They awoke from their tents, knocking the ash off the outer fabric from inside before exiting. An old tradition, even older than the Ashlands. Dust, ash, it was all the same to them. The Nevada deserts hadn't changed much even in the years that followed the was later became known as "The Great Rupture."
Some had thought it was the Christian "Rapture" when the mountain erupted, sending soot and ash far up into the heavens. It was as though hell had finally come to punish man for his wickedness and was forcing it's way through the earth's crust. But this was not the end for those that would survive the eruption, it was only the beginning of new suffering on Earth. It soon became clear to that the end of the world would not happen all at once. It would instead happen slowly, as the world around them died and decayed, so too would they, but that time was not yet upon them. "The Rapture" soon became known as "The Rupture" by those that had the grit to survive this new world.
As the figures emerged from their tents they kicked away the ash that had again settled in front of them. The harsh Nevada desert honestly hadn't changed much. Dust was replaced with Ash and at it hardly altered the appearance of the land. Deserts never changed, nor did the people that lived in them. Donned their wide brimmed hats and dust masks, the men settled in among themselves looking over old maps. Their dust cloaks blowing lightly in the breeze as ash and tumble weeds twirled behind them.
While many in the immediate area of "The Dead" zone had perished, those in the closer areas reverted back to their most basic nature. Raiders appeared almost over night along with other unsavory lifeforms. The early supply trains that formed around the same time were required to hire armed protection to fend off these human leeches, preying upon the weak. Rumors emerged about other "Things" lurking in the darkest areas near the zone.
As they looked over the map carefully, they had to occasionally wipe the falling dust from it. Even this many years after "The Rupture" the "Gray Snow" still fell. Their last convoy had made it to it's destination, earning them a decent payout. One of the few honest jobs left in this hellish new world was protecting folks from many old world threats like bandits and raiders, and God only knew how many knew threats. It seemed the longer time passed, the more things crawled out of "The Dead Zone" looking for someone to inflict their suffering upon.
Rumors had persisted of "Things" that were far from anything natural to this planet roaming the wastes, hunting isolated survivors and small bands of travelers. It was only when a large convoy came upon the remains of a few disemboweled Raiders that the rumors were no longer considered the wild tales of drunkards and washouts.
The men looking over the map knew what was real in these lands. They were among the first to bring in trophies to the larger settlements. Horrid creatures that resembled wolves and mountain lions, somehow twisted into demonic caricatures of their former selves. Life in the desert was always harsh for these men.
"The Rupture" didn't change how they lived, it only upped the stakes. They knew now that they were no longer at the top of the food chain. Everyday knew links were added and it seemed each month Mankind found itself another chain lower. The world was dying though so it made little difference to them. Live, fight, and carry on.
"Here," one of the men pointed to their map. "We will take our supplies and we well head here. We will find answers or death there," his finger resting upon an old weathered map the title read, "Zion National Park." The others nodded in agreement, and gathered their equipment and weapons. "Rupture's Remnants" mounted their horses, checking to ensure the animal's specially crafted dust masks were fastened securely, and headed East.
To those that were not used to it, the falling ash looked looked like snow, but with a grayer tint. The longer you spent around it, the darker the gray seemed to get. It was said being alone in the ash could drive a man insane. It wasn't uncommon to find bodies in the Ashland, their mouth's filled with the "Gray Snow" having run out of water and driven mad thinking they could drink the "snow" to quench their thirst.
The weak died quickly, falling prey to the many predators. Simply existing was a war against death, and in this struggle there were no "non-combatants." You fought the land, you fought the, creatures ,and you fought the other survivors. Everyday was a test of one's willingness to endure.
"Rupture's Remnants" rode slowly, the ash was fine, much like the dust that it now fell upon. Two different burdens of the same making, both were fine like flour and any mild agitation caused them to rise swiftly, mixing with the ash that fell intermittently from the sky.
No one was in a hurry in the Ashland, not to die, or live. Speed caused dust and ash clouds, clouds choked everything that breathed, drying out throats and filling lungs. Dust clouds meant danger and death always followed danger. The only time anything moved at speed was when it was hunting...or being hunted.
They saw it immediately, ash clouds rising just a few hundred feet to their 9 O'clock. "Eyes up, give me a visual now!", the man riding on a pale horse in the front of the column shouted.
"I'm not seeing any fangs or claws...it doesn't look like Ashlings!", called someone from the middle of the formation. Ashlings, creatures, things from beyond the void, many names were given but everyone knew what they were referring to. The horrid abominations that came from the ash. Many believed something...unnatural had caused "The Great Rupture", and whatever it was had twisted the beasts that once lived near it's epicenter.
The Pale Horse rider almost let out a sigh of relief when he heard the first incoming shot, Ashlings didn't need weapons, they WERE weapons. "Raiders!", he announced loudly as more bullets whizzed by, snapping through the air around them. "Ready yourselves men!"
"Rupture's Remnants" quickly dismounted their horses, having the animals lay in the ash. A man's horse was everything, his transportation, his supply train, and on some occasions, his shield. The defenders rested themselves behind their horses using them to both shield oncoming rifle fire, and to steady their own rifles for the return volleys. Dust and ash kicked up around them as bullets impacted and their muzzle blasts disintegrated the "Gray Snow" falling down upon them.
It was easier to take slow aimed shots at moving targets headed straight towards them, than it was for their attackers to take quick shots while on horseback. Raiders usually attacked targets they considered weak and easy prey, though those words didn't have the same meaning in this time as they did in the past. Weak was a word of semantics, as the true weak had long since fled or died out in the Ashlands. There were only varying degrees of strength, and the Raiders chose to hunt those at the bottom of that ladder.
Sometimes they chose poorly, and this was one of those moments. Instead of panicking or attempting to flee, the Remnants stood their ground, planted their feet and fought. This tactic held up against worse creatures than Raiders and it would hold up now. Half of their attackers had fallen before they'd made it within 100 feet. "Retreat! Run, get the hell out of there!" A shaking voice called out from the Raider's failed charge.
Semi autos, Carbines, Lever actions, and bolt actions roared in a language spoken since mankind first discovered gun powder, picking off the enemy. This was the true word of man, and the common language of the Ashlands. And "Rupture's Remnants" were fluent in it.