Old Cystia was a land in ruins. Once an advanced island nation, rich in natural resources but lacking in human ones, the isle of Cystia was a thriving war-torn community who battled for aeons over political and corporate supremacy. It was an age of fists, of swords and gunpowder. Of nukes and necromancy. Of human clones and other ethically questionable scientific endeavors. But that time was long ago. So much had happened since then.
Those heady days of casual backstabbing and the childlike joys of cat-murder, the slaying of trolls on a weekly basis and the power struggles in a kaleidoscopic patchwork of modern warlords whose lands and loyalties turned on a dime over ancient blood feuds... They were over now. All came to a close when the All-powerful God Cutlery and the misanthropic evil it was bound to protect us from were sealed in foreign multiverses. Then, following a brutal conflict over a botched presidential election, Bombs fell on Gamia.
In an instant, the polluted, stinking gem of Old Cystia was lost. The weak, now separated from their livelihoods in Gamia, died in radioactive fires. And the survivors moved on to other worlds. Some journeyed to the doomed planet of the Wolf God. Others made their Pilgrimmage to the Seas of Bounty. A secret circle of Dark Wizards created a dismal sub-world to plan their dark and foul deeds... Then, from the coalescence of these worlds came a new continent. And the users of the site beheld New Cystia, unmolested and green, in all her glory. Of course, we all know of the medieval tales of swords, sorcery, and heroism that followed.
But what ever became of Old Cystia? Did it die when left with neither mods nor tinpot dictators to guide it? Did it flourish free from the nueroses of its superpowered maniacs? Did the old world, simply lost to time... Just, fade away?
Geoffrey Bronson, for one, was glad to be rid of one particular tyrant. For the better part of the 2010s, Bronson was the personal assistant to the violent immortal Birdman who enslaved his village and forced them to print newspapers. The silk-screening factory turned ramshackle newsprinting building was left abandoned long before the Penguin King even left for the new world. Having soundly won the Newspaper War of 2016, their eclectic overlord moved on to other projects without bothering to build on what he'd started. It was a common thing with him.
But those days had long past. It was clear to see, just looking at the little town of Screebsburg. Times were still tough, but what remained of the walls of the "Sentinel" fortress were covered in murals. Paintings of Sporks, of togetherness in hard times. Of beating back the undead after the Impostor Necromancer's relentless shelling.
Each town square had a small memorial to the lives lost in different wars. Monuments to the days when the Sentinel and his allies stood up to a dress-wearing Dark Lord and saved them from a worse ruler. Or the days when The Sentinel beat back a foul dessert once and for all, at great cost to himsef... And others. And even The Sentinel's final act in Old Cystia, sacrificing himself during the War of the 5 Candidates in order to ensure the election of the most wholesome President the struggling nation could ask for... Even if such a presidency was not to be.
To the people of Screebsburg, The Sentinel was a flawed martyr, but Geoffrey knew better. The housing complexes built in disused missile silos and repurposed War Mechs ploughing fields were viewed merely as adaptations to a different, more peaceful time. A Pax Cystia of the kind that Sentinel strived for. But Geoffrey knew that his town would only be drawn into more conflict with this belligerent at the helm. For the old warriors were all the same. Expansionists. Power-hungry immortals chasing glory. But the Sentinel seemed most protective of his people and perhaps the most innocuous in his dangerous eccentricities, so people from all over the island immigrated to areas he controlled.
Without the Sentinel- Or anyone else- Things were finally looking up for Old Cystia. And, at least in Geoffrey's opinion, without his old boss, things were finally looking up for him. Between his job at the Refried Beans factory, and his wife's work making found object jewelry out of bullet casings, cat bones, and gun components that she sold to "socially conscious" New York Dog Moms on etsy, the Bronsons made a cozy living for themselves. They were even thinking of having kids!
Of course, while Old Cystia was almost unrecognizable now, certain things never change. An idyllic village making its way up in the world can never be undisturbed for years and years on end. Not as long as it's Cystia.
News travelled fast across the island when The Tank drove up out of the sea. Covered in seaweed and muck, the hulking mass of metal that crawled up onto the shores of Cystia was barely recognizable as a War Machine of the old times. But there was no mistaking it when it began to trample the newly rebuilt cities like a confused brontosaurus.
The chipped and faded sigil of the old herald was visible on each side, and from its cannon holes came not guns, but loudspeakers. A wavering elderly voice came from the other side.
"Errh... Breaking news everyone!" It would say, grinding an apartment building of trapped and screaming civilians to the ground, "Uhm... JMGSkills... Is still relevant? Right?"
Nobody could believe it. But this was undoubtedly the Newsvessel of the Cys Herald. The Elder Newspaper Publisher. The Ur Periodical. The fateful week had come again, and everyone was unprepared. Especially the Herald. The Cystians prepared their old weapons of war, but the roving fortress was made to be unassailable. If 10 years at the bottom of an ocean full of demons and leftover bioweapons did nothing but corrode the paint, there was truly nothing the Cystians could do to survive the onslaught of news from the Returned Reporter.
The roads and buildings of many coastal cities became paved over with the thick pulp of mass-produced newsletters and pamphlets that the machine printed out underneath it. Major population centers had been decimated in ways unheard of since the bombing.This was when the Screebsburg city council gathered and perhaps, (yes, 15 paragraphs in) when the story portion of our story begins.
"How could this happen!?" the mayor said, visibly rattled. he hadn't dealt with something this apocalyptic in years, and the stress showed on his frazzled mustache, "I thought his ilk all went to the New World after the bombing!"
"To be fair, I hadn't heard any news from him for a long time surrounding the bombing period. Maybe he was simply gone during that time..." Said one of the town council members.
"Where?" Asked the mayor, "Where could he possibly have been!?"
"Erm... At the bottom of the sea, apparently."
The Mayor looked down at his papers with a grave expression, "We've expended most of our Old-world weapon reserves fighting off raiders in the Post-Bombing chaos. Even if weapons could stop this... News Bulwark... I doubt we have the firepower now."
There was a nervous uproar in the crowds gathered in city hall.
"I'm going to petition for Duodenville's help. We'll send a contingent of artillery teams to bombard the machine in the Hot Valley and try to somehow bury it..."
"It was at the bottom of the ocean!" another council member spoke up, "You could bury it under a mountain, and it would be just the same!"
The crowds were getting especially restless now.
"Order! Order! I will have peace in this emergency town hall meeting! Panic gets us nowhere." The mayor said.
The crowd started panicking. He knew he had to think of something, and fast.
"What if... Ehm... Geoffrey Bronson? Is Geoffrey Bronson gathered here with us? I need him to step forward for a few words."
Geoffrey stepped forward with an exasperated sigh. He knew exactly what the mayor was going to ask before he even opened his mouth.
"Geoffrey, you knew... The old leader, better than any of us. He was capable of amazing things. And he left this town to us on good terms. Do you think you could contact him? Is there a way to reach those that have gone to the New World?"
Now what was Geoffrey to do? He knew better than to lie and cause panic, but he certainly didn't want to invite the tyrant back. Could he even stop The Herald? It'd never been tried before. He decided to tell the truth... A slightly discomforting, non-comittal truth. After all, if he didn't find the Sentinel, he couldn't be blamed...
"I don't know how to reach The New World," Geoffrey answered, "But I do know where The Sentinel might be."
That was the end of that discussion. After disclosing The Sentinel's probable location, the looks on everyone's faces told him that he had better be the one to go find him. No one else was stupid enough to wander into the ruins of Gamia.
He was sent off in a truck with a rifle, a Radiation Suit, and a few well wishes. The journey was long and treacherous, but he luckily managed to reach the area without much interference. The irradiated denizens of gamia who still lived only came out under cover of night. At the edge of the scorched wastelands, he came upon a green valley. A place (for now) untouched by toxic radiation, but too small for a proper settlement. Here was a little homestead with a small field full of eerily metallic golden plants. Yes, this was most certainly the place.
He parked his truck at the end of a gravel path. the place was surrounded by cliffs and there wasn't a smooth way down, so he climbed his way into the dell. He very carefully checked the area for traps, but found there were none. This was disturbingly unusual for the man Geoffrey once knew, but he decided not to question it. Maybe bandits had already got caught in them all?
As he trod delicately through the dusty golden bean plants, he heard sounds. Sounds other than his own footsteps. A repettitive creaking from the front porch on the other side of the building. He felt the strangest combination of relief and dread knowing that The Sentinel was home. After all, bean-bandits who come looking for the legendary Golden Frijoles don't sit on the rocking chair.
He also heard the faint noises of an old out-of-tune guitar being experimentally plucked at. And a familiar Scottish-y voice singing over it. It was incredibly odd, he'd never heard the Sentinel use an inside voice before... Especially not outside.
"Early one mornin',
With time ta kill,
I opened my laptop,
and started tae spill
Some words on a page
'ttached to nothin' at all.
I was doin' nothin',
And havin' a ball.
Then there was a penguin,
Who came up to me,
Said 'Here have my trophy,
'Cus you're an OG.'
My games were unpublished,"
His voice faltered,
"My post count was dead.
I hung my head.
I hung my head."
Geoffrey stood absolutely still. He was starting to get the feeling that maybe he'd come at a bad time. He decided to stand where he was and wait for a less awkward time to interject, but when he adjusted his foot for balance, it crunched on a fallen bean sprout. Geoffrey heard the guitar hit the ground and the jingling sound of an M60 belt jostling in its ammo box.
"YOU'D BETTER PUT THOSE FRIJOLES DOWN AND TURN TAIL, YA FUCKIN' SNOT GOBBLER!"
"I DON'T HAVE ANY FRIJOLES!" Geoffrey cried out, "Don't shoot! I, uh... I came to see you!"
There was a moment of tense silence, but the machine gun hit the porch with a loud thud, "Geoffrey?"
"Silas!" Geoffrey said, trying his best to sound as glad to see him as Silas did to see Geoffrey.
"Holy shit, man. I haven't seen you in years! Come on up, I'll pour us some beet juice!"
Geoffrey was confused. Beet juice was another strange offering, but difficult to turn down. He walked up onto the porch, past the instrument and the machine gun, and into the bungalow he'd built. It was a nice place, if a little cramped and dusty.
"Do you have something other than beet juice?" Geoffrey asked, "It worries me when I pee red."
"Oh, haha. Yeah, no worries. I got carrot juice. And plain water, but I dunnae trust the springs around here. They're a bit radioactive."
"Ah. I'll have carrot juice, then."
This was not Silas's usual offering, but... Geoffrey's eyes turned to the sink full of empty liquor bottles, and the dots slowly connected. He noticed that Silas was already standing next to him holding two glasses and he took his juice, trying to come up with something to say that wasn't strange or judgemental.
"Quite a collection you got over there."
"Yep," Silas said, proudly, "I'm quittin' booze! It was really starting to screw up my life. I'm a few months sober now, but... It's still day at a time."
"Oh, that's great! Anya must be really happy about that."
"Oh..." Silas got quiet again, "I, ah... Lost me daughter, in the divorce."
"Whah... But..." There were a million questions Geoffrey had, but he didn't want to put Screebsburg at risk by asking them, "Isn't Anya like... 20something?"
"Yep. She only talks to her stepmum, though." Silas didn't make eye contact, just sipped on his red drink, "But I'm sure yer not here to listen to me bein' a downer! How've you been, Geoffrey?"
Geoffrey was... Disturbed. When Silas addressed him, it had always been something like 'Geoffrey! Bring me a bigger gun!' or, 'Geoffrey, am I supposed to know this retard?' or 'Geoffrey, remind me to kill Barry later.' or, 'Geoffrey, get behind me, they're tearing down the door!' In all 8 years that Silas had annexed his village and Geoffrey had been his personal attendant... Silas had never asked him how he was. It seemed like a little thing, but Silas's genuine expression had Geoffrey baffled. He didn't know how to begin.
"I, er. Got a job at the beans factory," Geoffrey said.
"The beans factory?"
"Yeah, they, uh... They built one. After you, uh... Stepped down."
"Well, that's good to hear. How's business?"
"It's great! It's, uh, real good. The whole town's really built up. And my wife, she's an artist-"
"You have a wife?"
"Oh, yeah, I married my girlfriend."
"You had a girlfriend?"
"Yeah, I met her during that campaign. The one against Oinkman? We were flying that airship all across the island, and... Landed in her village. It's funny, but, uh..." Geoffrey trailed off as he came to a strange realization... If it weren't for this belligerent drunk and his wars, he probably wouldn't have met his wife.
"But what?" Asked Silas.
"Oh, I forgot what I was going to say."
"Heh, well, it's good to hear somebody got something out of all that. I really regret those wars sometimes, but that was the way of the world." Silas shrugged, "It's good to catch up, though! I thought of visitting, but... I thought it'd be awkward. We're all supposed t'be in the New World, but I cannae abandon my frijole farm completely."
"Heh, I figured you wouldn't. It's why I knew to look for you here."
"Lookin' for me? Any particular reason?"
"Well, we were, uh... Looking to restart the CYS Morning Times Gazette Tribune Independent."
"Oh! Well, that's great. You have my blessing."
"What?... Oh, no, I mean, we need you..."
"Ah, I can't return to journalism. I'm a producer now, for a cooking show..."
"Well, that's great to hear, but..." Geoffrey set his glass on the table. He hated the old warlord, but the man sitting across from him was someone much different. Someone he trusted, even though he didn't have a choice.
"Silas, people are in danger."
Silas looked concerned, "What are you asking me, Geoffrey?"
"The Weekly Review came up out of the sea a few weeks ago. Will's trampling everything in his path."
"We tried using the weapons that The Warlords left behind, but... Nothing can stop him. We were hoping you could help us."
"I can't stop Will. The Weekly Review is impenetrable! Have you even tried one of those puzzles that comes in every issue!? I haven't got one right yet! In 2020!"
"You're the only person in history who's won a newspaper war before. We have to try."
"It was a battle for second place!"
"And your opponent planned on overthrowing Will before you defeated him. Why can't you try the same?"
"My opponent was a fool who didn't know his own power."
"If you don't help us, millions of people will die!"
"Millions of people die every day!" The birdman blurted out, throwing his drink to the side. Glass and blood-red liquid scattered over the wall.
"Silas?... What are you saying?"
"Geoffrey... Do you know how I lost everything?" Silas stood up and turned his back on Geoffrey, staring hard through the window.
"I can't say I do."
"I was absorbed in warfare. It permeated every aspect of my life. It all seems so stupid now, but I was so concerned with the well-being of whatever city state I could get ahold of back then, I forgot about the well-being of other things." Silas said, shaking his head, "I was paranoid of everything. Of everyone. Even that neighbor girl down the streets who just sold hats and vandalised property from time to time. She was just a kid."
"Wasn't she a Pudding supporter?"
"Can you imagine how many people would still be alive if I forgave flaws like that?"
"She was a serial killer who actively invited a brain-eating elder god into our city."
"Bad example. We could've lived in peace with Oinkman, though."
"He was put to death by his own people in the end."
"My house was a fortified bunker!" Silas shouted, "I could never be seen in public with my grandchildren, because I didn't want anyone to hurt them!
"My wife," Silas shook his head, pressing his forehead against the cold window to take his mind off what he was feeling, "My ex-wife... Was under public scrutiny every minute of every day. She just wanted to be a superhero, y'know? She didn't need this stupid kingdom bullshit. She needed me. And she put up with so much... And I just... Drank, to fill in for support from a family I was never there for. And now I don't have a fucking family."
"I'm... Sorry. I didn't know..."
"Well, now you do," Silas said, "Is there anything else you wanted to talk about? I think I'm going to turn in early, sleep off a bad mood."
"Look," Geoffrey said, "Many years ago... A VTOL landed in my village, and Penguinite warriors started pouring out with assault rifles."
"Don't remind me."
"All due respect sir, but this story has a point."
"Don't call me sir anymore."
"Silas, if you would actually listen to me for goddamn once. You can say no, just like you're going to, but I can't condemn my people to death without saying I made my case." Geoffrey said.
"... Go on."
"When city hall gathered, people were scared. They all wondered specifically where you were. Nobody seemed to remember the gunmen, the gruelling work hours, the mandatory military service, the war crimes, all those pensive dinners spent with the radio on just in case you declared war on another idiot. I seemed to be the only one. And I remember when I was a teenager trying to earn enough money for bread in this inflated war economy, applying for a job at the capital.
The man who laughed in my face when I told him my name and said, 'HAH! GEOFFREH!? THAT SOUNDS LAHK SUM KINDA OCTOPOOS NAME!' is very different from the man standing in front of me. And I would know. You forced me to be with him every fucking day for 8 years."
Geoffrey's hands were shaking, he'd never told off his boss before. And it was quite a feeling to do so when he'd seen his boss personally kill so many people. And animals. And ghosts.
"Now you can mope all you want, but all I ask," Said Geoffrey, "Is that you help these people you adopted, genuinely help them, for once. Give the history books something good that isn't just your old propaganda."
Silas was silent for a few more moments, neither of them knew how long. It felt like several minutes had passed.
"Do I really sound like that?" Asked Silas.
"I'm just bad at impressions." Geoffrey said.
"Well then, I'll say one thing..." Silas said, standing up straight, "Geoffrey, there's a VTOL in the barn. You remember how to fly those?"
"I think so."
"Then bring the gun on the porch and a clean change of pants. We're going to war."
The sheer amount of references...