2022 Shitbox Rally - Out of This World! (Results Out!)

MACHINAS CON PASSIONE SHITBOX ADVENTURES: Episode 10 - You Know, I’m Something of a Backmarker Myself.




Machinas Con Passione Team Ford Headquarters - 2022
Ryouchi Katou sat down in the garage, kinda relishing another day without the boss around. While sure, Giacomo got annoying pretty quickly, He had the experience and knowledge of a man who’s entered every series money will allow him to, granting him quite the infectious confidence in times of need. And boy, did he need it.


Shitbox Rally - Trugarde Camp
Chad, as usual, was finding a ridiculous way to accomplish a simple task, this time punching the wall of the van to get the Painting of Giacomo to stick to it out of pure fear of what Chad might do to it if it fell off the wall. He was effectively trying to intimidate a piece of paper, with predictable results.

Maria, having fully had enough of being woken up to a man punching a wall, gently took the paper, slapped it onto the wall, and taped the edges, before silently going back to sleep.

Shitbox Rally - On the Road
It was all going smoothly, until Thibault spun nearly unprovoked. This usually means that it’s time to change some tires, or that Thibault has had a skill issue (which he has yet to experience in this particular rally). Chad prepared the tire jack, only to see that Giacomo had turned his signature move, the Jackswing, against him.

Chad dodged Giacomo’s jackswing, inexplicably causing the Six Million Dollar Man sound effect to play as he launched himself a few inches off of the ground to clear the tirejack, causing Giacomo to pop the right rear tire, and dent the surrounding bodywork. Chad simply shook his head, as Giacomo stared in disbelief at the fact that Chad could dodge his phenomenally well timed swing. Thibault poked his head out of the window, staring daggers into Giacomo. “Giacomo. Did you think that maybe, just maybe, one puncture was bad enough? Do you seriously expect Chad to fix everything for us?” Giacomo, geniunely being confused by the question, could only scratch his head, and offer a meagre “Er… Yes?” As a reply. This resulted in Giacomo being thoroughly outvoted 5 to 1 (Bill’s silent stare being counted as a vote against him) as the one to change the tire he just punctured, causing the team to quickly be passed by multiple vehicles who, in all honesty, would likely have passed them anyway. Benjamin and Maria counted the ones that flew past.
“There’s the IP.”
“Really? Where?”
“… In the distance, they passed us a while back.”
“Oh. You had my hopes up there, assistant.”
“Keeping you sharp is part of my job, doctor.”
“I thought it was keeping me sane?”
“Oh doctor, nobody could do that!”
The two shared an overexaggerated laugh, only for Benjamin to quickly interrupt it.
“Seriously though we cant run a business if I keep digging around the garbage for hearts to use for transplants.”
“Or if you keep yanking people’s organs out mid-surgery to document them, yet here we are.”
They sighed, knowing Giacomo would hold them up for a half hour yet.

Shitbox Rally - On the Road
Thibault noticed the van didn’t handle the same, looking into the mirror to notice something. Why is the rear fender so flared?
“Hey, Giacomo, I know we’re aerodynamic and all, but why is the fender sticking out like that? Are you TRYING to create drag or something?” Giacomo raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? I pulled on it a bit NASCAR style! Now we have way more sideforce!” Thibault flicked Giacomo with his gloved hand, realized the glove absorbed most of the impact, and feigned punching him. “Dude. We don’t need sideforce. I WANT to go sideways in the turns, now the car is fighting back. Thanks guy.” Giacomo scratched the back of his head. “Yeah but… Vortices… And stuff…” Everyone collectively facepalmed, save for Giacomo, of course.

Shitbox Rally - Keepitz campsite

At the campsite, Thibault was recalling his early racing career, from his failure to succeed in Formula cars, to how he eventually made the choice to join Hyundai in the WRC. Unfortunately, Giacomo interrupted him as soon as the word “Formula” left his mouth, to tell the story of how HE got started Formula One, though not as a racer or team manager, but as the engine builder his father always wanted him to be.

Forti Team HQ
December 9th, 1995.

“Welcome to Forti Corse!” Giacomo excitedly pointed at the rather unremarkable office building. Hikiko could clearly make out around four or five people total working in the shop. She scratched the back of her head, looking into the office, then back at Giacomo. “Oh, Giacomo… I…" She didn’t need to find the words, as usual, it seemed Giacomo already had them. “It’s great, right? Italy’s second best!” Hikiko had to stifle a laugh."“Honey, that’s Benetton.” Giacomo had clearly not thought of that. “Oh. Um… Third best?” Try as he might, Giacomo wasn’t exactly making the process of joining Forti easy. Hikiko shook her head. “Nope, that’s Minardi.” Giacomo’s face lit up at the thought of Minardi, as should the face of any self respecting F1 fan when mentioning the team of all teams. “Minardi’s a good team as well! How about it?” Minardi wasn’t a bad team and all, but that’d put Hikiko right under Ferrari’s thumb, an all too familiar place. “And go back to Ferrari? as if.” Giacomo smirked, carrying a bit too much confidence considering what he’d say next. “Pfft. Ferrari? Ferrari who? We can beat the-” As soon as those words left Giacomo’s mouth, he felt a deep, piercing pain in his chest. He, as an Italian, committed blasphemy of the highest order. He could not physically force himself to finish the sentence. He clasped his hands briefly, prayed for forgiveness from Enzo Ferrari, and started again. “Alright, maybe we can’t BEAT Ferrari per se, but we can really build something here, I think! The boys are really dedicated, and I’ve got something special up my sleeve.” Hikiko slowly turned to face Giacomo, seeming frightened at the mere thought of whatever Giacomo could have planned. “Um… What would that be?” Giacomo had clearly been waiting for this to come up for a while. “Well, we do have Zetec V8s, we’ll be sure to build the engines in house! Modify em and everything! Machinas Con Passione is on the job!” less outright terror, more confusion. “Machinas Con… Passione?” Giacomo brazenly gave Hikiko a thumbs up. “The greatest engine builder in italy!” Hikiko immediately understood. “Ah, yes, your team?” Giacomo’s grin stretched ear to ear. “Of course, who else would it be?” Hikiko shrugged, finding it hard to keep a straight face given Giacomo’s mood. She relented. “Alessio always was pretty good.” It was then that Giacomo took this time to remind Hikiko of the Scarfiotti family motto, something his father had thought up of as something deep and representative of the family spirit, now slightly bastardized to support a crazy man and his dream. “Hey, the Scarfiotti’s never lose! even in defeat, we win!” Hikiko pat Giacomo’s back, trying to bring him back to reality “Definitely. I’ll be telling myself that when I miss half the season.” Giacomo then took Hikiko by the hand, hurriedly rushing into the building. “Come on, let’s go inside!”, Giacomo’s enthusiasm nearly catches on with Hikiko, but one look at the building from the inside brings her back to reality. She simply stares at the mechanics, who are all sat working on a table. 4 months out from the season, and the car is still in blueprint phase. Giacomo presents the blueprints to Hikiko, with full jazz hands for effect. “So, what do you think?” Hikiko has “skeptic” written all over her face. She sighs. “I don’t even know if this is better than Footwork.” Giacomo seems to brush off this concern all too easily, bringing Hikiko in for a one armed hug. "Oh, come on! With our engines, you’ll be unstoppable!"Hikiko knew, without a doubt, that she was in for the hardest season of her career. 8 years in, and yet the real struggle was right before her. She could always call it quits, she had a great run in the Footwork, with two podiums inherited from the misfortune of others, though when the money dried up, so did her chances of staying long term. But Giacomo… His enthusiasm was quite infectious, to say the least. “You can really do it?” At this, the various mechanics around the garage stop their work, and stare at Hikiko, ready and waiting for orders. “Of course! And it’s a small team environment, so we can easily make any changes to the car on the fly! We’re just a bit limited, but we can fight like dogs, and you know what they say?” With those words, Hikiko’s anxiety was eased. Just like that. “Every dog has it’s day. I’m impressed mr. Scarfiotti.” Giacomo, as always, was two steps ahead of her. Already making plans for what was next. "I’ll speak to Father to get the first engines underway! You can get started with the boys here!"And just like that, Giacomo runs off. Meanwhile, Hikiko had her own business to attend to. “Like I’m a member of the team, huh?” She muttered, mostly ro herself. Hikiko looked at the men around her, and began poring over the blueprints to the FGP03…

As Giacomo turned around to see Hikiko getting started on the blueprints, Alessio lay an arm to rest on his shoulder. “Giacomo, this is your ability.” Giacomo looks up at his Father. Alessio elaborates. “Your optimism.You draw people into your team, and unite them under a common goal. I believe that, even if it takes years, you will find your success in racing. You are a true Scarfiotti, determined to the end.” Giacomo wiped the tear of joy that began to trickle down his face, his tone, however, remained unchanged. A tone of near-foolish levels of naivete and optimism.“Father, your words mean the world to me.” They both turn to the Ford ECA Zetec-R laid out on the table. “It’s been a long time, eh?”

Shitbox Rally 2022 - Keepitz Stage Campsite

Maria was less incredulous this time, and more ready to burst at the seams from laughter. “Of all the teams you could have joined… Forti? REALLY?” Thibault, who knew the grind all too well, having to start from nothing upon first joining the WRC, was suprised to find that his egotistical and slightly mad “boss” had, at some point, the humbleness within him to start from the bottom.

It was all good times and festivities, of course, until an earsplitting shriek cut through the conversation, causing the team to collectively snap their heads at the source, a towering monstrosity of flesh and machine. Thibault knew in that moment that he had experienced his final night of undisturbed rest.

“Hey, don’t you think we should help them?” Maria looked around the group to gauge their reactions to the suggestion. Chad spoke up first, placing a hand on her shoulder. “My friend. We may be capable of alot, but that, is a bit more then any of us can handle. We should aim to help in the aftermath, and stay out of the way for now.”

“What is that? Some kind of… Angel?” Thibault asked Chad, seemingly expecting Chad to know for some reason. Chad could only manage to shake his head. “No, some kind of demon, it looks like.” Giacomo wordlessly fell to the floor, nearly instantaneously passing out as soon as Chad finished speaking.

Machinas Con Passione’s Shitbox Adventures Part 10 - Fin

We do a little trolling


Team Mravolinski-Chitco



Some talk had started in the car as we started going
Mrdja: “I shall admit Poirot was as genius as ever in Curtains.”

Chicota: “Who tf is that and why we should be interested?”

Klimentol, seemingly informed about the situation: Thats some fictive detective written by some woman…regarded as one of best fictional detectives ever.

Mrdja: Correct. My sister got Curtains as a birthday gift from friend. Friend was aware that she enjoys such style of books…although that does apply for fair bit of family anyway.
Its always interesting to try and come with who may be responsible for crime.
Its mostly murder ofc, but im sure some other options may exist.

VerBanka: Im prefering Poe’s work.

Mrdja: Interesting enough, i think Agatha was somewhat inspired by Poe.
Obvious inspiration was Doyle and his legendary Sherlock, but i think Poe was mentioned as well.

Chicota: Have you ever managed to correctly guess the criminal and how did he did it?

Mrdja: Never. Thats not exactly straight-forward as you may think.
You need to pay attention to every detail, even if seems minuscule, bcos maybe that might lead you to suspect.

Aydar: Well, lemme give some puzzle to you, then.
Rear end of the car seems rather loose at the moment.
Seems we did indeed missed a minute detail while setting off.
But what detail it might be in question?

Poking his head out of window, Mrdja didnt found too much out-of-ordinary with rears.
Tbf, he did so without glasses as was worried they may slip down.

Plans and how not to realize them

As you know by this point, i tend to use those short blurbs in stage description by Madrias as part of material for planning and writing these posts.
Therefore, you may already know what conclusion we came up with upon stop: both rears got rather empty.

Said wheels were replaced, but we were left to wonder what got wrong with ones on which we started.
Not that we were able to really determine that based on what we had at stop, but couldnt find any obvious intrusions or cracks either.

As per usual, thoughts in latter part of journey was oriented towards preparing Pi to her own journey after this adventure.
We got enough clothes (or atleast, stuff that can be repurposed into clothes) to cross that off the list, but there is still fair amount of stuff that Pi must go through.
We decided that Pi might want to learn about driving this car. Starting, accelerating, stopping, steering - very much aware this isnt enough for general situations she might find herself in, but would do for starters.

Klimentol became very quiet after sniffing some air through open window.
“I cant exactly pinpoint why this smell seems so worrying, but it is worrying. Chicota just in case…activate your Fighting Mode.”

He did so, making his eyes blood-red instead of typical brown.
Such small physical change, but meant he is now noticeably stronger than usual, 10/3 times stronger to be precise.
Also there is one fear of his that gets pushed aside in this mode, making him fearless.
(Not that it will play much of a role, mind you; being that caused uneasyness is way above his strength even now)

Indeed, camp didnt seem quite so right this time.
Something is about to happen…OR ALREADY DID.
Chicota had grabbed sledgehammer in hand, obviously ready for whatever is indeed the case in camp.

1 Like

So, just an OOC bit here from me regarding this situation:

Yes, I approved it happening because it’s an interesting send-off to a team.

However, because it has significant canon consequences, I have to invoke a group of people from the lore of this world, the Walkers of Destiny, to create a cover story for the teams who were not involved in the fighting.


Because of the event that happened, and the effect it would have on the timeline, the Walkers of Destiny had to get involved. Those directly involved in the event will still remember it. Those who wish to remember it will still remember it. Those who wish to forget it will no longer know what happened. Everyone has been told the cover story is that the Yamada crashed, one of the team was killed in the accident, and the team voluntarily left the rally afterward. The local natives who witnessed this event have had their memories altered to prevent any further disruptions.

However, don’t stop yourselves from letting this event play out. This only has to happen because otherwise Shift Happens would need some serious convincing to open up SR 2023. It’s one thing to face the dangers of the world, even if those dangers are 11 foot tall werewolves, it’s another to face a danger that someone brought in.

So, yes, the Walkers of Destiny are covering this event up because otherwise this interplanetary tourism doesn’t happen and won’t inspire people to further their research into internal combustion. Teams that didn’t fight will have the option to either remember or forget what happened. Teams that fought will remember what happened. Everyone has been told the cover story, and should stick to it when dealing with teams who have had their memories altered.

As for what this means for SR 2023? I might have to put a few limits on rule of cool submissions. I hate limiting freedom, but… I also hate having to invoke DM-Law over the challenge, too, just to keep the one team who arrives too late to fight from either calling off the rest of the challenge, and/or never starting SR 2023.



Earlier parts

PART 0.1 - A prologue to the prologue
PART 0.2 - Another piece of the prologue puzzle
PART 0.3 - Viva la IP 4Z!
PART 0.4 - Robotman
PART 0.5 - Interference problems
PART 0.6 - Can I play Tetris?
PART 0.7 - Tangerine and familiar
PART 1.0 - Now things got serious!
PART 1.1 - Hello, Thibault and friends!
PART 1.2 - Poor kitty
PART 1.3 - Curse you, Team Oil Crisis!
PART 1.4 - Interlude
PART 2.0 - Bird bird bird, bird is the word!
PART 2.1 - D. Head
PART 2.2 - Good night!
PART 3.0 - Freeway Rockstar
PART 3.2 - Van-Werewolf 1-0
PART 4.0 - Calm after the storm
PART 5.0 - Mirror mirror on the…oh, crap!
PART 5.1 - Hello, little puppies!
PART 6.0 - Speed
PART 6.1 - GIMME OXYGEN! (feat. Madrias)
PART 6.2 - Steamin’ hot! (feat. Elizipeazie)
PART 7.0 - The Kayak
PART 7.1 - Marie the valkyrie?
PART 7.2 - Vegetables
PART 7.3 - Time to tie things up.
PART 8.0 - The hangover
PART 8.1 - The new team member
PART 9.0 - From pink to brown
PART 9.1 - Co-op with Madrias and Elizipeazie
PART 9.2 - Where is Sonic?
PART 10.0 - First at last!
PART 10.1 - Co-op with Variationofvariables
PART 11.0 - Why is this van so damn fast?
PART 11.1 - Co-op with Madrias
PART 11.2 - Demons and dragons bullshit
PART 11.3 - Oops, thank you, Kaylie!
PART 12.0 - Snap, crackle and pop!
PART 12.1 - The fire breathing jalopy
PART 12.2 - Written by Madrias
PART 12.3 - Bumpin’ the bumper
PART 13.0 - A jawdroppin’ ride

PART 13.1 - The monsters under the bed were real, after all!
(Bonus if you get the references)

When the pink van had arrived at the campsite, Janne immediately started taking the dashboard apart.

“Checking out the trouble with bad ground?”, Andreas asked.

“Hmmm….yes”, Janne said, not very truthful while he removed the instrument cluster, only to find something that was utterly shocking.


“No, why should it be?”, Andreas asked. “After all it is not a diesel.”

“But I could swear that…it was lit up…multiple times”, Janne was trying to say while shaking.

“I think that the heat is taking its toll on you now”, Andreas answered.

“But look here, there is no bulbs, right?”, he asked Andreas angrily.

“No, no bulbs, so what?”, Andreas sighed, a bit tired.

“Remember that the next time it is lit up”, Janne answered, very annoyed.

“WELL IT WON’T BE LIT UP BECAUSE IT IS NOT A FUCKING DIESEL AND THERE IS NO BULBS THERE, NOW STOP ACTING LIKE…I don’t know what. I really don’t know what. You are only getting more and more strange for each day”, Andreas said.

Janne threw his tools, walking away somewhere in anger, while Andreas just sat there and sighed. Late at night the van was still not fixed, Janne was just sitting mopey in the tent, and Andreas thought “Well, Let’s fix this myself so we actually have a vehicle to drive tomorrow”, and went back to the van to fix it.

He put the instrument cluster back together, and turned on the ignition, to see if everything worked like it should. Indeed it did, but slowly the glow plug indicator was lighting up with its “W A I T”.

“Now what the fuck is th…”, Andreas was shouting, just to be interrupted by the central locking system locking both of the front doors. He tried to open them, but it was just like if the door handle did nothing at all.

“S T A R T”, the glow plug indicator now read. He tried to turn off the ignition, but the key was so hot that he immediately burned his fingers on it. While taking his hand very rapidly off the ignition key, he heard the starter crank under the front seat, while the 4Z was waking up with a roar. The idle seemed to be at at least 2000 RPM and Andreas could not believe his eyes.

“Now how many electrical greml…” he said, only to watch the glow plug indicator flash again.

“D A N G E R”
“! ! ! ! ! !”
“T E R R O R”
“H O R R O R”

He somehow recognized this message, but could not place it, but he was dead scared because this possibly could not happen. Even worse was how the column shifter seemed to fall down from P to D like if something had been very broken. The van was roaring away, and Andreas at least tried to get a grip of the steering wheel, but there was a very unpleasant feeling there. Yes he COULD hold it, but it was just like if it was giving him a small electrical current, he could not hold there for any longer periods. Now he was sitting there, white in his face, trying to understand anything about what was happening.

Once again some cryptical message was flashing by in the glow plug indicator.

“D U V A N S”
“M A M M O R”
“K O M M E R”
“B O R T O T”

At the same time, the radio turned on all by itself, but despite the home-burned CD being put into it, the display was flashing “NO DISC”, and then “AM TUNER”. And he heard…something in the speakers. It was a very faint sound but despite the engine revving high he could hear it. It was…like a piano playing a funeral march very far away in a very large and empty room. Lots of echo. With some white noise crackling every now and then, and the radio was not as hot as the ignition key, nor was it trying to electrocute him like the steering wheel, it was just that it did not react on anything he did with the buttons.

Being totally busy with what was going on inside the van, he had not taken notice of anything outside, but all of a sudden the accelerator fell down to the floor. He tried to brake, only to feel the pedal going to the floor while the brake failure light was lit up. The pink van was approaching the Yamada with great speed, and if Andreas wasn’t dead scared before, he really was it now.

“Y O U”
“N E V E R”
“D I D”
“O B E Y”

“N O W”
“M U S T”
“D O”
“T H I S”
“M Y S E L F”

Even though the message was flashing by very rapidly in the glow plug indicator, he could notice every single word. Seeing how the Yamada was coming extremely close, after trying to escape from the IP for a while, he was sure that this was the end.

“S O R R Y”
“J U S T”
“C A N T”
“D O”
“T H I S”
“P L E A S E”
“H E L P !”

Once again a message was flashing in front of his eyes, while the IP was swerving away , passing the Yamada with great speed. He could see the faces of the passengers in the Yamada, probably being as scared as he was. He didn’t understand a thing. One thing was sure, he was not the one that was trying to kill the people inside the Yamada, but, WHAT, or WHO, or WHATEVER was it then?

The van was driving to the end of the field, where the handbrake was jumping up with enough force to knock his hand almost to the ceiling. The van did a 180 degree turn, the column shifter jumped to neutral. Engine went back to normal idle, while the high beams was turned on. The piano on the radio faded away and the display on the radio now did show a “SEEKING” message. All of a sudden the reception was crystal clear, but it sounded…old. Like if the programme was from the 50s or something. The voice of a little boy…




After a moment of silence you could hear the voices from a man and a woman instead.

“Oh, don’t worry. Mum and dad will always be here for you. In fact, always. Remember when we told you that the monsters under your bed is not real?”


“In fact, we were right”, and now the voices turned into something much less sweet, much more scary. “What if the monsters aren’t under your bed? What if the real monsters are the one closest to you? WHAT IF THE MONSTERS ACTUALLY ARE US AND WHAT IF YOU NEVER WILL GET RID OF US BUT INSTEAD WE WILL HAUNT YOU FOREVER?”

You could hear the child screaming before everything went dead quiet and the radio went pitch black. The 4Z was revving in neutral, the front was pointing against the Yamada that now was turning into something…else. The face of Andreas now was whiter than the one of a snowman, and the glow plug indicator was telling him one message once again.

“R E G R E T”
“E V E R Y T H I N G”
“A M”
“S O R R Y”
“C A N T”
“D O”
“T H I S!”

Then he saw a flash of light under the dash and the IP went pitch black. The engine dead. All electrics dead. And Sonic jumping up from under the dashboard, scared for life, running up towards the right side headrest, which he was clinching his feet to. Probably he had been biting off some wires. And now there was absolutely nothing that Andreas could do while the Yamada was turning into some kind of beast that he could not explain at all.

If Sonic was scared, it was nothing at all compared to Andreas.



RK Series Racing; Stage 12 Drive

A new day comes around and once again Constantin was the first to wake up, going from sleeping like a rock to wide awake and fully functional in about three seconds. He just stares at the ornamental ceiling for a minute, contemplating how incredibly well he slept that night, though he had absolutely no clue about the equally incredible dreams he had.
Still, Constantin briskly made his way out of bed and went about getting dressed, after which he went into the common room, where he discovered a wide array of typical breakfast food items, including but not limited to various kinds of breads, butter, meats, cheeses and salads for toppings as well as was dangerously similar to scrambled eggs and bacon, all served on a number of neat platters placed on the common room table.
Next to that, four sets of dishes and cutlery were placed.

Unfortunately, Constantin completely forgot about the racket his stiff soles made, forcing the other two out their sleep.
Both of them took a while to get going mentally, with Tim arriving at the common room first.
“Mornin’…” Tim grumbled, taking a seat at the decked-out table.
“Good Morning.”, Constantin replied joining Tim at the table, who was already picking out ingredients.
“You know that you have the noisiest mofos that exist for a pair of shoes?”, Tim remarked, followed by him taking a bite out of his slice of bread with a bit of ham and scrambled eggs on top.
“I can contest that…”, Valentin protested as he appeared from behind the curtain splitting his room off from the common one. He didn’t seem to be as comatose as he was when Janne threw them out of bed in the middle of the night, though it was apparent that he made very little, if any effort in neatening himself up before joining the others. He took all of two steps into the room before stopping again to intentionally smack the metal cleats on the bottom of his shoes onto the parquet floor seam, creating a noise which, while very unusual for what looked like sneakers, did beat Constantin’s shoes in sheer volume.
“You win.”, Tim spoke with a full mouth, almost spreading his breakfast back onto the platters.
Content with his initial victory, Valentin also took a seat and quietly started arranging his meal together with Constantin, who had the manners to wait until everyone was present.

Breakfast was had, with Valentin eating unusually little. While this garnered some curiosity from the others, neither of them decided to immediately question it.
After that, the others went about collecting up what minimal luggage they carried in while Valentin took the chance to catch up on getting himself at least semi-presentable looking.
With that done, they collected Connor from the corner, where he spent the entire night standing and passively surveying the room and went out of the Inn and onto the Queens Garden plaza, with most of the competitors in some way busy preparing for the upcoming stage.
Among those was Shift Happens, which whom they exchanged good mornings and wishes for a good journey.

“Damn some of them had one hell of a shitty night, it seems…” Tim pointed out, motioning to Kivenaal as they passed the Bricksley.
“Cannot say mine was any better…”, Valentin grumbled in response, not even turning around to look at where Tim was pointing.
“That ankle is really killing you now, isn’t it?”, Tim inquired.
“Mhm…” Valentin just nodded, trying to keep a low profile regarding the nanites that were hard at work trying to fix the busted ankle.

They collectively made their way into the station and didn’t have to wait long until the famous Silver Line Special made it’s way into the station, gracefully rolling up next to them.
At the platform, they were greeted by the familiar face of the Railroad Official.

“Good morning. Hope you had a pleasant night at the End of the Line Inn.” he said, friendly as always but secretly hoping that the party wouldn’t remain in their minds too long.
“Food’s been great. Sleep wasn’t, though not exactly their fault…”, Valentin said, slightly shaking his head.
“It was wonderful.” Tim corrected. “He’s a bit of a grumpy cat today it seems…”
“Anyway… We have added the box car containing your carriage to the train.”, the official spoke, walking over and opening a massive sliding door on the side of a box car in the train, revealing Robert behind, untouched since they parked it in there the previous afternoon.
“I sincerely wish you a nice and comfortable journey.” he adds, before motioning for the team to board the train.
For Valentin, this proved to be quite the struggle as the high-floor construction made traversal of a pair of steps a necessity. Still, the team eventually finds themselves in an environment that seemed familiar from when they took the train a few stages prior, but up-rated in almost every aspect that could count towards the comfort of it.

Once seated, the train did not take long to start moving, slowly rolling out of the massive station at the center of Trugarde and onwards toward Keepitz.
The train ride wasn’t exciting by any means, with the team members largely keeping to themselves and watching the landscape go by. The silence was only broken once from on board staff going around and serving meals and beverages.
Eventually… the train does arrive at Keepitz, where the team semi-elegantly disembarks before heading up front to unload Robert. They did not have to think too hard to grasp that the available loading ramp was in no way fit for unloading a ‘lizard-less carriage’ in one go.

Some discussion with local staff followed, ending in an agreement to stop a station further down, which was said to have a much more substantial loading ramp.

With that said, they re-entered the train for a few minutes of added travel time to the next station, to some annoyance of the civilian passengers now being delayed on their journeys.
Still, the unloading process began, immediately running into inevitable issues. Since Robert sat for what now was the better part of two days, they could not simply raise steam immediately. Instead, the long and tedious process of preparing the engine for operation was carried out.
Only then could steam be raised, after which the unloading took no more than a few minutes.

Hastily, the doors on the box car were shut again for the train to continue on it’s journey.
Meanwhile, the crew and Robert slowly crept along the roads and towards camp.

to be continued





Thank you.

No bond is stronger than that of a mother and her child. A mother will do anything to be with the one that she gave life to, no matter the cost, for this is what God had dictated to Eve all those millenia ago upon the eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.

God had wiped the world once, to our knowledge. But who is to say he wouldn’t do it again? Is he really still in his heaven? Is all truly right with the world? Are angels truly messengers of the one above? Or do they dictate the coming of the apocalypse and the cleansing of the world to restore it to a form as pure as the day that humanity was created?

Eve is the mother of all humanity, is she not? For man would continue to descend from her once the original sin had been committed.

The impure world we exist in was a product of that sin. Yet the purest bond was formed from that sin as well. Is the bond between mother and child really pure? Or is it a result of selfishness? Greed? The desire to preserve oneself?

God created the universe because he was lonely. Could that not be applied to childbirth as well? You will grow old alone if you do not find yourself a spouse and bear children. God would have continued through the endless marching of time by himself if he had not chosen to create the principles of space around us and instead chose to lock himself away as the sole being of this world.

The splitting of the sky from the land, the water from the soil, oil from water, father from mother, was God breaking homogeneity. If we were all one singular being, would that not be lonely?

Do not fear accompaniment, do not fear those who may wish to separate you from those who you love. You would not love someone if they were you. Indeed, humanity being different from one another is what breeds this love. Even in the most similar of people, the difference exists enough to cause the bond between them.

God and man. Eve and civilization. Mother and child. Creator and creation. Selfish are the bonds formed between these, yet as greedy as they are, nothing is as pure as them.

The sun began to lower itself on the horizon, painting half the sky in a subtle fade of orange and purple as the atmospheric terminator glowed softly above their heads. All around them was red, the mansion where the fighting had commenced was nothing more than a frame of its former glory, and the trees that once stood tall surrounding it collapsed around them to form a clearing that enabled a skylight to shine onto them and allow the pools of mysterious crimson liquid to glimmer with the soft lapping of the wind upon it.

Ga’araiya stood still, staring at the beast’s head as it lay dormant in front of her, with a slice perfectly down the middle of it. The quick memories of the battle resonated in her head like the droplets that came down from the surrounding leaves as they dripped down onto the floor below, rippling like an image as unclear as the girl’s head.

”I… I oNlY wAnt.wAnTED to Be WiTH mY…my.cHiLD…”

What once was an amalgamation of mechanical and biological horrors, now spread out across the now-desolate battlefield along with those who finished the fight. Chunks of meat and appendages blown to smithereens would line their surroundings as everyone gathered whatever they could.

The silver haired girl looked down towards the floor as she felt something reach her battered feet, its metallic coating glimmered through the viscous coating of the iron-scented liquid, and she could just barely make out its shape as she bent down to pick it up.
In her hand, after the blood had been wiped, was a Y-shaped ornament, one she immediately made the distinction of being the Yamada’s hood badge. She cleaned it up more, and looked at its chrome finish as the light attempted to reflect back into her retinas. Just barely, reflections of the surroundings were visible through its polished, concave shape, and she could see the people around her through it.

“There was no helping it.” She sighed, placing the badge into the pocket of her ripped, blood-stained dress. “You were an interesting man, Raymundo Romulo.”

She looked back behind her, particularly towards the blonde man who lay on a dry patch of ground, being tended to by a black furred feline. The girl began walking towards them, her small feet wading through the liquid that rippled all around her, and stopped right as she stood in front of them. Her bright blue eyes looked towards the cat, and she could see a storm of uncertain emotions in the panther princess’ heterochromic gaze.

“Was there anything I could have done…?” The feline spoke, lifting her head up towards Ga’araiya, who seemed as though was looking down at her. “Was there?!”
Charlotte’s voice was hoarse, as though she was trying to suppress saying something that ultimately she wished to bring out. Tears formed in her eyes, and an ugly sob would come from her as she covered her face with her bloodstained hands.

”f.fiENdS… fIENDS Of.oF nAtURE…! yOu siNFuL lOt!”

Ga’araiya sighed as she turned away. “You’re not a coward for retreating. The only difference between those who died in combat, and those who came back from it, is their luck.”

“So you actually listened to the things I told you when you were younger?” Spoke a voice from beneath the silver haired girl. She peeked below, and found Watson’s bloodshot eyes open, peering towards the orange-tinted sky that gazed above them. “Never would I have thought.”

The man’s eyes shifted their focus towards Ga’araiya, and a smirk grew upon his face as he gave off a soft laugh. “It has been a while since your hair was that length, hasn’t it?” He said as he lifted himself up from where he lay down, and turned his attention to the now slowly rotting carcass of the beast they had just slain. The stench from the iron-tinted liquids all around them filled their nostrils, resonating within their scent buds with a taste they could make out from just their noses.

With the beast slain, a hue of soft blue glowed through Watson’s pocket, and as he took the gold-coloured instrument out, his mind for the first time in eternity had felt calm and serenity.

The watch’s hands were finally moving, and slowly ticked towards sundown.

October 4th 20XX

In a northeastern portion of China, a facility with a troubled history sat dormant for 70 years. The abandoned Unit 419, a former research laboratory ran by a branch of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War, was inspected by Chinese police in June. What they found was unlike what was supposed to be inside a several decade old installation, but whether or not one should have been surprised would befall on who they believe.

After nearly thirty years since the initial suspicions, they had finally gotten to it. One June 15th, a group of investigators entered the seemingly-abandoned laboratory. Unsurprisingly, it was as desolate as it was during the end of its operations. Everything, from the chains that shackled the miserable victims of the torture and experimentation, the abandoned and rotting medical equipment that lined the tables, and the dry blood that spattered across the walls of the testing chambers continued to sit where they were. Preserved for future generations to realise the horrors of what man can do in anger against oneself.

But that was not all that was in the derelict building. What this report shall bring to light, may very well change the dynamic of the current corporations. The People’s Police entered the compound, and with a bit of digging, they unveiled a different kind of dreadful knowledge about the facility.

The building’s original plans from 1938 were reacquired, and they discovered a hidden underground provision that upon their entry, were met with a revelation that perhaps, should never have been found.

Beneath the dilapidated facade of the old lab, rested an entirely different outpost a few stories buried in the soil. The facility looked as though it had seen use as recent as 2008, and there was still electricity being supplied to the establishment.

Upon further digging, more surprises would come to the investigators’ way. With documents dated from 1993 to 2005 bringing to light experiments that were thought to have been outlawed nearly seven decades ago at the end of the war. That is, human experimentation. Experimentation headed by none other than one of the largest corporations in Japan, the Yamada Group, the same family who had controlled Unit 419 during its ‘heyday’.

Details of many, many things came to light, some being lighter hearted tales of genetically engineered super soldiers for the Japanese Self Defence Forces, and some downright horrendous in their experiment conclusions. One report, with still plenty of missing supplemental information, was found in one corner of the laboratory, a corner which seemed to have a large disaster, for it was cordoned off by the former operators before the police could inspect.

The report went as follows:
In 2000, Yamada Motor Development had entered the rallying stage with a new rally raid SUV. Its performance was unprecedented, and was very good when paired with a driver equally capable. But the greedy bigwigs at the top brass of the team were not satisfied with the results of just a simple stage victory, and as such they hired a driver who was said to be among the best in her region, but nearing retirement.

From here on, some details seem to be redacted, or outright lost, but key elements still came to light. The acquisition of a Mirabelle Marquez-Romulo, one of the best rally drivers during her time, and a resulting experimentation project to enhance her driving abilities that was titled; Project Blazer.

Trials began in 2001, where she was first given a few doses of an engineered chemical that was said to increase her response rate by at least 34.3% with appropriate post dosage therapy. The lack of any significant positive impact caused the project to move to another stage.

Implants were placed upon the driver, and engineered in the car was a biological link that would allow the driver to connect seamlessly with the car and allow them to control it as though it was their own body. The Freudian Drive system was the term coined in the report.

Results came greatly, and combined with the doses of newly engineered medicine to enhance the driver’s G resistance and memorization, allowed the Yamada Rally team to acquire a podium finish that year in the 2002 Dakar Rally.

By this point, they were ready to move onto the next stage. Details, either redacted or lost to what appeared to be a catastrophic laboratory disaster in 2004, were cloudy. But what remained of the report papers showed grotesque imagery of what remained of Mirabelle Marquez-Romulo following an accident in the 2003 running of the famed rally raid being experimented upon. The driver was apparently revived, and placed in a new biomechanical life support system that combined the driver and car as one homogenous being.

From here on out, the reports were looking incomplete, but images and videos found on a hard disk drive in the abandoned digital storage site of the facility show a creature going berserk, and the laboratory in chaos. This footage was said to have been dated from 2000, but it could possibly be data corruption, as the records are unclear and unrecoverable as a whole.

Final records from the laboratory show █████ █████████. ██████, ████████ ████████ ██████ and ██████ within ████████. In the ██████████ there ████ ████████ mechanical absorption ██████████
██████ ████████ ██ █████ ████ the body was said to never have been recovered. Dr. ████████ of Yamada Group ████████ ████████ said to have ████████ on the ██████████. No further records remain, and the mystery is thus ████████ ████████ ████ ██ ██████ ████ ██████ ██████████ ██████████████ ████████.

The conclusion of the report is █████████████ ████ ███.

God remains in his heaven.

Stay strong.

Thank you.

Deo Auctore.


Now I start to wonder about the shady things hidden in IP:s past…


As do I, with all my companies that is.


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29/7/3251 /// 4 and 15 Sun LJT

As the saying goes, every dog has its day. Yet despite being one of the most capable cars of the entire shitbox rally dossier, the Dauer’s purported episode of fame was nowhere to be found. The temperamental German was all but the most exacting of mistresses; rewarding and gratifying with discipline and precision, but leaving no room for forgiveness with even the slightest misstep. Even when road conditions swayed in their favor, all it took was one stray bump in the road to upset its delicate balance and send the rear flying out.

“You know what else they say?”

Tanuki screamed as the coupe swerved around a gargantuan six-legged feline, narrowly missing certain death as a hairy limb flew by with a buffeting gust that shook the car. Mel straightened the steering wheel and angled it back on course, the rigid seat bolster biting into her side as the Dauer swerved aggressively in front of the cat. With the speed it carried through the slalom and the sudden change in direction, the coupe lurched from one side to the other and the rear end started to swing out. A quick but disciplined flick of the wrist immediately tamed this oversteer and the coupe jerked violently as the pair of rubber toruses behind them hooked onto the cobblestone road with conviction.

“Can’t teach an old mutt new tricks…”

Mel knew the 632 S like the quivering walls of her vagina. She’d memorized every nook, cranny, contour, and surface, inside and out. She could pull out the transmission and engine in pitch black, blindfolded. She knew the exact position of its center of gravity relative to hers, the different textures of vibration transmitted through the steering column to her hands, the dominant frequencies of the boxer-6 and how they corresponded to the current engine speed; the woman-machine connection was beyond all physical boundaries at this point. No, it was telepathic. The Dauer could quickly make a closed-casket funeral out of any novice driver blinded by their own overconfidence, but Mel was different. She knew its breaking point, its capabilities, its limitations, and how to exploit all three to her advantage in a flamboyant, if not dangerous, driving technique. She knew how to make it squeal, she knew how to push all of its buttons and just how many to push to leave it begging for more. She’d made the Dauer her bitch.

The tachometer needle flicked clockwise in the blink of an eye with the solid thunk of the gated shifter slotting into third. The beast that lay chained under the hood let out a bloodcurdling roar channeled through the dual exhaust in response, an apex predator’s cry that signaled its presence to everyone and everything miles away.

“…but it sure as hell won’t forget any old ones!”

With the throttle wide open, Mel yanked the two-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel to the right and administered one swift kick to the clutch pedal. Tanuki let out another yelp as she was once again thrown to the left, crashing against the inadequately-padded race bucket’s bolsters as the harness dug into her shoulder. She grabbed whatever handle or sturdy surface was within reach as if she was trying to prevent herself from flying out a window, her nails digging into her palms and drawing blood. The Dauer’s nose swung to the right on a dime and its tail end snapped around like a bullwhip, narrowly missing a steep drop adjacent to this hairpin turn that was an unusual contrast to the relatively turn-free road they’d experienced thus far. With careful throttle input and countersteer adjustment, Mel kept the coupe pointed towards the inside of the turn as its rear wheels skirted mere inches from the end of the road surface.

Without any warning, a blind corner appeared in Mel’s line of sight, one that was just as sharp and abrupt but instead sweeping towards the left. The only thing louder than the Dauer’s boxer-6 teetering near its redline with a thundering exhaust signature and the screeching of the rear tires was Tanuki’s high-pitched screaming as she saw the dense canopy of trees flying straight towards them. Such girthy trunks wouldn’t have so much as a scratch if their coupe were to fly off the road and wrap itself around it, creating a fresh Australian-Japanese flesh and bone puree in the process. With this gap being rapidly closed by the Dauer’s unmatched cadence, what little time she never had to make a careful, calculated maneuver was quickly shrinking by every memory that flashed before her eyes in a slideshow of impending doom.

“Do you have any tricks left?!” Tanuki screeched, grabbing Mel by the shoulder and shaking her in panic. “MERU!!!”

Suddenly, Tanuki’s cerebellum perceived some unexplained change in angular momentum about her. The Dauer stopped rotating and maintained a constant heading. At this exact moment of rotational equilibrium, Mel threw the wheel to the right and kept her foot planted. As the steering wheel turned into a clockwise cyclone blur, so did their surroundings as an incredible centrifugal impulse flung their bodies to the right. In the blink of an eye, the Dauer flicked counterclockwise and its tail end snapped to the right. The screech of sliding tires and the all too familiar stench of burning rubber flooded Mel’s senses, but she remained focused as she instinctively guided the coupe through the sharp left-hander.

Nothing was quite as hair-raising as when the rear right tire started to hang off the side of the road, causing the front left corner of the Dauer to slightly lift up in response through the sustained drift. Lifting her foot off the throttle slightly, Mel allowed the coupe to regain some rear traction and straighten itself in accordance with the contour of the cobblestone road. Once both rear tires regained traction, there was one final transversal jolt as they hugged the road surface and launched the Dauer out of the corner like a gravitational slingshot flinging a spacecraft into unknown stretches of the night sky.

“CRIkey!” Mel gasped, glancing once in the rear view mirror and even craning her head to look behind her briefly for only a moment, still processing the caliber of the maneuver she had just executed and the finesse of how precisely and smoothly it had been carried out. She wiped the perspiration off her brow and continued sending the Dauer through gently sweeping curves that they flew through without breaking a sweat. “I can’t believe I just pulled that stunt off! Fuck me, I’m never doing that again!”

“Are you kidding me? That was AWESOME!” Tanuki cheered, grabbing Mel by the shoulders and giving her a couple rough shakes of encouragement, as if beckoning her to turn around and do it all over again. Whether it was darting through southeast Asian jungles, running between thick undergrowth and high-powered rifle rounds that zipped by around her or having first-row seats to a live ‘blind’ rally stage where the span of milliseconds made all the difference between staying on the road or getting eviscerated by a stray tree trunk, Tanuki enjoyed it all the same. Bloodthirsty, daring… the naive might say suicidal, but perhaps batshit insane would suffice.

As the Dauer careened down the straights, leaving behind it a wake of burbling boxer-6 exhaust that rumbled the ground and a pressure-wavefront that threw up loose plant debris into airy vortices, the silhouette of a majestic, sprawling skyline gradually emerged from the horizon, taking up their entire line of sight the further down the road they flew. The 632 S could handle breakneck speeds without breaking so much as a single drop of perspiration, hurtling down streets of rustic pavement with ease and with a composure that only beckoned Mel to push it even harder.

Further down the road that trailed off into the distance, Mel noticed a lone vehicle making its way down the stony path at a leisurely pace. The thick clouds of black smoke it tossed into the sky was the first thing she noticed, and as they got closer, she heard the lumpy, thunderous, fire-belching exhaust note that pounded at her chest with each powerful beat of its prodigious iron heart. She slowly let off the throttle and braked slightly, moving to the right side of the road to let the vehicle pass on the opposite side.

“Stupid bastards, what the hell are they thinking, hogging the road like that?” Tanuki growled, reaching for her handgun conveniently tucked in the door handle. “Worry not Meru, this bad boy speaks a language anyone can understand!” She rolled down her window slightly and aimed her handgun outside, pointing it skywards.

As the distance between both vehicles rapidly closed, Mel got a better look at the peculiar mechanical monstrosity sharing the road with them. It was much more sophisticated than the legged, animal-drawn carts and whatever self-propelled tractor or carriage preceded it, yet still many decades removed from their own Dauer. She caught a glimpse of a brass-era roadster, a four-wheeled primordial beast that produced more smoke and noise than actual speed, pulling a carriage of similar antiquity. Tanuki’s eye caught a glimpse of a particularly large shotgun being carried by one of its even larger crew members, and without letting out much of a sound, very quickly retracted her handgun back inside.

The roadster and carriage quickly transmuted into a blur of colors that shot by in an instant without much event. This was not the last of the numerous vehicles cluttering the road, however; as Melanie continued to navigate the Dauer through more sweeping high-speed turns closer and closer to the city before them, the steady stream of giant lizards and self-propelled steam tractors to and from their destination only continued to grow denser and slower, forcing Mel to step on the brakes and match the flow of traffic around them. Carefully darting around gargantuan reptiles and multi-legged felines to avoid getting flattened, they finally arrived at Trugarde.

4 and 35 Moon LJT

Tanuki had ceremoniously elected to spend the night at a local inn after having raised complaints about an aching back and neck from sleeping in the Dauer’s stiff, cramped cargo area, a suggestion that Mel accepted with enthusiasm. A dinner at the adjacent tavern was a welcome change of pace from the usual scuffed camping meal that was delicious albeit having a consistency not unlike that of throwing random ingredients into a blender and letting it rip. Now they retired to their room, preparing to grant their weary, banged-up bodies some precious hours of rest before embarking towards Keepitz the next day.

“Time really flies, doesn’t it?” Mel remarked, recounting the past few eventful days and countless experiences she’d shared with Tanuki thus far. She stared up at the inn’s ceiling in contemplation, taking in the incomprehensible softness and warmth of the mattress she had fallen on. Spending a night here would make it exceptionally hard for her to go back to sleeping in the cramped back of the Dauer. “I can’t believe we’ve already gone through 11 stages… we’re just over ⅔ of the way through! All of those long, sleepless nights… all of the teams we’ve met so far, that one time the pack of Dyre ripped through our camp and the grueling drive immediately after, that night in Samirarie…”

“Hey, what were you two doing in that room?” Tanuki raised an eyebrow and closed the distance between Mel’s face and hers, staring interrogatively. “When Charlotte and I came back later that night, the two of you were out-cold… and completely na-”

She was quickly silenced when Mel shot her the bitchiest glare she could conjure at that moment. But Tanuki was unfazed and merely let a smug grin take over. She already knew what happened that night; anyone with half a brain cell could have figured it out the instant they walked inside. All she wanted was a confession from Mel, to get back at her from what happened a few days earlier.

“Hey, speaking of time… you remember what’s gonna happen soon, don’t you?”


“Come on Meru-chan…” Tanuki sneered with that snide timbre in her voice. Mel could never tell if she was being serious or just fucking with her 95% of the time. Her bed creaked as she sat up cross-legged and cocked her head towards Mel on the other side of the room. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already?”

“Oh, come on,” Mel sighed. She lazily rolled over to face Tanuki, still lazily sprawled out on her side as she lay on the plush mattress that seemed to swallow her figure up. Glancing at the still-masked, still-wearing-sunglasses girl, still as lively as ever, she couldn’t seem to decipher what exactly was formulating inside her wicked mind. “I’m beat, Tanuki. What is it?”

“My vacation, of course!” Tanuki declared triumphantly, raising her arms as if she was basking in the virgin rainfall that came after the excruciating months of dry summer heat. Her excitement wasn’t as contagious as she’d hoped, however, as Mel still remained just as confused.

“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing this whole time?” Mel asked, her last words trailing off into a silent yawn as she stretched her arms and legs.

“Haaaah?” Tanuki folded her arms and glared at her clueless Australian partner, somewhat miffed at her nonchalance. “Getting there is only half the battle. The destination IS the vacation itself!”

“What are you talking about?” Mel mumbled. Her eyes fluttered and grew heavy, and anticipating what was soon to come, she began crawling under the starchy covers. “Hmmm… can we talk about this tomorrow?”

“Did ya think this was just some big road trip for me? Baka! My real R&R hasn’t even started yet! Well, perhaps I wasn’t specific enough earlier. Trugarde is beautiful and lively, but perhaps it’s a bit too busy for me. In a city this big, there just might be some little bastard waiting to slip a cyanide pill in my drink when I’m not looking or drop a grand piano on my head when I’m trying to sunbathe! That’s why I decided to stay in Keepitz! No hustle, no bustle, and most importantly, no Interpol! Two well-deserved weeks of rest couldn’t have come sooner!”

“Mmmmmyeah…” Mel nodded. “Wait, what? Two weeks?”

“Of course, because I’m an international businesswoman, it would be foolish for me to have vacations just for the purpose of travel. Where haven’t I already been?”

“Tanuki, what the hell are you saying?” Mel rubbed her eyes as she sat up groggily, brushing the platinum blonde strands of hair out of her face.

“You remember what I told you when we first met, right? This isn’t so much of a vacation for me as it is peace of mind! I can’t catch a damn break… I’m always on the run from Interpol, bounty hunters, or bastards like you! This isn’t exactly the most glamorous or easiest line of work, you know! I’m human too! I still need my precious me time every once in a while!”

“No, I get that.” Swinging her slender legs off the bed, Mel glared and leaned towards the ever-playful Tanuki. “I’m talking about the other thing you said. Each stage lasts only one day, probably two at most. Two weeks? What the hell is going on?”

“Usodesho? You’re kidding me, right? Did you really think I was gonna have a two day vacation? AHA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” Tanuki’s laugh felt eerily different. Cold. Biting. Mocking? That was a given, but this time it was just like that fateful day back in El Paso.

Mel brought her fingers to her temples, shutting her eyes and dedicating all of her mental faculties to deciphering whatever plan Tanuki was now conjuring up. “So… if we’re staying here for that long… how the hell are we going to get back? By the time you’re done with your little vacation here, we’re going to be stuck here with our thumbs up our arses because everyone else will be long gone! There won’t be a portal waiting for us!”

“Well, you’re sure as hell not staying with me!” Tanuki scoffed. “That’s not why I brought you here! Though it would be a lie for me to say I didn’t enjoy your company, this is my vacation and my vacation only!”

“So what the bloody hell am I supposed to do? Finish this rally all by myself in these dodgy ass lands? How will I not wrap the Dauer around a tree without a navigator? You can’t leave me alone!”

“Of course, you remember why you’re here, don’t you? You agreed to escort me through Crugandr for my vacation! You agreed to those terms we set! After this next stage, your duties as my trusted bodyguard and driver will conclude! Though I must admit, you’ve done a far better job at escorting me than I ever would’ve expected! You should be proud of yourself, Meru-chan!”

“As if I had a choice, you cunt! You left me completely in the dark about what I was to expect for this journey! You can’t leave me alone, not this far in the rally… you’re leaving me for dead!”

“Oh, but how could I do that to my own beloved escort who’s been faithful to me for this long?” Tanuki gasped for dramatic effect. “You know, if you weren’t one of those pigs I would’ve already hired you as one of my personal bodyguards! You’ve more than proven yourself worthy of such a special role! Because of that, I know Meru-chan will be okay!”

Mel sat on her bed, immobilized and completely mute with shock. Every rotten word that came out of Tanuki’s mouth left a bad taste in her own. She gripped the bedsheets as she grew dizzy with confusion, a delirium that surely melded into more primal, more intense emotion as the agonizingly long seconds passed.

“So that’s it? You’re going to go on your little weekend retreat while I fend for myself against man-eating, great-white-sized wolves and god knows what else? I need you!”

“And I needed you too,” Tanuki shot back instantly with a cheeky smile that Mel wanted to slap right off her face along with those sunglasses and that mask. “My dear driver, oh how I’ll miss you! I wouldn’t have made it this far if it wasn’t for your driving! I trust you’ll be able to get back just fine by yourself, no? AHA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!”

Mel grew sicker and sicker by the moment the longer Tanuki spoke. That’s what it was. Sickening. Like some toy she no longer found entertaining, Tanuki had just tossed Mel away and left her for dead. How could she have not realized it earlier? She was merely an expendable resource to Tanuki. A means to an end. Disposable. That’s what it was. She’d played her like a goddamn fiddle.

That bitch.

“You KNOW you can’t leave me here all alone!” Mel shouted. “Don’t you remember the deal we made back in El Paso? If anything happens to me, you are fucking DEAD! They’re not going to bother taking you alive. Not with an officer’s blood on your hands.”

“AHA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA! So now you’re threatening ME?” Tanuki’s cackles were wicked and scratchy, sounding no worse than someone dragging their nails across a chalkboard. She rested her head on her hands. “Hey, Meru… has anyone told you how cute you look when you’re angry?” Her sweet and doting voice was anything but; Mel’s eye twitched as the brittle chains of her willpower snapped one by one, barely holding herself back from flying across the room and bashing Tanuki’s face until it caved in and looked more like a smashed grapefruit than a head.

“I knew it… all of you terrorists are the same. Black Rabbit doesn’t leave anyone behind? What a load of bullshit!”

“I didn’t recruit you for being a bitch!” Tanuki snapped back, her patience worn thin.

So had Melanie’s. As if some switch had been flipped, she leapt across the room and drove a knee into Tanuki’s sternum. Pinning the war criminal to the bed, Mel grabbed her neck with both hands and squeezed with every ounce of her strength. Adrenaline and rage coursed through her veins as her fingers sunk deeper and deeper into Tanuki’s neck, crushing her windpipe and twisting the skin under her vice grip as if she was trying to wring a towel. She wanted to hear Tanuki’s stifled, wispy breaths turn into silence, see her eyes bulge from under those aviators that seldom came off her face, watch as her skin grew blotches of deep blue and then purple the tighter and longer she squeezed her neck. Nothing would bring Mel greater satisfaction than seeing that warmonger’s bloodied, mangled, twitching body on the floor, gargling for mercy at her feet.

Yet no matter how much pressure Mel applied or how tightly she squeezed, even as she started to use her own bodyweight, Tanuki offered no resistance. She remained motionless and simply stared right back into Mel’s burning eyes with a silent but intense gaze, even after her breaths had been reduced to faint, high-pitched whistles that escaped from under that elusive face mask. The passage of seconds was distorted and drawn out to what Melanie felt like was an agonizing stretch of many minutes, yet it seemed like no amount of time was sufficient for Tanuki to finally succumb to Mel’s vice grip.

Mel’s sight started to cloud, shapes and shadows in her vision distorting and shrinking immeasurably. Her forehead and temples started to throb as if her brain was bulging and bursting past its rigid confines. Loosening her grip on Tanuki’s neck, she grew lightheaded, dizzy from the overwhelming outburst of rage and passion that pulsated through her entire body and left her nauseous. She lifted herself off Tanuki’s limp figure and collapsed off her bed, coming to a rest on the floor where she sat against the bed frame, body and mind nothing short of broken.

Wrought with an overabundance of emotion, she curled into an upright fetal position, slowly rocking back and forth as she felt an immense hopelessness start to take root. There was little she could do to reverse the course of action she now realized she was barreling down. It was all a lie from the very beginning. As soon as she stepped into that warehouse back in El Paso, she’d resigned herself to a preordained fate that lay fixed outside her reach, an unwavering universal constant. And in her denial and desperation, she lashed out at Tanuki. But as she now came to realize, it wasn’t just that she couldn’t bring herself to kill Tanuki. Even if she did, not a single thing would have changed.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Tanuki cackled and sputtered as her chest rose and fell with deep, heaving breaths. She coughed violently and loudly in between gasps, her fingers stroking the tender, bruised skin on her neck. “To let yourself go… to set your conscience aside… and let your emotions take control? But I knew you couldn’t do it… you stupid bitch…”

With the final sliver of hope dashed and an immense dread starting to sink in, Mel’s sight blurred as her eyes became glassy. As her breaths grew sharp and labored, a wet sniffle escaped from her now-stuffy nose. Before she knew it, Tanuki’s arms wrapped around her chest and she held her breath, bracing for a retaliatory knee strike in the gut or elbow in the face. But the blows never came; instead, she was gently hoisted up onto the springy mattress. The broken, battered, bewildered Australian was laid down with care, locks of platinum blonde hair falling in front of her teary eyes.

Tanuki pulled Mel close and embraced her from behind, one arm around her waist. And with these most unexpected midnight maneuvers from the last person she’d expected to display such gestures, she finally gave in.

“There, there.”

Tears endlessly cascaded from Mel’s eyes as she buried her face in the pillow, muffling her raw, violent sobs that made her convulse and tense up with each gasp and whimper. What little strength she had left finally yielded and snapped under her mounting despair and grim realizations that reared their ugly heads, now coming to fruition. How foolish it was of her to place her trust, let alone her own life in the hands of a war criminal with so much at stake. How fucking stupid it was of her to fall victim to her charms and charisma, for her to think that maybe, just maybe, the claims of her ruthlessness and heartlessness were not well-substantiated, for her to take a chance. Tanuki’s melodic whispers provided a much-needed respite for Mel from the last few minutes’ suffocating barrage of betrayal, anguish, and hopelessness that had tormented her and brought her a suffering and desperation so great it had finally pushed her over the edge.

As Mel continued to weep silently into the pillow, now stained with her tears, Tanuki only pulled her closer and closer, so much so that she felt her bosom press against Mel’s back. She ran her fingers through Mel’s silky, golden strands of hair, carefully brushing them away from her face.

“Everything will all be over soon.”


Shitbox Rally

Stage 13: Keepitz to Taruli

Stage Start: 1 Sun, 31/7/3251, Keepitz Campsite

Weather at Stage Start: Warm (27C), Cloudy, A light rain, with mild wind.
Weather at mid-stage: Still warm (28C), Cloudy with light rain, and mild wind.
Weather at Stage End (First Car): Warm (28C), Cloudy with light rain, the wind has stopped.
Weather at 5 Sun: Warm (29C), Cloudy, rain starts to fade, wind returns.
Weather at Stage End (Last Car): Warm (28C), overcast, a light breeze.

Stage End (First Car): 3 and 43 Sun, 31/7/3251, Taruli Campsite

Stage End (Last Car): 6 and 77 Sun, 31/7/3251, Taruli Campsite

Weather at 10 Sun: Cool (25C), heavy clouds on the horizon and the smell of incoming rain hangs in the air. The light rain returns by about 2 Moon, and will persist until morning.

The teams wake up to a bit of a gloomy morning, as if the world were mourning the loss of Team Blazers in the competition. Camps are packed up in the light rain that has been falling for the last couple of hours, engines are started, and vehicles head out onto the gravel forest road between Keepitz and Taruli. While the road appears simple, the rain-slicked gravel proves to be a challenge to drive on, with a few rather nasty surprises hidden throughout, such as off-camber turns, big dips, and the occasional suspension-rattling bump. Thankfully, a large portion of the road is relatively straight, so not too much time is lost in dealing with off-road excursions caused by unseen and unexpected road hazards.

Arriving at Taruli, it’s clear that this campground is, well, for once well planned out as it’s a classic adventurers’ campground. There are tables, log seats, a few small shacks for sleeping, numerous fire-pits for cooking, and even a half-decent outhouse, all ready to be used by the remaining teams in the competition.

Notes: Randomization is active. Breakdowns are active. Time is in Earth Time.

Note: A team has voluntarily left the competition.


Team Shift Happens

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 06:42:52
Average MPH: 52.9
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

After they heard about the death of a fellow racer, and the departure of a team as a result, the Shift Happens crew decided the best course of action was to finish the rally, even if they had to slow down a little to do it. Rukari took the keys and the wheel for the first time since he had overheated the truck while towing the Dione, and this time, he drove the Highwayman sensibly. In the back seat, a still-tired Kivenaal rested his head on Jayde’s shoulder and slept through another long drive.


Team Wayfarers

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 06:32:38
Average MPH: 54.2
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

Like many other teams, Jack and Jill took things a little easier on this stage after hearing about the death in the previous stage. Chernobog tore up the gravel road regardless, the big engine snarling at the creatures in the woods.


Team Gearknobs

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:31:34
Average MPH: 78.4
Randomizer: 12
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

AWD and a heavy right foot gets the Hakaru Carica flying through this stage, flinging gravel everywhere. The only downside faced from this stage was that the rain meant having the windows down wasn’t an option, and the vacuum tubes in the engine computer created a not-exactly-insignificant bit of heat on the dashboard.


Team Fallen Angels of the Past

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:22:55
Average MPH: 66.0
Randomizer: 12
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

It’s a fast, neat run for the little blue Claussient out there. Gravel isn’t that scary compared to dirt, and the engine hums along at a good pace today.


Team Oil Crisis

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:27:52
Average MPH: 79.5
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 2
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

With a heavy foot on the floor, the Magistrate chucks wet gravel all over the forest as it speeds onward toward Taruli. In camp, a deft little power-slide almost goes wrong with a major two-wheeled moment only really saved by Kameron’s quick reflexes.


Team Hillbilly Rollers

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:46:19
Average MPH: 94.1
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

After some crafty rewiring of things in the van, thanks to a certain spiky teammate chewing through a bunch of random wires under the dashboard, things seem to be working decently well. The IP 4Z engine is a little louder than usual thanks to the beer-can bearings under the cam, but it seems to be no worse for wear.


Team Witchlight

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 07:23:05
Average MPH: 48.1
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

Having heard about yesterday’s fatal crash, Elist decides that they aren’t going to push the car hard today. If the all-wheel-drive Yamada can wreck on dry ground, they don’t need to wrap the rear-wheel-drive EAAC Aphrodite around a tree.


Team Mravolinski-Chitco

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 06:58:42
Average MPH: 50.9
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

Today, it was decided to drive a little on the careful side. With the supplies in the back clattering and banging around again, it seems the slower pace was a good idea.


Team Blazers

Distance Traveled: 0
Time (HH:MM:SS): 00:00:00
Average MPH: 0.0
Randomizer: 5 (Voluntarily exited the rally)
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 3907.2

Officially, the remainder of Team Blazers left through a portal, mourning the loss of Romulo to a crash on the twisty forest road. Unofficially, they left using Watson’s time-traveling watch, and a certain feline opening the Rift to get back home, all aware of exactly what happened the night before. The Walkers of Destiny have, also, cleaned up the shattered and battered remains of the Yamada, casting protective wards against evil over all of the pieces before banishing them to the Light Realm where demons roam.


Team Machinas Con Passiones

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 06:40:27
Average MPH: 53.2
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 4
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

Today was a relatively peaceful day. Sure, you spent a lot of time refueling, and Giacomo is fairly sure he saw an 11-foot-tall werewolf staring at them from the forest, but before he could really complain too much, the van was moving again.


Team Quick Rally 47

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:44:38
Average MPH: 61.8
Randomizer: 8
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 4 (Team Caused)
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

After a large number of slow stages caused by mechanical maladies mid-run, the decision was made to spend a bit more time early in this stage to eliminate as many sources of problems as you could. Duct tape on all of the harness connectors, thread-locker on that oil-pressure sensor, making sure all of the spark plug leads were connected, and cleaning the throttle body may have eaten a lot of time, but you’re sure it was worth it.


Team Mrezhari

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 08:50:25
Average MPH: 40.1
Randomizer: 7
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 2 (Chassis)
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

That turn was a little sharper than you thought it was. The gravel at the road side also had more grip than you expected. The Dunav does a barrel roll across the grass and lands on the wheels, but it takes quite a while to find and reset the fuel pump inertia switch.


Team Jockey

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 07:04:45
Average MPH: 50.1
Randomizer: 8
Refueling Stops: 2
Breakdown: 1 (Powertrain)
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

A two-cylinder misfire causes the little Yinzer to travel a lot slower today than usual. However, it is still on the move, even if it is making some funny noises.


Team RK Series Racing

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:03:42
Average MPH: 70.1
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

Full Steam Ahead! Despite their understanding that someone died in the rally the other day, it is reasonably accepted that it’s the risk everyone takes. Plus, it’s known that the rails are far less dangerous for the Tangerine Tank Engine, which glides along at a brisk pace.


Team Black Rabbit

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 08:46:29
Average MPH: 40.4
Randomizer: 8
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 4 (Team Caused)
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

This stage started off rough, courtesy of having some unfinished business to take care of. On the other hand, once that business had been dealt with, Melanie put the hammer down and woke up the forest with six cylinders of fury.


Team Spy Kids

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 07:53:30
Average MPH: 45.0
Randomizer: 7
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 3 (Tires)
Total Distance Traveled: 4262.4

When they tell you to “drive it until the wheels fall off” they don’t intend it to be literal. In this case, after a flat tire, the tire was changed, but someone forgot to put the lug nuts back on. A couple feet down the road, that tire fell off, forcing the team to fix the problem again.

Stage Finishing Order:

03:46:19 – 2h and 43m – 3 and 43 Sun – Team Hillbilly Rollers
04:27:52 – 3h and 00m – 4 and 00 Sun – Team Oil Crisis
04:31:34 – 3h and 04m – 4 and 04 Sun – Team Gearknobs
05:03:42 – 3h and 33m – 4 and 33 Sun – Team RK Series Racing
05:22:55 – 3h and 50m – 4 and 50 Sun – Team Fallen Angels of the Past
05:44:38 – 3h and 70m – 4 and 70 Sun – Team Quick Rally 47
06:32:38 – 4h and 33m – 5 and 33 Sun – Team Wayfarers
06:40:27 – 4h and 40m – 5 and 40 Sun – Team Machinas Con Passiones
06:42:52 – 4h and 42m – 5 and 42 Sun – Team Shift Happens
06:58:42 – 4h and 56m – 5 and 56 Sun – Team Mravolinski-Chitco
07:04:45 – 4h and 62m – 5 and 62 Sun – Team Jockey
07:23:05 – 4h and 78m – 5 and 78 Sun – Team Witchlight
07:53:30 – 5h and 26m – 6 and 26 Sun – Team Spy Kids
08:46:29 – 5h and 73m – 6 and 73 Sun – Team Black Rabbit Corporation
08:50:25 – 5h and 77m – 6 and 77 Sun – Team Mrezhari
DNF – Team Blazers

Team Shift Happens

Previous Chapters:

Making Donuts / Speed Demon / Arrival in Camp - Stage 10 Drive and Camp
“A Pinch of Glass, a Dash of Magic” - Stage 10 Camp (Written with permission from Knugcab)
“The Clear Mind” - Written in collaboration with TheYugo45GV
“Demons and Dragons Bullshit” - Written by Knugcab
“Power Failure” - Written in collaboration with Elizipeazie
Preparations for Tomorrow / OUCH! / A Favor - Stage 10 Camp Final
Stage 11 Details
“Beginning the Day” - Stage 11 Start (Collab with Elizipeazie)
Automatic Pilot / A Minor Hold-Up / A Bad Day Begins - Stage 11 Drive and Camp
“A Little Ride-Along with Team RK Series Racing” - Collab, Written by Elizipeazie
The Party / A New Steed / Some Minor Repairs - Collab with Elizipeazie
Helping Out A Friend / The High-Tech Solution - Collab with Elizipeazie
End of the Day - Stage 11 Camp Final
Kayden Murders a Clutch - Stage 12 Drive and Camp

Keepitz Campsite, 1 Sun

With Kivenaal still pretty much out of commission, Kayden now banned from torturing the gearbox until he learned how to drive stick properly, Kaylie being uncertain about handling the truck on the twisty gravel forest trail after hearing the news, Jayde waking up tired thanks to Kaylie, and Malavera not really feeling like driving today, it was agreed that Rukari should take the wheel.

As a result, the people in the back row were Kivenaal, Jayde, and Kaylie, letting Rukari take the wheel, while Kayden had to settle for the worst seat in the truck after Malavera claimed shotgun for starting purposes.

The 427ci V8 was “gently” started by Malavera, who had Kaylie roll her window down so he could brace against the B-pillar, and once the engine barked to life, Malavera climbed onboard.

“Clutch feels… wrong,” Rukari grumbled.

“We’ll check it out in the next camp. Just keep it between the ditches and get us there,” Kaylie replied.

The windshield wiper relay clicked, sending the wipers on another voyage across the windshield, flinging water off of the windshield, just moments before first gear was engaged, high-range 2WD was selected, and the Bricksley set off on the way toward Taruli.

On the Road

Rukari took it seriously on his trip this time behind the wheel. Kaylie watched as he occasionally checked the gauges, including one moment where he spent most of a hill watching as the temp gauge climbed as fast as the truck did in third gear.

“Looks like we have air in the cooling system,” Kaylie said, “because I know that was full of coolant earlier.”

Kivenaal mumbled from his resting perch on Jayde’s shoulder, and Jayde’s only response to that was a brotherly pat on Kivenaal’s upper left shoulder, supporting him there in his rest, even though Jayde could feel his arm getting a little numb from Kivenaal leaning on it. “He’s really had a rough time here, hasn’t he?” Kaylie asked, looking over at the two of them.

“I don’t think he got any sleep in Trugarde. Combined with his lack of sleep leading up to that, well… I’ve seen this in the Academy. Leading up to yearly exams and tests, you’ll see students using energy potions to drag themselves through multiple days of classes, studying, magical practice, then they get through the tests, and for the next two or three days, it’s like the place is dead because everyone’s sleeping it off. The Dining Hall would then be filled for a week with starving students at all hours,” Jayde admitted. “So, if I had to guess, when he wakes up, he’s going to be ravenous, because he hasn’t eaten anything since Trugarde, and I don’t know what, if anything, he ate while there.”

Rukari grit his teeth and growled as the truck shuddered over another rough, off-camber corner, threatening at every moment to lose grip. “Skadu vi!” he yelled, mere moments after rounding the corner and noticing the dip they were about to crash down through, too late to slow down. The Bricksley hit the ground with a creak of strained springs, followed by Jayde’s outburst in the back seat.

“Son of a bitch!” Jayde yelled, unintentionally waking up Kivenaal, who just had his ear yelled into. Jayde winced as blood trickled down his left cheek, the scent further alerting Kivenaal.

“Shit! Sorry about that, Jayde,” Kivenaal said.

“Not your fault. This zaruki driving up front drove through a road crater,” Jayde grumbled, digging through his bag for a clean cloth, before pressing it up against his cheek and checking the cloth afterward. “Doesn’t seem like you got me that bad with your horns, but fuck, that hurt!”

Several rough corners later, however, the bleeding had started to slow down, Kivenaal had his head resting against the window, which made Kaylie nervous, and the rain started to ease up a bit. So far, Rukari hadn’t stalled the truck or ground the gears once, and other than a dip in the road which he hadn’t anticipated, hadn’t done anything stupid with the truck. The engine continued to growl, throwing plenty of soot out of the exhausts thanks to the overly-rich tune on the carburetors, the suspension continued to squeak and creak thanks to all the weight onboard the truck, the water in the cans above their heads sloshed audibly thanks to all the bumps in the road, and the temperature gauge continued to rise thanks to the generally-upward trend of this road and the heavy truck fighting gravity.

Then, the rain ended, leaving the Bricksley almost-as-shiny as it had been when it arrived in Jaduvira, only to immediately start ruining that shine with wet gravel dust flung off of the tires and sticking to the damp truck. Jayde’s cheek had stopped bleeding, and after checking it with a mirror, he nodded. “Shouldn’t get another scar out of that, thankfully,” Jayde said. He looked over at Kivenaal, who was still resting against the window, then asked, “Do any of you happen to have some quick food he can eat while waiting for a main meal?”

Kayden nodded. “I’ve got a few meal bars in my supplies. They’re not great, but one of them is supposed to be a meal replacement for someone like me. Knowing him, he’ll eat three of them and be hungry for more. I swear, if I didn’t know better, I’d think he has nanites in him locked in Combat mode, but they wouldn’t let him sleep like that.”

Malavera piped up, “He could have some in Adaptive mode. Hunter, my AI, tried that mode with me for about three months. It’s… Intense, but manageable. But I was always hungry, and I had to set alarms to go off so I’d know when to go to bed, because they’ll suppress your need to sleep if you’re not mindful of that.”

Kaylie thought about it for a moment, then said, “You know, that almost matches up. He’s always hungry, never tired, instantly on high-alert the moment he even senses danger. But when the hell would he have gotten those? And where’s his AI if he has them?”

Nova spoke up from Kayden’s pocket, “Well…” She stopped for a moment, scanning Kivenaal to make sure he really was asleep, and after confirming that, she continued, “He does have nanites, in Adaptive mode. But they’re locked to a Valraadi AI under a pass-code I am incapable of getting past. Also, given how he’s reacted to just about any AI he’s met, do not, under any circumstances, tell him about those. I don’t think he’d handle it well.”

“He spent a long time in cryogenic stasis,” Malavera said. “Could they have infused him then?”

“It’s possible,” Kayden replied. “Depending on the situation, he may never even have known they did that. Especially if he didn’t get the fever, or was given other things at the same time.”

“What goal would be gained by infusing someone, leaving them in Adaptive, and saying nothing?” Kaylie asked.

“You basically get a super-soldier for free. Fast healing, increased strength and awareness, but you maintain their natural self-preservation instincts,” Malavera said. “He won’t want to get hurt because he still feels pain, still bleeds, still has to set his own broken bones if he messes up badly enough. But he’s had them as long as he’s been out of the tube, so to speak, so he’s used to that. Everything he’s feeling is attributed to a few hundred years in stasis, as far as he’s concerned.”

Rukari looked back in the mirror to see Kivenaal, then asked, “Xelth, our god of family, was known to heal fast and be incredibly strong. Would those make him fast healing and strong?”

Kayden nodded. “They would. I don’t know how it is for him, but I heal in a day from injuries that would take a week to heal.”

“This information is technically classified, but… Well, I don’t think any of you are going to care enough to tell my government about this, and they can kiss my digital ass if they care to come out all this way to complain. The nanites were originally discovered in a crashed Valraadi space ship. Our scientists experimented with them, found out they were great for medical purposes, and then subsequently learned how well they work for soldiers. However, our people’s healing efficiency is about 60% compared to what we know about the original host race,” Nova replied.

“Considering I get 25%,” Malavera quipped, “that’s not bad.”

Kivenaal mumbled, then as he slowly woke up, he asked, “What do you get 25% of, and why isn’t that bad?”

Kaylie and Kayden both shared a look of a tiger caught in the headlights, moments before Malavera said, on the spot, “25% of the meat in today’s lunch.”

“That’s fine,” Kivenaal said, “As long as I get 25% of the whole lunch, by weight. I’m starving.”

Taruli Campsite, 5-and-42 Sun

As the Bricksley rolled into the camp, the six members of Team Shift Happens climbed out of the truck. Kayden handed Kivenaal three of the meal bars he had, not even surprised as Kivenaal ripped the package open on the first one and took a massive bite out of it. “Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, Kivenaal, or you’ll make yourself sick with those,” Kayden warned.

Rukari headed into town with Jayde to pick up some food to make in the camp while Kayden helped Malavera out with setting up the tents. Kaylie got her tool kit out of the truck, grabbed the jack-stands and the ramps out of the toolbox, and then after a few moments of thought, grabbed the repair and service manual for the 1970-1988 Bricksley Highwayman, her clutch alignment tool, and a boxed spare clutch.

With the tents set up, Kaylie looked around to find a couple of “volunteers” to help her out with some maintenance. She knew Malavera’s strength would be essential for handling the removal and reinstallation of the transmission this far in the wilderness, and she had a feeling Kivenaal’s multiple hands could be handy for holding things in place while tightening some bolts. Likewise, she knew Kayden should get to experience a bit of the dirty work that he’d caused.

“Hey, Mal, Kiva, Kayden, mind helping me out with some maintenance?” Kaylie asked.

“Let me eat first,” Kivenaal replied.

“Not a problem. When I need your help, I’ll let you know,” Kaylie replied.

Malavera and Kayden, on the other hand, walked over to the truck.

“What do you need?” Malavera asked.

“Well, if you could push the truck up onto those ramps and throw some wheel chocks under the rear tires, that’d be a good start. I’ll need Kayden to remove the driveshafts from the transfer case and the gearbox, and to disconnect the shift linkages. Then I need you to help me lower the transmission out from under the truck so I can get the bolts out and replace the clutch. Kivenaal will help me install the new clutch, then you put the gearbox back in for me, and Kayden puts the driveshafts back in,” Kaylie said.

Kayden groaned. “I’m never going to get all of that crap out of my fur.”

“Be glad I’m not making you drain and replace the gearbox oil. Then you’d stink for days, too,” Kaylie quipped back.

Taruli Campsite, 6 Sun

A few cars had arrived since the wrenches had started turning on the Highwayman. Kaylie was vaguely aware that they had a minor audience from the moment Kayden had taken the driveshafts out, and now Malavera had shimmied his way under the truck, bracing the transmission with his hands while Kaylie unbolted it. With a quiet growl of effort, Malavera lowered the transmission out from the transmission tunnel, then looked to Kaylie. “Can you get those bolts out with me in the way, or will I need to move?” he asked.

“Should be able to manage this,” Kaylie said. “You going to be all right holding that?”

“It’s awkward, but not all that heavy,” Malavera replied.

Kaylie got the bolts out of the pressure plate, removing it and the clutch disc from the flywheel. After a quick check, she smiled. “Well, he didn’t glaze my flywheel, so I can just put the new clutch on,” Kaylie said.

She unpacked the new clutch, cleaning it up before installing it with the alignment tool. Thankfully, the one she packed was perfect, so she didn’t have to get Kivenaal to hold the clutch in place, though he did spend his fair share of time passing Kaylie each of the fasteners as needed.

Then, Malavera heaved the gearbox back into place, Kaylie bolted it back in, and Kayden got busy with reconnecting linkages and putting the driveshafts back in.

Afterward, three very-filthy white-furred beings crawled out from under and around the truck, stained with road-grime, grease, and clutch dust. “Well, we’re going to need a bath,” Kaylie grumbled.


RK Series Racing; Stage 12 Camp

OOC: Things got in the way and i could not find enough time and/ or motivation to write up a full scene for Stage 12 camp. To at least cover my bases and not be stuck trying to play catch-up for the remainder of this event, i shall present a crude bullet-point list of what happens instead.

– the team as a whole has (thankfully) missed the Yamada going sentient and thus takes the cover-up story at face-value
– they are (obviously) rather bummed out at the fact that this had to happen.
– in light of the event, Constantin de-stresses by “leaving” camp to sharpen his archery skills against his field jacket draped over a tree stump. (leaving as in being just far enough away to not endanger or disturb anyone else at camp)
– Valentin is more inert than usual due to the nanite-fever and them being hard at work repairing basically everything within him. The lack of food intake catches up to him as he faces a substantial desire to eat, prompting dinner to be prepared early.
– Tim isn’t doing all that much either, spending most of the afternoon playing cards with Val, followed by him preparing dinner
– after dinner, the only thing of note is a sort-of-serious look under the hood of Robert to see if everything was still in order. Much to Valentin’s surprise, it apparently was, even if the entire engine bay was coated in a dense layer of grease…
– the team heads to bed at about 3 moon, without Val being feverish this time


RK Series Racing; Stage 13 Drive

In the morning of the thirteenth day of the Shitbox Rally event, the members of RK Series Racing had little issue getting out bed, though their mood was still comparatively sour due to recent events.
Nevertheless, progress had to be made and thus they departed for today’s trip in the light drizzle surrounding them.
The trip itself was, quite literally, the same as it had been the previous few days.
100 miles an hour going mostly straight, checking the signal’s aspect every three miles. A quick refueling stop and more barreling along the rails has them arrive at their destination.

During the transition process, they were approached by a person who was ostensibly a member of press.
He inquired about a repeat of the record run, with the intent of getting some pictures of the vehicle at speed.

Valentin, aware of what happened to the Yamada, wasn’t all that fond of it.
“Not to be rude or anything, though i’ll have to explain myself a bit. I am travelling with all the other vehicles and their occupants as part of an event on a larger scale. One of those teams had to end their journey early due to an accident of some sorts, ending in casualties. Also, i once again did not make a deliberate attempt at breaking whatever speed the previous record was set at. Thus, i don’t want to be going any faster than whatever the line permits.” Valentin explained while watching Constantin lower the car onto the tyres.

“So… no pictures at all?”, the person asked, confused.

“Take all the pictures you want… Just don’t expect me to be speeding for ‘the headlines’…”, Valentin replied, waving his hand about in annoyance.
The press member simply left, leaving the team to finish their work getting off the tracks.
“Why do people have to be this annoying here…”, he grumbled as they made their way towards camp, parking away from the other teams already present for some semblance of peace. Even if it would only last for a few hours at best.


Team Mravolinski-Chitco

Towards Taruli…oh, why we decided on you to drive…

Monstruous truth

(@Madrias was consulted for this part bcos of inclusion of very special “local”)
At one point, our fighters did picked up what was happening: there wasnt much for them to do when they arrived on current battlefield, as battle was mostly over

Upon return, everyone gathered in bed of vehicle, feeling like they had no other choice. This seemed weird and was about to become even weirder…

-Now that everyone is present, would be nice to start our discussion here
-Who are you? Give us one good reason for not beating you up and throwing you out.

(In absence of dogs and Chicota, certain “local” had sneaked up in space above the cab, only now anouncing his presence)

-My identity is of no importance to any of you, but yes i could give good reasons for my presense here
Ok no…actually there is only one reason: that thing some of you may have seen.
We observed your group throughout entire journey as we feared something like this might happen.

We can change your memories, so you can choose to live without this coming up. Some other teams will choose to do so and rightfully so: truth is terrifying.

-You can manipulate minds?

-You are one that worded it that way, Klimentol. We are very responsible in that regard, not to mention…we dont need to do it for everyone: ones that actively fought and/or arent afraid of truth will remain unaltered.
Not to mention we do have cover story to explain absence of that team from now on.

-Cover story?

Team Blazers, according to said story, had car accident during the stage. Driver, named Romulo, died.
Cause was that he lost control over the vehicle and crashed as result.
Rest of that team decided to abandon the event, mourning the loss of their teammate.

Partially, this does relate to actual situation: Romulo is indeed dead and rest decided to abandon the event as result.

-We would like to know the actual situation as well.
If we indeed dont like it…do what you must.

-Very well.
Tbh i cant say for sure what went so horribly wrong, but it did.
Their vehicle had transformed into beast half of your team had witnessed. That change was irreversible; monster needed to be slain at all costs…Romulo was consumed by it.
They didnt understood what exactly they piloted…and, as is it otherworldly phenomena for us, we cant fully understand it either.

-I guess we can handle that.
-Make sure to first go with cover story if you arent sure. I doubt you would talk much about it anyway, but…to be sure.
-Fair enough, although i do have feeling our hosts could have handled it.
-Team Shift Happens? In terms of fighting the beast, maybe…if they happen to be present here at the moment, that is.
But…even if they were here on time, even if they fought it…

(Taking a short pause to recollect thoughts)

…there are still consequences where they would be helpless.
Locals would need just one look at such ungainly sight to close off to potential visitors.
They are used to dangers from this world, but beings from other worlds…are different story.

-Some of those locals were affected too?
-Yes. In their case, cover story is being told, no questions asked.
-About remains of monster…
-We are dealing with that as well.

Now that my presence is no longer needed here, i will exit your vehicle.
Hopefully gave enough reason for being there in first place.

-Ok, goodbye.

Stranger exited the vehicle and went towards forest, soon entering it and losing visual with our team.

Conclusion from part above is that our team is informed about actual situation regarding Team Blazers.
As for careful drive, noone said its supposed to be smooth.

Drive to Taruli

Regarding this whole “preparation” thingy, you could have seen it coming: Pi is taking driver position.
Afterall, she shall be used to piloting fastest and most powerful road-going vehicle around in order to…you know…actually utilise it.

This wasnt made easier by fact her prior car driving knowledge is non-existant
Klimentol did provided solid teacher in this department tho and seeing that he was one in middle front seat, he could have operated gear stick if needed
Ok…when needed

There was one time when we were going towards a corner blessed with tree.
Prefectly naturally, there was some stomping on gas, clutch and brake pedal (in that exact order), on few other occasions two pedals would get pressed at once (if our car had sentience like few others, it would be confused in many, many examples of this happening)

Also parking job at the end was simply stopping in camp and then promptly not being reminded of parking brake, deciding to instead put someones backpack on brake pedal.

Genius backfired when car started moving regardless, making someone else applying parking brake instead.
Only consequence was that car was now one or two meters ahead of where Pi originally “parked” it, but that wasnt issue bcos Pi had stopped it fair bit away from other cars.
Good thing she may have plenty of time to learn proper parking as it is going to be sparsely used skill at first.

Few hours later, Aydar reparked the car. There was zero reason for it being in middle of camp
What is going to be needed tho is some more fastening of cargo, since some banging supplies could have been heard during the drive
This however is likely to wait until next town, since everyone skilled enough to:

  • go in town
  • buy needed supplies for that


  • actually refasten everything up

Happened to be fairly tired
Understandably, both me and VerBanka are likely not that skillful - although we are well-rested unlike everyone else
Pi both lacks skill and was tired as consequence of being our driver for this stage


Team Shift Happens

Previous Chapters:

Stage 11 Details
“Beginning the Day” - Stage 11 Start (Collab with Elizipeazie)
Automatic Pilot / A Minor Hold-Up / A Bad Day Begins - Stage 11 Drive and Camp
“A Little Ride-Along with Team RK Series Racing” - Collab, Written by Elizipeazie
The Party / A New Steed / Some Minor Repairs - Collab with Elizipeazie
Helping Out A Friend / The High-Tech Solution - Collab with Elizipeazie
End of the Day - Stage 11 Camp Final
Kayden Murders a Clutch - Stage 12 Drive and Camp
Redemption, Realizations, and Repairs - Stage 13 Drive and Camp

Taruli Campsite, 9 Moon (nearly morning)

With almost everyone asleep, it would have been a perfect peaceful night, had it not been for three visitors to our camp. Three young, curious Dyre who decided to investigate the local adventuring camp because it often smelled like there was food to be had.

The giant pink block that was the IP Freeway Star got their attention first by pure virtue of being the closest to the forest. One of the three attempted to figure out how to open the sliding door, scratching the paint in the process as they pulled the door open. The Dyre sniffed around inside the van, glad that the spiky bundle of foot pain was sleeping on the dashboard and not in the cargo area, before eventually discovering a few cans of sausages within. After breaking the cans open and eating them, then leaving the scattered remains of the packaging in the van as he rejoined the other two in their scavenging hunt.

Likewise, the olive green Magistrate was parked near to the forest. Luckily, the Dyre who opened the door had at least a basic understanding of how to open the handle, though moving cargo around was not as subtle as boxes and crates ended up shoved out of the way in order to swipe a box of MREs from within the back seat of the wagon. The door was left half-open as the box was dragged out of the wagon, hauled halfway over to the forest, and ripped apart by a hungry Dyre.

The third nearby vehicle was the large camper-shelled Kontir, which all three Dyre had noticed, thanks to a recent enough hunt and leftover meat being inside. Other than a huge paw-print on the bedding, and two shelves being damaged with claws, little damage had been done during the gathering of some meat. However, their cargo had been scattered around the back of the truck - after all, giant werewolves need a lot of space to move.

The Hakaru Carica, unknown to the Dyre, had a perfect self-defense mechanism, as upon opening the rear passenger door, the overpowering reek of air fresheners drove the Dyre to choose less smelly prey to scavenge from, shoving the door closed on the way back.

A muffled thump, plenty of scratching, followed by the homemade access hatch being peeled off of the roof announced the discovery of Team MCP’s van to the Dyre. As one of them fell, quite literally, through the hole, he broke his fall by slashing the back of one of the seats with his claws. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much food to be found, but after leaving the contents of the glove box dumped on the floor, the Dyre escaped through the roof opening with the remains of a sandwich as a quick meal.

The giant Bricksley was much easier to deal with for the Dyre, as raiding the sack of salted meat in the bed was quite simple. They still managed to scratch the paint, and put a dent in the toolbox, as well as spill several jugs worth of water everywhere once they discovered that the white containers held drinkable water.

The Dauer with the windows open was the last vehicle visited, and other than the theft of a few sushi rolls, not much happened to it. The Dyre could sense a dangerous presence around one of the two members, and didn’t want to hang around too long as a result.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and this happened for the Dyre as well. Little did they know that as they got further from the forest, they were being watched. And once that watcher turned his head, all three Dyre stopped, stared for a brief moment at the moving scarecrow, then bolted for the forest. No food was worth dealing with that as a potential threat.

(OOC: Yep. Dyre investigating the camp, written from their perspective, or at least, a third-party perspective of their hunting. So, what does this mean for Stage 14? Well, not much. We leave at 10 Moon instead of 1 Sun, but that really won’t change much. Also, most of the vehicles mentioned had their owners asked in advance. The Hakaru, not so much, but considering nothing was stolen and nothing was damaged, I figured it’d be funny to add a Car Throttle reference in there with the hidden air fresheners actually being a good thing here.)


RK Series Racing; Stage 13 Camp

Once again, there’s not a whole lot to be writing about, and with me having been in sort-of a drought in creativity terms as well as IRL stuff, i shall condense it into basic bullet-points.

I am part of the “curious Dyre” plot in that Connor saw them milling about camp. As he moved to report their presence to some members at camp, they bolted. Specifics on that can be read retroactively in Stage 14 Drive

– most of the afternoon was rather dull
– as soon as tents were pitched, Valentin retires into his tent, not to be seen for the better part of the afternoon
– the other three spend their time doing the usual, playing cards, chatting and such
– about in time for dinner, Val reappears from his tent, his poor mood being almost blatantly obvious
– while dinner is being made, both Tim and Constantin take note of how Val hasn’t been all that full of energy lately, starting a discussion about why that is.
– said discussion takes a while and extends into dinner and even past that, ending in a rather sour mood for all involved.
– this doesn’t help Val at all, as he now feels guilty for having dragged them down into the “grumpy hole”
– the remaining evening has nothing of note as they eventually retreat into their respective sleeping places


Shitbox Rally

Stage 14: Taruli to Kavitz

Stage Start: 10 Moon, 31/7/3251, Taruli Campsite

Weather at Stage Start: Warm (29C), a light rain and light breeze keeps the place pleasant.
Weather at mid-stage: Warmer (32C), the rain turns into drizzle and mist, and the wind remains gentle.
Weather at Stage End (First Car): Warmer (32C), the rain turns into drizzle and mist, gentle wind.
Weather at 5 Sun: Hot (34C), the drizzle gives way to humidity, the wind picks up.
Weather at Stage End (Last Car): Hot (33C), still humid with clouds in the sky, and a good breeze.
Weather at 10 Sun: Warm (28C), overcast creating a beautiful sunset with the clouds appearing to be on fire, a gentle breeze.
Weather at 2 Moon: Cool (25C), a gentle rain that lasts until just before sunrise, light wind.

Stage End (First Car): 2-and-34 Sun, 32/7/3251, Kavitz Campsite

Stage End (Last Car): 5-and-45 Sun, 32/7/3251, Kavitz Campsite

Chaos once again kicks the whole camp awake at 10 Moon and into their cars. Dyre were in the camp! Engines cough to life as people scatter down the cobblestone road in the rain, hoping to make it to Kavitz and be safe.

Luckily, the roads are relatively straight, letting teams wind out their machines with the intent of escaping Taruli at top speed. Equally luckily, it seems as if none of the Dyre are really interested in paying attention to the noise, because even the teams who were looking for them couldn’t see them.

Likewise, luck was on everyone’s side because no one missed the turn heading on the Southern Fork to Kavitz. Engines howled down long, straight roads leading into the forest, where rain-slicked cobblestone curves waited to create chaos in the last few miles of the trip.

The Kavitz campsite isn’t quite as nice as the one in Taruli, but considering there are guards posted around to keep an eye on the forest and the caves, we shouldn’t see any more Dyre here. We’re given permission to use the old guardhouse as a rest area if we need to.

Notes: Randomization is active. Breakdowns are active. Time is in Earth Time.

Additional note: Removing Aetheriian ET from the stage position.


Team Shift Happens

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:14:07
Average MPH: 67.8
Randomizer: 11
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

The first outside of RK Series Racing to know about the Dyre, Malavera takes the wheel and sends the Bricksley flying down the road. Unfortunately, he pushed his luck a bit, as the rear end breaks loose during one of the many fast curves, and while he was able to keep from spinning out, he did slam the driver’s side of the bed into a tree at 50 miles per hour, tearing the bumper free of the driver’s side mount, obliterating the driver’s side tail-light housing, and smashing the rear corner of the bed in, breaking several jugs of kerosene in the process. Had the exhaust not been relocated already, there would have been a rather nasty fuel fire as a result. However, the battered truck makes it into the camp, despite looking like it lost a fight with a dump truck.

(Note: This was necessary for the lore of the Highwayman, and also necessary because Malavera really shouldn’t have been behind the wheel for this stage, but the best driver for this stage would have been Kivenaal, who definitely shouldn’t drive until he’s had a proper night of sleep.)


Team Wayfarers

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:33:33
Average MPH: 77.9
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

“Giant werewolves again!? Hell no!” Jack welds the gas pedal into the firewall, and Chernobog thunders down the wet, slick road, getting grip whenever and wherever it can.


Team Gearknobs

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:05:36
Average MPH: 86.7
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

It turns out that the Dyre didn’t like the smell of a half-dozen random air-fresheners hidden around in your car, as they left it alone last night. On the other hand, it also turns out that AWD is great for driving fast on less-than-ideal roads.


Team Fallen Angels of the Past

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:50:36
Average MPH: 73.3
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

The little blue bullet rockets down the road, windshield wipers simultaneously clearing the windshield and leaving some nasty streaks on it. With reduced visibility comes reduced speed.


Team Oil Crisis

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:17:06
Average MPH: 82.8
Randomizer: 11
Refueling Stops: 2
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

Despite a somewhat slow start thanks to half their cargo being tipped over, the Olive-Drab Oil Tanker hurtles down the road at a great rate of speed. When they get to Kavitz, the main concern is getting the smell of random Dyre out of the wagon.


Team Hillbilly Rollers

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:49:33
Average MPH: 92.8
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

Janne went behind Andreas’ back this time and had Rukari paint some protective runes on the engine block during the rewiring of the van. The end result is that, when they needed it most, the engine held together even when Andreas buried the pedal in the floorboard, the beer-can bearings letting the camshaft rattle – just a little – while they rocketed down the road, arguing about who left the doors unlocked so that the Dyre could get into the back of their van.


Team Witchlight

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:57:44
Average MPH: 71.5
Randomizer: 11
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

Elist was determined that they were not going to become wolf-chow tonight, and neither were their teammates. Finne was glad to make a speedy getaway, Kira was glad no one was hurt. Ambay, on the other hand, was deeply disappointed that this was twice now that he didn’t get to take a Dyre’s head as a trophy.


Team Mravolinski-Chitco

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 08:14:42
Average MPH: 43.0
Randomizer: 7
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 1 (Powertrain)
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

After putting all of their Dyre-scattered cargo back into the truck, Mrdja put his foot on the floor. The 1.9 liter inline 4 screamed a mournful tune as the truck hurtled into the forest before a huge cloud of white smoke blew out of the exhaust. Yes, that is a blown head-gasket. Yes, you did bring a spare. However, driving at reduced pace to minimize engine damage slows you way down, and fixing that in camp was not fun.


Team Machinas Con Passiones

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:22:44
Average MPH: 66.0
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 4
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

Giacomo keeps freaking out about werewolves, which is understandable when one considers that for whatever reason, they clawed his seat in the van and no one else’s. Chad isn’t too happy that one of them ripped the access panel off of the roof like it was the top of a can of chili, letting it rain inside the van.


Team Quick Rally 47

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:47:52
Average MPH: 93.5
Randomizer: 10
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

The onboard AI advised caution on the slippery roads, and reminded them that the last time they ran from the Dyre, they ran into one. This time, there is no radiator-busting collision.


Team Mrezhari

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:44:23
Average MPH: 94.9
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 0
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

Despite being dented and battered from taking a tumble in a previous stage, the Dunav escapes into the forest and gets the four mysterious team members to Kavitz safely.


Team Jockey

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:36:33
Average MPH: 98.4
Randomizer: 12
Refueling Stops: 2
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

It’s hard not to consider that the Yinzer might be just perfectly sized to be a snack box for a hungry Dyre. The team noticed another set of scratches on the car, this time around the door handle, and realized the hand that left those scratches was way bigger than Kaylie’s hand.


Team RK Series Racing

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 03:45:52
Average MPH: 94.3
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

“Dyre in the camp!” With the alert put out, Robert is steamed up and hustled over to the rails. After negotiating an immediate departure, clearing the way with the first signalman, and getting the vehicle rolling, it’s a long journey at about 100 miles per hour. On the plus side, it’s obvious that there aren’t any Dyre anywhere near the tracks.


Team Black Rabbit

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 04:08:08
Average MPH: 85.8
Randomizer: 13
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 0
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

After a rude awakening by something sniffing around inside the car, followed by realizing a crafty curious Dyre had stolen a bit of meat from their supplies in the car, made worse by a quick agreement to depart camp before a proper breakfast could be had, the Dauer’s engine was started and they hurtled off into the next stage, a six cylinder war-cry threatening all of the Dyre that if they dared mess with the car again, there would be hell to pay.


Team Spy Kids

Distance Traveled: 355.2
Time (HH:MM:SS): 05:13:14
Average MPH: 68.0
Randomizer: 9
Refueling Stops: 1
Breakdown: 1 (Powertrain)
Total Distance Traveled: 4617.6

The AST Elbrus was handicapped today with an engine that wouldn’t even crank, let alone would actually start. Upon closer inspection, a battery cable had come loose, and after taking a little time to put it back on, and reprogramming the ECU again, the engine roared to life. They also stopped at the side of the road to offer some assistance to a team who managed to crash their truck.

Stage Finishing Order:

03:36:33 – 2-and-34 Sun – Team Jockey
03:44:23 – 2-and-41 Sun – Team Mrezhari
03:45:52 – 2-and-43 Sun – Team RK Series Racing
03:47:52 – 2-and-44 Sun – Team Quick Rally 47
03:49:33 – 2-and-46 Sun – Team Hillbilly Rollers
04:05:36 – 2-and-60 Sun – Team Gearknobs
04:08:08 – 2-and-63 Sun – Team Black Rabbit
04:17:06 – 2-and-71 Sun – Team Oil Crisis
04:33:33 – 3-and-06 Sun – Team Wayfarers
04:50:36 – 3-and-21 Sun – Team Fallen Angels of the Past
04:57:44 – 3-and-28 Sun – Team Witchlight
05:13:14 – 3-and-41 Sun – Team Spy Kids
05:14:07 – 3-and-42 Sun – Team Shift Happens
05:22:44 – 3-and-50 Sun – Team Machinas Con Passiones
08:14:42 – 5-and-45 Sun – Team Mravolinski-Chitco

Team Shift Happens

Previous Chapters:

Stage 11 Details
“Beginning the Day” - Stage 11 Start (Collab with Elizipeazie)
Automatic Pilot / A Minor Hold-Up / A Bad Day Begins - Stage 11 Drive and Camp
“A Little Ride-Along with Team RK Series Racing” - Collab, Written by Elizipeazie
The Party / A New Steed / Some Minor Repairs - Collab with Elizipeazie
Helping Out A Friend / The High-Tech Solution - Collab with Elizipeazie
End of the Day - Stage 11 Camp Final
Kayden Murders a Clutch - Stage 12 Drive and Camp
Redemption, Realizations, and Repairs - Stage 13 Drive and Camp
Curious Dyre - Stage 13 Camp Final

Taruli Campsite, 9-and-20 Moon

Malavera groaned as Connor finished explaining that they had Dyre in the camp last night, and that he advised it may be wise to leave the camp early. “I’ll get it taken care of, Connor. Thank you,” Malavera said, looking over the truck and seeing the mess that had been made of their supplies. Rukari had bought plenty of salted meat to make several camp meals with, but that bag was now in shreds, the meat completely gone at this point. A dent in the lid of their toolbox showed that one of the Dyre had used it as a way to get up onto the roof, or to access the roof rack, which was more obvious after seeing four open, now-empty cans of drinking water, all with their white paint covered in claw marks.

He knew he had to wake the camp, but how to do it? He really hated the idea of going tent-to-tent, warning everyone individually. Then he saw the CB handle in the Bricksley, and the loudspeaker on the roof, and an idea came to mind immediately. He opened the door, studied the radio stack for a moment, then made some settings adjustments, enabling the Public Address system’s loudspeaker, setting volume to about halfway, and keying the microphone.

“Malavera of Shift Happens to all participating teams, we need to leave this campsite early. Please, get yourselves up, pack your supplies, and prepare to travel,” he said, figuring it was better to leave out why they were leaving until later, or on request, so as to avoid a panic.

Taruli Campsite, 10 Moon

Malavera watched as everyone headed for their cars. Many people had asked why they had to pack, and after being informed that the reason involved Dyre, seemed to suddenly have no issues getting ready to leave. He watched as Kayden and Jayde hauled Kivenaal out to the truck, still looking tired, and sighed. “Looks like I’m driving, then,” Malavera said.

“Yeah, we asked around, no one had anything safe for him to eat that would have given him a wake-up call. Most teams had chocolate, but Kivenaal can’t have that, and our mysterious friends in the helmets only have enough energy drinks left for the four of them for two more days. So, Kivenaal isn’t driving. Jayde’s already admitted he’s not comfortable at the whole driving thing, I’ve been banished from driving after what I did to the clutch, Kaylie doesn’t feel like she’d go fast in this, and Rukari drove the last stage. That leaves you,” Kayden explained.

“Right. Who’s my mid-seat, then?”

“Either me or Rukari,” Kayden admitted.

“I’d rather have you there. You’re smaller,” Malavera replied.

A shrieking steam whistle announced the Dione’s arrival for a quick jump-start, and Malavera took care of the duty this time, hooking the cables up, cranking over the big V8, removing the cables, and making sure to close the Dione’s reverse-hinged hood properly, if a little heavily for Valentin’s taste. Then again, when he slammed the Bricksley’s hood, it became obvious he was trying to manage his strength.

As the Dione rushed over to the rails, Malavera put the truck in 2-High, first gear, and put the newly-installed clutch to work with a halfway-up-the-gauge clutch dump, spitting gravel everywhere as the truck roared up to speed.

On the Road

With wet cobblestones under the tires and the windshield wipers working overtime to keep the window clear, Malavera had his hands full driving the truck. The engine roared and the wheels shrieked, the truck fighting hard for grip between every gear change.

Things were going well, and they were making great time, until they reached the main fork in the road. North would take them toward Avenara, while South brought them toward Tapari. Malavera turned toward the South road, though was a little heavy-handed as they hit a wet patch. The tires, already tortured by 4600 miles of aggressive driving, with tread wearing thin, broke loose and caused the rear of the Bricksley to hydroplane. Malavera tried his best to save the truck, wrenching at the wheel and trying to steer through the skid, only for there to be a deafening crash as the rear of the bed met a tree, which sent the truck spinning hard off of the road. The engine had stalled, and the truck came to rest on all four wheels in a ditch.

“Kaylie of Shift Happens to all nearby racers within range, please be careful when approaching the southern fork in the road. There’s a nasty puddle there, and we’ve just crashed maybe 30 yards beyond it,” Kaylie said over the four different radios, just in case anyone was in range.

“Sorry,” Malavera said. “I tried to save it.”

“Come on, big guy. Let’s make sure nothing’s broken, then get it back on the road,” Kaylie replied, climbing out of the truck and landing in a mud puddle with a heavy splash. Malavera stepped out as well, avoiding the mud until Team Oil Crisis drifted around that corner and sprayed him with mud from their tires as he was checking over the damage he’d done to the bed.

“Fucking shit!” Malavera yelled, now covered in mud as he looked at the huge dent, the broken tail light housing, the rear bumper hanging by the passenger side mounts, the jammed tailgate, and the smashed fuel jugs pouring kerosene into the mangled bed, where it promptly drooled right back out between the tailgate seams.

“Malavera, relax. Accidents happen,” Kaylie said, watching as the Wayfarers breezed by in Chernobog, the big engine roaring. Likewise, Team Fallen Angels and Team Witchlight thundered past without even looking at the stalled Bricksley in the ditch.

On the other hand, Team Spy Kids saw an opportunity when they arrived to help someone out. After an explanation on why they needed a jump-start, Malavera hooked the two vehicles together and cranked over the 427ci V8, removed the cables, and gratefully accepted a tow out of the ditch. After his crash, he chose to follow the Spy Kids’ AST Elbrus instead of pushing the Bricksley hard, especially as he could tell the truck was not happy about being crashed like that.

“By the Moons, this thing’s gotten worse to drive,” Malavera grumbled. “Now it’s pulling to the left.”

“We’ll check it out in camp. Don’t worry about it, Mal, accidents happen,” Kaylie replied.

“Yeah, and it was an accident that killed someone in the Yamada, too. I don’t think I could live with myself if-”

“Mal, relax,” Kivenaal said, lightly rubbing one of Malavera’s shoulders. “Shit happens. You did the right thing. Remember the old pilot’s code?”

“Yeah. ‘Aviate, navigate, communicate.’ What about it?”

“The whole time we were crashing, you were trying to drive the truck. You never gave up on it, and that is why we’re still alive. You drove the truck until it stopped moving. As good as the other teams may be, a lot of people let go of the wheel after the first crash, accepting that it’s out of their hands now. You gripped that wheel hard and fought until the truck came to a stop,” Kivenaal replied.

“But I-”

“Kept us greasy side down and shiny side up,” Kivenaal interrupted, cutting Malavera off. “And before you try to argue that it was your fault, no, it wasn’t. We need new tires on the truck. Or to repair our old ones.”

“How do you-”

“-Always know what you’re going to say?” Kivenaal interrupted again, grinning. “You know why.”

Malavera shook his right head and sighed, the inside of his ears flushed pink for a brief moment. As Kavitz appeared ahead of them, he focused instead on finding a parking spot for their giant truck.

Kavitz Campsite, 3-and-42 Sun

The battered, damaged Bricksley rolled into the camp and parked right next to the old Guardhouse. “We’re going to have to take the guards up on using it for sleeping, our tents need to be washed off,” Kaylie said.

“I’ll wash a couple tents, just in case,” Kivenaal said. “Let’s face it, some of us might need to stay outside and keep watch, or might need the tents for-” Kivenaal stopped speaking as Kaylie grabbed his chin with her left hand and shut his mouth for him.

“Yeah, I get it, but no one else needs to hear whichever crude way you were going to describe Jayde and I sharing a tent.”

Kivenaal shook his head free, then said, “I was going to say ‘horizontal refreshment,’ not be crude at your expense. Plus, let’s be honest, Kayden snores like a chainsaw, so I might need to sleep in one of these."

Kaylie sighed and shook her head. “Hey, Rukari, feel like helping me change a couple of tires?” Kaylie asked.

“Tires, fine. No more brakes, though,” Rukari replied.

As Kaylie looked over the tires, she sighed. “How the hell have we burned through this much tread in less than 5,000 miles?” she grumbled. Then she remembered all of the various antics the team had been up to, from drivers going way-too-fast and making the tires scream, to Kivenaal drifting the truck and doing donuts in the camp, to Jayde learning how to drive, all of the various stages they’d gone through. “We really should have brought an extra set.”

“Do we not have a spare tire in the bed, and one under the truck?” Rukari asked.

“Fuck! Forgot these old American trucks hid their spares down below,” Kaylie said, suddenly seeming a lot more enthusiastic about a bit of routine maintenance. “Might need your strength to break the bolts loose, but we’ll manage.”


Team Mravolinski-Chitco

Bro, we straight up havent had good time

Title sums this stage from our perspective rather well.
Oh also worth a mention that Malavera would be included in this part; that part of conversation is approved by @Madrias.

Why we need to go?

Stage begun with activities of few members of other teams

He knew he had to wake the camp, but how to do it? He really hated the idea of going tent-to-tent, warning everyone individually. Then he saw the CB handle in the Bricksley, and the loudspeaker on the roof, and an idea came to mind immediately. He opened the door, studied the radio stack for a moment, then made some settings adjustments, enabling the Public Address system’s loudspeaker, setting volume to about halfway, and keying the microphone.

“Malavera of Shift Happens to all participating teams, we need to leave this campsite early. Please, get yourselves up, pack your supplies, and prepare to travel,” he said, figuring it was better to leave out why they were leaving until later, or on request, so as to avoid a panic.

“What the fuck is happening?”
“Malavera has spoken. We need to leave.”
“I dont see a problem. Is he drunk?”
“Im sure he would demonstrate his inner singer if that was case. Would also hear an apology from his teammate.”
“Makes sense, who will go and ask?”
“Me. You go and prepare stuff for going…if we actually need to go.”

Aydar promptly approached two-headed friend.
“Hello there, Malavera. We heard that we are supposed to leave. Can we know the reason?”

-What happened here?
-Good question. Chaos seems to be an answer.
-Hmm…i see some paw marks…
-Isnt me. I doubt its Aydar either.
-You sure?
-No. I do trust him…same goes for other potential culprits, our buddies from Shift Happens.
You never know tho.
-I see Aydar approaching two-headed member of that team.
Gonna ask around; kill two birds with one stone.
-Cool. Just so you know, name of TwoHead is Malavera.
-Im aware. Bye.

Chicota had ran towards duo.

As mentioned, Malavera has two heads, which turned to be very useful thing.
One of those was oriented towards Aydar, but other noticed Chicota obviously running toward them.
Therefore he decided to not answer immidiately, as he wanted to see what he wanted.

“Whats matter? If your tongue dried out, other head is just as relevant in answering.”

But there was no need as “matter” had reached them.
Chicota: Now, Aydar, have you happened to visit rear end of our truck during night?
-No, why?
-We had an intruder apparently. I found big paw mark on bedding, some claw marks and all of meat is gone.

With that, expected happened: eyes were turned on Malavera.
Malavera: Oh…you are suspecting us?

-Hmmm…yea. Rally is kinda barren with big non-human creatures. Any of you fit that description.

Malavera: Are you sure we would leave scratch marks? We do tend to be civilised.
Besides, im perfectly aware that we too could suspect Klimentol and Aydar for nightly visit to our truck…for about same reason.

This surprized Aydar, especially when introduced with piece of something that Malavera just so happened to carry
He sniffed, it smelled like meat…

Malavera: Im pretty sure, tho, that both of you would tend to open this bag in more civilised fashion too.
We used to have some stored meat…these pieces of bag are all whats left

-That smells like it was good meat.

Malavera: As much as it would be tempting to blame each other on this little raid, fact is neither of teams had done it.
Conversation was interesting tho and it neatly connects to reason why we need to leave.

-While we are on it, why?

Malavera: Some Dyre had visited us. This wasnt limited to our two teams either.
I got information from Connor in RK Series Racing, who observed those three culprits.

-Seems they were just hungry. Apart from those we actively fought against, they dont appear to be constantly hostile.

Malavera: They are curious beings.
However, as hosts of this event, we cant allow anything bad to happen to anyone if we can prevent it.
We cant wait for their curiosity to become hurtful to someone

Chicota: Not to mention, not everyone can defend themselves against them.

Malavera: Exactly. Therefore we are starting today a bit early. See you in Kavitz camp.


Cant exactly comment on quick preparations done before we hit the road, since that was just putting all the stuff back in car.
Update on source of mess was interesting, but immideately understood.

Why you need to go?

Anyway…uhhh…Mrdja is behind the wheel and it was nice drive.
Hot summer day blessed with light rain, straight roads, coolant going to overheat…

Wait…overheating coolant?

Well, after doing its job for 27 years kinda well, head gasket decided to quit being useful. Fair bit of coolant now gets in hot parts of engine, making noticeable that white smoke from exhaust.
After little skid caused by especially wet patch, engine stalled and Klimentol bumped his head, becoming awake.

He wasnt happy at seeing high coolant temperature which was now brought to attention of driver.
Combined with sweet smell causing sour feelings, it was advised that getting to camp shall be made slowly.

No surprize, this meant that we finished dead last by some margin.
Seeing that half of team is technically adept at repairing stuff, noone was worried…until pieces of head gasket were finally removed from their deathbed.

-This…is serious. Kinda scary too, seeing as we shall now patch that thing up.

VerBanka: We dont need to, i saw another such part in spares we have.

-Really. (Had gone away) Here it is.
-Oh why thank you. Very useful thing. Pi?

Pi: You asked for me?

-Dont blow this up. We have both knowledge and spare. You are unlikely to have either…well, atleast for some time.

Team knew all-too-well how true those words happen to be. As being one that is going to use this car for very long period of time, Pi must be perfectly sure that everything kinda works ok.
As for person herself, its likely already decided to switch to something else as daily transport as soon as possible, otherwise risking being (and im quite literal here) stuck far away with no efficient means of calling backup…although Kontir may turn out to be best bet still.

Pi: Will have that in mind…hopefully it will be last big issue during rally.
-Maybe. Although this little event does prove to be good preparation for whats to come.

Good thing is that all three workers were able to share workload on engine.
Bad thing is they were tired afterwards.
Pi and VerBanka decided its perfect time to visit town in order to get something more to eat and drink.
Mrdja decided to stay at car too


RK Series Racing; Stage 14 Drive

OOC: once again in collab with @Madrias, as if it wasn’t common knowledge by that point lol

Sleep was cut short for the team, as Connor managed to spot a small group of Dyre milling about camp.
He immediately knew that he had to alert the others at camp and, in the process of turning around to head for his first logical choice, the Dyre almost immediately took note and booked it into the surrounding scenery. Still, Connor deemed it necessary to at the very least tell the others about what happened.
Connor approaches Constantin’s “tent”, discovering that Constantin was already somewhat awake.

“Good morning. We have unwanted visitors within the camp area. I advise leaving early to ensure safety.” Connor stated with zero consideration for what Constantin thought of it. Still, the wording was potent, in that Constantin immediately looked to be wide-awake.
“Who is in camp?” Constantin said as he fumbled his way out of his sleeping bag.
“I am not certain. In the darkness i only could make out shapes of creatures similar to those we encountered earlier. I shall inform team Shift Happens now.” Connor replies before he turns around to head for the Bricksley.

As he approached, he saw Malavera digging about the Bricksley’s bed investigating something.
“Good morning. I am here to report that we may have unwanted visitors in camp.” Connor explained, sternly, while keeping the details vague unless requested.

Malavera looked over with his right head at Connor, who had, in his opinion, been a little too cheery about delivering bad news. “Plenty of evidence of that in the truck,” Malavera said, holding up the shredded bag and motioning to the water cans on the roof. “Whatever it was, it was big, strong, and hungry, because it tore through this heavy burlap like it was tissue paper, broke the leather straps securing our water cans down, and left a big dent in the lid of our toolbox. Then left us a real mess to clean up.” Malavera hopped over the side of the truck bed, landing a little heavily on the ground in front of Connor to talk with him from a slightly-less towering position. “So, what do you know about the visitors?”

“Not a lot. I saw quadripedal creatures trundling about the campsite, similar to those we encountered a few days earlier. I turned around to alert Constantin and they immediately ran away into the surrounding vegetation.” Connor explained.
“You are the second person i am telling this, Constantin Schrant being the first.”, he added, unsure on if that information is even useful to Malavera.

“Oh, great. Those creatures. Thank you for informing me as quickly as you have,” Malavera said. “I’ll put out the word to the camp that we need to start packing up. I’m not going to mention that we had Dyre in our campsite over the speaker, but if any team asks, I’ll tell them. The last thing I want to do is create a panic and have people getting hurt by trying to leave in a hurry.”

Connor simply waits a little for any instruction from Malavera, before nodding and turning around to head back to the Dione.

While Connor was away, Constantin was up and faced with the task of getting the other two out of their dreamworlds.
Knowing that Valentin will need some time to get going proper, he ventured over to the tent which somehow was roomy enough for Valentin to sleep in, even if he did so diagonally for extra legroom.
Constantin cautiously made his way in and gave Valentin some initially timid slaps in an attempt to wake him up.
“Come on, Val, we need to go.” he said, progressively increasing the force as he kept trying.
It took much longer than what Constantin was comfortable with until Val finally was somewhat awake.
“We’re packing up early. Get out of bed, we need to go!”, Constantin repeated before retreating out of Valentin’s tent to wake up Tim.
“Please no Wolfes again…”, Valentin grumbled as he shuffled around to exit the tent himself.
Constantin then went for the Dione’s driver window, somewhat aggressively knocking against it.
Getting Tim awake was apparently much easier, as he was looking at Constantin almost immediately with a confused face.
“Get ready and free up the driver seat. We have visitors in camp and we need to go.”, Constantin repeated, prompting Tim to immediately follow orders as instructed, not only freeing up the driver’s seat, but the car as a whole since Valentin needed the space to maneuver himself into the car.
Constantin was hard at work tearing down both tents as soon as they were vacated, with Valentin hobbling over to the car in a mild sleep-deprived slumber.
On his way in, he bumps pretty much every single control lever on the fireman side as he attempts to get in quickly. The fact that his ankle doesn’t hurt nearly as much in doing so is chalked up to some sense of adrenaline muting the pain.
Still, once seated, Connor followed suit and immediately went about raising steam while Tim helped Constantin pack up tents and other equipment.
Their “pre-flight” checks are done with surprising accuracy and professionalism, despite Valentin’s mental capabilities having been dragged down by the rude awakening earlier.
Nevertheless, steam was raised and soon after, the team seated.

“Is Shift happens aw… oh wait, they are.”, Valentin says, looking ahead across camp and spotting most of them milling around their truck.
“Why? We need to go!” Tim inquires, not wanting to face whatever visitor is lurking.
“Their, nay… our dead battery in their car won’t get the V8 going. They’re gonna need that jump start.” Valentin calls out in an unusual stroke of bravery as he carefully rolls across camp to stop directly ahead of the Bricksley, sideways.

Valentin then pulls the hood release latch, followed by a small blip of the whistle to notify them that Robert is ready for electrical donation.

Kaylie and Jayde were busy collapsing tents and bundling them up while Kayden prepared the radio console for his sister, Kivenaal gathered up their loose camp supplies, and Malavera dealt with answering questions from other teams. Not long after the truck was packed and the team was assigning people to seats for the purposes of making Malavera’s life easier behind the wheel, Valentin arrived with a swift shriek of the whistle to get their attention.

“I’ll get it,” Malavera said, jumping out of the driver’s seat, yanking the hood release on the way, then grabbing the jumper cables out of the truck bed. He shoved the hood up on the Bricksley, fumbled with the Dione’s reverse-hinged hood for a moment, clipped the jumper clamps onto the Bricksley’s battery, then to the battery in Robert. He quickly stood on the running board with the parking brake engaged, the truck in neutral, and planted his right foot into the clutch pedal as he cranked the V8 over before disconnecting the cables from each car, then putting the cables away.

Malavera put one of his large hands on the Dione’s hood and closed it firmly, then rushed back over to the Bricksley, grabbing the hood with both hands and bringing it down with significantly more force and an audible slam. He climbed back into the truck, honked the horn in thanks, slammed the driver’s door, nearly ripped the seatbelt when it locked up on him, and finally managed to get buckled in and ready to move.

The occupants of the Dione just watched the jump-start unfold as Malavera went about connecting the cables and starting the Bricksley.
As he firmly closed the hood of the Anhultz, Valentin flinched a little, which turned into an audible sigh as soo as he saw what he did with the Bricksley’s hood.
Another small blip of the whistle announced their departure, with them eagerly heading towards where they would transition onto the longitude mainline.

Once there, the car was roughly aligned with the rails before Constantin got out to start cranking.
Only having done a couple turns, he was stopped by Valentin:
“We need to get clearance from the signalman. Can you please notify them that we are already here and departing early?”, Valentin asked, followed by Constantin confirming the request with a quick “Sure” as he walks off towards the nearest signal box.
“Who’s doing the cranking then? Me?” Tim inquired, watching Constantin disappear into the distance.
“If you want to get out of here quickly, then yes… i’m stuck in here because crutches and Connor needs to tend to the boiler.”, Valentin replied, not really wanting to force him directly.
Tim just sighs and then gets out to put in some of his first work ever in helping the railroad operations beyond having supplied the base vehicle.
“Which way to i turn?”, Tim asks looking at the crank handle.
“Counter-clockwise, as if loosening a bolt.”, Val replied and immediately could see Tim making progress in cranking.
While the work proved tedious and repetitive, it wasn’t as physically taxing as both Valentin and Tim expected, courtesy of the 3 to 1 crank reduction.
At some point, Constantin returned with one end of Robert just about in the air.
“Should be good soon with that signal there.” Constantin begins, pointing at a semaphore signal a few hundred feet down the siding. “They apparently are very keen on giving us right of way with that ‘class 1’ train thing…”, he continues with finger quotes, while having little idea on what that actually meant.
Constantin got around to the back to start cranking there while Tim finished up front.
Not soon after, both ends were up and the drive belt moved over to enable power to the rails.
The two remaining team members got back into the car and they went towards their next campsite, passing the already-“clear” signal that Constantin pointed towards earlier.

“Well at least we’re out of camp now… Don’t want to know who or what those visitors wanted…” Valentin muttered as he gave Robert it’s all.
“Yeah… you don’t.” Constantin said before Connor could blurt out his discovery.

With that, the car went silent for most of the trip as a sense of uneasiness crept deeper and deeper into the ambiance within.

to be continued

1 Like

Team Shift Happens


Team RK Series Racing; Stage 14 Camp

(Thank you to @Elizipeazie for another collab!)

Kavitz Campsite, 3-and-60 Sun

Kayden looked over at his sister and Rukari as they changed out the two rear tires, working together with only mild arguing going on regarding who was at fault for the sockets all being mixed up again. “Hey, I’m going to go check on Valentin, make sure everything is going well for him,” Kayden said.

“No problem,” Kaylie said. “If you need any of us, just ask for our help,” she added.

Kayden nodded, then said, “If he didn’t scare Valentin so much, I’d take Jayde with me, but, one, I have to follow the expectations of doctor-and-patient privacy, and two, Jayde’s expertise and mine don’t overlap at all.”

Kaylie laughed. “You and him share a lot in common. Both of you are good listeners, and both of you have an interest in what makes people tick. Take him with you if you want.”

Kayden looked over at Jayde, who was currently sitting on one of the many logs laying around and meditating, then said, “I’ll grab him if I need his help.” He then wandered over to the Dione, seeing Valentin still sitting in the driver’s seat.

After a moment of seeing Valentin was pretty much not responding, Kayden politely knocked on the window. “You okay, Val? Came to check on you, see if the nanites were helping. Also, given the look on your face, you need someone to talk to, someone who can and will listen. Someone you can trust. I understand if you’d rather not talk with me, I get that. I know Kaylie and Jayde are also good listeners, though Kaylie’s hands are covered in grease again and, well, I know Jayde can be a bit intimidating.”

The trip has been spent in an almost depressing silence, though at least without any delays.
Since then, nobody dared to talk to Valentin in fear of making whatever state he was in worse, instead simply going about the usual business of setting up camp and getting lunch going.
Time creeps along at a snails pace, sunken deep into some seemingly meaningless thoughts until Kayden approached the car, knocking onto the window, thus visibly startling Valentin as he scrambles a bit to get the window rolled down.

“Huh?”, he mutters, confused and not really having understood most of what Kayden said, though Kayden’s assumption regarding Valentin’s mental state was very much correct and still is.

“I came over here originally,” Kayden said, looking at Valentin, “to check on your ankle and whether you were making any progress. However, I think that might need to take a back-seat to whatever has been bothering you this much. If you need someone to talk to, I’m here for you. If you’d rather be part of a group, well… I could get Kaylie and Jayde to listen with me. Honestly, Kivenaal’s the better one for this sort of thing, but… He’s trying to calm down Malavera after Mal crashed the truck.”

He looked over the seats in the Dione, then said, “I don’t suppose you’d prefer to sit out on one of these log benches? I mean, I can try to fit in there, but that’d just make us both uncomfortable.”

Instead of replying by speech, Valentin just sighs and folds the seatback flat, starting the intricate egress procedure. A moment later, the rear right passenger door opens, albeit only a little at first.
Still, it causes both Constantin and Tim to turn around from behind the car.

“All good?”, Tim asks, watching a feeble arm push the door open further and getting no immediate response once again.
Eventually, Valentin makes his way out of the car without aid from Constantin, who outright wasn’t fast enough to get up and help Valentin.
Once out, Valentin reaches in for the Crutches, after which he rises to full height, looking at Kayden with a face that can be described as a demoralized mess, ready to wander over to wherever Kayden deems it secluded and safe.

Kayden nodded as Valentin joined him, glad that Valentin was at least willing to seek some help in that moment. “Heard from the guards that there’s a pond between our campground and the town of Kavitz. It’s about halfway between each. Should be a good, quiet spot, out of the way, but safe enough as well. We’re within the outer wall,” Kayden said.

As the two of them walked over to the pond, Kayden took a moment to evaluate his impressions of Valentin. He could tell he was stressed, that was obvious. Demoralized or depressed was the next dominant emotion, considering his withdrawal from the rest of his team and general silence. Scared was also a possibility, though he felt it wasn’t because of him, but the events going on around him.

There, by the pond, they found a few proper benches made out of sturdy oak, not the crude logs sitting around the camp. Likewise, it was somewhat obvious by the leaf clutter on the path that it didn’t see a lot of foot traffic, thereby it was at least out of the way, with a small hill in between them and the camp to keep prying eyes at bay.

“Well, at least I know this much, whatever is on your mind is serious, because when someone pulls back from teammates and allies, it’s usually not a good thing. Let’s pick a bench and I’ll listen for a while. Sometimes we just need someone willing to listen.”

Valentin simply follows along quietly, periodically checking the immediate surroundings in hopes of not being swarmed by unsuspecting citizens again.
Once they arrive, Valentin takes a seat and tries to make himself at least somewhat comfortable on the wooden bench, oblivious to the fact that they were being watched from afar by a pair of women halfway across the pond.

At this point, Valentin starts to think hard about how to start, stalling his mind in the attempt of finding suitable words.
“I didn’t expect this…”, he eventually blurts out, insecure about his wording.
“I did not expect this at all…”
The general area returns to silence for a while, barring ambient noise from the surrounding bits of nature.
“Things just keep going from bad to worse and then some…”, he mentions eventually, anxiously fiddling about with both hands in an attempt to bleed off some of the stress.

Kayden nodded. “I don’t really think that any of us really expected this,” Kayden admitted. “It would be nice to make it to the end without any more fighting,” he added. “I may be a soldier, but I hate fighting. No choice for me, though. Born into it.”

As he looked over to Valentin, Kayden thought about the situation a bit more, then fumbled in one of his pockets until he pulled out a meal bar, then pulled his canteen off of the sling around his shoulder. “I know you’re a late riser, so you probably haven’t eaten yet. It’s not much, but… It should keep you going long enough to make it to lunch. I’ll ask Rukari to put a spare plate out for you. I think he’s planning some sort of beef and noodle dish,” Kayden said, handing the vacuum-packaged bar and the canteen to Valentin. “And before you mention you don’t want to inconvenience anyone, Rukari always makes too much and we’re getting low on containers to store food in for lunch on the road.”

Valentin looks at the offered food and drink for a moment before nodding a little and grabbing both. The canteen is temporarily set down between the two as he inspects the packaging of the bar. It turns out that he actually is somewhat familiar with it due to it being a cycling-oriented energy bar meant for mid-ride energy top-ups, though he wasn’t all that fond of them due to how difficult they are to chew.
Still, some food beats none at all, and not wanting to be impolite on top of already taking up Kayden’s time, he goes about unwrapping it, followed by a somewhat cautious bite taken out of it.

It’s taste wasn’t great, not even good, but the vague hints of berry flavor were enough to cover the taste of condensed energy and minerals and such.
Each bite is followed by what seems like unnecessary amounts of chewing and a generous swig of water out of the provided canteen.
With a little less than half the bar remaining, he “re-wraps” it again to avoid it staining anything and places both it and the canteen back into the bench between them.
Just about when the canteen makes contact with the bench, the two women, apparently closer to being teenage girls than women, approach Kayden and Valentin, furiously giggling and chuckling as they get closer.

“Hiiiiiii! I’m Mia! I’m Tia! We’re like your biggest fans. CHOO CHOO!”, the two chant in unison, excitedly hopping about the place while intently staring down Valentin.
In turn, Valentin looks at them with a face that is about as devoid of emotion as Connor’s face usually is, unsure about how to handle two children and their interests.

Kayden sighed. This was exactly the worst of the peaceful scenarios that he could have imagined happening, with about the only thing more disruptive being a Dyre deciding Valentin needed a hug. He reached into his pocket and pulled Nova out, then said, “Kayden to the Shift Happens crew, I could use Rukari’s help here. We have trouble.”

Rukari’s voice came back loud and clear. “Ne kasi, I will be there in… Half minute.”

Someone else’s voice, similar to Rukari’s voice, added in, “I’ll help,” just before Rukari let go of the button.

Kayden sighed. “Don’t come barreling in here armed to the teeth, it’s a pair of teenagers who probably don’t know any better.”

“Shall I wear my ass-kicking boots, or are we not expecting a fight?” the other voice asked.

“Kivenaal, they’re teenage girls bothering Valentin. I doubt there’s a need for an “ass-kicking” in the first place.”

Kayden looked over to the two girls, then said, “Right. I’ve just called in Valentin’s security team. They’ll be here in a couple of minutes to remove you from the area.”

Sure enough, on the same road that Kayden and Valentin had walked to get here, Kivenaal and Rukari arrived, announced mostly by Kivenaal’s cowboy boots on the cobblestone road. Calmly, they walked toward the two women, where Rukari spoke up with, “The two of you need to leave.”

The two girls, realizing Valentin did actually have security, decided to walk away, looking lightly disappointed that they weren’t getting what they wanted today.

Kivenaal and Rukari, on the other hand, turned to face Valentin, both giving him light smiles. “We have your back, Valentin,” Kivenaal said.

Rukari did a much milder version of a Valraadi salute to Valentin before adding, “If you need help, just ask. I will patrol the pond, keep people away.”

“Just make sure that if you overhear anything, keep it to yourself, Rukari,” Kayden said.

“To my grave,” Rukari replied, before practically disappearing into the shadows of the tree line.

Kivenaal, on the other hand, looked to Valentin, then said, “Well, unless the two of you need me for anything, I’ve got a two headed wolf back in camp who still needs a lot of calming down.” After a few seconds, Kivenaal gave a light shrug, then took off at a full run in his cowboy boots, stopping only momentarily to grab his hat when it escaped from his head.

As Kayden called for reinforcements, Valentin’s deadpan face changed to confusion as he did not know what exactly was to come.
Failing to come up with a meaningful response, he simply waited for the situation to unfold in minimal hopes of it not going south like almost everything has up to this point.
His eyes just go back and forth between the girls and Kayden, as he wasn’t aware of the self-contracted “security team” he now apparently had.
As Kivenaal and Rukari approached, made blatantly obvious by Kivenaal’s cowboy boots, he looked at them, somewhat dumbfounded as if to say “you are my security now?”.
Needless to say, their work was effective in that the group found themselves alone again. Even Rukari went “missing” as quickly as he appeared, now securing the perimeter as if Valentin was the President.

“Uhm… no?”, Valentin replied, watching him take off and back towards where he came from.
“Prime example of misery, right here…”, Valentin adds after a moment of contemplation, eventually deciding to ‘open the floodgates’.
“You start as a random chuck trying to get a fun vacation in and you end up being a holy figure because some asshat mislabeled the schedule…”

Kayden nodded as Valentin mentioned that he’d started as just someone random, and thanks to someone mislabeling the schedule, became one of the most famous people in Crugandr. “I can’t speak from experience on that, but, I’ll tell you to bring that up with Kivenaal later. You and him have a lot in common on that. And the way you said it, well, you nailed it for him. Not because of a mislabeling of schedule, either, there’s nothing he could do to change that. But, the good thing about speed records, intentional or otherwise, is someone always comes along to beat it. And, well, there’s truth in the statement that no one ever remembers who was second,” Kayden mentioned.

“People don’t remember who is currently second. But they will remember someone if they are the first to break a milestone.”, Valentin countered. After all, Robert is the first, and to date only, land vehicle to travel at speeds greater than 200kph.
“They also will remember how it came to be, with the hackjob conversion of our… well, my car and all that. Underdog stories are popular. It’s just a whole different can of worms if the people don’t pull out one of three height-related jokes for once and you suddenly feel like PewDiePie.” he added, leaning forwards and resting his chin on both hands, elbows in turn placed on either thigh.

Kayden nodded, though had a lightly puzzled look on his face as Valentin mentioned PewDiePie. “This… Might sound a bit stupid, but… Who or what is PewDiePie?” Kayden asked, sounding lightly embarrassed.

“He’s just about the most popular Swede on earth with more than 100 million YouTube subscribers… And i am now the most popular Swede on whatever this place is…”, Valentin replied.
The thought of not everyone targeting him as the celebrity does help a little, though the commotion created at the party and earlier stages up until now is still lingering strong. Especially with how instantly recognizable Valentin is due to his height and appearance.
He falls pack into the bench, forgetting about it’s wooden nature, which was promptly avenged by back pain, followed by a mild groan and him stretching to ease it.

Kayden gave a nod of understanding, though stayed quiet until Valentin forcibly remembered that the bench was made from wood and not designed for people their size. “If I did that, I’d go right over the back of the damn thing,” Kayden said.

“No, you’d break the back of the bench first and then fall off of it,” Nova quipped. “And sorry, I know, I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but when someone spouts false information like Kayden did, I can’t help myself. At least, I can’t help myself when it’s at Kayden’s expense.”

Kayden groaned and shook his head. “Some days, she gives me a headache,” he said.

Valentin was not 100% sure what to think of Nova in this moment.
Her snarky comments did seem to strike Val’s rather limited range of humor rather well, the secluded nature of the pond was broken once again.

“I’d also get headaches if Bixby were to insult me at least twice a day…”, Valentin replied.
“Still… i did not sign up for the shotgun relationship of a survival camp, a train ride in a seat the size of Lufthansa’s Economy Class and an iteration of late-game Celebrity Sim 2022…”

“To be fair, I don’t really think any of us signed up for that,” Kayden replied. “Granted, in my opinion, you’re one of the toughest teams out there. Not from a physical standpoint, but, there’s a certain determination behind you that pushes forward, no matter what has happened so far. Let’s face it, how many other teams would have thrown in the towel when the distributor failed and left you without a running engine? How many other teams have learned everything there is to know about a foreign country’s railroad network just to escape from the terrible roads? Yes, it brought chaos because someone called it in as a record run instead of accepting you were doing a shakedown, but on the other hand, this whole time, you’ve avoided the worst of the roads.”

Kayden sighed, then said, “Honestly, I wish we’d had the same guts and grim determination to make the same kind of decision. Not that I’d want a steam engine in that brick of a truck, mind, but to get off of the roads and onto something smooth for once would be real nice. Kaylie mentioned her ride and, well, as she put it, “It’s amazingly smooth, if a little hot and loud at times, but better than getting one’s spine realigned by a road crater.” And believe me, we know road craters.”

“Truth be told, i don’t want to ruin the fun for Tim and Constantin. As it goes, i haven’t really gotten much out of this run for myself, which sounds egocentric and maybe is. And with that ship having sailed, i don’t want to be killing it for the others.” Valentin spoke, his mood not exactly happy, but not full on demoralized either.

“I think i may be repeating myself a this point, but necessity is the mother of invention. I already am crammed into a Little Tikes car if i’m going by feel. Every single pothole risks obliterating my neck on the headliner above and i’d rather survive the trip. And nobody’s stopping you from putting some steel plate wheels on there and dish them to standard gauge.” Valentin explained, somewhat curling up to visualize how little space there is for his massive 7’3" frame, complete with holding an imaginary steering wheel.

“As per that distributor, i just went for the next best thing. The one we had was FUBAR’d, nobody had suitable spares and steam is tried and true, albeit finnicky tech.”, he added, unfurling himself into a low-slung, half-lying position on the bench.

Kayden nodded. "We… Actually somewhat understand the “altitude problem,” Kayden said. “We drove a Sinistra Traville across the United States once, with the seat rails flipped around and the driver’s seat basically smashed into the rear bench just so I could fit in there and drive. The drive was fun, but we vowed to get a bigger car if we ever did it again.”

“As for fitting steel wheels onto our truck, sure, we could technically do that. But we don’t have anyone with railroading knowledge in our team. I probably understand the most, unless Malavera studied it at all, but what I know probably doesn’t apply around here,” Kayden admitted. “And it’s not like we can just throw a set of wheels on it and couple ourselves to a locomotive. We don’t have one of those.”

Valentin pondered for a while and eventually had an idea, which, if successful, would once again prove his worth in the art of Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.

“Well you don’t, but i do.”, Valentin replied. “Do you have a towing bar rated for your car’s weight? If so, Robert could act as the locomotive.”

“We should. I stored it in the small space under our toolbox to keep it from getting lost… Shit. I think I told Rukari we had tow chains when we had a tow bar instead,” Kayden said.

“In which case, we could meet up at some steamworks, have some minor alterations done to both cars and run as a consist along the rails.” Valentin suggested, his spirits steadily rising above ‘piss-poor’.

“That could be a good idea, I think. It’s… Well, it’s a big favor to ask, and I shouldn’t be making decisions like that for the whole team, but something like that would be nice, even if getting it set up is a pain in the tail. Let’s face it, those roads are brutal even to us. I keep hitting my head on that damnable radio console, and it’s way, way worse when Kivenaal’s driving on dirt. I can’t figure out how the hell Jayde sits in the back seat without complaining,” Kayden admitted.

“Anyway, the original reason I came over to talk with you was to see how your ankle was doing, but I could see in that moment that you needed a friend first, and a physician second.”

“Won’t force you, though the offer is there…”, Val commented, before taking a look down at his left foot. It had definitely improved since the Nanites started their work within, though he didn’t dare try it yet for fear of reverting some of that process.

“I gotta say, i haven’t dared to try yet. The latent pain is mostly gone, but i have no clue how it does under load… those crutches are just too practical to take chances.”, Valentin admitted.

“To be honest, I can’t blame you. A good, well fitting set of crutches instead of the crap they have on Earth that runs out of adjustment range a few inches too short. Better to trust in them than to risk a set-back, and I understand that. If the crutches are working for you and there’s little to no pain, I’d say to keep using them until you feel comfortable taking that chance,” Kayden said.

“Well… i didn’t try because i don’t know how exactly the nanite-boosted healing process pans out… they might just as well be dulling the pain while they work to not annoy their biological neighbor cells with construction noise or something. What do i know? I’ve had them for all of four three days.” Valentin rambled, grabbing the crutches from the end of the bench and moving them between his legs.

Kayden chuckled. “I can only speak from my own experiences on that, and my experiences would be different than yours. However, I’ve found that they only dull the pain, they never completely wipe it out. Well… Not in normal mode, anyway. Combat mode is different, and really not something I’d ever recommend. Some of the stupidest injuries I’ve gotten were in that mode because, well, you don’t feel pain. At all. I suppose it’s great if you’re getting shot at, but not so great when it’s the second time you’ve taken a spill from the cat-walk and landed on the same damn table, you can see it’s worse than the last time, but because you don’t feel the pain, you try to walk to a safer location with a broken leg. Normal mode… You certainly feel it,” Kayden replied.

“Sound like a nightmare, though that doesn’t really help, to be honest. Right now i don’t feel it hurting or anything. But then again, it’s unladen…”, Valentin pondered, carefully articulating the joint in question to see how mobile it is. His face very much read ‘uncertainty’, as he had very little clue on how safe it would be to load.

“Given the time that has passed, I’d guess that if they’re not completely done, they’re close. My advice, let it rest until tomorrow morning, see how it feels then. If there’s any hints of pain, even slightly, use the crutches and let it finish healing,” Kayden said. “I wish I could give you a better timeframe, but as the first human to have them, well… You’re setting the baseline.”

“Crutches it is. At least they are useable for once…”, Valentin replied without much in the way of a second thought. After all, Kayden did know how the nanites work. With that solved, Valentin went for the last third of the energy bar, both because he was in a rather deep caloric deficit and in hopes of it somehow helping healing speed. What followed was another generous swig of the canteen to flush the condensed mass down proper.

“Well… normally i’d hop onto my bike and scrub some kilometers, but that obviously isn’t a thing here… Lack of bike and ankle and all…”, Valentin noted, though didn’t seem too upset with how Kayden made for an effective safety valve to mentally recover a bit.

“Gotta genuinely thank you here…”, he added after a moment of silence.

“Friends are there for you when things are good. A good friend is there for you when you need them the most,” Kayden replied, smiling. “When I came over to check on your ankle, especially because you were still in the car, I was worried you might have had a major physical setback. When it became obvious that you needed to get a few things off of your chest, well… At that point anyone could do it if they knew how to listen. Just so few people know how to do that these days. I had plenty of free time, and even if I was busy, well, I’d make time to help a friend in need.”

When it was obvious that Valentin wished to stay for a while and enjoy the relative peace of the little pond, and ride out his slightly-improved spirits, Kayden wandered back over to the camp, informing Constantin on the way that, “Valentin and I have been talking for a little while. He should be in at least a little better spirit when he returns here, at least for the time being.”

Kayden returned to the Bricksley, where Kaylie had gotten out a big hammer and was currently trying to bash the driver’s rear fender up and out of the way of the tire. “So, what’s going on?”

“Well,” Kaylie said, stopping the hammer time for a moment, “We’ve ripped one of the bed mounts off of the frame, and that big ass dent we got is threatening our tire with sharpened bits of sheet metal if we hit a bump, so I’m trying to bash this fender back so when Kivenaal eventually takes the wheel and decides to drive at Mach 5 through the dirt, we don’t have a rear tire blowout send us into a nasty spin.”

Kayden nodded. “Sensible.”

“How’d it go with Val? Heard you had a spot of trouble out there,” Kaylie replied.

“Two teenage girls thinking that Valentin was in the mood to “play,” if you get my drift. Rukari and Kivenaal make for a good security team in a pinch. Even when they’re not being intimidating, they’re still quite intense. Rukari’s keeping Valentin under guard by sticking to the tree line while Valentin gets some time to himself out there. How’s Malavera doing?”

“Still upset with himself, but doing better. Kivenaal’s gotten through to him,” Kaylie replied. When it was obvious that Kayden had nothing more to say, Kaylie picked up the hammer and returned to beating on the fender.

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Kayden went back to the others, leaving Valentin (and Rukari) at the pond for the time being. He simply watched the bits of nature do their things, the minimal rainfall not bothering him at all at this point.

Back at the Dione, Kayden spoke to Constantin about how he and Val have been in talks.
“Well thank you. I’d say that we all knew that something was off with Val, but i am no psychiatrist, nor do i know him all that well.”, Constantin replied, respectfully nodding as Kayden went around and back to the Bricksley.

A good while later, Valentin decides that he can return to the others, picking up his crutches and soon heading over to the others at the Dione, as it’s not quite lunchtime yet.
Both Tim and Constantin as well as Connor could tell that Valentin was visibly more refreshed, albeit wet from the rain.
“Back from the land of the dead?”, Tim remarked, half jokingly.
“I guess… venting steam is not easy if you don’t know anyone all that well and your usual methods don’t apply…”, Valentin countered.
That topic was left at that and quickly diverted to more light-hearted talks and the previously established method of pass-time that is card games and similar stuff.

Once Valentin had returned to the others, Rukari also returned to camp a few minutes later, walking over to the Bricksley and getting some supplies ready for making the mid-day meal.

Soon, the smell of cooking beef and pasta wafted across the camp as Rukari’s cast-iron soup pot bubbled with a full load of water and noodles, and his cast-iron frying pan seared small pieces of good beef to add to the pasta later. Sitting across from Rukari was Kivenaal, busy making up a batch of beef gravy with mild spices, as well as a second pot with rice and mixed vegetables for a good solid side dish, and an optional pot set off to the side with a lid on it, mostly intended for him.

Not long after, Rukari drained the pasta water from one pot to another with a strainer, adding the cubes of beef to it and mixing them throughout the pot of piping-hot noodles.

Kayden wandered over and mentioned to Val, Constantin, and Tim, “If you’re hungry, we have lunch ready. Beef cubes and noodles in gravy, with rice and vegetables on the side, or, if you ask Kivenaal, he’ll turn that beef cubes and noodles into a rudimentary Beef Stroganoff instead. But I don’t know how much of that he’s making, to be honest. He considers it a bit of a delicacy.”

“Lucky for us that you say this, actually. The gas cooker we have got wet in the rain and won’t fire…”, Tim remarked, looking at the other two in search for their reactions.
“Cannot go wrong with Beef and Pasta, right?”, Constantin added, with Valentin simply smiling, almost grinning at the thought of another generous helping of proven pasta.

Kayden chuckled. “True. Pasta is a universal and versatile dish, and it’s fairly hard to go wrong with adding beef to it,” Kayden said.

He led the crew over to the campfire, where Kaylie started passing around deep-dished plates that, in a pinch, could double as bowls. Sure enough, she had an extra three prepared, as well as forks for the additional people at the “table” today.

“Dig in, take what you want,” Rukari said, handing Valentin the scoop to get noodles and beef out of the pot. “Gravy is in that pot there, Kivenaal’s got the sauce if you’d rather make Beef Stroganoff,” he added, motioning to each pot as he mentioned it. “There’s some rice with vegetables over here, provided Kayden’s willing to leave the rest of us some,” Rukari added, giving a light quip to Kayden who had taken two rather large scoops out of the pot and put them on his plate.

“Sorry. Just a bit hungry today,” Kayden admitted.

Not long after the three took their respective seats, a stack of plates made a lap around the campfire, leaving a plate at each person present, followed up by a bundle of forks to go along with the plates.
Valentin did not wait long and started with a rather cautiously sized portion of the ordinary Pasta and Gravy combo, as getting a second helping later on was a possibility. Still, it garnered some curious looks from the other two as they both were aware of how little Val ate since the party happened ‘for him’.

With him fed, the scoop went around the fire similarly to how the plates did earlier, Constantin being next in line, who went substantially more generous than Valentin, though probably still rather small by the standards of the Shift Happens members.

Tim, being the third, ended up marginally larger than Valentin in portion size, though he was the only one to choose Beef Stroganoff over the Gravy.
None of the three went for the side-dish, however, as a single plate wasn’t sufficient for both dishes at once.

While both Schrants waited patiently until everyone had their respective plates filled, Tim dug right in, which in turn had both Valentin and Constantin look at Tim in a somewhat serious look.
“Phwat?”, he ‘spoke’, his mouth still full of pasta.
“Basic table… well… campfire manners are a foreign concept to you, it seems.”. Constantin commented in annoyance, followed by Valentin nodding in approval.
This didn’t really phase Tim for all that long, though, because the pasta was just that good that he couldn’t stop himself anymore.

Kaylie just shook her head lightly as Tim immediately stuffed his face while the others were busy adding scoops of food to their plate. She looked over as there was a bit of a clatter and crash, courtesy of Malavera struggling with the pasta scoop and managing to slam his plate into the top of the cast iron pot. “Take it easy, Mal. Don’t have to be in a rush, there’s plenty here for all of us,” Kaylie said.

“Dropped the scoop into the pot,” Malavera grumbled, though sat down with his plate of noodles and beef, choosing to not add any gravy, but instead getting a good scoop from Kivenaal to make Beef Stroganoff out of his meal.

Kaylie chuckled, then added a scoop to her plate, a bit of gravy, and then added the side dish despite the plates being just small enough to guarantee she was mixing the two meals.

Rukari and Jayde just went for beef, noodles, and gravy, though Jayde had easily the largest amount on his plate until Kivenaal loaded his plate with Beef Stroganoff.

Despite that, there was clearly enough left in both the side-dish pot and the noodle pot for several people to have seconds.

Once everyone had gotten their plate filled, the meal began properly, other than Kayden cursing a bit as the rice was still seriously hot in the side dish, managing to torch his tongue.

At first, little talking was coming from the three guests at the table, each more or less to themselves genuinely enjoying the provided meal.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Valentin had something to say to Constantin and Tim specifically.

“Right… haven’t told you two yet. We’ve been toying about with the idea of expanding Robert into an actual train, adding their Bricksley to the consist. I’m just asking if you are okay with that.”, Valentin inquired, pointing at the truck in question with the fork.
The other two looked at each other in confusion, trying to piece together why the idea came about to begin with.
“If help is needed, it shall be provided.”, Constantin answers eventually.
“I don’t see why not…”, Tim adds, though still puzzled about how exactly this is supposed to work in practice.

After that, Valentin nodded, turned to face Kayden briefly before topping up his near-empty plate with another serving.

Kayden nodded, then mentioned to the others, “I mentioned that to Kaylie, who agreed that it sounded like a good idea, but we need the rest of you to weigh in on it.”

Kivenaal shrugged. “I don’t mind driving, but, some of these roads are a little brutal sometimes. Could be nice to run the rails for a stage.”

“I am so, so sick of smacking both of my heads on the radio console, or nearly losing my lunch because someone jumped the truck on a dirt road,” Malavera added. “My vote is in, 100%, if we can get on the rails for a stage or two, that’s perfect.”

Rukari looked puzzled at first, then asked, “How would we do this?”

“There’s a tow-bar under the toolbox. Sorry, I think I said we had tow chains, so… My bad on that bit of chaos,” Kayden answered.

“Ah. We link front bumper of our truck to rear bumper of their car? Just need wheels, then,” Rukari said. “It is a good plan.”

“I think Valentin and I can relate to not really fitting in our respective seats all that well,” Jayde said. “Bumps hurt. Smacking my head into the ceiling isn’t fun, neither is hitting my face on the box in the middle of the truck. And while I can drive, well… I still don’t prefer doing so. I’ll agree on being towed.”

Kaylie looked over at the truck, then admitted, “It’d save me a hell of a lot of maintenance. These guys do a great job of tearing up the truck. Spent the better part of an hour beating a fender out of the way.”

“Sorry, Kaylie,” Malavera said.

“Accidents happen, Mal. Bald tires and puddles on a tree lined road, it’s a bad mix. You kept the damage to a minimum,” Kaylie replied.

“Val not fitting? The rear bench is even worse with anyone ahead of you!”, Constantin protested, being only three inches shorter than Valentin and substantially bulkier to boot.
“You don’t have to shuffle across three seats to get in and out of the car.”, Valentin countered.
“He wins.” Tim declared while pointing at Valentin, thus breaking up the small dispute between the two.

“Well some modifications need to be done on either vehicle. Yours only really needs appropriate steel wheels. If Robert needs a second tow hook fitted depends on how long that tow bar of yours is. Getting a spare drive belt is a goo idea regardless, though. Somehow it held up until now…”, Valentin explained shortly after inbetween forkfuls of pasta.
“I have location info on pretty much every Steamworks along the longitude ever since they gave me the track map for it.”, he added.

Kayden nodded. “We’ll dig the bar out after we’re done, see if it’s long enough. As you said, appropriate wheels are pretty much the only thing we need. Swapping them on might be a pain, but we have Malavera to help with that,” Kayden said.

“Hey! Just because I can lift the front of that truck doesn’t mean I want to do that twice a day,” Malavera responded.

“If we rail up, who’s saying we have to come off the tracks any time soon?” Kaylie replied. “Sure, we’d like to run the last stage under our own power, but… Let’s be honest, these roads are getting meaner as we go along.”

“So, what are you thinking?” Kivenaal asked. “Because, I’ll be perfectly honest, I want to drive the next stage. It’s mostly dirt, so I’ll have a bit of fun. Hell, there’s a bit of road running right on the other side of the fence next to the tracks, so, with some luck, we might be able to run alongside the Dione for a few brief seconds.”

“You are a damn twin-tailed menace sometimes,” Malavera said, though had a smirk on one of his faces. “100 miles per hour on dirt? You have to be joking.”

“I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again!” Kivenaal replied, chuckling.

“Just try not to jump the truck, we don’t need any more dents in the roof,” Kaylie quipped.

“Right, all four wheels on the ground when possible. Got it,” Kivenaal said.

“In that case, i’ll see about getting a re-route to whatever available steamworks going. I’ll keep you posted on where that will be at the start of tomorrow’s leg. The radio should still have enough range there, assuming you don’t gun out out of camp as soon as your engine is running. Also, if you are that keen on that ‘own power’ thing, you can push us as well, especially in case the belt goes tits up.”, Valentin explained, unaware of what is to come soon.

“Val just doesn’t have the balls to keep up on the roads.”, Tim joked, which was promptly met with a smack to the shoulder by Valentin, made easy by his immense wingspan.
“No i don’t and you know that… 160k’s on rails is far easier to deal with than a very overladen wagon on shit tires doing the same speed on shit roads with a shit seat-fit to boot.”, he countered afterwards, silencing Tim.

After that, they returned to the pasta, with Tim going for a serving of rice, Constantin joining Tim and Valentin effectively mimicking a bottomless barrel with how much pasta he seemed to make disappear.

“Right, like manual operation of multiple units,” Malavera said, as Valentin mentioned they could technically push Valentin with the Dione. “You have a steam engine, we have internal combustion. Can’t exactly link them together, so we’d coordinate over the radio. A bit like a steam excursion train, where the steam engine does 90% of the work, the diesel just sits idle and provides dynamic brakes and train power, and gives a mighty good shove if the steam engine has some issues.”

Kayden looked to Malavera, then back to Valentin and said, “I hope like hell you understood some of that, because I sure didn’t.”

Rukari noticed Valentin was going quite heavy on the pasta and smiled. “I am glad, Valentin, that you are enjoying it. I learned to cook in the military, so, sadly, my recipes are a little limited.”

“Sure did. We’ll need to figure out a way of standardizing commands to minimize ambiguity, but it should do. Also, it’s pretty hard to fuck up pasta beyond edibility.” Valentin said.

At some point, the lunch meal was finished, with Valentin being the last one to pack up his dishes and cutlery by quite some margin.

“Well, see you tomorrow morning then.” Valentin spoke once the ‘table’ was cleared up.
After that, the three went back towards the Dione to fill the remaining afternoon and evening somehow.

As Valentin, Constantin, and Tim returned to the Dione, the remainder of the pasta was put into containers to eat later. After that, Rukari washed up all of their dishes, putting them neatly into the toolbox for safe-keeping.

With lunch finished, the team returned to the truck to continue attempting some basic repairs, with Kivenaal taking up the BFH to try straightening out the damaged bed side. Kaylie packed away a lot of her tools from around the truck, then helped wash a few tents as well, just so they wouldn’t all reek of kerosene later.