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  • What Comes After

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    Fall, 2025


    West Bank of the Burnside Bridge on Antietam Creek

    Northwest of Washington D.C.





    The darkness terrified her as a child, having always been encompassed in the warm glow of lights that never ceased. Ethereal sky in the winter and rain, warm and electric in the summer, it always brought a mood of never being alone. The constant aura of companionship, safety was entirely misunderstood by newcomers used to the forlorn empty silence they had experienced prior to the 'big city'.


    She wanted nothing to do with the bustle anymore. 


    Out here it was cold. Quiet. Dark. Simple. People were scarce. She could be alone, most of the time.


    She shifted slightly under her black canvas poncho, hood up to keep warm, pine straw beneath her providing a little insulation. Chin rested on her pulled up knees, poncho billowed to a small tent around her. The warm, smooth stones underneath at her heels would keep their heat for a while.


    An hour before dark, she'd been cordial to a few that had crossed her path on the trek back to her car. She knew she should have stayed off the road, but after watching them long enough to determine they weren't a threat, she asked for small 'hot rocks' from their fire.


    Surprised at the stranger from nowhere, they'd obliged. Two men, one woman. Early twenties maybe? Travelers? Scrappers? Thrill seekers? Unsure, but she'd continued on despite their insistence to stay awhile.


    Her back rested now against old stone under her bridge shelter, she could hear them talking in the distance now that darkness had fallen. Who needed to risk a fire when a perfect decoy fire was stupid enough to be lit? They couldn't see ten feet away from it into the dark. They were perfect patsies to let her know if there was danger because they had put themselves in the position for it to find them first.


    She had a few moments to rest.


    Her position was absolutely black with darkness. The creek had receded enough to where she could sit on the footing and have access to wade down or upriver if compromised. The recess on the small graceful stone bridge over the creek also gave her a view of the fire, hid the sound of her breathing with the trickle of water, and gave limited access to her.


    The camp they'd chosen was at the edge of woods across a narrow slightly concave field. Behind her above on the approach to the bridge was a hill overlooking the battle worn stone, dark creek beneath it, and the field beyond lit up with orange fire flicker. The hill had centuries old rifle pits on the bluff, overgrown with weeds and matted tall grass, original intent to be a position to fire on the field and treeline.


    Everything; the bluff, pit positions, overgrown road, bridge, even herself were all facing them. Idiots had chosen danger and didn't realize it.


    A little more rest before she kept moving...


    She still had a several hour trek back to her car. Leaving it behind while she tracked a path miles into a rumored magic weigh station was the most logical decision. Intermittently clear, mostly overgrown roads were beyond D.C. it wasn't possible to bring the Rally all the way in.


    It had turned out to be just a rumor. Days wasted, supplies wasted, gas wasted. She was exhausted.


    Chin lifted, forehead instead lowered to rest on her knees. Eyes closed, burned hot.


    Wasted. Time.


    Fingers shifted position on the pistols in her hands that were resting on the laces of her boots, the rest of her body following silent suit to relieve pressure of the P229 on her hip. Back ups were under her arm and ankle. Knives. Fun magical toys. She was armed for everything. They felt so heavy. Rest dragged at her bones. Everything felt so heavy.


    She shouldn't doze... just needed to rest a moment.


    Headache teased her temples.


    Just a few more minutes.

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    She was awake before her eyes opened, senses flushing out wide to feel for movement... listening.




    Through trial and error, she'd learned quickly how to read 'the empty'; danger in the silence beyond the city. Noise, or lack of, was studied with life or death seriousness. Beyond the obvious, the world was utterly silent, an eerie glow signaling dawn. Movement of water. Trees rustling every so often. The field was still, crackle of fire no longer, voices gone.


    Lashes parted, pupils adjusting. Smoke lingered close to the ground, rain was coming. Storm? Everything was calm.


    Angry with herself, she was unsure how long she'd dozed. She was too tired. She was terrible about eating when out on her 'missions', and it was affecting her ability to stay awake. She would on the way back to the Rally. She couldn't stay any longer. 


    Still, she didn't move.


    Overwhelming weight tickled her limbs, the prickle of a light touch caressing the back of her neck. Familiar scent of lingering fresh soap on warm, clean skin. A voice she couldn't quite hear, lashes fluttering to listen, stolen away too quickly. The world was heavy again. 


    Maybe that's why she didn't sleep much anymore, she dreaded the moments after she woke. There was always a moment between consciousness where one was neither awake, nor asleep. The in-between time. Between the impossibility of dreams and reality of living there was a weigh station where for a precious few seconds the world was perfect. No pain, no loss, worry or sorrow. Just a floating, calm existence and the feeling she wasn't alone.


    Her mind was playing cruel tricks.


    Tight and trembling breath drew into lungs, stretching a sore ribcage up and out to chase out the stiffness. Breath pushed out evenly, a few pops in her back from the stationary position she'd held too long.


    Splash of water brought a simultaneous snap, both M&Ps hair triggered at the sound on the shore. She was motionless. Eyes traveled over the area, standing in a silent fluid motion to complete a survey of her immediate surroundings and exit points. Above her on the bridge.




    She swept it again.


    Satisfied, they returned to her thigh holsters and she knelt to go through her gear, repacking some of the weight distribution and checking everything over. Poncho slid off, shoulder harness swiftly removed and she pulled her shirt over her head to reveal a fitted sports bra. Damp shirt was roley-foldy neat into her bag as she pulled a new dry long sleeved out. Lean stomach flexed slightly at the cold, the cut of more muscle, a recent bruise on her ribcage and a bandage that was unceremoniously ripped off visible to the world. After inspecting the healing, self-administered stitches beneath, it was rebandaged and shirt peeled down over her stomach. Plait was redone, bootlaces checked. Swig of water, handful of food chewed in her cheek as she secured everything and swallowed. Movements were quick and purposeful.


    Neck bristled sharply.


    Honed reflexes were not nearly fast enough.


    Sound of thundering water crushed at her eardrums, the force in which she hit the surface felt like concrete against her entire body, knocking the wind from her lungs as they both went under. The world went dark, movements dragged, training still able to pull a knife, strike a leathery surface, tear the arm from her stomach and kick the other body away.


    She she straightened immediately, her head above water for merely a moment before her stomach dropped as her feet hit nothing at the bottom.




    A few more tries and she had a tip-toe hold on something, chin barely cresting above the surface, lungs on fire as she coughed water and gasped for breath. It was too deep in the center. The rain had swollen the creek.


    The pale morning had not given her enough light to get a good look. A shadow was crouched on a felled tree near the shore under the bridge, silent, wet rivulets from their fingers dripping into water.


    Moving water.


    It was gentle, pushing her ever so slightly backwards at a consistent pace. Every muscle in her body trying to keep her toe hold, knife still in hand and arms out to her sides to balance to avert impending death.


    Training. Discipline. Every skill she had learned was out the window, frozen in her throat.


    "Where is he?"


    Eyes snapped toward him, focusing on keeping her balance. Lashes squeezed shut to clear the water and focus. Breath was stuttered.


    Relax and breathe. Breath still quivered.


    "I expected him to come, not you."


    It hadn't been a false lead! The voice had a thin, wicked timbre. He was still in shadow. Dark clothes, light hair from what she could finally make out. His face cast an unusual outline. Meta? It would explain the speed, the ease which he was perched on a thin trunk.


    "This is... unexpected," he scoffed at her situation.


    She jerked again, trying to stay upright on her foothold. It was the edge of something, a rock? Her other toe could feel nothing behind her.


    "Do I just, pull you out and torture you for the information? ...or wait 'til you drown, revive you and torture you for the information?"


    Hands were slowly floating downward, the first droplets of rain hitting her forehead. The rain would swell the river, speed up the flow, and make it impossible for her to breathe.


    "Time is running out."


    Feathers fluttered from the starting rain.


    Meta. Winged meta. Some kind of raptor.


    Relax and breathe.


    Features scrunched and released in concentration, searching her surroundings for a solution while droplets spattered her eyelashes. It was called a creek, but wasn't. A small river. It wasn't broad, swimmable from shore to shore in minutes.


    If one could swim.


    Shores were shallow, full of debris.


    Her free hand was gently drawing over her thigh holster under the surface, pistol released under the cover of dark water, torn muscles under her stitches screaming as they strained to keep her from going under. She had a plan. It would work, or she would die.


    Several breaths were inhaled and exhaled before holding, toe lifted from it's perch and she disappeared into the weightless, murky depths.


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    • 7 months later...

    Fall, 2025

    0548 Hours

    Burnside Bridge at Antietam Creek

    Sharpsburg, Maryland


    After clearing his “Missing In Action” status with ARMA and ensuring his apartment was still secure, Agent Harker had gone in search of none other than Rorye Shannon-Kearney.  She hadn’t answered her phone in days.  Word on the street was no one had heard from her in weeks.  The agent had reached out to his contacts within ARMA, but not even Captain Greene or Altheia Martin had any useful information to provide.


    A visit to the Book of Kells granted insight into the situation since Ryan’s absence.  On the surface, the occults shop had maintained its eclectic charm.  The storefront was no different than it had been the first night he visited years ago.  Business as usual.  Despite this, a feint aura of uncertainty seemed to linger throughout the shop.  Rorye hadn’t been there in some time.


    The store’s shopkeeper, Nina, had never liked Ryan.  A fact she hadn’t been afraid to express in the past either.  Whatever faith the mage hunter had garnered with her through his deeds, had no doubt been washed away by his sudden disappearance.  Nina initially refused to even speak to Ryan.  Eventually, she divulged that Rorye was out searching for him.  If for no other reason than to scold him and strongly imply he was a lying, manipulative, two-faced, brigand.  A lead was a lead, however, and the ARMA operative took what he could get.


    It had taken some effort, but Harker was able to track down Rorye’s old business associate, Chris.  Chris was a go-between for many within the occults black market and had connections to most major entities within the trade.  Given their history, it hadn’t taken much arm-twisting for Chris to take the ARMA agent to “The Crossroads.”  The Crossroads was an underground safehouse, not unlike the Book of Kells, but perhaps with less of a public image.  The Crossroads was run by pair of traders known as “The Twins.”  The brothers had taken significantly more persuasion to part with information, but in the end the agent’s heavy-handed tactics had prevailed.  Some harm had probably come to Rorye’s reputation in the process, but she could deal with the aftermath once she was home and safe.


    The lead obtained from the twins had taken the mage hunter to Sharpsburg, Maryland.  Specifically, the Burnside Bridge at Antietam Creek.  Black, Dodge Challenger coasted slowly down the Old Burnside Bridge Road which led to the creeks crossing.  Polished onyx paint, dark leather interior, matte black accents, the 2010 Dodge Challenger held a sentimental value to Harker.  After his return to the corporeal world, he recovered it from an ARMA storage facility, and he was glad to have it back.


              Ryan parked on the narrow street west of the creek.  An amulet in the pocket of his leather jacket hummed gently.  The hunter reached into the coat pocket with a hand clad in a fingerless glove.  The small metal crest was warm to the touch.  The artifact felt as though it was pulling his hand east, toward the river.  Rorye was close by, or more accurately, the demon she hosted, “Red,” was close by. 


              Years ago, the hunter had baited the demon out of Rorye.  In her father’s old boxing gym, Ryan had slapped her around until the spirit surfaced.  When the two of them crossed swords, Red had given the hunter a taste of her power, one he wouldn’t soon forget.  But during their fight he had taken something more.  An imperceptibly small piece of demon’s spiritual mana.  After the interaction, he determined Red wasn’t an immediate threat to Rorye.  Nevertheless, the operative used the mana sample to produce a tracking artifact, and several other tools tailored toward fighting the demon.  One could never be too prepared.


              Harker stepped out of the car and walked to the rear of the vehicle.  The sun was just beginning to dawn over the horizon.  Trunk hatch popped open to reveal multiple, large metal equipment safes.  Not sure how far into the woods he would need to travel, the Soldier decided a reconnaissance loadout would be best suited for the mission.


              An AR-15 rifle was removed from one of the lockboxes in the Challenger’s trunk.  Collapsible buttstock, 14.5-inch threaded barrel, reflex sight, tac light, and a hand-stop was his standard loadout for the weapon platform.  Today, a 1-8x variable magnification optic was mounted by hand on the picatinny rail behind his reflex sight.  Next, an 8-inch suppressor was threaded onto the end of the rifles barrel.  Sig Sauer P226, 9mm pistol, enchanted blades, and deployable combat wards were already in their rightful place.  Trunk hatch was closed with a barely audible “clunk.”  Ryan was ready.


              The ARMA operative considered concealing his rifle beneath his sable cloak.  A scan of his surroundings determined there were no innocent bystanders in the area to observe him.  Carrying the weapon openly wouldn’t be an issue for now.


              A “splash” in the river ahead caught the agent’s attention.  A struggle, flailing water, then silence.  The Soldier dropped into a slight crouch and brought his rifle to bare.  The sound was coming from just below the crest of the hill, where the valley dropped to the creek.  The same direction the amulet had been guiding him toward. 


              “Rorye?” Ryan thought to himself.  Maybe.  Whatever it was, he’d quickly find out.  “Let’s see what we’ve got.” 

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    • RESONANCE - 18+ 3/3/3

      • A modern/fantasy, intermediate+ collaborative writer's rp. Caters to an experienced player base (25+) with a slower, more relaxed pace.

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