3. Hounds

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Life was lush. The land produced, people everywhere knew how to plant to get the most out of whatever it is you’re planting, but this soil… there was something special about it. The tomatoes grew in countless varieties, sizes, shapes, colours, mixes of colours. The maize grew taller than anyone you know and then some, in every colour of the spectrum, in all sizes, textures, and preferred uses. Even with trade, and storing, preserving, and sharing, and feasting, and donating, there was still plenty leaving seed in the ground for the next year.

In the Cities, some Hounds hunt and kill vermin. Some Hounds guard something, but who knows what, because they’re intimidating.

Some Hounds herd Bison out of pens and to the field to plough, some Hounds herded Bison from pastures into pens.

Some Hounds keep wild animals away from the fields – the raccoons for the most part. Even though there are those who say that people are descended from raccoons, not simians (have you ever seen a member of the ape family figure out how to open a raccoon-proof garbage can as quickly as a raccoon?).

Some Hounds patrol the frontier for man or beast, but more often come back with weather reports.

Life was lush, until it wasn’t. Or at least, took a turn. For on the frontier, a Handler and her pack of bloodhounds respond to something on the wind. The Hounds howl with distress. Hounds sneeze, paw at their noses. Then it hits the Handler, something caustic on the air. Her eyes water, her breath wheezes, her nose runs, all of it burning. They retreat, wait for the Handler to catch her breath, and make for safety.

The Handler reported the location of the encounter, the effect, and so on to her superior, who sent word up the chain of command in one direction, and a cadre of scouts to investigate the situation in the other.

The Scouts return before word from up the chain, reporting of caustic air that burns through living tissue. The plants, animals, everything falls when exposed to it. The guard disperse, sending word to every corner by every means available to them. Signal fires, balloons, and horse riders. Community to community, they order the evacuation of farms and towns of their people, animals, and head east. Word carried a mass evacuation gets underway. Some Hounds herded the stock during the evacuation, and some Hounds took it upon themselves to herd the evacuation itself. That’s a whole other story.

Winds had changed their fortunes, and the caustic air was dispersed after devastating a wide swath of agricultural land, rendering it inert. The caustic air was traced to its source from a point southeast.

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