Act VI - Sanctuary
After a day of intensive searching, Tula finds what she was looking for. Her data indicates that there is a large city far south-west of the mountains. Once more, the Windwalker speeds through the seemingly endless dark tunnels. After about a day of travelling this way, the ship arrives at another changeover point. One of the underground transports has crashed here. The crewmembers, after some cautious initial explorations, search the broken body of the transport. The controlroom yields a small tube-shaped device, which Tula identifies as a fire extinguisher.
The Windwalker resumes its journey. After two days of silently travelling the darkness, the tunnels abruptly change. Vinelike growth covers the tunnel's walls as far as the eye can see. The crew disembarks and they carefully explore the underground jungle. They hear things moving between the vines, but are unable to spot anything in the darkness. They do find the half-devoured remains of what appears to have been an albino lizard, with unusually large saucershaped eyes.
They walk further down the tunnel, but the lizards shy away from the lights the crewmembers carry. Then suddenly a large crablike creature launches itself out of the vines overhead and slams into Mmrrrghnhra. Three of its barbed legs have anchored themselves in Mmrrrghnhra's body, and the crab starts slashing with its remaining free legs. The other crewmembers manage to kill the thing before it gets a chance to slice Mmrrrghnhra too badly. The barbed legs of the dead crab are cut off at the kneejoints and are then removed from Mmrrrghnhra's flesh by the teleportation power of one of the crewmembers.
The group returns to the Windwalker and decides to continue the journey with one of the light-balls propelled in front of the ship by means of the Telekinetic Hand power of one of the crewmembers. The crew travels a great distance through the vine-covered tunnels this way and the ship is already nearing the city, when suddenly the light-ball goes dark and drops to the floor. Leaf slams on the breaks.
Tentatively the crew explores and discovers that all electronics cease to function once beyond a certain point in the tunnel. Living beings are unaffected however. The crewmembers gather their equipment and supplies and set out down the tunnel on foot, leaving Tula and Denna behind with the Windwalker.
After hours of walking through the vine-covered tunnel, the crewmembers arrive at a station entrance. They climb the sloping passageway and emerge into the dark hall of a large surface building. In the corner of the hall, amidst the wrecked remains of furniture, stands what looks to be a large leathery cocoon, which begins to unfold. The leatherwinged creature attacks but Leaf paralyses it before it can get near. The crewmembers dispatch the thing and Tuco skins it.
It's nighttime on the surface. A few people decide to go take a look from the top of the tall building across the street. As they gaze out across the city, they realise that the building they are standing on is located in the hills surrounding a large lake. The next morning the group heads out to the lake. While walking through the deserted streets, something shoots out of one of the dark openings in the side of a building they are passing. A slimy cord with a bulb of slime at the end narrowly misses Drabor and smacks into the street with a wet thud, before being reeled back into the dark opening. Drabor enters the building and finds a large sluglike creature on the first floor. He sneaks up on it using his stealth skills and mutations, and manages to plant his spear into what he assumes to be the creature's head. Drabor retrieves his spear after the death throws have subsided and discovers that the slug's slime has started dissolving the weapon.
The crew reaches the lakeshore without further interruptions. Tuco makes use of the opportunity to clean the bloody leather hide he is still carrying. When finished with the task, he discovers a leech has attached itself to his forearm. Initial attempts to remove it result in overwhelming waves of agony. The crew decides that the best thing would be for Leaf to use his paralysis power on Tuco in the hope of blocking the pain, while the others remove the leech. The plan doesn't work and Tuco passes out from the pain, but at least the leech is removed.
Following the shore, the group encounters several humanoid men. Apart from their unusual height (none of them is under 2 meters), they also have ridges of spines running along their arms, legs and torso. The mutants all carry long-handled blades and were apparently on guard duty. After a whistle signal, they are joined by several females, all of whom have the same ridges as the males but are much shorter in length. They introduce themselves as the Modra.
The group is invited to meet with the matriarch of the Modra. They accept and are led into one of the buildings. Inside they discover that the Modra have built an entire village inside the large open floor of the skyscraper. The crewmembers are assigned quarters.
Drabor and Leaf decide to go exploring some more and leave the building. The Modra building is located next to a large junglelike stretch of green that once must have been a park. Following its edges they pass by a few other buildings that show signs of humanoid inhabitants. They are attracted by the sounds coming from one of the buildings at the far end. The lower level of this building is open to the outside, and Drabor and Leaf spot a great many naked humanoids who are having a celebration. The humanoids constantly shift their skin colours in a way that Drabor knows only to well from his own mutant chameleon power.
The humanoids spot the two crewmembers and they are immediately invited to join. Drabor and Leaf are led to a large fire above which a gigantic lizard is slowly roasting. The humanoids introduce themselves as the Voss. The feast is being held to celebrate the capture of the creature that is now being roasted. As it turns out, the Voss are a tribe of hunters, and as such admire nothing more than those who are skilled in the hunt. Drabor and Leaf, already getting somewhat intoxicated by the drinks they are handed, naturally start telling tales of their many kills.
In the morning the celebrations start winding down, and Drabor and Leaf stumble back to the Modra building where the others are at that moment sharing breakfast with the entire community. The Matriarch, Gilal, explains that some of the buildings surrounding the green stretch are occupied by allied tribes, while the green stretch itself is the territory of the Tumarin, a race of mutant plants. When asked about the field that disables machines, Gilal says that machines are kept at bay by the Guardian, an ancient sentient tree located not far from the enclave. The Matriarch agrees to send someone with the crew to lead them to the Guardian.
One of the large Modra males brings the crew to a large crossroads, where they find what appears to be a giant willow tree, its trunk hidden from view by the many thick vines that hang from its crown. The Modra bows once to the tree and then departs. Then the vines at the base of the tree part, clearly inviting the group in. Walking through the darkness, surrounded by the rustling of the thick vines, the crewmembers finally come to stand before the wide trunk of the Guardian. Its voice echoes a welcome through their minds and asks them why they have come. The crewmembers explain their need to have the field lifted so their ship can pass. The Guardian thinks about it and says that it can do so, but it has two demands to be fulfilled in exchange. Many years ago a droid flew over the city. When it hit the field, it crash-landed in the lake. The Guardian fears that with the deactivation of the field, the droid will become active again and attack the enclave of mutants. Since it would take him half a day to renew the field, the droid will have to be deactivated first. The second request is a more personal one. A while ago the Guardian received information that a group of humanoids was approaching the city through the southern hills, but apparently they never arrived. The Guardian wishes to know what has happened to them.
The crewmembers agree to the requests. Some of them go back to the enclave to start work on a raft, while Drabor and Mmrrrghnhra go back to the tunnels to speak with Tula. On their way back from that meeting, they are chased by another of the leatherwinged creatures they encountered. They flee back to the enclave, where the creature is brought down by them and some of the Modra bowmen. The crew is dismayed when the Modra claim their share of the creature and accuse the Modra of stealing their kill. The Modra reason that whomever helps to bring a creature down is entitled to a part of the kill. The crewmembers state that the creature was theirs to begin with since they were the ones to lure it here. It angers the Modra that the crew would lure monsters to the enclave. In the end, it is decided to ask the Guardian for mediation. The Guardian agrees with the Modra and the crew is forced to settle for only part of the kill.
The crew finishes the construction of their raft, complete with a hoist, and they paddle it onto the lake to where the droid should be located. The water is clear and with the help of a self-made viewer, they manage to locate the crashed droid under water. They lower ropes and attach them with the help of telekinesis. As they labor to lift the thing from the bottom of the lake, a group of dolphins appears and begins attacking the rope. Using Telepathy, the crew contacts the simple minds of the creatures and discovers that they consider the shiny droid theirs. Tuco sends mental images to the dolphins of the destruction and death droids can cause and this soon sours the dolphins' possessiveness. The crew are left to haul the thing up undisturbed.
Back on shore, the crew has received unexpected aid from a sentient plant who introduces himself as Scotty, a mutant Droseraceae. He explains that he has some skill with machines and electronics and offers to help disable the droid. He also expresses his wish to leave the city and to join the crew of the Windwalker. The crewmembers promise to consider his request. Scotty also thinks he might be able to make a pair of glasses that could help Drabor with his fear of large open spaces.
The recovered droid resembles a large cylinder with several angular pods attached to it and a red 'eye' in front. Despite its crash, the droid is in good condition and the crewmembers are having trouble opening it. Drabor returns to the Windwalker for some advice. Tula warns that judging from the description, the pods are most likely to be mini-nukes. She thinks the best course of action would be to simply smash the sensor eye in front and destroy as many of the electronics behind it as possible. Drabor also asks about the possible location of the grav-transport. Tula suggests searching the hills just outside the city.
With Scotty still examining the droid, the others head towards the hills to find the missing tribe. They walk through the deserted streets, past the empty shells of once magnificent buildings. Occasionally they encounter some of the monsters that have made the city their home, but the well-organized crew can handle most of them. Then Drabor, who was scouting ahead, hears the approach of a swarm of insects. The group decides to take no risks and everyone seeks shelter in one of the abandoned buildings. Unfortunately, the swarm has already noticed them and the insects follow into the building. The room that the group entered has only one doorway leading further into the structure. Tuco takes out the skin he's still carrying and uses it to seal the doorway. Leaf decides to try and eat a few of the insects. A small corner of the skin is pealed back and Leaf sucks in three of the bugs. Unfortunately, they sting him in the mouth before he can swallow them. While Leaf tends to his wounds, Mmrrrghnhra goes out looking for something that can be used to nail the skin in place. He manages to find some metal splinters in a ruined wall. The group secures the skin and leaves.
The rest of the journey is without further problems and soon the crew is standing on the highest point in the area, searching the surrounding hills with their binoculars. They can't find anything though and decide to move on. After a few more hours of searching, one of the crewmembers suddenly spots what seems to be a humanoid figure on a hill in the distance. The group approaches cautiously. As they come closer, they see that the humanoid is a tall mutant who is sitting almost on top of the hill, clasping a spear in his hands. Though it's always difficult to say what a mutant should look like, this one looks decidedly bad. His features are drawn and haggard and he seems to have wasted away to a mere stick figure. Also, he shows no sign of having noticed the crewmembers' approach. He doesn't even react when they are standing right in front of him. Drabor takes a quick look over the hilltop and sees a large encampment. Though there are many people, there is no activity at all there.
The crewmembers carefully examine the comatose humanoid. When one of them touches him, the man simply keels over. Then the crewmembers notice that the man's leg is still in the same place as before, as if it was somehow attached to the ground. They dig away some of the earth and see what appears to be some sort of root that has grown into the man's foot.
After some hurried discussion, the crew decides to try and cut the man loose. When they jab a knife into the root, there is a sudden tremor in the ground directly below them and the root quickly withdraws. Drabor takes the spear from the humanoid and jabs it into the ground a few times until he opens a hole into a small tunnel. After some further hurried discussion, the crew decides to cut the rest of the humanoids loose as well and to bring them to the patch of rocky ground a little distance from the encampment. Leaf uses his summoning powers to call the Guardian, in the hope that he will get the hint and send some help.
After freeing and bandaging the surviving tribemembers (only 43 out of 60 are still alive), Drabor starts gathering piles of the dry and rough sandcoloured grass that covers the hills. Once he has gathered enough, he lights the piles in the tunnels in an attempt to get rid of the underground creature(s). In the meantime, two of the others have headed back to the city. Halfway there, four members of the Voss tribe suddenly materialize out of thin air. The Guardian has heard Leaf's call and sent them to investigate. The crewmembers explain the situation. Some of the Voss head back to get more help while the others go on to the hills.
In the meantime, Scotty has discovered the main powerline in the droid and thus managed to disable it permanently. He has salvaged what electronics he could and has also finished work on Drabor's glasses, using sanded transparent plastic to give a blurred view of the world, thus limiting the wearer's view to about thirty meters.
Sunset is already approaching when the Voss and the rest of the crew return with the surviving tribemembers. The crew spends the night in the safety of the enclave and the next day they go out searching for the grav-transport. After a few hours they find a large circular basin in the western hills of the city. A metal disc about ten meters across is located in the middle, half-covered with sand. Drabor, a.k.a. The Grim Sweeper, takes care of the sand with his broom. Certain now that they have found the grav-transport, arrangements are made with the Guardian and Tula. Tula has already been working on a transmitter to activate the transport.
The Guardian deactivates the field at the agreed upon time. The moment Tula sees the reactivation of the light-ball that was left in the field, she pilots the Windwalker through the rest of the tunnel and into the city. Not long after, the crewmembers that stayed behind at the grav-transport see the Windwalker crest the basin rim.
Tula places the transmitter she has constructed onto the metal disc and the crew boards the Windwalker as the grav-transport begins to activate. Once more the Windwalker begins to ascend into the sky, surrounded by a storm of sand and dust. The city falls away beneath the ship and the crew enjoys the panoramic view, although Drabor stays in his hut, swearing that one day he'll find a cure for his damned phobia.
Then the ship is plunged into darkness as it begins its passage into the next level. The passage takes much longer than it did the first time. The crewmembers investigate and discover that the ship is rising through a column of air surrounded by a towering wall of water. A little while after, the ship reaches the surface and the passage collapses beneath them. The crew gaze upon a nighttime landscape of endless water.
To be continued...
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