After two days in Hunter’s bot, Ardul may well be wishing that he had a walking block of apartments. The cockpit may be roomy for one, but it’s cramped for two especially when the second has a wingspan to take into account. The sleeping accomodations aren’t much better.
It’s not a question of speed. The Gunwolf goes pretty quick. It’s a question terrain. With no major roads to use or at least no intact ones, Hunter is resticted to cross country in a world where even big stompy robots have to tread carefully. So it is that two days into their journey they’re about a third of way to old Atlanta, an area likely to be at least partially submerged based on the coordinates Hunter was given.
The grey furred wolfen hasn’t said much in the past hour. He’s been driving and the scenery has been lacking. The trees are close in this part of the swamp and the water is about calf deep on a twenty six foot robot.
Ardul shifts slightly in her position beside Hunter. Her wings are furled tightly on her back, as they have been for the past two days for the most part. She’s not said anything about being uncomfortable, although when they stop she has ‘stretched her wings’ when she can. It’s not necessiraly safe out here – not with something hunting them and not with the ‘natives’ of the area either – which has meant her exercise has been restricted.
Hunter hasn’t much for the past hour. He doesn’t say much in general. Arduls used to that and like most good soldiers, dozes when she can. She’s just waking now, hence the shifting. “Anything on your equipment yet?” she says muzzily, sleep making her voice a little huskier than usual.
“Just trees and water.” Hunter says quietly. Not htat he needs to be loud, the only noises are the sounds of his instruments and the thump of the bots tead. “Hasn’t been anything insteresting since you went to sleep.”
Which he can tell she did because of the way she breathes. His ears aren’t just for show after all.
Up ahead the terrain clears a little and the trees start to thin. Hunter’s hand twitches on the controls and he frowns and leans forward slightly.
“Huh… these trees are… broken off.”
“Maybe you need to teach me how to drive this thing.” The blonde says as she rolls her shoulder trying to ease a cramp that has been forming. “Then you can rest some as well. But I guess you’re also saying I’m interesting …” She teases, resting a hand on his arm and looking out through the cockpit window. “I’m not sure we expected to find anything just yet, so that’s not a bad thing in, and of, itself.”
At his words, she leans forward as well, frowning. “So they are. Quite high up too. Something large has come through here … I can’t tell when from this distance, though. Can you get closer, or do I get the opportunity to spread my wings?”
“It’d take a while…” Hunter smiles a bit. The bots aren’t easy to operate. But he leaves that off, he knows she’s teasing a little bit. Looking up, out of the cockpit as best he can the wolfen nods. “Could be a lot of things that might break them off… but they’re broken in a line, as if something came through here. Why don’t you go see if there’s anything you can see from a birds eye view, yes.”
Ardul will want to get out of the bot anyway.
He’s not wrong. Once Ardul gets up high enough she can see the trail of broken trees forms a clear line of movement. Thanks to the fallen bits she can even tell which way. Now the question is… is there anything that a closer inspection might reveal.
“I’m sure it will, take a bit that is, but I’m not going anywhere in a hurry.” Ardul is teasing but she’s a little in earnest too. Maybe she should start with something simpler. “I’ll go take a look and let you know what I find.”
They’ve done this together a number of times. Her doing reconnaissance and Hunter providing support. The last time it had got hairy and the blonde is likely to be more cautious today. It doesn’t take long for her to undo her harness and exit the cockpit, launching herself skyward. Hunter may feel the rush of air her wings cause before the hatch closes behind her.
“Somethings been through alright, heading West in a straight line.” she reports back, circling high, trying to see what might have caused that. “I can’t see what caused it, but I’m going to look more closely. Be ready…” she slowly moves lower, inspecting branches and breaks looking for clues. “Most of these breaks aren’t weeping, which means they aren’t all that new. I’m not familiar with the trees that we’re dealing with here, but if this was Iyesgarth, or even Vesper, I’d say they’re a day, maybe two, old.”
It’s a problem, the different species of trees that have appeared on Rifts Earth. Not that the winged warrior is thinking on that too much as she cautiously makes her way to the ground looking for tracks.
There’s scrapes of something on the tree tops. It isn’t blood and it isn’t flesh. It’s a dull grey and brown color. It may take Ardul a moment to realize that it’s paint.
Paint, on the tree tops. That means whatever walked through was painted which makes it very likely that it wasn’t a dinosaur. Most of them don’t get this big anyway. Big, but not quite this big. This would be, oh, about the size of a moving building.
Tracks are difficult to come by. She’d have to look underwater to find them which is why neither she nor Hunter have seen any. However… there may be a way. Anything large enough to have done this will have been heavy and if it was mechanical and recent ish there may be some fluid slicks in the water.
“West means inland.” Hunter says. “Can you see anything in particular from up there they might have been headed towards?”
She can’t, not from where she is, but there might be something out there.
Inspecting the treetops as she circles lower, the blonde frowns a little and rubs her gauntlet over the scrapes on the treetops. “I think this is paint, Hunter. Up this high would mean that it’s likely what we’re looking for.” She circles lower still, towards the water. She doesn’t mind getting wet, not really – but not when it won’t give them any advantage.
It’s the oil or hydraulic fluid that sits in lazy swirls on the waters surface that tells the tale though. “Whatever it was, it was mechanical, judging by the oil that’s floating here.”
She’s silent as she looks for other clues finally lifting her head in the direction of the Wolf-Bot as she rises up again. This time higher than she had before. It might be she’s enjoying the chance to stretch her wings, just a little too much.
“Nothing.” Comes the initial report “Wait. Yes. That looks like smoke in the distance and … I believe that’s a structure. Maybe a tower? It blends in well with the environment and I would have missed it, if I hadn’t seen the smoke to begin with. I suspect that’s a fortified settlement… ”
“Smoke…” Smoke means fire, of course and fire could be good or bad. If it’s distant enough that she has to get high up to see it he’d rather not take the chance.
“Alright. Get back in here. We’ll go take a look. Could be unrealted but it might be a lucky break in our search.”
Luck here is a relative tearm. Lucky finding them. Not so lucky if they’ve been up to their usual tricks.
“Smoke, yes.” Ardul answers, letting out a sigh as Hunter recalls her. She circles lazily for a moment, before descending again. “Like the smoke from a camp fire or smeltery. Just one plume from all I could see. But whatever passed through here, and I think it was the bot we’re looking for, is headed that way.”
That last is said as she lets herself into through hatch and slides back into her chair, her wings folded tightly behind her … though one or two loose feathers float down over the Wolfen.
“Is there anything showing on your scopes yet?” It’s a pity radio communication had been lost when the Rifts came. They could monitor the comms channels and see if there was any chatter.
“What are the comparative speeds between the walking building and your Wolf-bot? Will we be able to close the gap, do you think?”
They still can, it’s just very short ranged. Long range radio went down when the ability to bounce things off of satellites did. Ionosphere bouncing is a tricky thing.
“I’m faster, but we don’t know how much of a lead it has really. All we can do is follow, which we’re going to do.” As soon as Ardul is landed Hunter pushes the throttle and then they’re off at the pace that feels like ‘running’. Even then, it’s fairly smooth in here. The gyros that keep the bot more or less level are quite high quality.
“Structure ahead.” It is a tower. It looks like the remains of a pre-rifts office type building, though one that has been built up with wooden supports and… supplementals, and then walled off almost like a keep or castle. The trail heads right this way though the pallisade doesn’t seem damaged.
“No sighns of people yet.” Hunter says.
“Good to know. We don’t want to run into the thing, by accident.” the blonde murmurs, watching the terrain get eaten up as the bot ‘runs’.
As the structure appears, she leans forward and peers around “Looks like the inhabitants built this up … that tower is like the ones we’ve seen in Vanished Point and what’s left up in Richmond.” beat “What do you know about this area?”
There are indeed no people and Ardul frowns. “There’s the smoke up ahead, though. Might be coming from the centre of the settlement. Maybe the bot has been here and harvested. Do a circuit of the city before I go look? I would rather not confront any droned D-Bees before I have to.” The smoke curls lazily into the air, thick and heavy. It’s recent and indicates that a fire may well still be burning.
“Not a whole lot. This area used to have a fair number of cities but they were mostly on the coast and mostly destroyed when the rifts came.” Hunter turns the bot and starts to walk it around the perimeter which is big enough that it does take a few minutes to accomplish that. There are no holes, no blast marks, no sign that there was any struggle which is different than the other places.
“Looks empty, oddly. Shall we go take a look? There’s a gate right there.”
“So this is likely a ruin that’s been built up…” Ardul murmurs. Not that it matters, but it’s of interest to the woman.
As the bot finishes it’s outside circuit, she frowns again and nods. “If it’s empty, then the bot has likely been here. That smoke is from a fire that was set recently.” From all that they’ve seen and if the attack came quickly enough, there wouldn’t have been … much … of a struggle.
Slowly she undoes the harness again, readying to leave the cockpit and scout. “I can scout ahead, leave you and the bot for support. Head towards that fire and check it out.” In a strange twist of fate, she really would prefer to stay within the cockpit now and leave only when it looks like they might alone. Still, she’ll launch into the air again if Hunter approves and fly over the city, is it a city?, towards that smoke.
The intirior of the pallisade is remarkably clean. If this were a dwelling space Ardul would expect ‘things’ to be laying about. Maybe ordered things. A pile of fodder here, a trash heap there. Here there’s nothing. There’s several braziers lit about the perimeter. The space is enough to accomodate probably more than a hundred people and then there’s the tower itself.
Right in front of the door to that tower there’s a large bonfire burning. That’s the source of the smoke. Stuffed inside are charred bundles of plants. It all looks rather deliberate. Like the bundles were burned on purpose.
“Anything, Ardul?” Hunter’s still circling.
“It’s strange Hunter…” Ardul speaks slowly, as her grey eyes make out what’s below. “If it weren’t for the braziers and the fire burning, I’d say this place had been abandoned a while ago. There’s no … mess here. Not the type you’d expect to see, at any rate. It’s like it’s been cleaned up or something.” It’s puzzling her, niggling at the back of her mind but she’s not sure why. “What if … this wasn’t a raid point, but a base of operations?”
When she comes to the bonfire, she takes her time to inspect it. “I’m not sure now. This looks like a ritual of some sort. These plants were burnt with an objective in mind. Like a … warding, I suppose. I didn’t see the same in the braziers…” she eyes the tower and looks back to where the bot is. “I’m going in… ”
That worries her as it it leaves her without direct backup. Hunter might be able to punch through a wall if she gets into trouble, but that will take time.
It’s dim inside the tower, as the light is blocked out. Not dim enough that she can’t see but there are shadows and the place has an ominous feel about it. Removing the cylinder from her hip, the blonde looks around – she’ll probably need her wings to ascend. Or use the stairs.
The inside of the tower is also, oddly, conspicuously clean and the walls are lined with torches and lamps. There’s no power here. The entire entry area seems to funnel toward stairs that go up. There are odd pictures on the walls, painted it seems and rather primitive looking. By the clawmarks, they might belong to lizard folk.
The pictures depict lizardmen living and hunting. Then some kind of giant appears and the lizardmen bow to it. From there the giant seems to give the lizardmen gifts – sharp spears and similar useful things. The final set of pictures depicts a crowd of beings ascending a ramp into what appears to be the ‘stomach’ of the giant. The whole thing feels rather… triumphal.
Triumphal and horrifying. Ardul relays what she’s seeing as takes the steps slowly. The images seem to appear to be more sinister for the flickering of the lights. “This is a sacred place. I’m sure of it, Hunter.” she murmurs as she reaches that last image, “I wonder if that giant is that black clad being we’ve heard tell about.”
“I’ve no idea how old these images are. This building has been here for a long time. But the intent is clear – I think” she says as she makes the top of the stairs. “The being gave gifts and took … gifts in return. I can’t say if it was the lizard men or … tributes.”
“That’s not good news.” The fact that the ritual site seems well maintained suggests that someone is around to maintain it. Which in turn, especially in an environment like the swamps, suggests that it is regularly used. It’d be rotted away if it were not.
The final section of wall seems a bit loose. Like there’s a panel that slides away. On further inspection it does and behind it is what seems to be an old fashioned radio beacon. Since this building has no power it has to be – or at least have been – battery operated. And the technology is consistent with things that Ardul has seen Hunter use, and other people around the planet. It’s modern, not pre-rifts. Which means it was placed here recently, or at least recently with respect to the building itself.
There’s an interface on the bottom, likely for maintenance. Might be able to tell a bit more about the beacon.
That’s part of what’s been bugging Ardul. That the place is maintained and whoever maintains it might still be around.
“There’s a loose pan—” Hunter will hear the grinding sound as the section of wall slides free “I wish I could send you visual of what I’m seeing, Hunter. This is a radio that looks something like the tech I’ve seen about.”
Given it’s not wired in, the blonde still takes a moment to check the area, looking for traps and the like before taking the beacon out. “There’s a maintenance panel… ” he can hear her pop that as well “Mmmmm. This looks a lot like the stuff we’ve been working on. I’d need to look more closely, but … it I’d say it looks similar to those drone implants.”
“It’s a pretty common beacon design, looks like it’s been modified for signal strength though.” Hunter says after he sees the image. “I’m still not picking anything or anyone up. Looks like the place is deserted for now though I wouldn’t particularly care to stay in case either the congregation or their deity decides to make an appearance.”
The diagnostic panel reveals that the beacon was last activated thirty six hours ago, and shut down about fifteen hours ago. Which means whatever it calls has already been by. That the beacon was left… suggests that this may happen regularly. Or at least… more than once.
It also suggests that there’s a roughly twenty hour window between activation and response. Of course, without historical data, it’s impossible to tell if that’s normal but it’s something. It also matches the rough time that they think the walking building went through.
Replacing the beacon for the moment, the blonde makes her way back to the Wolf-Bot, she doesn’t care to stay around either. “What do you think, Hunter?” she speaks as she moves “It’s used to summon the deity or the congregation. Either would work. The congregation finds tribute, brings it here and delivers it to their deity. Or the deity turns up and lets its worshippers know….”
It still leaves questions, a lot of them, but it answers a couple at least. “We could activate it and see what happens…” she says as she finally joins the Wolfen in the cockpit again.
“Out here I rather doubt the congregation has radio recievers. The swamp natives tend to be pretty primitive and I doubt anyway that anyone who did have a radio would be drawing on the walls like that.” Hunter says as she rejoins him. “It says ‘convince the primitives to worship you’ to me. Which is disturbing consideirng that we may be talking about the same people who were implanting drone hardware into captives. What better way to expand on that operation than by convincing people to offer themselves willingly?”
It’s a guess, but it fits the facts they have.
“I would agree.” Ardul murmurs, strapping herself in //again// to her seat.
“I think we are talking about the same group, being, who’s doing the implanting and potentially, spreading those nanites. The question is, why? Trying to build a powerbase would be my assumption. But it’s rare that’s done without purpose.”
As the bot starts off again, the blonde shifts and settles her wings again. “We haven’t proven that was the walking building, so I guess we’ll continue on?” Which means sleeping again in the wolf-bot.
Hunter better not complain about the feathers.
“Well the way I see it we can either follow this trail or we can keep going to Atlanta. It’s another three or four days depending on the conditions. We can stay out here for… probably a couple of weeks before we need to head back. Bot will run forever but you and I need food and if we have to start hunting it we’ll slow considerably. What do you want to do?”
It’s not often he asks, but he does value her input. Either way he’ll have to deal with the feathers, possibly in his mouth. She stretches in her sleep sometimes.
Grey eyes look up at the Wolfen as he asks, a blonde brow rising in surprise. “I am yours to command…” there’s a smirk there, but she’s in earnest. She is his Companion, after all. “… though I think we should follow this trail, for a day or so. See where it leads. If necessary, we can circle back to Atlanta, but this is a hard lead and something we can’t discount.”
That they could be out there a couple of weeks, gets a groan from the Valkyr. She might stretch a lot when they sleep tonight.
“A day it is.” Hunter pushes the throttle and sets them back following the trail of broken trees. When they run out of trees – as does happen in some parts of the swamp – they’ll have to figure something else out. For now, though, this will do. It’ll have to do.
“Mind grabbing some rations from the back? I’m starving…” Since she’s his to command…
Ardul snorts at the request “If I go back there, I’ll hand your rations over, but I’m going to sleep again. If you’re not going to teach me how to drive this thing, I might as well.”
Of course he could convince her to stay with him, or just order her, and she would. It’s not long till dark and Hunter isn’t likely to risk his bot.