[P] the darkest country road, the strong scent of evergreen
The clanging of the tin can could be heard throughout the junk yard. It seemed to hit everything on the way down.

Mosie's head appeared at the top of the trash pile from which it fell, her folded ears lifted forward with a surprised, embarrassed look. "Heads up!" She called too late.

Landon watched as the can crashed into the top of an overgrown mound of dirt, scrap, and leaf litter. The lid exploded off, and a terrible smelling, brownish liquid—fully frozen and congealed—fell out in chunks. Mosie laughed, "Ew, gross!" and disappeared, only to reappear with Enlil's round and curious face beside her. The two of them seemed to find much to discuss about the look and shape of the wobbling, slowly pooling decades-old paint.

Finding nothing of note except certain danger, he moved past the range of their clumsy investigation. The abandoned yard had been thoroughly picked over since the time of man, and then picked over again since canines began living in the area. What they found now was everything which had been deemed garbage by the standards of both civilizations, partially reclaimed by nature's generous and nonjudgmental hands. They had to be mindful of where they stepped because of that, but many of the old sharp things had been smoothed by the elements too.

Landon wandered through the clearest path in the gorge of trash, until he came across a sprawling field of strange, boxy contraptions. They looked like metal wagons, some of them with tops and others simply open to the skies, in halves or thirds or just the seats, vine-covered and facing out, audience into nothing. He came to a complete one, which meant there were no doors, no windows, no tires, but most of a skeleton and both lids to the trunk and engine popped. Using a nearby stick to brush out some of the detritus, he slid inside.

There was a round, cracked leather object affixed to the panel in front of him. Spying a piece of litter poking a corner out from one of the panel compartments, he reached to pull it out. It crumbled upon touch, and Landon dusted his fingers together with a thoughtful, vaguely repulsed look.
(370) | NPCs: Mosie, Enlil
it's trash
They were all hungry, and it made the young girl irritable. Sleep was difficult even in the best of times, and now with Hershel constantly snuffling and seeking… well it was almost impossible. Ness still didn’t understand why the bear-ish mastiff-cross had followed after them, and she oft stared at him until he was forced to look away.

A bounty hunter never gave up their prize so easily. She knew this deep down and rose to challenge him whenever the opportunity presented itself.

”Hey-“ He grunted as they picked their way through the junk yard, ”Stay close. We don’t know what’s out there.”

She growled, rolling her eyes.

”I can take care of myself fart-face.”

The piles of metal rose all around them, cars stacked so high that they reminded her of a forest. Nature had chosen to reclaim what it could, vines and leaves twining through broken windows and rusted-out hoods. She hit the heel of her hand against things as she went, a rhythm that came from somewhere deep and unknown.

She abandoned the bounty hunter and loped further afield, the pebbles of concrete crunching beneath her feet.

Ness hummed softly to herself a she went, ignoring the fuzzy feeling that nestled around her eyes. Too often she found herself wandering the camp alone while the others slept, her fingers pressed to her temples as she wished for sleep to find her.

”Hey,” She noticed the floppy eared Landon and allowed her face to split into a wide-mouthed grin, ”Whatcha doing hiding in here.”

Without waiting for permission she slid in to sit alongside him, her small frame shuffling into the sagging car seat. Once there had been what appeared to be plush upholstery, but now it hung sadly in tatters. She drummed her fingers against what would have been a dashboard – it was as if she was afraid of stillness.

She held up a hand and blew dust from it, "I wonder what this was."

The gears in the chair suddenly gave way and she teeterd backwards with a string of curses.

(399) | NPCs: Hershel Denbow

It wasn't long before someone found him.

Wide-grinned, her soft-green eyes didn't look so tired from that angle. Like all of them, she had seen better days. Her question came like a whip, cracked the air with its usual sharpness, and he knew she expected no response.

"Hiding," he answered simply, rolling with her characterization. If Landon were inclined to answer things truthfully, he might've told Ness about how sleep was elusive for him too. That it wasn't so much hiding as it was looking for reprieve, wondering if he could find it anywhere at all, and the seat had looked inviting.

Landon regarded Ness with his customary ambivalence, though he sensed her keenly, the way she slipped inside, where her hands drummed the dash. Wherever she went, the hulking bounty hunter was sure to follow, and his gaze swept out in search for Hersh's figure somewhere in the garden of abandoned journeys.

They were each tethered to one other in these slight but significant ways.

At her murmur of contemplation, Landon glanced at the dashboard's shattered and overgrown panel. It was a curiously useless contraption. A mystery he didn't care to unravel except to the extent that it was there for them now, for their repurposing, these little dens of leaf-litter and dirt. A horrible noise split the air before he could answer.

"Ness!" He turned sharply in the seat, unwittingly stirring the mechanisms in his chair. He was suddenly jerked down beside her into a puff of dust and crumpled leaves. The car gave a metallic groan.

He sat up coughing, brushing away the glittering cloud. "Shit. You alright?"
(271) | NPCs:
Exploration had always been a part of her life, but it had always been motivated by the wrong thing. She had left in order to find her brother, happy to pretend that it was because she had outgrown her tiny town. Portland had been vast in ways she hadn’t been prepared for, with markets and brothels that had become like a second skin.

She missed the dead pan way Saakti delivered her words, one hand waving her off as she met with potential suitors. There were many things that she missed: food, a warm bed… a strong ale and a sweet song. The road had been unforgiving to them, the winter even more so. Never in her life had she been so cold, but there was an awkward comradery that grew as they were forced to gather close to their fires.

Landon was mysterious. The shock of his dark hair always hung into his face, masking the blaze of white along his muzzle and the sharpness of his eyes.

She smiled lightly, "No worse than before."

Ness coughed, shaking dust from her whiskers as she attempted to right herself. Her hand went through the fabric, and she couldn’t help the sudden blip of laughter that left her as Landon too toppled back. Dust filled the space and had her sneezing, the mottled rust on the roof top marking out flaky mountains and patches of oxidized green.

”Hey look.” She sniffed, ”Looks kind of like a map if you tilt your head-“ She moved, ”Like this.”

(248) | NPCs: Hershel Denbow

Sometimes it was hard to accept how badly they had failed—how badly he had failed them. Unlike petty insults, he couldn't just shrug away the consequences, especially not now as they lived them and continued to contend with them.

Most plans fell apart, but he kicked himself for not making more than one. He'd been high on their successes, and Cipher had been quick to exploit that opening. With time, Landon would come to understand that this was all a necessary process. Experience was the best teacher and the only one for them.

But until then, he was still a yearling. A boy by most standards. There were things he missed and would forever try to recreate.

Ness appeared through the scrim of dust unharmed, just as she said. Although he believed her, he watched her for a moment longer anyway, never one to be satisfied by declarations over his own assessment. Her dark hair was tousled not in an unpleasing way, and the  leaves scattered through them he would leave for Mosie to pick out at some later point. Giving her a nod, he considered exiting the space and putting as much distance between them as possible.

Her words blocked the door. Landon laid back carefully, all too aware of his pulse in his ears. His jaw clenched tight.

Mosie made it look so easy, being next to people.

He stared at the lines of rust, dotted in circular striations like the sprawl of the night sky. It would've been convenient if it had been a map.

"If this was Portland," he pointed at a big rusted out bolt, tracing the line to another intersection of green-red. "This would be the farm. That's our bridge."
(287) | NPCs:
She rolled so that she lay on her back, steepling her fingers against her chest as she gazed up at the roof. There were layers of dirt and grime; gradients that denoted how long the junk car had sat in the dirty field. Sunlight filtered in through the open windshield, bars of golden light casting shadows that rippled across the ceiling. Shades of green were stippled against the grey, rings of red holes showing the blue sky that lay just out of reach.

If she squinted she could imagine that it was where they had come from.

Perhaps somewhere between the whorls of color her brother was hiding. Safe. Sound.

For a moment her expression faltered, but she was quick to set it in place again – her hands teasing through the tangles of her hair.

”I always thought that was a good bridge.” She sighed softly, ”Strong lines, y’know?”

She raised her arm and drew a line with her finger. ”Wonder if we’ll find that again.” The line stopped and she drew a circle, ”This is where we are now.” She grinned, pushing her finger through a hole and gasping as debris fell down onto her clothes. Ness brushed herself off and then recovered, pointing to a new portion of ceiling.

”Let’s go there.”

She grinned, ”Somewhere with lots of green.” She huffed a piece of hair out of her face, "I'm over seeing so much brown."

(237) | NPCs: Hershel Denbow

Landon didn't know what she saw in all those swirls of color, but he imagined it was something like what he saw when he made a plan. The chaos came together in a way that made sense, a path laid of brick and stone and a little bit of heat. Rahab said there wouldn't always be a way out, but that was what Landon did best—make back doors where there were none before.

The sun was still cold this time of year, but the way it hit the metal and the rust and the remnant debris made that compact space feel almost like summer. He could've fallen asleep there, pretend the roof over their heads was the leafy curtain of a great oak tree.

He glanced over at the knell of her wistful sigh, and his hand returned to his chest, where his fingers carefully folded into a bridge.

Back then, she'd been a part of their plans because they had all believed it would work, that they would be rewarded richly. Lacking this outcome, it surprised him that she saw a future with them. He figured that once they got somewhere safe, she'd finally buck that sad bounty hunter and leave them behind. But not everyone, he was beginning to realize, was so dispossessed. It was a frightening thought.

"I'll hire a man to make us a new one." He said, his expression serious. Landon's humor was sometimes easy to miss, given that he said everything with a straight face. But for those who were close to him, it was unmistakable when he meant something; the air changed, like pressure gathering in the atmosphere before a storm. "It'll be better than what we had." 

The tension turned to precipitation of metallic debris, as her finger pushed through the roof. He stifled the impulse to check her again—she was fine. She wasn't Mosie. He didn't have to care about her.

His gaze followed her direction to this nameless swathe of green. Looking at it, the whorls of information coalesced as they did when he came up with plans, and he realized something else now too. His eyes caught a sharp edge of light. Landon sat up on his elbows. "What are you looking for, Ness?" He asked, only half in accusation. Maybe she was still under Cipher's thumb. Maybe not.

If anything, the realization made him feel relieved. Certainly not disappointed. He expected people to use each other, and it bothered him when they didn't.
(417) | NPCs:

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