Things go about as well as could be hoped. The greenskins look confused, both by your offering and their sudden freedom, but seem to get the idea that you want them to take the food and go back where they came from.
Their confusion grows as you begin following them out, but they make no attempts to lose you. That said, they don’t take any measures to make it particularly easy for you to follow them, abruptly turning down corridors, descending hatches, and climbing access ladders without waiting or signaling.
You follow them for perhaps twelve hours before the tunnel they are leading you down opens up into a huge chamber. They climb down into it, vanishing from view. When you reach the edge, you get a full view of the chamber. The room stretches out beyond the reach of your light source, with no corners or far wall to be seen. Below is a thick haze of white fog, drifting gently and obscuring how deep the chamber is. The ceiling is only a few yards above the top of the tunnel and is covered in a network of copper pipes and conduits. Here and there, pipes and tubes of various sizes dip down into the fog. From your vantage point, you can see that the greenskins are climbing down by clinging to a vine-like growth of pale blue crystal that covers the walls in patches. More of the crystalline growth can be seen encrusting the pipes and conduits in places.
Climbing down after the warriors does not prove difficult. The viney growth proves solid hand and footholds. As you descend down into the mist, you find you can only see clearly for four or five yards before your surroundings start fading into ghost-like obscurity. The mist itself is slightly warm and carries a faint odor that is both sweet and sour, something akin to rotting fruit.
You reach the floor of the chamber fairly quickly, only about ten yards below the lip of the tunnel. Around you in the fog, you see more forms of crystalline growths, ranging in size from more of the vine-like growth covering the floor to a height of a few inches to spikey bushes several feet high to towering spires that disappear into the mist overhead.
Before we leave, I give some quick instructions to the villagers. I try to get them organized so that, if they are attacked while we are gone, they don’t all die horribly.
But I’m not too worried. If another group of raiders sets out to attack the villagers, they’ll probably encounter us on their way. And the forces of the Machine haven’t been attacking much lately.
As we set out, I call upon the power of my Stone to memorize our route perfectly.
I commit the situation of villagers to memory too, because I figure I might as well.
While Nyklis organizes the villagers, Heissa collects enough food for the group and more for a potential peace offering to the greenskins. Or for a longer journey, as she has no idea where the greenskins came from.
Diemut kept quite throughout the interrogation, not knowing how she could, assuming she could help at all. She mostly just helped try to repair the damage done by the invaders and assist the wounded when someone told her how.
But when the others decided to let the greenskins go and follow them? That was something Diemut knew how to handle. She smiled as a familiar thrill, one she hadn’t really felt since Uncle Sigmund died, washed over her.
“Hey, don’t you guys leave without me. In case you forgot, I’m nearly as good as Rolf at this. Plus I can see in the dark.” Diemut said smugly. She was useful, darnit! They weren’t cutting her out of this adventure, especially if could lead to something new/cool/good/useful!
After all, if they have a different language, stands to reason they have different other stuff. A new approach might give the Tribe an edge…
Through the thick mist, Nyklis manages to make out more than the forms of the crystalline foliage. Ahead, the greenskins have stopped walking and have ducked behind some of the crystal spires, but they are not all. Human shapes crouch behind the bushes and the towering spires. They seem ghostly in the fog, but not so indistinct that the shapes of weapons cannot be made out. They flank you on both sides, an even dozen. The others seem to see none of this.
“Hey what gives? Where’d they go?” said Diemut as the last of the greenskins vanished from her sight. Typical, the first time my skills are needed I chock. Unless…
Holding still for a second, Diemut concentrates inward, towards the stone that once adorned her Uncle’s forehead. Beyond the stone itself, she sought the spirit within. And then she relived the trek again.
Drawing upon the power within, Diemut’s eyes flashed open. With the sympathy of visual concealment from the element of Smoke, she stood a better chance of seeing with the fog. Which is good enough for Diemut to spot most of those hiding as well.
Less because of the greenskins stopping and more because of her companions’ reactions, Heissa interrupts her wandering thoughts about tunnel people cuisine and attempts to sense what Diemut and Nyklis are concerned about. Reminded of her relatively poor vision, she calls upon the power of the elemental she has dominated to try and see without her eyes and feel the movements of the air around her.
She also staunches the sudden and inappropriate urge to whistles jauntily.
Outnumbered and outflanked? Boy did we mess up. Diemut’s mind is racing, trying to find a way out of this ambush without losing one of her fellows. Or at least by some time for someone to come up with a better plan. This like back in the village, I can’t just…
Her eyes widen and a grin grew upon her face. It’s crazy, but why not? Raising one hand above her head and lowering Sigmund’s Legacy in the other, Diemut turned toward the group with Grok. “Sorry. Sorry about the attack. We had to defend our people. Accident, not wanting to hurt you. We followed you so we could trade. Sorry. We trade, yes? Heissa, can you help me out here?” said Diemut, turning her head slightly so she could see her fellow Stonebearer out of the corner of her eye.
While not entirely sure what her companion is getting at, Heissa repeats Diemut’s words but in Old Realm hoping something gets through. More so, she clasps her hands together in front of her chest in an emphatic gesture of sincerity as she tries to communicate a sense of trust and affection. More than her words, he hopes the totality of her performance —the tone of her voice, her body language, and the power of her binding stone— will evoke sympathy among the greenskins.
Nyklis just stands there quietly, holding his weapon.
He trusts that his companions will handle this as well as or better than he could.
The greenskins break from cover and charge, screaming “WAAAAAGH!” at the top of their lungs.
Still not entirely sure what’s going down, Heissa raises one hand to the attackers and yells for them to stop. As they advance, Heissa sighs sadly as it’s obvious to her that peacemaking has failed. On the end of her sigh, he lets loose a blast of steam from her palm at the closest attacker. She thinks to herself, “Hopeful this will make them think twice about their violence.”
How irritating. These people seem to understand nothing except mindless violence.
Fortunately, a Stonebearer like myself can handle that sort of thing. But it’s still very irritating.
I look at the onrushing horde, searching for a leader of some kind. If I find one, I head his way.
I’m in no particular hurry; it’s best to take these things slowly and calmly. So I don’t rush forwards. I just walk over with my guard up, hop up onto one of the crystalline growths for a height advantage, and crack the most leader-like barbarian within reach over the head with my club.
“Oh, blight!” exclaimed Diemut. Really? Not even hesitation. Gritting her teeth, she prepared to meet the challenge before her.
Taking a defensive position between her comrades, Diemut raised her Uncle’s weapon and leveled it against the charge. As the enemy approached Diemut shifted and lunged forward, swinging the spear in a slashing motion diagionally.
“You should have negotiated.”
Heissa’s steam bolt flash-cooks the head of one of the attacking greenskins, killing him instantly. Nyklis finds himself sparing with a scarred greenskin warrior with broad spiraling tattoos instead of war-paint. His swing barely slips past the leader’s guard, rapping his opponent across the cheek and leaving a nasty bruise, but the fog around the greenskin suddenly heats to scalding, leaving him with a painful burn.
Diemut disembowels a warrior as the greenskins charge, but the group is quickly surrounded. The greenskins swing and stab with clubs and spears, these warriors more skilled than those that attacked the village.
Seeing the young man hit as the party was surrounded, Heissa pushes through her fear. She takes aim at the greenskin who attacked her companion and yells, “Stay way from the Taken! We are defended!”
On the final word, she digs her heels into the floor and throws both her hands forward to release another blast of steam.
“I’m fine! But be careful, this guy’s got some kind of magic!” is what I try to say. I don’t have the breath to say it properly, since I’m in the middle of a fight, but I think the message gets across.
Speaking of a fight…there are three ugly barbarians trying to kill me. Fortunately, they’re not doing a very good job. I move to keep the boss (and his superheated mist) between myself and them.
When they follow me, moving over the growth I was standing on a moment ago, I step forwards and smack one of them with my club. I try to time my swing to catch him as he moves over the growth, so he’ll be off-balance. Maybe I’ll be able to knock him into their leader’s mist.
“Well, at least they didn’t catch us by surprise.” grumbled Diemut. This is why I didn’t want to fight them here. Outnumbered, out flanked…heck we didn’t even stick to the walls so they couldn’t hit us from behind.
The yound ashwalker swirled around in a circle as she tried to make her way over to Nyklis, giving the greenskins as small a chance to hit her from behind as possible. Her foot steps were quick, but steady on the cavern floor. Can’t risk falling over. Can’t help anyone when you’re dead.
Of course just because Diemut was making a bee-line while twirling like a dancer doesn’t mean she wasn’t doing damage. Sigmund’s Legacy spun with her, in a multiitude of a grand swing slashes, never stopping with the full weight of Diemut’s motions and body behind it.
Sliver Lady’s Grace, I better not get dissy.
Rolf cursed loudly as he trotted down the tunnel, five blessed minutes, was that too much to ask? He needed a breath or two to let his elemental recharge, so had tried resting his eyes.
Only to fall sound asleep.
The villagers had graciuosly pointed him in the right direction, and his own tunnel honed senses had provided the rest.
Now he could hear a strange change in the rythm of the tunnels. Was that fighting?
Heissa’s bolt of super-heated steam flies straight for the leader, but he doesn’t even bother to dodge. The steam washes over him and when it clears, the bruise Nyklis gave him is gone.
Nyklis’ swing connects, sending a warrior stumbling backwards. He lurches drunkenly as he falls back, clutching his head. Diemut’s opponents are not so lucky. She slashes open another warrior, leaving him lying upon the ground bleeding from shoulder to hip.
The warriors close in around the three Stonebearers. The leader shouts at the others, orders by the tone of his words and the attitude of his body language. They attack as a group, hacking and stabbing, closing off all paths to escape.
“You’re a Stonebearer? Why are you attacking us!,” Heissa yells at the scarred greenskin leader in Old Realm as she tries to back away from her attackers and stay close to her companions.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have left our hunter behind,” she thinks to herself while blasting not her attacker but the floor with her Steam Bolt Attack at a sharp angle to throw up a cover of white steam. It will disperse almost instantly as the attack is not meant to provide substantial cover, but hopefully that instant will be enough to disorient her attackers as the Dominus changes her position and prepares to sidestep her opponents.
One greenskin’s club misses Heissa in the sudden burst of steam, but the spear of the other still catches her.
Unfortunately, this attack is a bit more precise than the previous one. Fortunately, Diemut and her spear are getting close. I retreat so that her whirling strikes will provide me with some cover, and attempt to deflect the attack into one of the growths with my club.
Then I hear Heissa shout. Even with my situation as bad as it is, I think she deserves a response.
"Probably not a Stonebearer! I think he’s got some elemental blood!
Anyway, get him! He’s coordinating his soldiers, it’ll be bad for us if he gets them organized properly!"
With that, I put my own advice into action. I charge directly through the burning mist, confident that he won’t be expecting such a reckless attack. As I do so I draw upon my Stone to fill my mind with pain-erasing clarity.
Then I run up a crystal growth and jump at the greenskin, aiming to smash his skull in with an overhead swing.
Not really my usual style, but hey. Desperate times.
Diemut couldn’t hold back a snort as Nyklis ducks by the whirling soulsteel. “Well, at least he did it right,” said the slick-haired under her breath. If he had run into it… Choosing to focus on the now, rather than the guilt Diemut changed her attack pattern again.
The stonebearer stopped turning about, though Sigmund’s Legacy did not. As it spun over her shoulders and in her hands, Diemut began to step from side-to-side. Almost bouncing between the crystal shards, the shaft of black metal made a different kind of circle. At least until Diemut turned and lunged at ‘Thork’, thrusting the spear-tip through the steam. If I’m lucky, he’ll have a harder time spotting the attack.
“You will leave my friends alone!”
Rolf draws level with the swirling battle, the tunnel filling with the clash of brass.
Blight! Why could they not wait!
No time for recriminations now, only action. Luckily his late arrival put him in perfect flanking position.
He nocks an arrow, draws his bow, breathes. Sights down the shaft, aiming for the nearest flanker and release.
Nyklis doesn’t manage to duck quite fast enough and a solid blow to the head leaves the Glass Knife on the ground unconscious.
Rolf’s shot punches through one greenskin’s armor, leaving him with an arrowhead protruding from beneath his shoulder blade.
Diemut stabs forward through the blistering steam cloud surrounding the leader, the heat burning any exposed skin, but her armor saves her from the worst of it. Sigmund’s Legacy pierces through the greenskin warrior’s armor like it was tissue paper and punches a hole straight through his heart. The warrior lashes out as he dies, his reflexes keeping his own spear thrust on target despite his mortal injuries.
With Rolf’s sudden attack from behind and their leader’s death, the other warriors retreat, some bodily hauling the wounded away and into the surrounding fog.
Heissa kneels to check on the fallen Glass Walker, ensuring that he is just incapacitated.
Turning to the two warriors of the group, she tells them “Go on if you want to chase them! I can watch Nyklis.”
There is a brief crackle of electricity as Rolf races across the intervening distance to stand by Diemut’s side.
He smiles at Diemut which is the most disturbing thing anyone can see, for his smile is reminiscent of a pack of Bight touched rats or especially hungry bladelings.
It is clear what Rolf wants, for the most disturbing thing in his smile is the pride.
“Heissa, tell the scholar he fought well from what I saw, we need to get him a proper weapon though. Also check that fallen fool, no sense in wasting binding stones if he has one.” the hunter calls over his shoulder.
Heissa slaps her forehead, expressing her exasperation with herself.
“Yeah! Of course! I wouldn’t forget to do something important like that! Number two priority! Now go. We can’t loose those guys.”
The young Ashwalker nodded in response to Rolf’s comments. This is what she had been working for, a chance to prove herself as more than her Uncle’s heir in name. “Thank you, Rolf. How very kind,” she said; smiling sweetly in return.
This is, of course, when Diemut rushes after the greenskins, leaving Rolf standing there. If I wait, I’ll lose them. Plus he’s quick, he’ll catch up. So off she went, darting around one of the crystals to follow the enemies escaping.
“Hurry now Rolf, don’t want to get left behind again do you?”