figure on a dune – uncommon in those lands, and a scavenger uncommonly seen. As I walked up, I saw it was Pan ((Pandorah Ashdene,)) the crafty and often solitary builder. She seemed weary, and distant in an unplaceable way. She said that if I was there to meet with somebody, I was too late. Since I’d been sleeping all day long, I’d no idea what she meant, or who it could possibly have been. Even she didn’t quite know what she’d stumbled into, she said — she just heard and followed the cries for help.
When she ran from her home at the corner of the Fissure toward the cavern hidden beneath the dunes, she was alarmed to find a pack of Ghouls, strangers to her, threatening an also-unfamiliar woman. Pan didn’t describe her much, besides to say that she had brown hair – and red shoes. Pan described the Ghouls only vaguely, as well, but I picked up that there was one who did the most talking, one who was cat-like, and one who was very small. Enough to guess that it was Smokey ((Smokey Steamweaver)), Kitty, and Shay. As Pan approached, she heard the strange girl asking to be let go, saying she was of no use because she would not talk. Shay asked what there was to gain in killing her, anyway, while the Ghoulcat seemed more interested in knowing who sent her to these lands.
Pan came forth and told them to let her go. Smokey sneered that it was none of her business, but the courier girl begged Pan for help. “Why would she help you?” asked Shay, the ghoul child. To Pan, the call for help was reason enough — not to mention the unfairness of a three-on-one fight. Oddly, the ghoul child said that there was no fight, just that “She has something we need. She doesn’t want to give it up.” He implied that the girl could save herself, if she just turned over whatever-it-was they wanted — but Pan said he soon seemed wary. That he suspected a trap, and that maybe it was best to kill both the courier girl and Pan. “If we let them go, then the others will know we are weak,” she heard him say.
Pan tried to ease the dispute, tried to get them to clear up who wanted what from who. She spoke of her own alliances, cautioning them against making any enemies — not realizing who these Ghouls were. “Everyone is our enemy,” young Shay said — a strange, blunt statement that seemed to stick in Pan’s mind. Especially in light of their admitted weakness. Undaunted, Pan tried again to defuse the situation, asking them “Can we come up with a deal?” The only response was from Smokey telling her to be quiet and mind her own business. Only then did Shay seem to defer to him, after all his own concerns and cautions, saying that it was Smokey’s call. Reason came up useless — as is usual in dealings with Ghouls — and Smokey pinned the courier to the wall, his decaying hand tight around her neck. Again he demanded to know who sent her. “Mother,” replied the terrified girl. Apparently unsatisfied with an honest answer, Smokey tightened his grip and raised his Crowbill.
But Pan knew full well that nobody decides a Wastelander’s business but themselves.
“I jumped forward, cursing between my teeth the fact that I got out of my sandhole this morning, pushing the attacker off balance with the blunt side of the machete. The courier, without hesitating, took the opening to unwind herself from the grip, and used the eternity that it took the two ghouls, still standing, to decide with the remnants of their brains if it was more important to secure the escapee or deal with me and my weapon first [… and] dash[ed] right between them out through the entrance of the cave.
I had missed that window of opportunity, having to regain my balance, and was faced now by the cat-like ghoul throwing herself at me while the green little ghoul took up the pursuit. I side-stepped the attack of Cat-Ears, wildly waving my machete in the hope to hit someone other than myself, and ran out of the cave. The green little ghoul merely a dot on the horizon. Chasing. Catching up. Hill for hill. Down to the coast. Buildings. Warehouses. Glass breaking. Narrow alleys. Steep cliff. Parts of buried road.”
The odds weren’t with Pan and the stranger. Neither of them seemed inclined for combat, and they were outnumbered against faster, more experienced foes. When the dust settled, Pan had been knocked out by the swift small Ghoul child — and the stranger had been dealt a fatal blow. With her last few words, which Pan wrote down, the stranger told her the following: “They… didn’t… get… my… package….”
She paused and coughed up blood, a red to match her shoes. She then told Pan what she told Tsu and Flit: “The fire girl, Lajka..is Moy-Moy… Only she knows where the lock is. Another courier will come. We will never stop… The packages will always be delivered.” Pan asked if she could help, if she could deliver the package — or deliver the courier herself — to a safe place. “It is too late. Do not worry. Tell…” she said, interrupted by another bloody burbling cough, “Tell Lajka… that only the Mutant Witch can take care of the guard. Set it free… Treat it….. like…. a mutant….”
Pan was baffled, unfamiliar with the couriers, the Market ghouls, or any of the strange story that’s unfolded around us in the past few moons. But she wrote it all down as faithfully as she could. The courier, with her last few breaths, seemed to be talking about me. “The tall redhead…she writes… write…she…” And that was the last she spoke. Her body went still and pale. Pan, stunned, and with the blood of strangers on her hands, walked to the top of the nearby dune. And that was where I found her.
There’s was so little to piece together from this. If it’s true that Ozgram is summoning up a band of fighters, who are they? Are they all more Outlanders, or has he persuaded some of the Wastelanders themselves? What was the message that Courier No. 2 wanted to deliver to Jordy? Even if she were living, she wouldn’t know; couriers never know what they’re delivering. “Mother” gave her the assignment, but who gave “Mother” the message — and where does she stand? Has the love-hate relationship Edward described swung back toward affinity, and is “Mother” now in the service of Ozgram himself? And what of Lajka, the firestarter — where was she hiding, what did she know, and what did she no longer know that she knew?
All I could do was walk the sands, with the little strength I had left, to try to find anyone else who knew anything about anyone. Surprisingly enough, I found a little more than I’d expected…
((Until this Friday, the 15th, Ozgram will be accepting IMs about Courier 2’s body — asking questions about how it looks, and performing other investigative actions, unless someone else got there first! But that’s only until the 15th: as he posted on the Forum, “After that I will decide that the buzzards, random looters and blowing sand will have done it’s share.”))