Ardul may be starting to get tired of seeing the inside of Hunter’s bot. It’s not very spacious especially when one has wings. Still it’s the safest and quickest mode of transport available so it’s what they’re using. Following the investigation at the ruined canid village, the pair of them are headed south to Dinosaur Swamp to find the Saurians and see if there are more answers there.
Or that’s what they were doing. At the moment Hunter has the bot stock still and mostly shut down while he watches the sensor screen. It shows intermittend blips moving in formation some two or three kilometers away. It’s hard to see that far in the swamp. It’s hard to see a hundred meters, sometimes, even up in the bot.
Sick of the bot? Never! At least that’s what Arduls been trying to convince herself of. It is cramped and she’s had to keep her wings furled tightly when inside, though she has insisted on stretching them from time to time as they made the trek.
Hunter had insisted though, that for this part of the journey, she join him in the bot. It’s not that they can’t move quickly when she flies – but it is safer and leaves her less tired should trouble arise.
And she might be looking forward to trouble at the moment.
Her attention is split between the sensor screen and gazing out the canopy into the swamp. “Are you sure you don’t want me to do a fly over?” She’s asked that before and wouldn’t be surprised if he growled her at now. It’s almost as bad as //Are we there yet?//
“I’m very sure…” Hunter says. The cockpit lights are dim and the canopy in this part of the swamp means there’s not much sunlight, so it’s dark in here. The wolfen flicks at a couple of switches.
“Those things are emitting wolfen frequency radio bursts from something. But whatever it is it’s not responding to any signals I send it.” He glances up at his map. “We’re… by my reckoning probably four hours on foot from the Saurian village.” The blips on the screen keep moving, definitely toward that village.
“Alright. I’ve changed my mind. I do want you to fly over and take a look. Carefully.”
“Not responding could mean a number of things.” Ardul murmurs, settling back and letting a slow breath. She’s used to waiting for something to happen. She’s used to working in confined spaces. It’s just been several days of a confined space and it’s a little wearing. “But very few of those reasons are positive. Can they track your signals?”
That’s a concern. If it is Xiticicks or anything like them, they might track the bot back and attack it. That they’re starting to move on the Saurian Village is actually a bit of relief, just not a big one.
Four hours on foot or less by wing. Ardul can at least get over the swamp and fly … ahem … as the crow flies. “Of course I’ll be careful.” She murmurs as she undoes her harness and begins to exit. “I’m on the comm and I’ll report as I go.”
She squeezes the Wolfens shoulder reassuringly and winks at him as she exits. Her wings unfurl to their full span as she throws herself skyward, and beat down powerfully carrying the blonde in the direction of the village.
It takes several minutes of flying to cover the few thousand meters to the contact and takes some more careful looking beyond that to locate it beneath the thick canopy of the swamp. When Ardul does find it, though, it’s a troop of Saurian hunters. Which is… odd…
On inspection, though, there’s something off about them. They’re moving slowly and oddly and they’re not making any kind of sound. They don’t look like they’re hunting. They’re just… moving with an incaution the veteran denizens of this swamp would not display.
Are this blinking lights atop one of their heads?
“Hunter. I hope you’re on your way.” Ardul uses the comms to speak to her companion, landing in a tree near the hunting party. “Saurian warriors, not acting as such. They’re acting rather like that human that attacked you in the market. I’m trying to get a closer look.”
She stills for a moment, watching the hunting party pass near her, a frown drawing her blonde brow down. Are there blinking lights on their heads? In the gloom, it should be possible to see but there’s a mist forming and she can’t penetrate it, even with her eyesight – as good as it is.
“Going in closer…” She moves through the trees, branch to branch till she can approach the squad front on, at a forty five degree angle. Dropping down to a lower branch, not far above the ground “These ones look like they’ve been subverted by that tech. Does that mean the Xiticicks have already been here? I want to move on to the village.”
They’re sort of… shuffling. They’re moving well enough but it’s like they have no particular motivation to do anything. The hunters pause as Ardul gets closer. One of them turns to look at her. It has a Xiticicks spear in its hand, which may well answer the question of whether or not the bugs have been here.
No words are exchanged but the others all turn to look at Ardul as well. She can see some kind of… it looks like a communications device bolted into their skulls. It’s a crude augmentation but perhaps they’re networked somehow. It’s definitely not Iyesgarthian tech.
“I’m on the way.” Hunter radios. “ETA two minutes. Get out if you need to.”
They haven’t attacked yet but they are staring.
“The Xiticicks have been here. I’m assuming they’ve taken the village.” The blonde murmurs into the comms, grey eyes watching the squad as they turn to look at her. “It’s not Iyesgarthian, Hunter. Whatever they’re using. But it does appear to have some form of hive mind effect. Beware. If there are more the area, they’ll know that I’m here and if they remember me, they’ll suspect you aren’t far behind.”
“I want a sample of this tech.” Yes, she heard him tell her to get out. Two minutes can be a lifetime in situations like this or it can go very quickly. “Let me know when you’re close, I’m going to try and get one.”
She’ll wait till he’s close and unless he tells her differently, she’ll launch a diving attack. For now though, she watches and wait – they aren’t attacking … yet.
“It might be wolfen. I’m still detecting wolfen comm bursts of some kind.” Hunter says as he pushes his bot through the underbrush. Ardul can hear it in the distance, closing rapidly but still at the moment far away.
“Almost there. One minute.”
The hunter with the reson spear looks at the others and says something in a low hiss…
Then it rears back with almost unnatural speed and hurls that spear right at her left wing.
“Might be…” Ardul agrees, slightly relieved to hear the bot closing. Her fingers curl over the cylinder at her hip, not drawing it yet – not wanting to trigger the Saurians hunting instincts. “They’r—-” she starts to report as the Saurians speak but her words are cut off as the spear comes hurtling towards her. She remembers these weapons – the last one she encountered had only //just// been deflected by her armour.
And they’re aiming for her wings. Her wings that might be resilient but they’re the most vulnerable part of her.
The blonde doesn’t try to launch herself in the air, just furls those wings tight against her back and rolls from the branch she’s perched on. It brings her to her feet, unclipping the cylinder from her belt and the energy sword flaring to life. “Well now. That wasn’t very neighbourly was it?” She’s got her comms channel open, Hunters hearing all of this.
*** OOC Time: Sat Jul 22 18:04:01 2017 ***
Hunter is coming in hot but Ardul has to deal with this group for at least a few moments longer. The launching of the spear seems to be some kind of signal. As one the group swarms toward Ardul, some surrounding the tree, others reading weapons and at least two clawing up it’s trunk to get at her. It’s eerie. They don’t make a sound. They don’t even look at one another and yet they’re perfectly coordinated the way a team well versed in working together is… or the way a hive mind might be.
Another spear is brandished, poking up at her and at least one has an axe and may well try to cut her down if the others can’t reach her first.
“Be nice if you were here…” Ardul grunts as she straightens, energy sword held in front of her as she parries the spear and glances around. “… they’re rather insistent that I join them.”
She can’t open her wings fully, not here. There’s branches in the way, she needs to clear this and hopefully not get tangled in the process.
With a powerful push of her legs, the blonde leaps into the air, wings snapping up to catch and turn her, letting her dive right at the axe wielding one swinging that blade with precision and skill.
There’s a sizzle as the blade cuts through shoulder and sinew, causing the creature to fall back and to the ground.
Flashes of blue fill the air after Ardul lands. Cyan bolts of ionized energy vaporise two of the hunters who turn to see a silvery-grey assault bot smash over a tree and come right at them. They are now quite distracted, backs to Ardul but even here they don’t bolt or break formation. They simply silently move as if to engage the towering metal behemoth… somehow.
“Watch your legs, Hunter.” Ardul quips as she turns on her wings. Facing their backs, the blonde shakes her head and rises up again before angling herself and extending her sword.
Another powerful beat of her wings and she’s diving again … at the backs of the Saurians, trying to knock them down so they don’t get up again. She’d rather not kill them, but see if they can remove those implants and save them.
The sword flashes and hums: one; two; three… Three saurians fall to her onslaught. Knocked out and bleeding, but still alive if barely. She turns again and lands in front of them, leaving Hunter to clean up the rest.
“When you’re done with those, I want to examine these more closely.” She really isn’t expecting the bot to leave much of the others.
Hunter turns with an agility that such a large machine would not ordinarily be expected to have and mulches the remaining group with a precise railgun burst. Those ones won’t be recoverable. The ones Ardul downed should be. The bot comes to a full stop and twists this way and that checking for other targets.
But there are none.
“Looks clear.” Hunter says over the radio. “I’m coming out. You okay?”
The agility of the bot doesn’t surprise Ardul, she’s seen the thing in action before. She does turn her head as the railguns operate.
Checking herself over, the blonde frowns as she sees the edges of her wings “I’m okay, there’s some damage to my wing edges but I avoided the worst of it.” There’s probably some grazes and cuts that she’s missed, but she’s fine other than that.
“You got here just in time.” Turning back to the downed Saurians, the blonde bends to get a closer look. “These poor creatures … were controlled. Did you see how they moved?”
It’s not Iyesgarthian, she can see that. It’s too crude. “I’d need to pull one of these things apart to see if there’s anything I recognise in them, but on the surface, they’re different.” She murmurs, trying to see if they can be detached.
“We’ll need to check the village to see if they left anyone behind.” Somehow, she suspects not.
The wolfen, weapon drawn despite the lack of obvious looking threats. He kneels down at the first body that isn’t pulped or chared and turns the head. “The networking technology is wolfen. So are the transmitters. But I’ve never seen these grafts, or these connections.”
It’s possible that they’re Ieyesgarthian just as it’s possible that they’re something else entirely. Rifts earth is full of varied and strange things. There’s a lot of tech out there and no one is an expert in all of it.
“We should go to the village yes. Soon as we can.”
Arduls quiet as she examines the body she’s kneeling by, carefully working at the implant. “I’m not sure about the grafts but the connections are familiar. It’s not the same as the cylinders that have been used but … they might have been reworked to integrate with your technology.” The implication of which she can’t fathom.
“I’ll need a moment to remove it.” In a perverse way, it’s a good thing the Saurian is dead though, removing the implants is likely to damage the brain. Still, the blonde works quickly, loosening the connections that dig into the skull and seperating the graft. “These things take root very quickly, Hunter.” There’s a ‘squicking’ sound as it finally comes loose and the Winged Warrior wipes her hands on the ground. “Charming…” she says dryly.
“Let’s go. These creatures aren’t likely to rise again.” She … hopes.
Hunter rises and shakes his head. “Probably not quickly enough for the victim’s comfort. Whatever happened to these saurians happened within the last couple of weeks, so recent enough. I don’t know if these… drones are smart enough to eat or otherwise take care of themselves but they weren’t in horrible physical condition.”
He glances. “We can make it there in a couple of hours. Maybe an hour if I push it.”
“They’re networked. I’ll guarantee that.” Ardul says as she rises. “Send a command to a group, a pod, whatever you call them, to eat and they’ll eat. It’s low cost and low maintenance. They’ll only need to give them enough to keep them in fighting condition and not worry about likes and dislikes.”
These really are drones.
She’s silent as she looks over what’s left of the squad “I was going to say they had some level of autonomy but I’m not sure. I need to look at these implants. The networking could be two way – send and receive signals. If whatever or whoever is controlling could see me, they could have issued the command to engage.” Which means she and the WolfBot have been seen and possibly identified.
Turning on her heel and heads to the Wolf-Bot “Punch it then. Get us there as quickly as you can. I won’t fly till we’re closer. I don’t fancy facing another squad without you at my back.” There’s a sideways glance in his direction. She’s just fallen into her old position of Squad Leader. Hunter … well, he’s worked with her enough to know it’s not meant to be disrespectful.
Hunter is already halfway up the lader and getting into his seat when she says to punch it. He doesn’t disagree. The moment she’s in position and the door is shut he does. Even with the bot’s systems this is going to be a bumpy ride.
And it is. Ardul may well be glad when it’s over. Or not, perhaps, for when they approach the village they can see quite clearly that it’s smouldering and smoking. Most of the building’s are ruined. It’s been attacked.
It doesn’t take the blonde long to get into position and strap herself in. She //is// very grateful that she did, though. The trip isn’t easy and they’re jostled and bounced but as the curling wisps of smoke are sighted she growls. “Can you get any readings at all from the village, Hunter?”
“I’m not hopeful we’ll find anyone alive there but if we do, I’m going to assume they’ve all been droned.” That patrol is nigglingly at her. “Why would they do it, though? The other Wolfen based communities you’ve found have been abandoned. We’ve, or at least I have, been assuming the Xiticicks have been taking the survivors. So why change now. Why drone a hunting party and leave it here?”
Clearly she’s not going to do a flyover just yet. She’ll wait to see what the Wolfen can detect and then decide.
“Lots of heat. Lots of residual from weapons fire. Recent. In the last six hours kind of recent.” Hunter stands the bot at the edge of the village and watches quietly. The flames send plumes of color over the thermal washed vision.
“It’s impossible to tell if they have any survivors. Too much heat interferance. We should be very careful though. I’m going to take a look around.”
Ardul sighs. “Mmmm.” It’s got her thinking but that’s not going to help. They need more information. “We can hope…” She murmurs, releasing her harness and popping the canopy. “… hope there are survivors that haven’t been converted.”
With a last glance at the visuals, the blonde glides to the ground, this time unclipping the cylinder from her belt and igniting it.
“Let’s stick together. It might take us longer, but if we come across anything, we’ve a better chance of getting out.” To say that the winged warrior is concerned, would be an understatement.
“It looks like the fires started over that way…”
Hunter stops at the bottom of the ladder and looks about. “It does. Over by the main hall. We’ll start there. Any…” There’s a crackle and roar as the roof of the main hall gives way in a shower of sparks and embers. Hunter winces.
And then Ardul hears something. A whisper on the wind carried almost right to hear ear. A groan of pain from somewhere to the left. That looks like it’s in a storehouse of some kind.
The blonde turns carefully, surveying the area and her attention snaps back as the roof of the Hall gives way. “It’s been recent, that’s for sure. That hunting party we intercepted didn’t seem to be sooty or have smoke about them…” Which likely means they weren’t here when this happened. Or they were taken before the village was fired.
The whisper has her turning again. Her hearing isn’t as acute as Hunters. “Do you hear that…?” she murmurs, canting her head as faces where she thinks it’s coming from… “Over here, I hear something.”
The building, it might be a storehouse, isn’t in great shape but it’s still standing and the door is ajar. “Cover me?” A question as much as a direction. The blonde pushes the door open with a booted foot and steps inside.
It’s dark in there and the glow from her sword illuminates patches as she moves. Muttering a command into her helmet, lamps on the side of it spring to life, pushing more of the dark back. “Hello. Is there someone here?” She says, starting to explore the building carefully.
This is one of the few buildings that is not on fire. When Ardul pushes the door open, with Hunter behind her, she’s greeted by the sight of Magewyn. The lizard woman’s staff is broken and she’s bleeding from a gash in her side. She’s been torn open either by a claw or a serrated axe. Either way… she’s not long for this world without medical attention.
“You… two…” She gasps, eyes barely seeing them.
Ardul … is not a medic. She’s good at shooting things or rather, slicing things with her sword but she’s some basic field training. You kind of have to, really.
“Magewyn.” That might explain why the sound travelled on the wind to her. Ardul drops to her knees and looks at the gash before drawing a small med kit from one of the clips on her belt. “She needs medical attention, Hunter. I might be able to stabilise her.” The blonde looks at the Saurian, to see if she’ll object but doesn’t hesitate in putting gauze and pressure against the wound. It needs binding, preferably sutures but Ardul doesn’t carry anything like that on her person.
“What happened?” she asks the Elder. “We encountered a hunting party on our way here. They had been … converted…”
Hunter’s going to have to watch the door. They haven’t cleared the village yet and there may be stragglers but first “Is this building clear, Hunter?” It should be, unless Magewyn was attacked in here.
Hunter points to the button on Arduls medkit. Robot assisted kits are one of the reasons adventuring types dont get dead more often. They are essentially portable expertise.
“The village… was attacked. Black insect men. Armored figures in some kind of.., huge robot. They put machines in the others. Some ran into the swamps. I tried to buy them time, save as many as I could.”
Given that the damage here looks recent and the hunting party had been droned for longer thats probably not the whole tale.
“Remind me to get you to run me through this thing when we get a moment…” the Winged Warrior mutters. She should know this. No excuses, not after all this time. “Hold still, if you can…” Ardul operates the medkit and lets it do it’s thing, keeping an eye on it all the same.
“You were very brave and I’m sure you saved many.” the blonde murmurs as Magewyn finishes. Maybe she and Hunter will see if they can find survivors but she doesn’t offer, not yet. “A huge robot? Like a building on legs?” That sounds familiar, but there’s lots of questions to ask and things to clarify “Did they come from your sacred site or were they going to it?”
Giving Hunter a glance, knowing there’s more to this, Ardul pauses before looking back to the Saurian wise one “The Hunting Party we came across, they’d had machines put in them as well. But that had been done weeks ago… Had they been before?”
“Big like a building, yes. Bigger than the village hall. They took people inside. The ones that came out again… were not the same.” Magewyn winces in pain and then subsides as anesthetics take hold.
Hunter scans the village from the doorway, gun in hand, There doesnt seem to be much left. “Where did they all go?” He asks.
“To the south, after they took everyone still left… Ardul, I saw a man with wings… wings like yours.”
Ardul see’s Hunter scanning from the doorway and doesn’t ask. If there’s problems, he’ll tell her as soon as he knows. “Well that explains the building. Some form of science / medical facility, I suspect.” Her grey eyes are the colour of snow clouds – cold and icy “I’d like to get a look inside of that.”
“What’s to the South of here, Hunter?” She’s not familiar with this area but she suspects there’s more villages and populations. The Xiticicks, if that’s who’s behind is, seem to be … gathering.
Magewyns last words have those cold, grey eyes fixing on her “Describe him and his armour and what he was doing.” She almost snaps that out and sighs, blowing out a long slow breath. “I’m sorry, Magewyn.” she says in a moderate manner, eyes flicking the Hunter, “I didn’t mean to be short. If you could though, it would help.”
Magewyns eyes are going glazed as the drugs in the autodoc take effect. “Black armor, faceless mask, big black wings… he was just standing, directing. I didnt see more. Im sorry…”
Hunter glances back. “She will need time to recover. There isnt mich south of here. Ruins and more swamp. No reason to go there that I know of. Not that it matters. Tracking them in this swamp will be tricky and I dont know that we will want to.”
Outside another building caves in to the sound of creaking wood and crackling embers.
“Black armor and faceless mask.” Ardul sounds bitter. “Royal commando. Not just one of the Cyborg units, this is one of the best.” She glances at Hunter. She’ll explain more but later. “Rest, Magewyn. We’ll get you to safety, you can’t stay here.”
Why the commando was there is a mystery. One that she intends to solve but for now “We need to move, Hunter. I doubt they’ll be going South for long if there’s nothing there. If you say tracking them will be hard, we should regroup. What do you want to do about potential survivors that might have escaped. They’ll try to come back here and that’s probably not safe.”
In Arduls experience, raiders will return to a village to clean up. It might be months later, but they’ll do it.
“We will look for them briefly but there isnt much we can do now. We will uave to hope any other survivors can makemitmfor a while.” The wolfen glances back. “Take her to the bot. I will cover you. Then we will get her to the Restorium. Once she is properly cared for we can get more from her.”
The doctor and the lizard woman with him are likely going to flip.