The first few days were mostly normal beside the rush for the grocery stores and the hushed talk of fear and the growing ash cloud out west. Everyone for the most part showed up for work still, they kept calling me to come in and even threatened to fire me. I knew that none of this mattered anymore, and that I was working on borrowed time. By now most of my core group was on the same page, we were all into prepping, we just didn't do well in keeping supplies on hand, Nor did our plans ever account for the ash, something we would pay dearly for. Coordinating supplies to one location became my life in the few days before the great storm. We had a few places to choose from to set up shop, but in our rush, fear always biting at our heels we settled on the Isanti area with plenty of groundwater wells and wood and far from most people. We all pooled funds together to try and fill in the gaps in our supply, mostly food and water. Someone had the brilliant idea to go to those paycheck forwarding places to get extra cash while they were still operating, unfortunately cash was quickly becoming useless, hyper inflation hit about a week in, water went from 2-3$ a case to about 200-300$ in 6 days.
One thing we had plenty of was guns and ammo, with about 60 Ak's of various types, and about 100 NATO chambered rifles and a smattering of hunting and civilian guns, not including handguns. Most of us had a few hundred to a few thousand rounds on hand, one of the group had spent the last few years reloading 5.56 and .308, I had help him prep cases sometimes, we would do 2-3k in a sitting. It took a while to catalog everything but we were sitting on about 387,000 rounds of various types. Someone had the ingenious idea to buy a bunch of G3 lowers when they were cheap, with a few modifications we had 5 converted hk type rifles with bi pods for interim LMG's. The reports said the ash storm was fast approaching, you could see the dark storm on the horizon. That's when the exodus started, hell knows no better name. 2 weeks after the eruption, the first ash started to fall, lightly at first. The exodus from the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs was some of the most violence anyone had seen, but nothing compaired to what we would see after the storm. Up untill that point both federal and local government was still trying to exist, both the national guard and police from all agencies. They suffered about a 40% desertion rate outright, hard to belive in duty when you have a family to worry about. More would bail as the storm approched, taking all that wasn't nailed down. I know the guard stayed at camp ripley, even after the storm, but now all you hear now is the stories of horrors and of the twisted men that reside around there.
There were really rudimentary maps of ash fall being distributed both on what was left of the internet and over the few tv stations that were still running. The overall plan everyone who wasn't staying was head east, by any means necessary. Every road was clogged, by buses, cars, bikes of all kinds, tractors, semis with trailers full of people, atv's, and even some homemade contraptions. I saw a family heading north with sort of flatbed bicycle, with very little in terms of supplies or weapons strapped down. The gas was gone in hours, food and water had long disappeared before that. trash and cars strewn everywhere for miles, bodies left to rot on the sides of the road in yards and ruined cars. I heard stories of the column slowly lurching east, the screams of rapes, murder, and the sick and the dying were deafening. I was told it was like watching the physical embodiment of the four horseman riding, consuming all it touched, with dark ominous clouds growing in the sky behind it. Thankfully I only saw few of these wretched people fleeing the storm, traded with some, even took a doctor and his family in. We spent the days digging and firming up shelters for the ash, more family and friends of the group slowly streamed in, we were about 60 strong when the storm finally hit. I remember as the storm was coming in, the wind screaming still burning ash creating a red halo around the sun, lighting strikes deafeningly loud. Some as they looked out waiting with hope and fear for the last of their family to show up before the storm hit in earnest. We called it and battened down for the storm. That moment, before closing the cellar door was the last view I had of a normal world, of green grass and living trees. Soon replaced with a grey ashen hell, our new home.
The first years were soul crushing. I lost many friends, and family. both to the ash, and to the human condition, the violence that occurred during those years I hope never will be repeated in our existence. My hands are far from clean, the blood of both guilty and innocent stain my hands a dull ashen grey, my soul filled with the blood of countless men, women and children. With 60+ folk, we had nowhere near enough supplies for the year, let alone the first few months of the ash storms. The only thing we had going for us is pure, raw firepower and violence. It started as scavenging and looting, then to stealing, then to raiding, then to outright war. You would think having less than 5,000 people in 100 mile radius could hardly be a war, especially given how small some of the groups were, but trust me, the savagery of starving, scared, and hurting humans have no bounds.
Eventually we lost our little fort, the land we worked so hard to clear. Some of the other groups banded together to get rid of us, then each other. It was the price for our sins. Only a handful of us made it out. we moved south, with nothing to lose, we escaped with our raid vehicles, mostly trucks and SUV's heavily modded for the ash covered wasteland. Lifted trucks, with large tires, armor welded in. No need to go fast, that only kicked up dust to warn potential prey, it also kept the huge modified air filters clean. We kept running off of what we raided as we rolled. A dull grey army of masked specters. At one point we hit a military museum with a sizable collection of arms, surprisingly most were in functional conditions, with only a few requiring real work to reactivate. Our trucks were outfitted with mg34's, maxim guns, 1919's and even one 60mm mortar. A real clusterfuck of belt-feds, and heavy weapons.
Angry, filled with grief of our lost love ones and our home, we raided all the way down 65. Fat on our loot it didn't bother us that the closer we got to the large cities, the less people we encountered, it got so quiet. Seeing the sky scrapers standing out against the dark grey skies was like rolling up on a huge crypt, silent and dead. The ash here had hardly been disturbed. We made our way past The endless suburbs, most the buildings collapsed, cars filled with the dead. It was almost unrecognizable. We hopped over to 94, hoping to skip the winding and thin suburb roads. The ash had plied up here sometimes a meter or more. We saw our first "people" in Minneapolis, we almost didn't see them, they blended into the grey. They just stopped and stared as we passed, we only saw one or three at a time. We hit a roadblock on the 94 interchange, long abandoned, or so we thought. As we turned to get onto 55 they leaped out of the ash and started to charge the vehicles. They had knives, clubs, bows, and only a few firearms. They charged us without fear, and we cut them down.
Someone had the idea to set up in the old Fort Snelling, problem was it was occupied by ash wraiths as they would be come to be known. We thought these were no different than the feral ones we took out on 94. We dismounted and waited till dark, it was always unsettling how it could get darker than it was during the day. It was easy to breach the walls of the fort without drawing attention to us we hit them hard and fast, clearing most the fort with little resistance, these ones had firearms mostly bolt guns with shotguns scattered in. We only lost 3 people and was feeling pretty smart about our raid going off so successfully, that is until we got to the powder store. Inside we found children.
That changed us. Knowing what we just did, killed so many, destroyed countless lives on the road. We took stock of the fort. Some of the buildings roofs had collapsed, and most of the standing structures weren't in very good condition either. It would take a lot of work to make that place really home. Soon we saw boats on the river going back and forth, small and large. We headed down to the launch and tried to trade with some of the passing ships, that's when we first heard of the Dakota Territory Defense Force and the Great Lakes Coalition, these were traders going down south to trade with some of the other factions. One thing lead to another and we became the the major trade hub for the river. Some have come and tried to take this from us, but we never gave them an inch.
We have ashlanders and scavs coming in from out west to trade what they find, and people from out east making treks into the ashlands, and people from down south to trade from Texas. It gives me hope for our future, and I can only hope the life we bring to this place can outweigh the death and destruction we brought.