She also couldn't understand a word they said. Hernandiz turned to her Sargent. “Do we have any idea what language they're speaking, Silva?”
“No clue, ma’am.”
“Can you wireless Onofray and have them send Yagi? He might know.” Yagi was the eldest in the encampment, having been born just after The Cleansing. He might not understand them but he might know the language.
“Right away, ma’am.” Silva turned sharply and exited the tent.
Hernandiz jumped when one of the captives abruptly said, “You under-stand Gay-lish?” Two of her men pointed their rifles at him, but Hernandiz motioned them to lower their weapons. She crouched down in front of the man.
“I don’t know what 'Gaylish' is, but I understand some of what you’re saying,” she said slowly. “Where are you from? What is your name?”
The man knitted his brow, moving his mouth as he processed what she had said and tried to formulate a reply. “We from Vee-mar-ee. I am Gar-ron”
His accent and pronunciation made him difficult to understand. It was closer to what Hernandiz knew as Merican than what the other three were speaking. While he was dressed similarly to the others, there were differences. His face was not tattooed, and he had several pieces of more modern equipment, including a gas mask of some kind hung around his neck and goggles pushed up onto his forehead. Hernandiz suspected he was the one the sentries had taken the crude shotgun and the black powder pistol from. She noticed something else hanging around his neck - three metal disks that looked like pieces from an ancient computing device she had seen their TechSpec take apart.
“Vimary? Garron, you must be a long way from home.”
He nodded. “From the far east. To the north.”
Hernandiz whistled softly. “Across the Havi and the Rocks. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.”
Garron’s face hardened. “We lost many. My wife.”
“What were you doing sneaking around my camp? Have you escaped from the Z’bri?” The other three captives stiffened. They at least understood what Z'bri were.
“Yes, long ago. We are free now.”
One of the two women said something to Garron, furtively looking between Hernandiz and the two armed soldiers. The two went back and forth for a minute or so, the woman becoming more animated until he motioned to her to be calm and turned back to Hernandiz.
“My friend is Ca-ra. She wants to know if you have Fa-ti-ma?”
“I don’t know that word,” Hernandiz answered, frowning. “Is that a god of some kind?”
Garron smiled. “No, a goddess. But not, at the same time. It is very good you do not.”
PremiseWhen the World Before finally teetered over the edge and collapsed, Southern California was home to 30 million people - nearly 10 times as many as the greater Montreal area. The concentration of humans in the urban areas was a smorgasbord for the Z’bri, who descended upon the region in numbers that dwarfed the Z’bri population in Hl’kar. Drunk on the sensations and power of tens of millions of human souls packed in like cattle, they quickly overran Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
Amid the panic and unimaginable horror of the End Times orders were sent to the few operating ballistic missile submarines to launch warheads at various targets within what remained of the United States. None responded, either having already succumbed to the Z’bri incursion or out of simple refusal to do so. One, however, did: the SSBN Maine.
The Maine launched five Trident D5 missiles aimed at Southern California. The nearly 500 kiloton warheads airburst up and down the Southern California coast and points inland, obliterating dense population centers, airports and military installations. The northern portion of Camp Pendleton was spared by sheer luck, as the warhead malfunctioned and overshot its target. Over a million people died in the initial blasts, and in the months afterward millions more would perish. Firestorms raged across the chaparral and forests unchecked for the better part of a year.
In the aftermath, the Z’bri remained and ultimately humanity faltered and succumbed to their depredations. The Z’bri of L’san are rivalled only by the Z’bri lords of Hattan and the vast hives of T’oxa to the south, dominating the region and remaining largely unchallenged. No Fatimas appeared among the camps of L’san following the Fall. Nobody knows how many souls the Z’bri keep within their massive bastion of corruption. Hunting parties of stalkers and other monstrosities roam freely across the land outside the enormous living walls, harrying the humans that have eluded the grasp of the Z’bri.
For their part, the free humans of Socal have returned to the old ways, semi-nomadic hunter gatherers divided into a multitude of separate tribes and clans. Without Fatimas to guide them, most have not been connected to the River of Dream, but instead worship the spirits of the oceans, mountains and wildlife around them. The irradiated ruins outside of L’san are populated by savages, driven mad by their proximity to the Z’bri and radiation.
There is one exception though: the people of the Exfor. Descendents of the Marines and their families who survived the initial attack on Camp Pendleton, they have formed a Spartan-like society dedicated to the Mission: finding a way to break the Z’bri’s stranglehold in L’san. In the generations since the Fall, they have continued to hone their skills at fighting the Z’bri, raiding their enclaves to “liberate” human captives and protecting the other free people. The long, grinding war of attrition is made somewhat easier by access to military weaponry and equipment, which the Exfor have become adept at repairing and maintaining. Yet the Exfor are not Keepers. They are not preserving knowledge of the World Before, save what they need to carry out their Mission. They refer to the nuclear fire rained down on the area as the Cleansing, an operation that they need to finish.
Except now, in decaying, uninhabited ruins of an amusement park something is happening. People are gravitating toward the park: escapees from the Z'bri, tribesmen abandoning their lives, and even strangers from unknown lands. Something is happening inside the collapsing buildings and rides. It’s just a matter of time before whatever it is becomes something the Exfor will deal with, whether as allies or antagonists.