The moment Jackie woke up, she new it was going to be one of those days. She could feel it in her bullets. The air seemed to hold an almost electric tension in it, a buzzing undercurrent of impending danger…’course, it could just be static buildup from all of those half-mech animals running around. Those bizarre tech-twisted creatures were nothing natural; they were dangerous, man-tampered abominations – Jackie wanted one desperately. Maybe a cybersquirrel or a mechamole would stray to close to her always twitching fingers…
Around Jackie, the members of Grey Sky Company (very officious name for their ragtag gang of mismatched ruffians) were rousing themselves…all except Judas, who still sat bolt upright against the same tree he’d sat down by the night before. There was more red in his eyes than white, with dark purple circles underneath. He’d pay later for that Longhaul dose, oh yes he would.
In a short time the group was up and back in motion, with their assignments in tow. The two scientists seemed caught between excitement at being so close to the goal, but also increasingly anxiety. Jackie idly wondered what they were expecting to find, and not sharing. It didn’t matter. More than enough ammo and C4 to deal with whatever was ahead.
But what turned out to be ahead was the absolute last thing Jackie (or anyone else for that matter) would have expected. In a wide mountain-side clearing, what remained of the Jetliner’s fuselage was lodged firmly at the peak of a large stone spire. Wreckage lay scattered across the ground, and strange half-mechanized plants and animals were visible in great number. Strangest of all, however, was what lay at the base of the spire; mostly embedded in the rock face, as if part of a natural feature, was a woman…an honest to god, completely naked and fused to the stone, woman.
“Help….me” she said weakly, opening her eyes.
Jackie jumped back half a mile, rifle up in a flash. The gang’s reaction was similar. Talking rock…probably bad. But no threatening moves followed from the stone lady, and the Lockheed employees felt that she was probably a member of the doomed plane’s crew.
After some discussion, the GSC decided an attempt should be made to free the woman from her rocky tomb. A flurry of welding torches, pick axes, and finally (happily) some well placed sticks of explosive shattered the area surrounding the pitiful woman, who finally fell loose of the spire. It was only then that everyone could see the extent to which rock had fused and replaced her flesh…she was almost certainly dying.
“Snake man…he comes at night” the poor woman cried out. She had said something similar several times over the last hour. It was concerning. If there was a half-snake half-man monster out there…well, it might make a trek home a little too exciting. Better to be the hunter than the hunted, it was decided.
Judas opted to stay back at the clearing and guard the woman, while the rest went on to track down “Snake man”. With his injury, it was difficult to say who was in worse shape, him or his dying charge.
The stone woman had mentioned the north, and sure enough, Jackie’s eagle eye picked out the sinuous marks of a slithering snake in the dust almost instantly. “This way, follow me!” she exclaimed, bounding off at a run. Azriel swore under his breathe, then took off after her. “Wait for me, Jackie! You’ll trample over the tracks! Get back here, you idiot!” For about an hour, the group followed after the distant crashing noises of Jackie’s overly enthusiastic pursuit. Azriel ran with his eye on the ground, making sure of the track…so when he finally glanced up, it was just in time to avoid plowing right over Jackie. She stood in a dark, rocky alcove scratching her head with an annoyed expression.
“Lost the fuggin’ trail” she muttered irritably, glancing around.
“Told you”, Azriel said chidingly. “Anyway, how about…in there?” He pointed
Right in front of them, the rocky terrain had nearly concealed a dark gap in the mountainside. When the runners got closer, they could see that a dark tunnel extended beyond the opening…with an uncountable number or snake-like marks in the dirt just outside of it.
“Well, looks like we’ve found our snake hole” Balthazar observed, loosening up his katanas in their sheaths. Everyone nodded. Jackie pulled down her low-light vision goggles. “Let’s do this.” The group made their way into the tunnel. The walking was not easy, as the floor was littered with boulders and pierced with stalagmites. Suddenly, there came a faint scraping noise, and a quick flicker of shadow.
“Did you hear that?” one of the scientists hissed. The runners nodded grimly, readying their weapons. The flash of motion came again, but closer. “It’s small, but quick” Azriel whispered.
Balthazar nodded, and crept forward. “If it shows itself,” he said, “I’m going to trap it”. The runners waited, tensed up like springs. A small figure separated from the darkness of the tunnel, and faster than though, Balthazar moved; he flung up a shield wall around the enemy, and threw a mana bolt a heartbeat later.
The bolt struck true, but did not take down the thing trapped inside his shield bubble. Everyone moved closer to look. A tiny, pug-faced, fiercely snarling creature was raging incoherently in gutteral grunts and snarls, throwing its tiny fists against the shield.
“I’ll be damned”, said Balthazar. “It’s a Brownie. Nasty little Fae things. Not too bright, but plenty strong and annoying.”
“Great. Snake monsters and Brownies” Azriel sighed. “Alright, lets keeping moving. Watch yourselves everyone. Balthazar, deal with that thing.” Another mana bolt had it on its leathery backside snoring in an instant.
The group pressed on, carefully clambering over boulders and around columns. The tunnel suddenly opened up into a large cavernous space, almost too dim to see anything in. “I’ve got a bad feeling..” said Aphrodite, rubbing her arm nervously.
That feeling proved justified when a moment later, the cavern erupted in howls and chattering shouts. Rocks rained from the darkness, too many to dodge entirely. “More Brownies!” Balthazar shouted, “A whole blasted nest of them!” The Grey Sky Company opened fire, blasting somewhat erratically into the darkness. The Brownies could use the darkness for cover, and hide around the rocks to avoid thermal vision.
Jackie gritted her teeth as a rock bounced off her rifle barrel, jarring her aim. “Stupid brownie!” she thought. “Stupid stupid midgit brownies.”