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The Separation of Church and State


Oct 2, 2020
I Want Better

Standing at the pulpit of the Monroe church, Gerald Bechet addresses a collection of friends, acquaintances, and curious passersby who heard by word-of-mouth that the man intended to speak out to the people. Lit by the morning sun peering through boarded up windows, Gerald gives the assembly a welcoming smile and begins to speak.

"My brothers and sisters of Monroe. I am Gerald Bechet, longtime citizen of this town. Some of you may know me as a guard, standing watch over our gates against the dangers of the world outside. Some of you may know me as a preacher, rambling on about the human condition and the nature of the soul. Some of you may know me as a chef, and for that I apologize and promise I’ll figure out where I’m goin’ wrong with that gumbo recipe one’a these days. But all, I hope, should know me as a neighbor, living alongside you all, offering my support as I can and sharing in your triumphs and tribulations.

We all come to this town for different reasons. Some for the prospect of work, some for the safety and security of strong walls and stronger men to guard ‘em, some for the freedom to claim your own futures and fortunes. Then there are those who didn’t find Monroe so much as the town found them. Wanderers or outcasts that maybe didn’t know what they were looking for, maybe didn’t know what they needed outta life, until their road brought ‘em here. Whatever the reason, each of us found in Monroe a purpose. A slice of something bigger, something we could be a part of. A home. A community. Even a family. We all saw something in this town worth having.

When I washed up here an age ago, I was a shell of a man. The world outside is a cruel one. Bitter and cold that does not suffer the kind or gentle soul, and generosity is merely a weakness to be exploited. This world is one of suffering and of callousness. We’ve all seen it, we’ve all lived it, and we all have done what we must to survive. I do not mean to shame anyone of these choices, and I am by no means free of sin. It’s just the way of the world, just the times we live in. Hard times breed hard men, and I would sooner have spat on my fellow man than share my water with him. But when my road brought me at last to this town, to these walls, I found my purpose in the form of a question, and it is a question that I now bring to all of you.

Brothers and sisters of Monroe .. what do you want?

What do you want out of life? What do you want out of the world? What do you want .. out of yourselves? When faced with these questions, when looking at myself and everything else on this green earth, I came to a realization. An understanding of myself. An epiphany, if you will. I wanted .. better. I looked at the harsh realities of life outside, at the cruelty and injustice of it all. I looked at how the strong bent the weak to their will, and how one’s survival hinged on the suffering of another. I looked at that and I knew in my soul, in the very bones of me, that I did not want that life. I wanted better. I wanted a world where the weak were not prey to the strong. I wanted a world that cooperated, that helped one another rather than taking advantage of those it could. I wanted better. I wanted a place that was better, a world that was better. I wanted to be .. better than what I was. What I am.

I had thought it no more than a dream. And yet, in Monroe, I found that place. Or, at least, the possibility. Oh, we’ve had our faults and flaws. No man is perfect, after all. We’ve fallen, at times. We’ve made our fair share of missteps. But always, I could see the drive. The earnestness and willingness in striving to be more than what we were. And you know as well as I that it’s been a hell of a time. The road we all walk has not been an easy one. We’ve all struggled and suffered, we’ve fought and bled to keep what we have. For all of my time here, I have whole-heartedly joined in that struggle. I have put my life on the line, just as all of you. Maybe you aren’t packing heat or wearing a uniform, but by living here and standing side-by-side with us you are making a statement all the same. You are all taking a stand to preserve your way of life, and I could not find a more noble cause than that.

But then, we found ourselves in troubled times. Worrying times. We were faced with a threat that none of us were prepared for. Something we could hardly understand. A terrible and unfathomable enemy loomed outside, as if the worst cruelties of our new world had taken form. We’d just suffered heavy losses, and even now I feel we are still reeling from the absence of our former Minister and our former Heads. We were rudderless, directionless. Frightened and confused. In Monroe’s darkest hour, a champion stepped forward and offered us a way out. Miss Chen took the wheel and navigated us into a peace treaty with the Miller family. There were those that had their reservations, but many willingly grasped for this chance at peace and stability. And for months, all was well. Of course, their true nature eventually won through and those that would call themselves men betrayed our trust. Blood was shed in our own homes, no little of it our own, and the Millers that were within our walls were put down. But for a time, there had been peace.

Only .. I ask of you all .. is that what you wanted?

I needn’t speak of the Miller family. There’s no need to go into their misdeeds, because every man, woman, and child I wager is more than well-aware of the atrocities associated with their name. Their reputation speaks volumes as to the quality of their character, and I needn’t discuss it. But I will anyway, because it deserves to be said. The vileness of their deeds cannot and should not be forgotten. It deserves to be addressed with the vehemence it is due. Every crime we have a name for, every sin to blacken the soul, the Millers willfully and gleefully committed. Their guilt is undeniable and their victims are many. The region as a whole has suffered under them, Monroe no less than any other. Lives were lost. Families broken.

And yet, we could have had peace. Crystal Chen’s peace. Just imagine if the Millers had not succumbed to their base desires, and had held their end of the bargain. Is that not something to cheer for? Is that not something amazing? I could see the walls of their embassy in Monroe from the towers of our gates, and for months we were unmolested despite their proximity. If I live to be a hundred years old, I will never understand how our Minister managed to pull off that miracle, as short a miracle as it turned out to be. But a miracle nonetheless. Surely, that can only be a good thing. The worst evil imaginable .. thieves, rapists, torturers, murderers. Right here in Monroe in peace, leaving us alone. We no longer had to fight against it.

Monroe .. is that what you want?

Even in my dream of a world of cooperation, free from the cruelty that plagues the wasteland, I do not see a world without conflict or strife. The evils of man are rooted far too deeply for that, and there will always be those that will take twisted pleasure in preying upon others. A better world does not happen passively simply because we wish for it. We can only make the world better by our actions and by our example. Our peace did not stop the Miller family from slitting the throats of merchant caravans. It did not stop the Miller family from taking slaves to work to death in their fields. It most certainly did not stop their crude blood sacrifices for their sick beliefs. The only thing the peace stopped was us.

We stopped fighting against those actions. We turned a blind eye to every evil the Millers ever committed in the interests of our own safety and well-being. We allowed those people into our walls, not because they were repentant for their crimes or that they planned to turn a new leaf, but because we were weary and hurt and frightened. And in doing so, what did we show to the world? What did we broadcast to the traders who are our lifesblood, to the other factions vying for power in the wastes? What lesson did the bandits who would prey upon innocent travelers learn of our justice and our determination? What message did we send to them? That Monroe is a place of peace for everyone? Or that Monroe will not lift a hand to stop the injustices outside our doorstep?

I know that this peace was a tempting prospect. I know that the possibility of more bloodshed was and still is frightening for all of us. I know that we all have families whose safety we fear for. Even children. I know how much we all wanted an end to the fighting. Lord knows, if I never had to touch my rifle again, it would be too soon. But is this what you all want? Is this peace, this passivity, what you want? Is the prospect of a better world not worth fighting for?

I’m not about to suggest that we become crusaders against all the collective evils of the world. I know a few people who can attest that it’s far too large a place for one community to police, no matter how well funded or prepared. I cannot even say we should be a beacon of unyielding moral superiority, because this world is varying shades of gray and I imagine being a perfect boy scout gets boring after a while if it could even be accomplished. I can only suggest that you all ask yourselves the same question that I do each and every morning. Do you want a better life? A better world? Do you want to be a better person?

If there is one thing I have learned in my years, it is that the most effective way to enact change is by example. Only by choosing to be better can we hope to make this world better. Only by taking a stand for what we believe in, by showing the world our values, can we hope to change the world. I believe that Minister Chen, for all her acumen and savvy, has shown everyone what she is willing to accept. Her platform is of ‘Monroe First’, but her peace with the Millers has shown that to more accurately be ‘Monroe Only’ to the exclusion of any victims that suffered under their hand. It is surely a valid stance. An understandable and reasonable stance.

But I want better.

I still believe in my dream of a better world, and breaking bread with those that have abandoned their humanity like the Miller family is not how it’s done. I believe that we all can take a stand to make that dream a reality, despite the risks involved in standing against injustice rather than kneeling before it. I believe our first step is to elect a Minister who embodies our ideals and has shown the strength of will necessary to fight for those ideals. A Minister who has led by example in both peace and in war, who I have willingly followed into cutthroat trade agreements as well as battlefields. A Minister who has put her safety on the line .. but never her soul.

Brothers and sisters of Monroe, I believe in Terry Winters."


Oct 2, 2020
The Real Terry Winters

A small crowd gathers in the park just after mid-day. Though bundled against the cold, they shift restlessly in place to warm themselves, but show no signs of wanting to flee to the warmer indoors. Word has spread of another speech, and curiosity and interest outweigh the slight discomfort of the season. The townsfolk do not have long to wait, as Gerald approaches and greets them, some individually, before taking a place at the front of the pack with the reflecting pond behind him.

"Afternoon, neighbors.

A pleasure to see you all, and I thank you for gifting me your time. I know the air’s got a chill to it, so I’ll do us all a kindness and make this brief. I’ve talked before about how I wanted more for Monroe, and I’m sure some of you are surprised that I would name Miss Winters as my choice for Minister. I can see you saying to yourselves, just as I might’ve once done, how could she be the best candidate for the job? Is this not the same quiet-as-a-mouse girl we’re talking about? A wallflower with a blush redder than her hair half the time?

Heh, well. Let me tell you all about the real Terry Winters. As simple as I can put it, the real Terry Winters is the determination of the human spirit made manifest. Now, before you go rolling your eyes about old Gerald exaggerating and getting poetical, let me say that most of what you might think likely holds true.

She is absolutely a modest woman who would as soon embrace the spotlight as she would a rabid dog. Nobody would deny a statement like that, least of all herself. And yet, she's stood before you all time and again, speaking earnestly of her campaign and how she can bring Monroe a brighter future by her own hand. Her voice is even now being broadcast across the Barrens from a debate only she thought fit to attend. She’s approached the traders, personally speaking with all of them of their concerns so as to put those fears to rest and bring them back into our depot. She’s reached out even further, to far-flung factions watching our political proceedings with baited breath, to address their uncertainty and pave the way for strong bonds of peace.

She’ll never be accused of being a thrill-seeker and the thought of combat is as appealing to her as it would be to any of us; that is to say, not at all. And yet, I have witnessed with my own two eyes as she charged into battle against degenerates wielding all manner of firearms, so as to rescue the less fortunate. I’ve seen her stand firm against unholy abominations that haunt my nightmares to this very day, holding her ground in defense of her comrades. She has shed blood, no small amount of that her own, to protect this town and those who live within it. There are few who have given up as much as she, and none so freely or without regret.

Is she fearless? Heavens, no. A battlefield is rightly terrifying to all but the lack-witted, and Terry’s sharp enough to know the stakes and treat combat with the grim respect it deserves. Politics is its own battlefield, and I can attest she puts no less effort into her preparations for public speaking. What, then, drives a woman to fight with one hand metaphorically tied behind her back?

Determination. She is, without a doubt in my mind, the most determined individual I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Her nature is not inherently in politics or conflict; it is in the willingness to act. She will not stand idly by when it is in her power to change things for the better. Others may stay passive or silent, but never Terry Winters. It is a perseverance and ambition that can move mountains and it is far and away the most important quality for our future Minister to hold.

I’ll offer you all an example. It was not long ago that I was patrolling the roads and I came across a trade wagon being robbed at gunpoint. Three bandits hardly more than spitting distance away from our town, moments away from murdering a man for the cheese in his cart. I’m ashamed to say this wasn’t even the first time I’ve seen their ilk emboldened by the treatment of the Millers and looking for easy pickings in our territory. Well, with some persuasion from my rifle, the bandits saw fit to find somewhere else to hassle, and the trader was free to continue on his way.

His way, I learned in passing as the man left, led him off to Pittsford. Not to Monroe, despite being so close to our gates. Miss Winters got wind of the whole affair and reached out to this trader. She learned the man was part of the Amish Nation, whose people had suffered mightily at the hands of a group I need not even name. Again, it was the Millers that committed such atrocities that even the peaceful Amish people were seeking justice against their wickedness. She met directly with Amish leaders for them to air their grievances, to listen to and acknowledge their concerns and work together to plan for a mutually beneficial future. It is thanks to Terry Winters that our damaged reputation with our neighbors is being mended, and new avenues for trade are being opened. Foods, tools, artisanal goods that would be otherwise unavailable to us, now within reach. She did not do this for her campaign; thanks to our talks the Amish Nation will now reach out in trade regardless of who our Minister is. This has never been for her own benefit. She merely saw a means to strengthen our town, and she put in the work to see it done.

I’ll give you another example. Surely, some of you remember Kaari, the bright medical mind with .. shall we say, a few quirks. When she first came to us, she haunted the clinic for months because she was still recovering from having been beaten to within an inch of her life by the Millers. Even after she’d healed though, she hardly left those walls and used her vast .. sometimes disturbingly so .. array of medical knowledge to save lives as she herself was saved. Some of you are still walking this earth in part by her efforts. There came a point where the girl realized that our stores of medicines would not be enough, that every injury was draining us dry, and even a shallow cut can turn into a life-threatening infection without the benefit of antibiotics and the like. Kaari approached Miss Chen with a proposal: if she had access to a laboratory, she might be able to re-create the complicated process of producing medicines. Miss Chen’s response to this was that if and only if Kaari could provide results beforehand, with nothing in the way of investment, would she funnel resources into a lab.

Heh, the girl was somewhat annoyed at the time. If I recall correctly, the way she put it was she was supposed to hand over a fish before they’d give her a rod or net.

Now, when Terry got wind of this venture, the response was like night and day. Miss Winters donated her time, her resources .. even offered the use of her house if need be. She’d personally collected all sort of lab equipment, beakers and tubes and things I can’t even begin to understand what all they’re used for. With her help and her help alone, that lab got built and those medicines got developed. Terry saw something that she could do to help, something that needed to get done, and she made it happen.

Of course, immediately after that happened, the Millers walked through our gates. The same people to have brutally tortured and abused this poor girl, now mere meters from her doorstep. It’s little wonder Kaari could no longer feel safe in these walls. Couldn’t sleep knowing monsters capable of that kind of cruelty were welcomed in Monroe. Like many who had suffered at the hands of the Miller family, she’d felt betrayed by this alliance. And like many whose voices went unheard, she left. Our town is poorer for every loss we suffered from that treaty. But those trusts that were damaged can yet be repaired.

Again, Terry saw something that she could do. She saw that our town needed help. She saw that she had the power to change things for the better. And that, my friends, is why she stood up. That is why she is running for Minister of Monroe, and why I will proudly vote for her. Because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will do everything in her power and more for the benefit of this town and its people. Because that is who she is. That is the real Terry Winters."


Oct 2, 2020
Back to the Future

The sun has long since set, but the town is far from sleeping. The bar is abuzz with activity, packed almost beyond capacity; friendly conversations and engaging debates. The upcoming elections are on the tips of everyone's tongues, but none more-so than Gerald Bechet, who commands the attention of the gathered masses from the moment he steps foot inside the weathered door. He accepts a glass from the bartender; a Zedd vintage, one of his finest. Simply the smell is enough to curl the hairs in his nose. The din within increases as the people turn to face him; men and women from earlier speeches moved to action as well as new faces drawn by the tales of past audiences. Gerald has no need to stand atop a seat to make himself seen, his impressive height takes care of that, but he waves the others into silence before he begins to speak.

"All right, all right. Settle down, now. This is a bar, not a disco. No need to get all loud and rowdy. That’s my job.

That’s right, friends. I’m here this evening to talk to you about politics. Don’t go throwing any bottles my way just yet, though. I’m not here to wax philosophical about good and evil, and I’m not gonna debate the intricacies of foreign affairs. I reckon there’s not enough shine behind the counter to make that fun to listen to. No, I’ve got something a little more practical in mind for you folks. What I got in mind is to talk about the future.

Now, I chose the bar as my venue for two reasons. First off, I knew I’d look better if you all had some drinks in you. Second, I knew this was the place to find the finest folk with the strongest work ethic the Barrens has ever seen. Right here in this pub, the men and women who built Monroe take their well-earned rest after an honest day’s work. Don’t you sell yourselves short for a moment, building our town up from the foundations took a grit and determination that’s in all too short a supply in the world these days. These walls, these homes, the fields that feed us, and the utilities that comfort us; none of it would have been possible if not for the strength in our arms and our hearts. We did this, Monroe. We made this town what it is today. Each and every one of you should be raising your glass for that achievement.

So, I come before you this night to ask .. what next? The walls are strong. We’ve a roof over our heads. Food from the fields, water from the well. Are we content to rest on our laurels? Or does the ambition that built this town still burn in our chests? Still drive us on to bigger and better things?

That’s right, brothers and sisters, I am asking about the future. Where do we go from here? By what manner do we progress our town such that it is not just surviving comfortably, but thriving in prosperity? I cannot be the only one who wants to build a legacy, to set the foundation that will guarantee not only our future but our children’s future. Well, Terry Winters was not content with simply asking about the future. She is not one to sit still and wonder. She is a Monrovian, like each and every one of you, and within her burns that same ambition that built this town. She found an answer.

The answer, as is with all things, comes down to resources. The world is not what it was. It is smaller, more localized. We cannot rely on global markets to provide for our needs, and the same can be said of our neighbors. Scarcity of resources drives our trade. It drives our industry. It drives our options or lack thereof. Iron. Copper. Platinum. Titanium. Silver. Gold. The natural resources of the land are not distributed equally, and those with the means and ambition to harvest those resources will find themselves in a position of power.

To the east of our gates lies a system of caves. Some of you may recall we once had trouble of the monster variety within those caves. Those pests are long since cleared out, but it is what they left behind that Miss Winters took note of, and should be of interest to all of us. Within that cave system lies near-untapped veins of ore, simply waiting for those with the will to free them from the rock. My friends, Miss Winters knows just as well as I do that you are not afraid of an honest day’s work. We know that the sweat of your brow is worth its weight in gold. In those caves, Terry saw a fortune that would provide for Monroe’s needs and launch us to a prominence within the Barrens that few could dare dream to match. The wealth in that stone would make us the envy of our neighbors and the promised land for settlers, craftsmen, and traders alike.

Already, Miss Winters has reached out to an expert in the craft, a man who has set up camp within those caves in which several of our citizens even now live and learn the trade. Miss Winters has gone even further, hunting down and exploring the abandoned mines to the north, and establishing a plan for their restoration. As if that was not enough, she has already sought out partners capable of working the raw materials into trade goods of even more value. She has set down the foundations of a tangible future for all of us. Monroe, this is no proverbial gold mine we are sitting on. This is the real deal, an opportunity set in stone to provide for ourselves and our families.

All we need is you. Your vote would allow for Miss Winters as Minister to put into play her designs for a more prosperous Monroe, and your support as the strongest and most talented workforce would ensure its success. My fellow citizens, we have built this city up with our own two hands. Now it is time to dig in, in every sense of the word, and carve our future into the very rock beneath our feet such that the name Monroe will live on for generations to come.

Friends, I invite you to lift up your cups in toast. To the future! And to Terry Winters!"


Oct 2, 2020
Of Monsters and Men

The people of Monroe gather once more in their humble church, packing side-by-side on wooden pews. There are more than the morning previous, so much so that there hardly seems room. They watch and wait with little more than an occasional cough and whispered murmur, their eyes affixed on the former Reverend before them. He looks troubled this morning. Weary. As if every one of his years was settling upon his shoulders.

"It’s good to see you, brothers and sisters. Good to see that you’ve got some interest in the town’s political future, that you want to get to know your candidates and make an informed decision. Or maybe you’re just eager to watch an old man talk in circles for a spell. Either way, I thank you all for joining me here in the chapel this morning. Hope you all had a peaceful night. Mine was .. less so. It brings me all to a topic that weighs heavy on me this time around, and I figured this here’s the right place to address it.

This chapel. It ain’t much, but it’s God’s house. Not that religion’s quite as clear as it might’ve once been. Scripture didn’t mention the dead rising quite this way, and civilization slipping has caused the wickedness of men to rise much the same. It’s hard to hold to faith when life keeps bringing you down into the mud, time and again. Hell, I wore the collar at one point and even I got some words for the Almighty if ever we meet.

That said, there’s .. value in faith. Maybe not so much in the creeds and doctrine; I certainly ain’t gonna start debating Immaculate Conception or what have you. But faith itself is important. Faith in something greater than ourselves, something that maybe we can’t explain though try as we might. I’d like to think that faith in God helps us to more readily understand and put our faith in other concepts that defy our attempts to measure or label them.

Honor. Duty. Justice. Kindness. Courage. Friendship. Mercy. Everything beyond the physical that makes us who we are. Our soul. You can’t touch these words. You can’t hold them in your hand. They are intangible, they live solely within us. Any meaning we ascribe to them is ours and ours alone. No two people will have precisely the same sense of honor, or agree on every aspect of justice. The best we can do is try to understand the viewpoints of those around us, try to come to an agreement, and try to teach our children our own values and hope something sticks. That’s what being a society is all about. Our shared belief, our faith in these imaginary notions, holds us together as a people.

I see some confused looks out there. You all came here for a talk on politics, and yet you’re getting a sermon on the soul and faith in God. Well, you all should’ve expected that kinda thing sitting on a pew as you are, but I just had to get all that out there to focus on the real topic. You see, Monroe, I want to talk to you all this morning about monsters.

The supernatural might’ve been the domain of the crackpots and the schizophrenics at one point, but that day’s long passed. Now, I don’t know whether the rules changed or maybe the science of our time just never knew those rules as well as we might’ve figured, but the natural order ain’t what we thought it was. The dead wander about in hordes. Unseen specters play tricks on our minds. Horrible monsters roam the land. Some of the more fanciful passages in the Bible are feeling much more relatable these days.

We know this more than most, Monroe. We’ve dealt with more than our fair share of the supernatural, things that defy explanation. And more than a few times, our lack of understanding has cost us in blood. There’s beasts out there whose very existence we do not comprehend, and a battlefield is a bloody time to learn what it’s capable of. When Minister Chen sent out that letter first informing the town of the treaty with the Millers she signed, there was one line on it in particular that caught my eye. She said that we could benefit from knowledge about the monsters out there. To that statement, I wholeheartedly agree. However, she clarified that statement by saying we would be learning from and with the Millers. That, my friends, was much less agreeable. Let me explain.

I participated in the assault upon the Millers’ headquarters, as did Miss Winters. We went there with the intention of putting down monsters. The human kind, that is to say. Those that would prey upon their fellow man. Those that would pillage, enslave, rape, torture, and kill innocent people and would sleep well with the knowledge of their cruelty and crimes. We knew of their reputation as cultists that engaged in barbaric human sacrifice. We knew they deserved to be called monsters rather than men. But it became inescapably clear that night just how fitting the word was.

You’ve all seen the photos. You’ve heard the stories. Well, I lived those stories. I need no photos, because I can see the images every time I close my eyes. I faced the Millers in their own chapel, the unhallowed ground on which they were burning captives alive in their heinous ceremonies. I was as close to them as you stand to me now when they began to change. When their limbs swelled and their skin burst open like the skin of a sausage overfilled, and their faces became amorphous masses of flesh and fangs. To my shame, a single strike tossed me aside like I was little more than a crumpled wad of paper. I spent a goodly portion of those few minutes of hell just trying to breathe. I watched them treat gunfire as if it were the sting of a wasp. Watched them devour a man whole as his comrades fought in vain to free him.

Apologies .. I do .. uh, I thank you all for giving me a moment to collect myself. When the disease, this Oculurubrus disease, first struck .. my faith in God did not survive. At least, not as it was. It was shaken. Even shattered. I will admit to you all, that the night of the assault on the Miller headquarters .. when I came across that thing that only moments ago was once a man .. that was the first night in a great many years that I prayed. I begged God to see me through the night. If I’d not had the support of Miss Winters and the other brave men and women that put their lives on the line to end the Miller’s threat that night, I would not be standing here in front of you today.

My friends, there are threats in this world that we are unprepared to face. Like the maps of old marking the unknown dangers of the uncharted corners of the seas, I say to you ‘here be monsters’. And we absolutely need to understand them if we wish to survive in this new world. However, I cannot stress this enough. We must NOT become them. We must not lose who we are. We must not lose our soul.

Miss Chen was well aware that the Miller Family had knowledge of the monsters. She said it from her own pen and her own mouth that it was a founding reason for the treaty. I know she did not sign this treaty within our walls, though I could not say if the treaty was forged in the Miller’s grisly estate or elsewhere. I do not know if she bore witness to their blood altar or their slave camp; a camp that held even more horrifying a connotation with the realization of who they must have been sacrificing. I do not know if Miss Chen realized that the Millers had abandoned their humanity in a truly physical way beyond just their crimes against humanity. And yet, it was no secret that these people were cultists with dangerous beliefs. Our Minister is an intelligent woman. Was there really no hesitation? Was there no suspicion that the information this cult held may have come with a price too great to bear?

We need to know what’s out there, but we need to do it without losing ourselves. You all may be familiar now with one of our more recent threats. Might have heard some rumors from the few traders still willing to grace our town. At least, the few that survive. There’s beasts out there that are called dogmen. Ugly brutes that like to catch caravans unaware. Well, Miss Winters caught wind of the rumors; a nearby outpost known as Haven’s Point was being harassed by these dogmen things. Those of you who’ve heard some of my earlier talks may be able to guess what came next. Naturally, she started investigating. Started looking into the rumors. She’s not the kind of person to let a threat to this town go ignored.

Well, she and I ran into these beasts, and I can tell you they are every bit as dangerous as the rumors say and more-so. We came out of that scuffle in a rough way, and it was clear as day we needed to stack the deck in our favor if we wanted to end this threat for good. We needed to know what we were dealing with. We needed information.

You all are familiar with the folks that call themselves the Crows, right? Our town’s had more than a few dealings with them in the past. They’re the sort that embraced the wilds when the grids went down. Living rough and off the land. An odd folk, but good neighbors that mostly keep to themselves. They’ve even come to our aid on more than one occasion. Well, as it turns out, their lifestyle choices give them some unique experiences when it comes to the monsters of the Barrens, including our new pests. Seeing as how they don’t much care for walls like the rest of us, I imagine they’d have to learn something about how to survive without them. Miss Winters met with the Crows to learn what they knew of the dogmen. Their strengths and their weaknesses. Thanks to that, our next encounter went far smoother and we are one step closer to removing the problem for good. Imagine that. A source of information that we were already friendly with. People with the knowledge we needed that were not the worst scum imaginable. We now have weapons effective against the dogmen that would dare to hunt our people, and we can finally make our roads safe once again.

Safety. That word holds particular weight to me. Because while I’ve talked at length about fighting monsters, that in truth is only half the story. What I’m going to tell you now rubs me the wrong way, but it needs to be said and I need to be clear. Some monsters might not necessarily need to be destroyed. There are things out there that are ugly, hideous, vile looking things. Things that might have crawled out of a nightmare. Things like the monster in the eastern woods. Many of you might’ve heard an old wives’ tale about it. Knew a guy who knew a guy who claims he saw it. Maybe even caught a glimpse yourself once of something out there at night moving the treetops.

Our town has only a couple of real, substantial encounters with that thing, one of them being the abduction of Toby, one of our woodsmen. I mourned for Toby. He was a good man. But the blame for his death does not land squarely on the hooves of the monster out there. It was a misunderstanding. A failure to communicate. I do know these words seem a stretch, but I have personally encountered that forest monster on multiple occasions. It is terrifying and Lord is it dangerous. But it hasn’t tried to murder me, and God knows I have experience with monsters that have tried that. Near as I can tell, it just wants to be left alone. Mind its own business. As neighbors go, well, I’ve had worse.

But what does all of that mean, brothers and sisters? The existence of monsters, ambivalent or aggressive? Simply put, it means we live in a world that we don’t know nearly enough about. If we’re to find our place, we need to understand what’s out there. Miss Winters has already approached me and others about our experiences with the creature dwelling within our forest. She’s already investigating it, driven to know more, to prepare for what we might face be it friend or foe. She’s already taking steps to protect us from threats, both mundane and supernatural alike, and she’s doing so without losing who she is. Make no mistake; monsters are here, whether you choose to believe in them or not. They won’t go away just because we close our eyes and wish it were so. But it is our belief in ourselves, our faith in each other, that will carry us through.

In my speech yesterday, my very first at this pulpit, I proclaimed to you all that I believe in Terry Winters. I chose those words because I feel she embodies the ideals that give Monroe its soul. She stands for those intangible bonds between us; the honor and courage and mercy that makes us human. I have witnessed those traits in her time and time again, a shining beacon in the face of darkness and adversity, and I hope to see her carry our ideals to a position of leadership that has felt lacking of that humanity for too long.

Brothers and sisters of Monroe, it is my great pleasure to say once more, I believe in Terry Winters."