The Rescue

Note: Some pages have been edited or omitted because they contained information that I think the players would like to keep secret, or to clarify pagespoo (mostly inserting, "Over the link from Niska." :-) )

Ursa Diner(#179RAJ)
You step onto a cracked but clean tile floor that was probably once red, but is now a faded salmon pink. A large, rectangular communal table seating about 10 takes up the middle of the floor, with mismatched smaller tables arranged near the large front windows. The long counter in front of the kitchen door sports plates of bread, cookies, and muffins and bowls of fresh wild fruits. Most of these things are not listed on the menu. The counter also supports a large pot of soup, kept warm by a spirit lamp and accompanied by a stack of worn bowls of every color. A small, rattling fridge in the corner holds a selection of juices and cold spring water in reused bottles. Atop the refrigerator is a can for cash donations; next to it is a box for barter payments. Scrawled on the box in black marker are the words "Pay what you can, when you can."

Layla is sitting at the large communal table.

Julen, staff in hand, is busily eating some bread, eyes narrowed slightly in thought.

Long distance to Julen: Weatherwax notes that Eos is acting as Warder in this situation, so staying behind to guard the caern.
You paged Julen with 'Always best for the NPC to guard the barge.'.

From afar, Julen urrrs. Would Niska have done Umbral scouting, and if not, could Julen have gotten /someone/ to? At least to answer the question, "Is it shitty out there?"

You paged Julen with 'Niska did poke her head into the Umbra there, and it was AWFUL, which is why she didn't go alla way.'.

From afar, Julen mutters. Ok. There's one way of not doing things.

A slim, dark-haired girl -- whom some recognize and some may not -- yanks the door open and glides inside.

Sashenka sets the well-stuffed bag aside. She steps into the kitchen and returns a few seconds later with her arms full of neatly labeled glass canisters. She removes the pouch from her belt and opens it up, revealing myriad tiny internal pockets. She begins filling these with dried herbs, bark and the like from the canisters.

"Nobody seen the Pony Express?" Niska asks the room at large.

Dusty stands in a corner, endlessly adjusting the knots in his new outfit.

Josh enters slowly, keeping his eyes to the ground for the moment. Aside from his crossbow, a number of wooden stakes can be seen along his belt. As he enters, he moves to the side of the door, waiting.

Julen takes a breath as people arrive. Putting down the bread, she stands up and moves over to the counter. "I have not seen Lumia. This is somewhat disturbing. That said, we should think on how to do this, for we will not destroy them in one night. This is a rescue, and an announcement we will not let them stand. So. Ideas?"

Niska cocks her head, peering at Dusty. "That's quite an outfit ya got there." She refrains from adding the nearly inevitable 'Kid' on the end.

Sashenka shakes her head. "Selfheal," she mutters under her breath, then looks up at Layla. "Lumia's still spreading the news; maybe she can get a few more people here. But she left us the truck, in case we decide we need it."

Layla nods her head in thanks at Sasha's explanation. "Ah. Thanks."

Rakkil waits silently perched at his barstool near the front of the establishment, listening to the news and the planning.

Dusty looks to Niska. "Thanks. I've been working on it forever. I hope it stays together this time." He continues to pull on the knots with ever increasing tension.

Rex strides into the diner like he owns the world... immediately losing the dominant body language and melting into the woodwork. He is naked to the waist but for his sword, slung over his back. He edges toward Josh.

Higami slips inside, tea cup in hand. It's all he ever has here... no food, just boiled water and the bag of tea on top of the refrigerator.

In one swift, actually rather graceful movement, Niska springs up onto the counter, where she crouches on her heels, avidly watching Sashenka put small fiddly things into pockets.

Sashenka keeps working with her herbs. "Aspen bark...cleavers... periwinkle...." She looks up at Julen. "Well, first thing, we need to figure out exactly what we're dealing with. I don't know who among us would make the best scouts...." she trails off, looking at Dusty in his new regalia, and smiles.

He is a youth verging upon manhood and his lean frame is just filling out with muscle. A shining ebony mane trails in a loose ponytail down the smooth line of his spine and a lock of it drops into one dark eye. His skin is as flawless as the bronze it resembles and shows not the least inclination toward hirsuteness. Leather leggings provide the base for ancient armor plates to protect his lower body: black plastic thigh and shinguards, and a black plastic and metal codpiece. His upper body is usually shirtless, except in the most extreme weather or temperatures, but when he does wear something, it is an ancient, battered black leather jacket.
His prized possession, worn either across his back or at his right hip: a shining sword with golden hilt clad in a tooled leather scabbard.

The eye tends to roam towards this Asian youth in his mid-teens... there's something about the form of the young Japanese man that appeals to the senses. Everything about him, from his pale, fair skin to his midnight hair to his clothing, speaks in monochrome: black and white, with an occasional flash of silver. His black eyes seem to reflect the outside world more than receive light, the obsidian irises and the onyx pupils differing in texture rather than shade. His clothing, businesslike and sensible, is a study in balance of color: his white button-up shirt seems freshly pressed, the thin black tie and jet-colored trousers well-kept. A silver watch-chain snakes from one beltloop into his left pocket.

Niska is what one would archaicly refer to as 'a slip of a girl'. She's built small, with delicate, fragile-looking features that make it difficult to guess her age. There is a completely unsubtle wildness about her -- her carriage, the way she interacts with objects in her environment, the glint of her dark eye -- such that even the most mundane human would identify her as a wild animal in human shape, even if they thought they meant it only figuratively. Her black hair looks like it was short and well-trimmed once, but has recently been allowed to grow wild. It hangs into her face in a way that makes compulsive types itch to brush it back for her.
The clothes she's wearing are simple -- a short black skort and sleeveless black crop top -- but very well made and of expensive synthetic fiber, in a professional, urban cut. Her short boots likewise are practical, but look too fine for the mud and stones of Katahdin. It's a collection of very urban clothing on a creature who very clearly belongs up a tree in the middle of deep woods.

This tall, lanky man's frame has been stripped down to the fundamentals of muscle, bone and sinew, and then shrouded in a swarthy skin of richest brown. His eyes possess a bottomless quality to them: a soulful depth that dances with shadows, twilight's penumbra. The rest of him -- dusty clothing; close-cropped, wiry, black hair; and rangy limbs -- becomes meaningless and forgotten. The black man's eyes serve as true windows to his soul.

Dusty is festooned with an astonishing array of scraps of metal, the majority of which are ancient pie tins... perhaps it is intended to be armor. They are attached to his body via an extrordinarily complex web of strings, wires, and knots. Despite the fact that the metal scraps swing about wildly when he walks, they never seem to contact each other, so he makes very little sound. Dustys standard wary and skidish countenance has been replaced with a look of determination. He appears to be carrying a pipe with a glowing green button, a pouch bulging with spherical objects, and a long cylindrical basket strapped to his back.

The woman before you is nearly six feet tall, a massive but well-proportioned combination of soft, plump breasts and belly and rounded, muscular arms and legs. The roundness of her weathered brown face is sharpened by a slender, proud hawk nose. Her dark eyes are attentive, compassionate, and just a bit mischievous; the wrinkled reminders of her laughter spread out from them like fertile river deltas. Deep smile lines bracket her wide mouth.
Sashenka wears battered black moccasins, stretchy grey pants with grass stains at the knees, and a tunic-like black blouse with grey and white animals woven into the fabric. A brown leather pouch hangs at her waist. Her long, white-streaked cinnamon hair is braided with scraps of lavender ribbon and loosely looped at the sides of her head; on her crown are small piles of braids reminiscent of rounded animal ears. She regards you with interest.

She is a tall, willowy redhead with green eyes that curiously compliment her dark Mediterranean complexion. She has classicallyNear Eastern features.She speaks with a unplaceable accent - definately not the flat American accent, but otherwise unplaceable.She is wearing a long dark cotton dress with Indian embroidery.Copper jewelry colours her wrists.

There is something about Josh that makes him look older than he actually is. The area around his eyes has a touch of darkness to them, made even more prominent by the sea-green pupils. His white-blond hair is starting to become unkempt, hanging to just below his ears on a smudges, though clean-shaven, face.
His clothes are rumpled, the bottom edges of his blue jeans and black sneakers showing more than the standard amount of road dust. The woven leather belt he wears is unraveled at the end, and a bit of white t-shirt is not tucked into the front of his pants. The white t-shirt is covered by a denim jacket, which is fading at the elbows. He carries a battered backpack over his left shoulder, and a crossbow hangs off of hsi belt on his right side, the left holding the bolt case.

This is Julen. She's in her late 50s, it seems, and looks to be someone who's spent that life well and happily, with lines creasing her face, and laugh lines crinkled about her eyes. Her hair is dark, with considerable amounts of salt mixed in, and it's short. Her eyes are grey-green, and her face is handsome, not pretty. She's a little too stubborn and square faced for most people to call her that. She's not thin, but she's also not stout, and when she lifts things, her muscles show in the strain. She's about 5'9", and limps when she gets tired.
She's a woman who commands, if not attention, at least the eye. She's not excessively tall, although she occasionally appears to be so, nor is she excessively riveting, but there's something about her, a strange grace to strong hands, an odd light in her eyes. There's an energy in her step and a purpose to her movements, certainly, and somehow, she just draws the eye even when she's not trying to.
She wears rough linen pants, dyed dark blue, and a softly multicolored fine linen shirt. Sandals are on her feet, and she tends to carry a staff around, mostly for hiking places with.

Niska shakes her head. "You can't get into the cave proper without setting off the wards -- even the extra little sneaky back-ways were warded. Unless somebody's got super-stealth talens or something."

Sashenka jumps slightly, startled, as Niska lands in front of her, then continues her work, naming the herbs a little more loudly."Wild mustard, for strained muscles.... yarrow, for swelling...."

Josh hmmms, by the door. He smiles slightly as Rex comes near. "If there's any talens for Stealth, that would work. I've had some training in keeping quiet when I move."

Julen shakes her head at Niska. "I have not been able to work talens specifically for this mission. I do have some applicable to stealth, but I'm afraid we are clearly going to announce ourselves, with those Wards. Thus, we must plan around that fact."

Rakkil suggests quietly, "Move swiftly."

Sashenka looks up at Rakkil. "A good idea, to be sure. Niska, do you have any idea how big the cave might have been inside?"

Dusty's attention turns from his apparel to the planning. "I've got some devices to destract people and chase 'em away, if we need 'em."

Higami sets his cup down on the counter, turning his attention to the assembly.

Niska drums softly with her fingers on the countertop next to her too-nice boots -- more from an excess of energy than any move to get attention. She looks at Sashenka, with a quick movement of her head. "Looks like the complex covered 'bout a square mile, judging just by those entrances I could find. No way of telling how big it is on the inside, though, without going in. Could be mostly solid rock, or it could be nearly hollow, with a bunch of levels."

Julen pages to Weatherwax and Rakkil: Rak's gotta leave, OOCly.
You paged Rakkil and Julen with 'You can certainly have him patrolling and killing off guards outside, or carrying on a distraction for the militia in the village. :)
From afar, to Weatherwax and Rakkil, Julen is too. So let's put him to distracting villagers so we can deal wtih the main thrust of people, yes?

Sashenka considers this, chewing nervously on her lower lip. "Well, it doesn't matter if there's a maze inside, we'll find 'em. I don't know what to suggest beyond get in fast and get out fast," she says, with a tip of the head to Rakkil. "And maybe Dusty's distraction devices can help us. Anyone have a more concrete plan?"

Josh pipes up something. "Does anyone know Rite of the Questing Stone? It would be an easy way to home in on them once we're inside."


Layla says quietly, "I do."

Sashenka shakes her head. "No, but I have a Gift that should do the trick."

Julen raises her staff slightly. "I do. Planning on using it. Unless someone's got a better fix on them." Nodding to Sashenka, she says, "Yours, then. Trust Gifts more than Rites, in this situation."

Julen amends, "Yours, and Layla's. Back each other up."

Sashenka nods. "It's always a good idea to double up, if you can."

Layla pipes up, "Do we have any personal articles of the captives? Anything small?"

Rakkil pages to Dusty, Sashenka, Niska, Weatherwax, Josh, Higami, Julen, Rex, and Layla: Okay. I need to take off. I am sorry. (I didn't think I'd even have a chance to do this much ... Good luck!)

Niska hops lightly off the countertop and strides purposefully over to Dusty, staring intently at a particularly bright piece of 'armor'. "What kind of distractions?"

Julen looks at Josh at Layla's question.

Josh nods solemnly, removing something from his pack. "Kelsey kept all her stuff to herself," he says. "And...I'm not even sure if it were just those two. But this is Rowan's." He pulls out a knife, used but well-made, which is sheathed in self-sewn leather. "Will this help?"

Dusty stands proudly and pats the pipe which he carries like a rifle. "This is my bee stick. It'll give those baddies a bunch to think about, when they're surrounded with stinging bees." He lifts the pouch at his side. "These balls will blind them, too. And I've also got some glue mats, to slow 'em down a little."

Sashenka pages: I should make sure that you agree with me that Rowan and Kelsey fall under Find Cub rules. I do believe Sasha feels that both of them are under her protection, especially Kelsey.
Long distance to Sashenka: Weatherwax thinks Kelsey falls in that category, certainly. :)

Niska eyes the bee-stick speculatively. "Cool!" she pronounces after a moment.

Layla says with obvious admiration, "Gracious, you are prepared!"

Julen takes out several small articles from her bag and puts them on the table. "Talens, as well. These," she pats two small jars, "Disorient people, make them dizzy. These," she pats two wooden daggers, "Slow folks down, once you stab them with it. I've a few more, less relevant, things." She pauses. "Did you notice if the place was well lit, or not, Niska?"

Higami finally speaks. "Technology is not infallible, of course. Still, I might remind you that, as a representative of the Guild of Technology, I am not entirely without means to help you in this. It seems as if there is little time for me to order something, as you all seem almost ready to leave, but I could at the very least offer you means of communication... some interesting equipment that would allow you to stay in contact with each other. Should you be interested."

Niska replies, disgust evident in her smoky voice, "No. Looked pretty skanky, from what I could tell. Torches, it looked like."

Sashenka looks at Higami speculatively. "That could be very useful."

Julen immediately says, "Yes. I may be forced to jam it, at some point, but initially, I would thank you tremendously."

Higami nods. "I have been considering the question of communications around here for quite some time. I won't bore you with details, as you seem to be in a hurry, but for the moment I have a set of four headsets connected to receivers approximately the size of a saltine; the receivers house microchips protected by an impressively hard alloy. The headset itself is no more than one small plug designed to fit in one ear; it is impressively small and, once inserted, is unlikely to fall out. Recent innovations in the studies of matter and life dynamics have integrated to make it possible. Shall I go for the units? I could be back in six or seven minutes."

Julen nods. "Yes, please."

Sashenka's eyes widen. "Wow, those sound great."

Josh pushes himself away from the wall. "Sounds perfect."

Niska asks sharply, "What's the range? Will they work underground?"

Rex shifts restlessly from foot to foot, fiddling with his swordbelt.

Higami agrees. "The units even lack a mouthpiece: the receiver itself is highly sensitive and transmits /only/ sounds that reverberate on at least three octavial harmonic levels, such as human voices always do, so background noise is virtually nil. As to whether they would work underground... that, I honestly never thought to investigate. I suppose I should have. Forgive me. If they do not function, I would not be offended if you did not use them. Excuse me... I can see that time is short." He stands and makes his way to the door.

Niska suddenly doesn't seem very much like the wild, corvid-born thing she was a moment ago.

Julen asks, before he leaves, "Human? Audible parts of Mother's Tongue won't work, then?"

Sashenka sets aside her last canister and begins rechecking every pocket of her healer's pouch.

Higami says "The receiver is designed to omit frequencies that do not resonate on octavial or multiple levels. Everything that uses a voice box fulfills those requirements. However, they also filter out sounds with a base resonancy below the human possible lowest base resonancy, and frequencies higher than the highest human possible voice. These devices were used by the Tokyo Benturu when they held power during the Dark Years... no problems were reported, and some of them were not quite human, but none of them were fully animals, either. I thus suspect that they are forgiving in their highest and lowest frequencies, but only to a point. It may be that if the voice is animal, it may not transmit properly or completely."

Higami excuses himself.

Higami pushes open the door and walks out onto Main Street.

Julen looks after him. "Very long maybes, that man has." Moving her glance back to the group, she smiles faintly. "Other suggestions?"

Niska stops playing with her reflection in the refrigerator door handle long enough to rasp over her shoulder, "What if it's a set-up? If they know we're coming, they could send some of their villagers to come here while we're gone."

Julen explains, "Hence, Eos, with some toys of her own. Also, I'm considering asking Rakkil to distract some of said villagers. Suspect it'll play to his strengths."

Sashenka looks up. "We could just have Miss Alison glare at them all. They'd go away." She chuckles at her own joke as she ties her pouch back up and hangs it from her waist.

Higami steps into the diner.

Josh chuckles softly. "I asked Brett to skirt the borders, checking for strangers as well."

Niska husks, "How many of us can we stuff into the truck?"

Julen narrows her eyes. "Quite a few, I imagine. Though it's fairly loud, is it not?"

Sashenka ponders. "I think we could get three in front, and maybe up to 10 in back, if no one much cares about breathing.... But yeah, if they're paying any attention they'll hear it coming."

Julen shrugs. "Leave it a few miles away, walk in the rest. Works for me." She sighs. "I so very wish we could find a back entrance. Niska, you willing to do a bit of searching for one, once we get there?"

Josh hmmmms. "Well, keeps some fighters in both parts. WHo knows how to drive?"

Higami returns. He produces four small objects slighter than playing cards from his shirt pocket, and four tiny black cylinders with various irregularities on their surfaces. "Here you are," he says, placing them on the counter. "The cylinder fits in the ear, and the receiver card can go anywhere on your person. These four are set to the same channel, so they will send and receive only your messages. You will find them convenient... no mouthpiece, no background noise, difficult to detect, and very difficult to physically break. The single caveat that it may not transmit certain animal sounds is a small price to pay, particularly considering that you will be using them with no obligation. In the future, bear in mind that the Guild of Technology can be more useful to you if you alert me beforehand, giving me time to order." Higami takes a sip of the cooling tea he left on the counter. "You will find that you are not the only one with a vested interest in seeing the Corruptor gone."

Layla says "I know how to drive."

Niska gives her head a shake, sending her tangled black hair snapping. "We can ditch the truck somewhere," she says. "You groundpounders don't want to walk all that way, and it took me six hours to fly it straight -- it'll be longer along the r--- ooh! Are those them?" She sidles over to Higami and his gifts. "They're so little!"

Julen says, fairly warmly, "My thanks, Mr. Ryumaru." Considering, she says, "Myself, Niska, Sashenka, Layla, perhaps?"

Josh raises one question. "Will those remain intect if you shift forms?"

Sashenka steps around the counter and looks at the objects in Higami's hands. "Wow, they are small."

Rex stands on tiptoe to see the nifty technological gizmos.

Higami nods. "Please return them, if you can. And you are very welcome. Ryumaru is actually my first name, for future reference." He gives a vague, emotionless Buddhalike smile and sips his tea again. "The earpiece will remain intact. The earpieces are actually earplugs with small metal filaments inside sensitive to heat... they are twisted and inserted into the ear, where they inflate to accomodate the exact ears of the user, and to allow other sounds to filter through the sponge-like circuit material, aiding in your hearing. They will therefore 'shift', for all intents and purposes, with a shifting ear, although as I have said they may not transmit noises uttered from an animal mouth: unless, of course, it can imitate human speech perfectly even in that state." He glances to Niska.

Niska grins happily. "Ryu," she says, though in her low, husky voice, it comes out sounding more like "Hryu."

Julen says, "Oh. My apologies, then. Were I to wish to address you formally, how might I do it?"

Higami says "I'm far too young to be addressed formally, and am merely a representative of the Guild. There will never be a need for you to address me formally. If you don't want to call me by my first name, Higami will be just fine. Mr. Higami, if you want to be especially formal.""

Josh looks to the door, the tension obvious in his shoulders. He doesn't say much else.

"Very well then, Mr. Higami. As I say, my thanks." She steps forward to take her own device, and looks around. "We have more skills and/or devices it would be useful to know about?"

Sashenka takes an earpiece and a card thingie as well, looking at them curiously, then looks up, first at Julen and then around the room. "Anyone mind if I use this one?"

"We just came back to see how the place was getting along," Niska sneers in a voice only Josh will recognize. A male voice, without a trace of her usual burr.

Josh isn't watching, so when he hears that voice, he wheels around, hand dopping to his side. When he realizes that one isn't really here, he winces, turning away. "Jumpy," he mumbles.

Julen tells Sashenka, "Given your Gift, it would make considerable sense, Sashenka."

Sashenka nods. "Just wanted to be sure evryone agrees."

Julen's eyes flash slightly. "Pardon. We are not a democracy. What makes most sense for one person to use, they will use. That makes sense for you to use. Therefore."

Sashenka turns to Julen, and her eyes narrow. "We may need to discuss this. But not now. Are we ready to go, then?"

Josh sighs quietly. "I'm ready."

Higami sips his tea.

Julen says, evenly, "We may, yes. Perhaps now, even. The lack of a clear leader in battle often causes issues. Care to talk about it?"

Dusty sidles up to Higami. His eyes wide with wonder, he whispers "Mr. Higami, do you have many other devices? These are really, really cool."

Niska does a little spin. "Reaaa-dy!" she sing-songs.

Higami nods to Dusty. "Yes, I do, Dusty. When I have a house of my own, you may all come over and see everything I have for sale or trade."

Rex cracks his knuckles and grins. He makes sure the swordbelt is firmly fastened.

Sashenka nods to Julen, her voice unusually cool. "During battle, yes, a clear leader is necessary. Prior to battle is less clear. You seem to have the experience and willingness to lead us into this, and I am willing to follow you because of that. But your assumption that you are the leader to the exclusion of other ideas..... That's another story."

Dusty smiles to Higami, then turns back to the group and says with conviction, "I'm ready!"

Julen relaxes slightly, and the calm coolness fades. "I have experience in quite a few matters, but that does not mean I am infallible. We will speak more, but I do not wish to push any of this Gumi into anything. My apologies for the assumption on what precisely you meant. Meanwhile." She takes the two remaining devices and offers one to Layla and one to Niska. "Care for these?"

Layla takes one, offering a quick smile to Higami. "Gladly."

Higami nods to Layla in response, smiling more with his eyes.

Sashenka's tense shoulders relax. "No apology necessary. I do appreciate your willingness to lead us."

Josh turns around, rubbing his chin. "Well...are we going as one force, or splitting up?"

Niska was eyeing Higami's pretty silver necklace. "Huh? Oh. Nah." She peers closely at the offered device and makes a face at it. "My ear's gonna get pretty small in a minute, and I'd rather not have my skull split, thanks." But she doesn't stop staring at them. "Well, maybe not *that* small..." She snatches it quickly out of Julen's hand before the Sentinel can give it to someone else, turns away and stuffs it quickly in her ear.

The Sentinel smiles faintly, and says, "Right. Take talens, people, and lets be off."

Dusty looks on enviously as the devices are distributed, but does not say anything.

Sashenka looks at the assembled group. "Certainly no need to split up now. The van will easily hold us all."

Josh smiles at some silent joke. "That'll work." He shoulders his pack over both shoulders, and adjusts his weapon belt.

Sashenka grabs her sack of trail bars from behind the counter and walks toward the door.

Josh fingers his belt, and looks behind him. He walks over to the table, taking one dagger for himself.

Julen nods. "Exactly my thought." Those talens not taken, she returns to her bag, and follows the Nitakk-ita out.

Layla leaves her seat and heads towards the door.

Rex follows the general trend of going out.

Higami sips his tea.

Niska sets her hands on the edge of the counter and vaults over it -- only instead of coming down on the other side, she shifts to her raven-form mid-air, turns over her left pinion, and makes for the opening door.

Dusty joins the exodus, nearly jumping with excitement.

Outside stands Lumia's Pony Express truck, more a van than anything else. It has been emptied of her gear and the mail, leaving space for about 10 people and small amounts of gear.

Layla starts the van with a minimal amount of fuss. Accustomed to battery operated vehicles, she knits her brow in distress at the tremendous amount of noise the vehicle makes.

Sashenka pages to Dusty, Niska, Weatherwax, Josh, Higami, Julen, Rex, and Layla: Ooops. Forgot to pose grabbing a talen. I did. :)

Julen takes a space in back, leaning against a wall, and waits.

Higami pages: Just as the truck pulls away, Higami calmly reaches into his shirt pocket and produces a /fifth/ earpiece, which he inserts in his own ear, and switches the receiver panel in his rear pants pocket to 'on'. He then boils himself another cup of tea and settles down in a chair to re-read 'The Spring and Autumn Annals' in Chinese. ;)

Josh hops into the back. He takes the dagger, moving it from hand to hand as he watches the entrance.

Niska takes a perch on the top frame of the open passenger-side door, waiting for people to climb in before she hops in after.

Sashenka also hops in the back, and sits cross-legged with her back against the driver's compartment.

Rex wedges his lean frame in wherever it fits, initially forgetting to remove his sword from his back. He clanks against the doorframe and sheepishly slips out of the belt before sliding into whatever space affords itself to him.

While waiting for everyone to get settled, Niska hangs upsidedown in the open window, obviously playing with her reflection in the rearview mirror.

Dusty looks about, then makes for the pasenger seat. He cradles his pipe, ready to use it at a moment's notice.

It is a long, hot, dusty trip. There hasn't been much rain this summer, and the roads are in lousy shape. The van bumps and bounces down the south road, passing through another small village a few hours later.

Julen quietly starts singing a trail-winding sort of song. Her voice isn't fantastic, but it's not horrible, either.

Dusty scans the terrain, looking for threats coming from every nook and cranny the landscape has to offer. His pipe stays craded in this arms.

Sashenka passes around the bag of trail bars. They're like hard, dry, slightly sweet herbed biscuits. "They'll give everyone a little extra energy. And don't worry, I brought water too."

After getting through the narrow little streets of the village, Niska directs Layla onto the western road. Three or so more jouncing, rattling hours and you reach an apparent dead end.

Niska sits on Dusty's lap for about twenty seconds, then asks if he can set up that pipe, or his arm or somthing for her to perch on, so she can see out the window. Every now and then, she asks Layla to slow down so she can fly out the window and scout.

At the dead end, Niska says, "Well, this is as far as the truck will go. It's a few more miles through *that*." She jerks her beak at the forest.

Josh is, by this time, pacing. When Sasha offers, he takes one of the bars and wolfs it down without offering any sad puns.

Layla kills the engine.

Dusty peers at the forest, then opens the door catiously and steps onto the earth.

Sashenka stands up. "Well then, let's go."

Niska leads the way, keeping low under the canopy. She occasionally leaves to scout the path, mindful that underbrush gets in *your* way, if not in hers.

Julen climbs out. "Ms. Raven, you care to check about a bit, while we go for a nice walk?" She, in fact, begins walking, not shifting to lupus in what is evidently deference to the non-shifters among them.

The late afternoon sun slants through the abundant greenery of the forest. Normal animal noises. Normal insects. Apparently normal everything.

Rex hops out of the van and streeeeetches, spine cracking alarmingly. Then he fits the belt around his waist, shakes out his legs, and follows when folks begin to lead into the shrubbery.

Layla plunges ahead, following Niska's lead.

Dusty struggles to keep as close to Niska as he can, and continues to scan the surroundings for danger.

Josh slips out quietly. He replaces the dagger, going for his crossbow as the van has indeed stopped moving. He moves about ten feet away from the van itself, searching.

Sashenka follows behind Dusty, not too closely. Occasionally as she pushes a branch out of the way, she holds it for a few moments before letting it go.

Niska pages: niska is scouting her little feathered ass off, both in the Realm and in the Umbra. Want *no* surprises.

Julen does the same for others, staff still in hand.

Sashenka stops, her hands on a low oak limb. "Someone's been through here. Someone who could make the plants move aside for them." She sounds affronted. "They weren't gentle."

"Oh, yeah. Didn't I mention that?" Niska pipes up from a nearby branch.

The walk is somewhat less dreary than the drive. Less dust, more breeze. After about an hour of hiking, you all begin to notice a rather... creepy sensation. Fewer animal noises. Less wind.

Josh follows a few paces behind. He is still silent, watching their flanks.

Layla checks her eternal backpack for her knife as she continues to hike.

Julen murmurs, disturbed, "Mages, perhaps."

Sashenka pages: Just for reference, I am (of course) maintaining a dialogue with the plants in case anything else odd turns up.

"It was the same four shifters as before," Niska replies from somewhere up ahead. The people with earpieces can hear her.

Dusty takes in a sharp gasp, and peers hard into the forest. He clutches his pipe so tightly that he trembles slightly.

Julen blinks. "Same four shifters," she supplies generally. "Wonder... Hm." She breaks off, asking Dusty, "Yes?"

Sashenka catches up to Dusty quickly and places a calming hand on his shoulder.

"Though I never saw the one with the axe shift -- ask Josh," says Niska over the link. Followed by, "Oh, hey, is that a dead *moose*?"

Dusty looks to Julen and says, uncertainly, "Nothing... just trying to be careful." Sashenka's grasp clearly calms him, and he continues forward.

Julen, in fact, asks Josh.

Over the link, Niska shrieks.

Sashenka gasps and grabs at her ear. "NIska? NIska! Are you okay?"

Layla scans the skies for Niska.

Julen growls. "Gift, Sashenka?"

Dusty stops in his tracks, looking back to where the raven last sat. He holds the pipe out, pointing it in random directions as he desperately scans the surroundings.

Over the link, It's not fear or pain -- it's anger. "NO! I *won't* stay! You can't leave me here!"

Josh nods. "It's possible. There were only four I had met. They might just have been a scouting force."

Over the link from Niska, "Dammit, it's not fair! I can fight, too!" Sometimes it's Niska's voice, sometimes it's that other. You've *heard* this voice, but not like this, not angry.

Sashenka stops in her tracks and closes her eyes, swaying her head back and forth. "That way," she says, opening her eyes and pointing right.

Layla asks Sasha, "Can you tell how far?"

Julen puts a hand to her ear, then nods. "Not leaving her like that."

Dusty moves surprisingly quietly in the direction Sashenka is pointing, and glides through the underbrush.

Sashenka closes her eyes again, and appears to be sniffing at the air. "a... ummmm. a half a mile, maybe."

Julen lets those with a fix take the lead, but is close behind.

Over the link from Niska, "I want to fight, too," the other voice says, almost despairing. You recognize it -- All That Glitters. Then it's Niska again. "Dammit. Damn them." After a moment. "Shit. That was out loud, wasn't it? Sorry you guys." She sounds okay, but somewhat angry, and also chagrined.

Sashenka moves into the underbrush, still seeming to sniff at the air.

Josh stops moving for a moment to listen, using his heritage as Kinfolk to do so.

Julen says, "What was it, Niska?"

Dusty gives a frantic whisper, "What's going on?"

Sashenka stops, brow furrowed, and presses her hand to her ear again. She says frantically, "Niska? Was that All That Glitters? What's going on? Are you okay??"

Over the link from Niska, There is a looong pause, then you hear Niska's voice, sounding uncharacteristically small. "Sorry, sorry. Her memories are so *strong*. Something triggered them -- I don't know what."

Julen frowns. "Probably, she worked against these, at one point. Are you able to... Keep going, Niska?" To Dusty, she explains, "Niska was... Fighting memories."

Josh's eyebrows find a home in his hairline. "All that Glitters? Rusakla?" The second name is asked more frantically, remembering a task laid on him by the Vampire, months ago.

Sashenka holds up a hand toward those behind her in a "stop" gesture. "I.... it seems to be okay."

Over the link from Niska, "Fine," the raven says over the link, speaking much more strongly now. "I'm fine." Her husky voice is hard.

Layla moves to Josh's side. "Hey, you okay?"

Julen says, "Fine -- come on back. Then we can go on ahead."

Josh relaxes, visibly. "I'm all right," he says. "Just spooked for a moment."

A piece of shadow emerges from the trees and resolves itself into Niska, who lands in a nearby bush. "Sarry guys. I'm fine. Sorry." Her smoky voice is a mixture of anger and chagrin. "You guys should head off to the left there -- it gets mushy a little further on."

Julen, obligingly, heads off to the left, although again she lets those with a fix on the captured lead the way.

Sashenka nods. "It's okay, Niska. Thanks." She heads in the direction the girl indicated.

Dusty stops. "Hey, guys, look at this!" He points to the ground.

Layla stops and looks.

There is a streak of ooze that stinks of decay that stretches in roughly the direction you are heading. Flies and ants are swarming around it.

Julen pages: Corrupter?
You paged Julen with 'No, not particularly. Just something very dead.'.

Niska circles back to see what the fuss is. "Oh, hey! Jeremy!" she greets the ooze as though it's a old friend.

Josh looks down, frowning. He goes to say something, before giving Niska a shocked look.

After you all move that way, you startle a few dozen rats out of the undergrowth that seem to have been hanging out around or eating the stuff. They scurry off hurriedly, squeaking. Some of them are Very Large, and look like they could eat Niska in a single chomp.

Julen looks over and says, "Oh. It's... not Corrupter, at the least," and keeps going.

Sashenka comes back and looks at the nasty ooze. "Jeremy?"

Dusty wrinkles his nose. "Smells terrible, too." His eyes scan the ooze trail as it disappears into the undergrowth. As he sees the rats, he thrusts the pipe upward to point at them.

Niska looks up at Josh and Sashenka. "What? Oh. They had a dead guy in the back of the truck. That's some of him." She eyes the smear critically. "Some of the inner, squishy bits, if I'm any judge."

Josh hmms. "Any idea how old the streak is?"

Dusty's face grows green for an instant, then snaps back to the task at hand.

Julen blanches slightly, but seems interested in the answer, as she moves along.

"I know exactly how old it is," Niska says confidently. "He was seeping out of the back of the truck when I followed them here just the other day." She eyes Josh. "Rowan or one of the others may have helped with that -- to make a trail for me -- us -- to follow."

Sashenka shakes her head. "Wow. That's definitely resourceful."

Josh curls up the corner of his mouth. "Yeah...sounds like Rowan," he says, and moves to follow.

Rowan pages all: Man, I WISH.

Layla asks aloud, "Niska, who's Jeremy?"

As you all move along, you notice some more of the streak, and startle more rats of all sizes. Other than the buzz of the flies and the indignant squeaks of the rodents, there is no sound now in the forest.

"Owned the warehouse they had the truck stashed in -- may even have owned the truck, I don't know," Niska says. "Axe-Guy got him. I was hoping to get him back to his kin, but that's looking unlikely."

Layla wishes she were elsewhere. Any where else.

Rex attempts to move along quietly. At least he seems to be in good shape for hiking.

Sashenka nods. "Well," she says grimly, "let's follow Jeremy, then."

You paged Niska with 'Going back to scouting?'.
Niska pages: Yes.

Niska says "You guys do that. I'm gonna take another looka round. We should be getting close."

Julen nods, not that Niska would pay attention if she said no, and keeps going.

You paged Niska with 'As you move out to scout, you almost immediately spot a guy lurking among the trees about fifty meters ahead and to the left, just past the marshy bit. He has evidently detected the group by their noise and is watching for them.'.

Over the link from Niska, she whispers softly over the link. "Company. fifty meters ahead, to the left. He knows we're here."

Dusty glides forward, making even less sound than before despite the continual shaking of the pie tins which cover his small form.

Niska pages: is it one I recognise ?
You paged Niska with 'No others visible, and definitely not one you recognize.'.

Layla whispers to the crew "To the left - they're coming fast."

From afar, Julen does Sense Corrupter, yes?
You paged Julen with 'No Corruption per se. A general taint to the area, but nothing screaming in one spot.'.

Sashenka stops, and gestures to those behind her to do the same. She turns to face forward and left.

Over the link from Niska, she whispers, "When you guys get close, I'll distract him."

Josh knocks his crossbow, facing that way. "Premature quaint."

Niska pages: Just as he's about to leap or do whatever, I'll divebomb his head.

Dusty stops and braces himself, pipe facing the direction of the incoming.

Julen shifts upwards, slowly, as Sashenka gestures, into glabro, and waits. Warily.

Rex slips his sword from its sheath quietly.

Sashenka resumes moving forward, slowly, also shifting upwards as she goes. She makes a "follow me" gesture.

You paged Niska with 'When everything falls silent, he begins to back away silently, evidently intent on departing in the direction of the Hive and village. He is carrying a bag, clutched against his chest. He appears to be a teenager.'.

Niska pages: what about when they start moving again ?

Layla's form shimmers as she shifts into glabro.

You paged Niska with 'When he hears them start moving, he bolts like greased lightning.'.

Dusty stoops lower, and moves forward silently.

Over the link from Niska, "Shit! He's making a break for it!"

Julen barks, "Direction?"

Over the link from Niska, She calls to him in Argent's voice, "Stop! Whatever do you think *you're* doing?"

Over the link from Niska, "Forward and to the left, past the lighting-struck pine."

Josh moves as silently as he can, trying to keep up.

Layla whispers to the crew "He's running away!:"

You paged Niska with 'He stops dead and throws himself to the ground, covering his head and neck. You can hear him saying something into the dirt.'.

Julen mutters, more quietly, "Left. Lightning pine. Distance weapon folks, go for it,"
Rex starts jogging.

Sashenka leaps forward, giving up on stealth for the most part and sprinting to catch whoever-it-is.

Josh starts moving faster, bounding over a fallen branch, ready to take the lead at this part. His eyes narrow, trying to fins his target.

Niska pages: Is he scared of Argent?
Niska pages: she tries to get close enough to get a good look at him / hear what he's saying.

Dusty stumbles forward, trying to keep up with the lightning-fast movements of his compatriots.

You paged Niska with 'Terrified. He's saying, over and over, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Lord Argent, forgive me, they're yours, I won't tell anyone, I promise, please, please, I was just picking berries, I won't tell anyone, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."'.

Over the link from Niska, "Wait! Hold up! Don't attack!"

Sashenka stops again, throwing up a shower of leaves. "Okay, Niska, what do you wnat us to do? You said he was making a break for it. Just follow?"

Over the link from Niska, "Hey, Kid" Niska says in her own voice. "Get up a sec. Argent ain't here."

Layla slows her pace, grips her ear, and waves at the group to hold up.

Julen mutters, "Not threat, evidently." She doesn't shift, though, as she continues to make her way over.

You paged Niska with 'The kid stays on his hands and knees, although he turns his head, trying to track the voice. After a moment, he scrambles to his feet and starts running again.'.

Niska pages: fly ahead of him, shift into homid, and trip him.

Rex seems to have taken up the position of rear guard.

Josh is much more towards the front, keeping on his guard.

Dusty takes the pause to catch his breath. He leans on his pipe, but continues to scan the trees.

You paged Niska with 'Kid has surprisingly good reflexes and manages to simply tumble back to his feet. You get a look at his face: badly scarred by claws, at the very least.'.

Over the link from Niska, "Wait! Please! We need your help!"
Niska pages: Niska is a bird again, following.

Julen keeps trying to /find/ this individual -- and Niska.

Sashenka shifts back to homid form. "Okay. We'll help. Where are you? What do you need?"

Over the link from Niska, Niska speaks low for the benefit of those over the link, "It's a kid -- one of the villagers, I think, and I scared the crap out of him. You guys are too far behind -- he's fast. Stay where you are and look sharp. I'll be back when I've got this sorted one way or the other." There's a grim note in her husky voice.

The group comes into sight of the raven and running boy. The boy tosses terrified looks back over his shoulder at Niska, who is calling to him. The boy is about twenty meters ahead of the forwardmost of the group. He seems to be clutching a bag to his chest.

Julen calls, "Wait! We're trying to help, really!" but glances relfexively at Sashenka.

You paged Josh with 'You notice a small, dirty face, peering out from under a very thick bush. It sees you, gasps, and retreats back into the bush.'.

Julen pages: Persuasion, not that it's real helpful.

Over the link from Niska, "Whoops ! Spoke too soon!"

Niska flies up and gets right in his face, alert to flailing fists, but trying to check him anyway. "Will you *calm* the heck down?!"

Sashenka hurries forward, trying toi catch up without lookiung imposing.

Sashenka pages: and trying to cast Calm on the boy.

Layla hangs back.

Josh heads towards the bush, putting down his bow. "More of them," he says, upping his speed.

Niska pages: If she has to, she'll shift right on *top* of him.

The whites of the boy's eyes are visible, like a terrified horse's, as he twists to look back at Julen, who has called to him more persuasively, somehow, than the bird. When Niska gets into his face, he shrieks, attempts to dash her from the air with his bag. He leaps away, slamming himself into a tree hard enough to knock the wind out of himself. He slides to the ground, gasping, wheezing, and making pathetic little noises.

Sashenka holds her hands up, empty, as she walks forward toward the boy. "It's okay. It's okay. No one here will harm you."

A tiny shriek bursts out of the bush that Josh is approaching, accompanied by a small child, about three years old, with long, tousled, black hair.

Dusty fades behind a tree, with only the mouth of the pipe barely visible.

At Josh's words, and the boy's collapse, Niska soars up to see who else is around.

Josh goes towards the fallen boy quickly, lifting him up in both arms. He moves his hand around, checking for a heartbeat.

Julen calls, as she gets slightly closer, "We won't hurt you. Truly. We are trying to get our friends from them, as well."

Julen is being careful not to exceed the boy's wariness quotient.

Julen pages: Still Persuasion, rah.

Sashenka hurries toward the boy slumped at the base of the tree. "Are you alright?"

The teenager struggles feebly against Josh, but can't summon the breath. His bag falls to the ground and some late wild strawberries and early wineberries spill out.

The three year old of indistinct gender pauses, staring at Josh and the boy in his arms, shrieks again in some language that is not English, and throws itself on Josh, kicking him in the shins, scratching, clawing, biting.

Sashenka grabs the three year old by the shoulders, gently but firmly, and makes shushing sounds.

Sashenka pages: Okay, now the Calm should work.

Layla shifts into homid and steps forward.

Josh gives a shocked look, but does not attempt to fight back. He tries to block the shots, so he has some survival instinct, but doesn't retaliate. "Hey...ow...we're not enemies, here."

Julen calls the same thing, as she gets closer.

Julen pages: He look real hurt, or just some?

Niska pages: Niska is looking to see if we've attracted unwanted attention.

You paged Julen with 'Just some.'.

You paged Niska with 'Ahhhh, yes, quite possibly. The shrieks of small children are quite... piercing.'.

Niska pages: Well, I'm looking to see what direction it's coming from, then.

The child subsides abruptly when Sashenka's hands come down on its shoulders, but the dirty face looks patently unhappy. The boy is starting to regain his breath, and, while still terrified, is not attempting to either flee or scream.

Julen tries English, experimentally. "Can we help, at all?"

You paged Niska with 'You know that you're about a half a kilometer from the outskirts of the village. There are some children emerging from the woods at the edge of the village, heading into town with some speed. It is entirely possible that they've heard the ruckus.'.

Sashenka digs in her bag with one hand and gives the dirty child an energy biscuit. She strokes its hair and quietly hums a lullabye.

The boy stares at Julen, large dark eyes in a badly scarred face, one lock of stringy hair screening most of the ruin of his nose. "You must kill me," he says in a voice slightly accented in the eastern European style. "If you do not, they will, for failing. For being captured."

Niska pages: Niska flies off to one side of the emerging children and attempts to distract them by making Intersting Noises. No voice, just wacky sounds.

Josh huhs? "Failing at what?"

You paged Niska with 'Several of them pay attention and divert, but you know, there's always those couple of annoying brats who have some stupid Sense of Purpose.'.

Over the link from Niska, Niska is making various interestingly strange sounds through her link. "THere are more children coming," she whispers.

Julen says, rather firmly, finally getting close enough to touch his arm, lightly, "We do not kill those who do not deserve it. We will /help/ you, truly, but what did you fail in?"

Niska pages: Fly ahead of the purposeful ones, shift, and start running off through the brush away from the group.

Layla casts her eyes to the sky. "From which direction, Niska?"

The boy looks incredulous. "I failed to warn of an enemy's approach. I was captured by the enemy. I will not tell tales. I will not tell you anything."

Sashenka hrrrmphs through her nose. "Using children to do their dirty work." She represses a potentially child-frightening growl.

Niska pages: Which direction is the village from the group ?

The child eyes Sashenka suspiciously, but eats the treat. It is a very skinny child, with many bruises up and down its bare legs and arms.

Julen pages: DOES he smell, now that I'm closer?

You paged Niska with 'Northwest. The two purposeful ones, unfortunately, run harder in the direction of the village.'.

You paged Julen with 'Somewhat. Smells like... smells like original sin. :} Not anything particularly direct.'.

Over the link from Niska, "Shit. Two of the little brats have gone to the village. I can't stop them."

Niska pages: any more coming our way ?

The boy eyes Sashenka. "We were not doing anything dirty," he says indignantly. "We were picking berries." He gestures to the bag on the ground as evidence.

You paged Niska with 'Not yet.'.

Layla mutters "Sentinels. Dammit."

Julen growls. "Hell." To the child, she says, directly, "We do not hurt those we love. We will not. If you wish protection, find us another time. We must leave, as quickly as possible. But we hope not to let them /hurt/ you. If you do not hurt us. Deal?"

Over the link from Niska, "They're still just kids. Now what?"

Sashenka points to berry stains on the fingers of the younger child, and smiles gently. "Looks dirty to me." She looks up at Julen. "We're not going to beat them to town. How much do we need surprise?"

The boy's lips tighten grimly. "I have honor. If you spare my sister, I will not tell about you."

Over the link, Niska says we're between the village and the cave. If we move fast, we'll be there before anyone from the village can get there.

Julen says, jerking her head at the smaller one, "You mean her?"

Layla says briskly, "We need to move out. Now."

The boy nods, once, sharply. "We will pick berries over there." He looks off over Julen's shoulder.

Sashenka stands up, patting the girl on the head. "Of course we won't hurt her. C'mon, guys, let's go."

Julen says, "Deal," and stands. "Yes. We move." To the boy, she adds, "Spread the word. We will give shelter," and moves off with her kumi. "Quickly, people." She breaks into a run, in fact.

Rex begins to jog once more, keeping a last eye on the pair of siblings and their berry bag as the group moves forward.

Niska pages: Niska waits to see what comes out of the village before flying back.

Josh sighs quietly, looking at the poor kids, and moves off, following.

Layla follows at a fast clip.

Dusty moves from behind the tree and attempts to keep pace with Julen. He looks back to the children as he moves, curious.

Sashenka presses a half-dozen more biscuits into the hands of the hungry-looking little girl, then takes off after Julen, glancing over her shoulder for Dusty.

You paged Niska with 'You see a group of men and women begin to arm and armor themselves at a big building in the village center. A small group of runners (teenagers) is dispatched toward the cave.'.

Niska pages: If I get someone to split off from our main group, can we intercept the teens ?

The boy picks up his bag, gathers into it as many of the spilled berries as possible, and takes his little sister by the hand. Resolutely, he turns them in the direction he indicated and they march that way.

You paged Niska with 'There's four teens running. At this point, you could possibly intercept, yes.'.

Over the link from Niska, "The village is rising. They've sent four kids ahead to warn the cave. If you send somebody quick, we can maybe just intercept them."

Niska pages: Will they get there before we do ?

Julen looks at Layla. "Into being speedy today? We need interception, yes?"

Niska pages: Meaning, do we *need* to intercept them ?

You paged Niska with 'You can intercept the kids at this point before they come into sight of the cave entrance, yes.'.

Layla says "Niska, give me directions."

Layla drops into lupus.

Niska appears as a flash of black, pausing long enough for Layla to catch sight of her, then flies off back into the trees.

You paged Julen with 'Where are the rest of you going?'.

Layla tears off into the trees, in fast pursuit.

Julen pages: Caves.

Sashenka looks at the intercom-less. "They've sent some kids from the village to warn the cave. Layla is intercepting them, but we still have to hurry."

Julen nods. "Right. So let's move, people."

Julen, evidently still tinking keeping the group together is a higher priority than sheer speed, still does not shift, but just runs fast.

You paged Niska and Layla with 'You spot the four teens that are running like the wind through the trees. They are older than the other boy, 16 or 17, two girls and two boys, scantily clad and barefoot. You can intercept them before they come into sight of the cave. What are you doing to them?'.

Sashenka runs after Julen, not extremely fast, but faster than she looks like she would go.

Rex breaks into a lope, still guarding the rear.

Niska pages: Niska's going to try the same trick -- flying up in the leader's face, shifting to drop on him if she has to.

Dusty moves his legs as fast as they can go, trying to keep up with the others.

Sashenka continues to keep an eye out for Dusty, making sure he doesn't fall behind.

Layla pages to Niska and Weatherwax: I try to cut them off, I puff my ridge along my back, and I snarl as scarily as possible. If one tries to break past me, I will bodyslam them in order to stun them or knock their breath out,

You paged Niska and Layla with 'Niska blasts into the leader's -- one of the girls -- face and shifts to drop on her. The girl is evidently trained in some hand to hand combat, because she's got the knack of floorwork. She drops to her knees and gets a surprisingly strong grip on Niska. The youngest of the runners, a boy, gasps and startles at the scary wolf, but the other two attempt to dodge around Layla. She bodyslams the running boy, and he goes down, but one girl is still going.'.

The rear group hears Layla's snarl and a couple of adolescent yelps of surprise from ahead. Not quite in sight.

Josh perks up. "More of them?"

Niska pages to Weatherwax and Layla: Niska tries to wriggle free -- if she thinks she can shift witthout the girl getting a grip on her bird form, she will.

Julen gasps, "Layla -- probably -- come on --" and keeps going. Mmm, winded theurges.

Niska pages to Weatherwax and Layla: She's kicking like a wildcat, BTW, and cursing very low in raven-noises.

Layla pages to Niska and Weatherwax: I snap and growl at the little kid, then I take after the girl. I'm going to try to slam her from behind.

Niska pages to Sashenka, Weatherwax, Julen, and Layla: Y'all can hear Niska cursing and grunting over the link. "Leggo, stupid bitch."

Sashenka puts on a little extra burst of speed. It's not all that impressive a burst, but she's trying.

Josh nods quickly, putting his ehad down as he moves forward.

From afar, to Sashenka, Weatherwax, and Julen, Layla is snapping and growling and panting (running?).

You paged Niska and Layla with 'Niska is fortunate; while the girl seems to have some skill in wrestling with shifters, she's not used to shifters that get quite so small quite so fast. The raven leaves some tailfeathers behind and has taken a sound punch to the jaw in her homid form, but she's loose. The younger boy winces back from the snapping wolf jaws, leaving Layla open to try to slam the girl from behind. The girl has begun to yell as loud as her breath will allow, and just as Layla is about to reach her, she spins around, kicking the wolf across the muzzle. She drops into a crouch, evidently ready to fight.'.

This time, Dusty looks back to make sure Sashenka is keeping up.

The high, clear voice of a teenage girl breaks the twilit silence: "Intruders! Intruders! Coming now!" And then it stops and there's the sound of a struggle.

Layla pages: I'm going for the throat. Crushing grasp on the windpipe.

Layla pages: I'm going to try make her pass out, not kill her.

Julen mutters, into the link, obviously, "Got them all?" She's still running, though.

Niska pages to Sashenka, Weatherwax, Julen, and Layla: "Well, that's about that. They had to have heard that. Aren't you there *yet*?!"

Sashenka pants, "We.... can't.... fly."

"Neither can they," Josh quips. He moves forward, tryign to get a better look.

The group bursts into sight of the scuffle, passing toward the cave. One teenage girl, on her knees, has just lost her grip on Niska. One teenage boy is scrambling to his feet, holding his stomach and coughing. A younger teenage boy has stopped to help him. Another teenage girl has just kicked Layla in the face. As you watch, Layla lunges for her and the girl drops under the lunge, coming up with an elbow in Layla's gut that tosses the Hermit sideways.

The delay is sufficient, though. The main group pounds out of the undergrowth to discover that the Hive has barely been raised... a couple of people are scurrying toward the cave entrace, leaving a large delivery truck partially under cover.

Niska soars directly into the mouth of the cave. The wards won't tell them anything they don't know, and we need to know what to expect on the inside.

Julen suggests, with a stitch in her side, "Josh, crossbow," and keeps going hivewards.

Niska pages: I mentioned that Niska is a really fabulous flier, right? I did mention that?

Layla pages: Am I down, or can I follow Niska?

You paged Layla with 'You're not down, it just tossed you sideways. You can follow if you like. :)'.

Sashenka continues doggedly forward.

Layla abandons the girl and follows Niska into the cavern.

Dusty runs with the rest, readying his pipe for a larger crowd.

Over the link from Niska, Niska keeps up a running commentary of what she sees (or will, when she gets that far).

Josh comes to a stop, bring the crossbow to his eye. he takes aim, looking for the snapshot; that one moment when the target is locked. Once he finds one, he fires.

Josh's crossbow bolt downs one man, thunking meatily into his chest. The other man stops, spins, and grows. Crinos. He roars a challenge.

Julen growls softly. ~You folks go,~ she tells them, ~I've got this one.~ She's growing even as she speaks, into Crinos, getting a small jar out of her pocket before it fades into fur.

Josh looks around for more targets, trusting someone else to answer the Challenge. If he sees no targets, he will attempt to get inside.

Over the link from Niska, "Corridor's plenty wide enough. Slants down a bit so watch your step until your eyes adjust. It's ollld. The floor is smooth -- this *must* be the place Wolf-boy is looking for." Niska's voice comes over the link. "The smell..." her voice shifts again, and you hear Glitters, softly intoning, "Red Tree. Diki. Loki. Ama. Brightjohn..."

Sashenka follows Niska. "Watch out," she says over her shoulder, "the floor slants."

There's a gunshot from behind a barrel; fortunately, Josh spotted it just in time and dodges so that it only parts his hair with the breeze. The big crinos lurches forward after Julen. Layla bolts down the passage after Niska, followed by Sashenka.

Over the link from Niska, "The caern died here," comes Niska's voice. She seems in control. "Here, and on the mountain."

Dusty runs alongside Sashenka, pipe swiveling towards the Crinos until the cave mouth swallows him.

Josh ducks and rolls, and comes up ready to reload. He searches for the gunman, deciding who his next target now is.

Sashenka jockeys to get between Dusty and the gun as she runs forward.

Rex turns to head off an over-eager teen messenger who has charged him with a club. His sword shears the club in half, but he is still engaged.

Julen, as she closes, tosses the jar into the Crinos' face, and immediately attacks, the better to get fewer gunshots into her. She's not fantastic in combat, for an Athro, but she /is/ an Athro, and that means something.

Julen pages: one of the Disorient talens.

Layla follows Niska into the cave. She pauses to let Sasha catch up some, before streaking after Niska.

You paged Niska with 'No, no sign of ambush. They're probably storage areas or something.'.

You paged Niska with 'You break into a large cavern, apparently a great hall of some sort, and a couple-three guards are shifting into Crinos and making for the exit hall. One of them spots you.'.

Niska flies ahead and back, wary of ambush. "Which way, Layla? Where are they?"

Over the link from Niska, On one of her 'ahead' flights, you hear her squeak. "Yark! Something like three of them ahead. Crinos. Look out!"

Over the link from Layla, "Sashenka, we need you!"

Sashenka pauses, calling over her shoulder: "Three Crinos ahead!"

Niska pages: Niska tries to keep as many of them *in* the large not-a-bottleneck cavern as possible. Trying to annoy them into chasing her around the cavern instead of going up the corridor.

Layla shifts into Crinos.

Niska pages: They're all rage-ey, right? Niska Taunts them. "Hey you big stupid rugs! Nyah nyah!"

Dusty sprints forward and raises his pipe. "Layla, duck!"

Layla ducks.

Dusty levels the pipe and presses the glowing green button in its side, which depresses with a resonant click. Nothing happens for a moment, then you notice a buzzing in your ears, just at the edge of hearing. The sound increases, and the end of the pipe erupts in greenish light. Small, glowing orbs float out of the pipe mouth, gradually at first, but steadily increasing to a rapid stream. The orbs accelerate quickly, becoming streaks in your vision as they speed towards their targets.

The Crinos outside roars as he's hit with Julen's talen and flails. The Athro makes short work of this barely-trained youngster -- he knows how to move his human body, but not his war-form, and that's a fatal error.

Sashenka sniffs at the air. "They're up ahead.... and down.... we have to go through these g...." she trails off as Dusty's beestick goes off ahead of her.

Julen pages: Anyone else around, or can Julen gallop now?

You paged Niska with 'One of them starts throwing rocks at you. One of the ones that's barreling up the tunnel howls suddenly and falls back, swatting at little green points of light that are buzzing him and stinging him.'.

The gunman rolls to new cover, trying to get a bead on Josh -- or better, on Rex's unprotected back.

You paged Julen with 'The gunman, the teenagers. Nobody else who seems to be Nasty.'.

Julen growls, ~Ware!~ and heads for the gunman, making quite the target of herself.

Layla hits the ground fully to adviod being hit by the mysterious orbs.

A few seconds go by after the beestick fires, and then Dusty is rewarded by a howl of surprise and pain, bellowed up the corridor.

Josh shifts around, determined to take that gunman down, right shittin' now.

Over the link from Niska, "You &^$ing $*(&!! You throw like my sister! And she doesn't have opposable thumbs!"

The gunman pulls up a second gun and pumps a silver round into Julen. Unfortunately, it leaves him wide open and Josh's bolt takes him through the throat.

Layla picks herself up and heads after Niska.

You paged Julen with 'I keep doing this to you, don't I? 1 agg. :)'.

Sashenka looks down at Dusty. "Good goin'." Then she peels off after Layla.

From afar, Julen has no issues! Er, although did it go through, or stick in her body?

You paged Julen with 'Stuck.'.

From afar, Julen ers. Marvelous. 1 agg per round, yes?

Layla nearly collides with the third Crinos, the one who isn't either throwing things at Niska or swatting the little glowing, stinging things out of his fur. Sashenka can attempt to slip past the two Crinos to get to another target.

His weapon spent, Dusty tosses the pipe behind him and focuses on keeping up.

Long distance to Julen: Weatherwax nods. Until you dig it out.

Josh smiles grimly, and moves back forward, ready to provide covering fire.

Julen growls, lopes into the cave mouth, and /then/ starts doing field surgery on herself. Yay, cover.

Sashenka, growing towards Crinos as she goes, tries to push past the furry obstacles.

Layla pages: I guess I'm going to attack the third with my claws.

Over the link from Niska, "Nyah nyah! Stupid mammals!" Niska taunts.

Rex keeps wrestling with the girl for a few moments before apparently coming to a conclusion and punching her lights out. He shakes his hand for a second, whistling, and backs toward the cave entrance, keeping an eye out for more trouble in the rear.

Those of you in the cavern can see where Niska got the name 'Dances-Like-Fire' -- she's a helluva flier. She's like a black spark dancing and weaving around the ceiling.

The Crinos in the corridor and Layla exchange a number of blows which either don't quite come off or don't penetrate the tough hide of the war-form. Sashenka easily pushes past those two and now has the choice of bee-boy or bird-brain (not Niska, the one throwing rocks at Niska). Although there's some sounds like there might be more coming.

Niska pages to the room: Hey!
Weatherwax pages to the room: Hee.

Julen pages: Field surgery work?

You paged Julen with 'You take one more agg to pop out the bullet, and you're fine.'.

Josh ponders, then decdes to take aim on the one doing the rock-throwing.

Dusty thrusts a hand into the pouch at his belt, and grabs what looks to be a small rubber ball. He grips it tightly, winds his arm back, then hurls the ball down the corridor. For a few moments, the ball ricochets wildly, then disappears behind a turn. Suddenly, the reflection of a brilliant light stabs forth.

Julen grunts in pain as she opens herself up, and heads down the corrider to try and help out.

Sashenka launches herself at the bee-covered Crinos, aiming a tremendous blow at his distracted head.

Layla continues to pummel her Crinos opponent.

You paged Dusty with 'Where did you throw the ball? If you threw it down this corridor, you'll blind Sasha, Layla, and Niska. One of the branching corridors where noises are coming from?'.

You paged Sashenka with 'Now you're here, you can feel a pull from the direction of one of the corridors off the great hall. One that, fortunately, no noises seem to be emerging from.'.

Dusty pages: Ah, I think I am with Sasha, Niska, and Layla. My thought was to send the ball down from where I heard the noises, assuming that the generators of the noises were far enough away to avoid the effect you are mentioning....

You paged Dusty with 'Okeydokey!'.

Sashenka veers away from her almost-opponent and pounds toward a hallway. "This way! Come on!"

Julen gallops after, not bothering to kill people -- this is a rescue! Speed!

The rockthrower takes a bolt in the shoulder and roars, distracted from the distraction. The bee-covered Crinos goes down, skull crushed, neck broken, by the Nitakk-ita's powerful claws. Layla manages to get in several minor blows, and her opponent fails to land any. He breaks and runs down one of the corridors making noise, only to roar in pain as he's blinded by Dusty's ball. Julen catches up.

Josh got his target, now he moves forward, ready to go in.

Layla checks her stone on a string for direction.

Dusty dodges around the furry bleeding lumps on the floor, and keeps with the others.

Freed of her 'opponent', Niska is off in a flash down the corridor. As always, moving ahead of the party to scout.

Julen, as she gallops past, lowers a blow at the blinded and bleeding Crinos.

Sashenka continues down the side hallway. "They're down here!"

Layla follows Sasha's call.

Dusty sprints alongside Sasha, hands fumbling for a second ball.

Rex appears and follows the group down the side corridor.

Julen discovers that she has a much more able opponent in the person of the Crinos with Josh's bolt in his shoulder. This one is not blinded, nor particularly badly wounded, and is certainly raring for a fight. The rest of the group gets down the passageway without incident. Those attuned to the spirit realm can, however, hear the Umbral klaxons sounding the alert throughout the Hive.

Julen mutters, "Alarms, folks, Umbral," and settles in for a longer fight, warily.

You paged Niska with 'The tunnel hits a decision point, where there are a number of tunnelways.'.

Niska pages: Pull up. Listen, smell, feel the air currents. Ambush?

As she races down the corridor, Sasha calls over her shoulder: "There'll be more coming. Umbral... alarms...."

Over the link from Niska, "There's a fork up a ahead."

Josh winces. "Damn," he mutters, and follows along.

Over the link from Layla, "We need to go down."

Niska pages: try to determine by temperature and etc. if any of these go down. If she can't tell, and there's no ambush, she'll pick one at random and scout it.

You paged Niska with 'There's one that's colder than the others. It does seem to go downward.'.

Niska pages: scout that one. Which is it?

Dusty gulps, but keeps on running. "How close are we to them?" he pants to Sashenka.

You paged Niska with 'center fork.'.

Sashenka pauses, panting. "MIddle fork. And down." She starts forward again.

Over the link from Niska, Not having heard Sashenka, Niska says, "Straight down the middle, guys," over the link.

From afar, Julen errrrrms. I just realized she'd do Luna's Armor first, so assume she does and then tries to ginsu him with Silver Claws once she's able to do that, and meanwhile is just trying to ginsu him physically.

Julen's fight is fairly fast and brutal. This is a guy that knows what he's doing, although he takes more than he dishes out. The rest of you trample down the center tine of the fork, down stairs. A couple of side branches off the stairwell produce kin with guns, who take potshots at the rescue party.

You paged Julen with 'You take another agg, but you've shredded him pretty good. You'll be free next pose.'.

You paged Sashenka with 'You take a couple of bullets. 1 agg, 2 nonagg.'.

From afar, Julen gotcha.

You paged Layla with 'You take one bullet. 2 nonagg.'.

From afar, Julen can pose said freedom for you?

You paged Josh with 'You're grazed with a bullet. 1 level.'.

You paged Julen with 'Sure thang.'.

Layla pages: Okay. Better me than the civilians.

Niska does her best to warn folks of those shooters, and continues to probe ahead for the captives.

Sashenka tries to keep her mssive bulk between Dusty and the shooters. She succeeds, grunting and staggering as several bullets slam into her thick hide.

Julen grunts briefly as the Crinos hits her again, but it's over relatively quickly. Dropping the formerly alive man to the ground, she takes off after the rest.

You paged Niska with 'Unfortunately, they're starting to get wise to the bird, so you couldn't offer much warning. However, you pop out into another largish room. There is a breathing cave mouth, very low and cold, at the far end. Otherwise, it's a dead end.'.

Josh clutches his shoulder, as one of those bullets creases him.

Rex spins with a cry into the wall, having taken a bullet in his thigh. He grits his teeth and limps on.

Over the link, Niska curses. "This looks like a dead end. Hang on."

Niska pages: check the hole, ready to bolt if need be.

As the party approaches another hall of shooters, Dusty throws a flash-ball which careens into the side passage.

You paged Niska with 'You see three shapes, clutching each other and staggering to fall just short of the exit. You glimpse Rowan.'.

Over the link, Niska calls triumphantly, "They're here! They're here! We've found 'em!"

Niska pages: shift and help them as best I can

Layla forges ahead.

Sashenka lets out a howl of triumph and surges forward.

Niska pages: I don't think they've gotten a good look at her in homid before...

Rowan has arrived.
Andreas has arrived.
Kelsey has arrived.

You paged Niska with 'They're oddly... spacy. Like they're not seeing you, or any of the world around you.'.

Ignoring shooters, Julen dashes towards Niska.

Over the link, Niska is calling,"Rowan! Uh... Voice? New Guy!"

Dusty's flare ball buys you time to break through the gunmen into a big chamber. At the far end of the room is a low, breathing cave. In the mouth of the cave, you can see Niska, in homid, bent over three forms that are clutching each other. They seem kind of... spacy. Unresponsive. And badly, badly hurt. At least, Rowan and Kelsey are.

Niska is trying to help them stand. Tryig to get a coherent response out of any of them.

Sashenka rushes over to the captives, fumbling with her herb pouch as she goes.

Rex stays at the mouth of the passageway, sword held ready. There seems to be no pursuit as yet.

Sashenka pages: How badly hurt are they? I'll try to heal them.

Layla lumbers over, prepared to help carry, if need be.

You paged Sashenka with 'Rowan is down 5 and Kelsey is down 6. Andreas is bruised and cut and bloody.'.

Rowan, primarily wounded mostly on the neck, starts slightly and barely manages not to lash out at anyone. ~The fuck?~ is his first coherent comment. Not that it's very coherent.

Rowan pages to the room: Oh, he's in glabro.

Sashenka realizes she looks a little scary and shifts down a form.

Andreas shudders, eyes popping open. "I, and--Bane? Who!"

Dusty stops and circles, looking for any passages into the big chamber that might yield new enemies.

You paged Dusty with 'You, actually, notice (magically?) a thin line that looks like it might outline a door. Maybe a hidden door?'.

With others more capable hovering over the erstwhile captives, Niska backs off. She does this nifty little thing where she takes three running steps toward the middle of the cave, leaps into the air, and is a bird. She soars soundlessly back the way we came.

Niska pages: She's going back to the fork. She picks a likely-looking tunnel other than the one we came in, and see if it goes to a back door.

You paged Niska with 'There's a veritable army amassing in the great hall.'.

Julen, finally catching up, pants, ~Need.. Healing?~

Kelsey, in glabro as well, starts thrashing feebly, tearing at the air with her hands. She's got the same problem, neck ripped open, plus holes ripped in her chest, front, arms, upper legs-- that have reduced her clothes to bloody rags.

Niska pages: But the fork is between us and the Great Hall, right ?

You paged Niska with 'You can hear them. You take an alternate tunnel and discover a very clean, bright torture chamber at the end.'.

Kelsey pages the room: Psst, Rowan, you landed on a pit lined with spikes, too. ;)
From afar, to the room, Rowan oops.
Rowan pages all: Silver spikes!

Niska pages: Shit. Try the other one, then, if this one's a dead end.

Dusty points to a section of wall. "There! Look there! Another door! Its hidden!"

You paged Niska with 'That one ends in a holding area with four cells.'.

Andreas pages: Is this any room I'd recognize?

Over the link from Niska, "There's an army waiting for us in that other big hall. I'm lookin' for a back door..."

You paged Andreas with 'Nope. New room.'.

Sashenka fusses a minute with her herb pouch, then mixes some stuff with water. She shifts back down to human. "Shhh. Kelsey, shh." She starts gently trickling the liquid over the worst of the wounds.

Over the link from Niska, "Shit! Nothing!" There's the *slightest edge of panic to her voice.

Niska pages: Occupied at all ?

Andreas's eyes dart, focussing on Sashenka first, then confirming that Kelsey and Rowan are there. "The, the cage? The silver cage?"

Julen says, quietly, "Niska, we found something," and bends down to hum quietly at Rowan's wounds.

You paged Niska with 'Nope. Empty. Looks like there was recent blood dripped in here, though, within the last, oh, six hours or so.'.

Dusty follows his own pointing hand and approaches the wall, feeling. "Maybe another way out?" he offers.

Over the link from Niska, "It'd better be either the way out, or a silver railgun," the bird says grimly.

Layla heads over to the place on the wall Dusty indicated.

Rowan growls, ~Help /her/, I couldn't,~ at Julen, but eventually accepts healing.

Julen nods. "An exit, we hope. Come back."

Kelsey sucks in a gasp at Sashenka's voice and gives one more feeble swipe before going limp. "Mama Bear?" she rasps weakly. "Hell, that worked better than I thought." She sounds dazed and disoriented, and her eyes are very dialated when she opens them.

Sashenka pages: Healing Gift.

Rex moves over to Dusty as well.

Niska pages: Niska posts herself as rearguard until they tell her it's an exit.

The liquid Sashenka pours over Kelsey's raw and torn neck starts the flesh closing. Other punctures and whatnot also begins to close from the inside, pushing out infection and dried blood.

Over the link, "Not yet -- I'll keep watch and tell you when they come for us," Niska says. "Can they go?" she asks, meaning the injured.

From afar, Julen ehs, can I do like 3 healing on Rowan there?

The place in the wall that Dusty is examing does indeed look like a door. A few pushes and pulls from the Crinos and the Kin shift it open. There's a brick wall on the other side, although there's a few bricks missing and sort-of-fresh air blowing through.

Long distance to Julen: Weatherwax noddles.

Sashenka continues making meaningless soothing noises at Kelsey as she administers her medicine.

You paged Sashenka and Kelsey with 'Kelsey, Sasha just healed you 3.'.

You paged Niska with 'There's movement happening.'.

Over the link from Niska, "Alright. They're coming. Have you lot got a way out, or what?"

Layla says "Niska, we have a way out."

Rowan's wounds, especially that ugly neck, mostly knit, but certainly not completely. ~Thanks,~ he mutters, and half-glares at Kelsey worridly.

Julen murmurs, "You're welcome," to Rowan, slightly, amused, then tells the air in general, "Looks that way."

Layla says "We go. Now?"

Andreas manages to get up onto his elbows and begins to get his legs under him. "Have you broken the cage?" he asks urgently.

Julen agrees, "I very much think so. Niska? Come, we can leave." She blinks faintly at Andreas. "Pardon?"

Over the link from Niska, "Thank Lilith. These guys don't sound happy."

Rex nods encouragingly in agreement with Layla.

Sashenka pulls a long strip of clean cloth out of her bag and wraps it around a wound that hasn't fully closed, quickly but neatly. "Can you walk now?"

Niska wings back into the cavern. "Somebody tougher than me better take rearguard."

Under the blood and rags, Kelsey's wounds seal over and close to scabs, and her breathing is suddenly far less labored. The neck wound is still raw and red, and her stomach's still got a few open wounds, but at least now Dusty won't have to see intestines or ribs when she stands up. She puts a hand on Sasha's shoulder and nods meekly. "Yeah. Help me?"

Andreas runs his hand across his bald head, glancing around. "It-something's trapped in there. Something *important*."

Layla asks, "Where?"

Sashenka wraps an arm around Kelsey's waist and offers rock-solid stabilty to help her rise.

The roars of the gathering in the Great Hall ripple through the room.

Julen considers Andreas. "This may well be Rennen's issue, then, but I think we shall have to come back, with more planning -- unless you know of a way back that is not /that/ way."

Layla lumbers over to the captive, ready to carry somebody, if need be.

Niska pages: Niska didn't see a silver cage, did she?

Rex busily works on pushing down the rotten, badly constructed brick wall.

Dusty pops open the cylindrical basket on his back and starts unrolling some sheets of paper. "Glue sheets, it might slow them up" he says distractedly.

Andreas glances around wildly, looking for a familiar landmark and not coming up with anything. "I...I'm sorry. I've never seen this room before."

Layla repeats herself, "We go. Now." The crinos gesters towards Rex and the open dor.

"There's a fork back there --" Niska jerks her head over her shoulder, "With tunnels to the cells and the... torture room. Does that orient you? What was down that hole?"

You paged Niska with 'Nope.'.

Julen gives the man a rather odd look, but nods. "We /will/ come back. And we /will/ destroy this. But you are more important, right now, and we must leave."

Layla returns to Rex and assists him in knocking down the crude barricade.

The roars are, in fact, growing louder and more distinct. There may or may not be a chant of "Blood blood blood!" happening.

"Can somebody close this behind us?" Niska asks with worried glances back up the tunnel.

Kelsey slips a hand around Sashenka's upper arm and hangs on, forcing herself to stand straight and lift her chin. Battered but unbowed. She flinches at the howls, but casts around to find Rowan and Andreas before she allows herself to be led out.

The brick wall crumbles away, raising a cloud of dust behind it. But the tunnel appears to be unobstructed and there is definitely fresh air blowing in.

Rowan, still half-glaring, struggles to his feet. ~Let's beat feet, retreat,~ he mutters, and starts towards the tunnel out.

Sashenka half-carries Kelsey toward the door, letting her walk herself but supporting much of her weight for her, so they can move as quickly as possible.

Andreas winces at the sound of the chanting and steps up to support Kelsey, helping propel her out.

Julen wedges the door to the inner tunnel /shut/ before moving to join the others in exodus.

Layla waits at the threshold, ushering people through.

Niska scrambles ahead.

Dusty rushes over to the tunnel through which the party entered and lays down the paper sheets. He then peels something off -- it almost looks as if he is pantomiming this -- and lays down something. He then springs up and sprints for the tunnel. "Don't go near the other exit!" he yells.

Niska pages to Dusty, Sashenka, Kelsey, Weatherwax, Andreas, Julen, Rex, and Layla: Hee. Dusty is so cool.

Kelsey's pride might hold her up on another night, but right now, there's not much spirit left in her. She slogs along as well as she can, hanging onto the larger woman like a small fir hugging a mountain.

You all get through and the door wedged shut before the mob gets to the room you just vacated. The tunnel is low and narrow and rough-dug, and looks like it wouldn't normally open to the sky, except a section of the ceiling collapsed. You can scramble out, using the heap of dirt and stone, until you stand under a starlit sky, Lilith shining bright Gibbous overhead.

Dusty pages to all: Dusty blushes. Thanks, Niska :)

Niska bursts free and failry explodes skyward. Joyful raven-calls echo over the link.

Layla asks merely "Niska, see truck?"

Julen murmurs upwards, ~Evening, Lady,~ and looks around. "Ok, ladies and gentlebeings, we are /leaving/. Anyone remember where we parked?"

Niska says "I am *so* not a bat. Huh? Truck? Right!"

Sashenka tries to get Kelsey up the rock pile as painlessly as possible, checking surreptitiously to make sure Dusty got out.

You paged Niska with 'You see the truck. You're about half a kilometer from the entrace of the cave, so about 3-4 kilometers from the truck.'.

Dusty mumbles "Follow Jeremy."

Niska soars higher to get her bearings. "This way, folks," she calls.

Kelsey breathes air like the first dawn and stares up at Lilith. "I will never be afraid to see you again," she whispers, and stumbles after the raven's call as quickly as she may.

Niska pages: After giving them the direction, she ducks under the canopy to look for any stray villagers.

Andreas leans forward, hands on his knees, and takes deep breaths of the fresh air. "So damn *nice*. You never really realize how good it is NOT to smell urine until the choice is taken away."

Dusty scrambles up and out. He pants, visibly tired, but runs on to stay with the rest.

Rowan gulps, silent, and smiles, faintly, for the first time any of the rescue party's seen.

Julen follows Niska, as quickly as possible.

Sashenka continues to help Kelsey move as quickly as she can.

You get back to the truck without incident, and without seeing any stray villagers. However, once you reach the truck, a slim, dark-haired man in dark clothing steps from the shadows.

Julen pages: Corrupter-ness?
Niska pages: Is he one of Them ?
Andreas pages: Oh, hell. Argent?
You paged Julen with 'Yesss.'.
You paged Niska with 'Yessss.'.
You paged Andreas with 'Yesssssss.'.

Layla, still in Crinos, steps between the stranger and the injured.

Niska cries out, "Look out! It's Argent!"

Julen's nostrils flare, and she doesn't even bother talking, just shifts into Crinos and leaps at him.

Argent laughs gently, self-deprecatingly, at his announcement. "I'm not here to fight," he assures you all.

Kelsey's fingers might well do damage on Sasha's arm if she were at full strength, but they probably still hurt. "Hello, Argent," she says softly.

From afar, Julen fears Julen is not much into listening to Wyrm things. Also, she'd be activating Venom Blood.

Julen continues her attack, despite the man's words.

Argent raises an eyebrow at Julen's attack and simply... blinks out. He appears again on top of the truck. "One wouldn't expect someone so august to be so hasty," he says, watching her stop short of destroying the front end of Lumia's truck.

Niska pages: Niska watches him closely. What the heck is he doing? He didn't do this before, did he?

Julen does, in fact, stop short, and stares up at him, glowering -- yet fascinated. "You would be the mage, then?"

Sashenka's eyes narrow and her nostrils flare in anger as she stares at Argent. She shifts slightly to put herself mostly between Kelsey and the bad, bad man.

You paged Niska with 'No, he didn't. His arm flickered once before he vanished, a low-level, very fast, silver flash. Possibly it's the fetish.'.

Niska pages: One good sword swipe would take care of that...

Kelsey shakes her head slowly. "Not exactly, Rhya," she murmurs in a low, dull voice.

"Oh, my, no," Argent says, smiling. "Not I. I merely wanted to congratulate you all on a job well done, and assure you, in the usual villainous manner, that It Will Be Different Next Time. But, cliche as it may sound, it will. Consider this to have been a... pleasant little outing. The next time," he says with a steelier tone, "the next time, we will be at war." He turns to jump off the other side of the truck. "Farewell, scions of the Mountain's Roots." He hops off and vanishes.

Layla snuffs around, to make certain he's really gone.

Rowan mutters, "Well, he's /something/, anyway. Mostly a son of a bitch."

Kelsey follows him numbly with her eyes and seems to have retreated into herself. "Goodbye, rhya," she mutters under her breath.

Niska mutters, "He's really starting to get on my nerves."

Rowan pages: Sense of the Prey -- he get a fix on him at all?
You paged Rowan with 'Nope, not really.'.

Sashenka growls and shakes her head. "There just aren't bad words enough. C'mon, let;s get OUT of here."

Andreas rubs his face, and an evil little smirk that seemed to be there for a second is obviously just a trick of the moonlight.

Niska takes another scouting flight to see if we should expect pursuit.

No pursuit. Just the long drive home.

From afar, to all, Kelsey peers at Andreas. Maybe Kel and he should rip off their skins now and sprout extra arms.

Layla starts up the van.

Kelsey makes sure to give Rowan and Andreas a touch on the elbow, each, before finding some corner to crawl into. The van apparently gives her pause, but she scrambles in happily enough once she's verified no corpses.

Dusty shivers visibly as he watches the mage disappear, then shakes himself back and jumps in the truck.

Rowan shies just slightly away from Kelsey's touch, but then reaches a brief hand out to touch hers, and then settles in another corner.