OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


26. Dirondack Mountains

he party sets out at first light. It is a large party, for they will be facing many dangers. The party consists of: Gilead, Tira, Hank and the Raven, Persia, Haiku and Hugin, Farralon, Exxon, Arthur, Kamlak, Slick and five soldiers.

Arthur is taken along because he convinced Gilead before he was purchased, that he knows a little of the lake area. He claims to come from the ruins of a city called London, in the direction of Tronto. When pressed, he admit it was from a small farm near London, but he says London had many intact books, and from these he knows much of the area. The party is suspicious, but agree that he might be useful. Nevertheless, a watchful eye is kept upon him at all times.

Hank agrees to fly the raven as point. He will fly it high enough to be hopefully mistaken for an ordinary bird, but not so far ahead as to seriously weaken the ley line between the raven and Tira or Farallon. Because of his sharp eye, the avoid several encounters with persons or beasts unknown. Hank also begins to get a feel for the land. He discovers a long fertile valley which he will later learn is called Hudson. The party passes through many ruins, always keeping the river to their right and the mountains to their left.

It is twelve day into their journey when disaster strikes. Hank is busy scanning the horizon ahead, here he is convinced he can see the shores of Lake Ontar. He fails to notice a strange cloud of dust until it is almost too late. Down on the ground, the party is passing through some fairly intact ruins. They are travelling carefully, since for the last day and a half, they have seen no living thing. The land has become total desert.

They are attacked without warning by rats. This is a pitiful remnant of some troop of Old Norway of Shakka-Go They are starved and dehydrated and attack the party as a source of food. They are not a serious threat and are quickly dispatched, but they serve to distract the travellers from a greater threat.

From the direction of the mountains, a bizarre wave of green amorphous creatures roll across the desert sand at them, nearly obscured by a great cloud of dust. The blobs attempt to engulf members of the party. Hanks has seen them and is diving downward with the raven at great speed, trying to warn them. The blobs manage to engulf some of the travellers. They are fast and strong, able to climb vertical surfaces. They are also extremely resistant to weaponry and seem to emit an enzyme or drug which causes torpor. Five of the party succumb to the blobs, which then turn red and begin to roll back to the hills. Hank flies overhead, attempting to rescue party members who are in the open, plucking them out of dangerous situations. Those who survive are surprised when the green things roll on towards the river. They seem to have been a target of opportunity. The three they have managed to kill turn a pallid grey upon death. The party members lost include Gilead, Farallon, Exon, Kamlak and two soldiers. By comparing notes, they determine that the abductees are not dead, but in some state of torpor. They must be rescued.

Hank reports that he saw other red blobs headed towards a particular area of the hills. He and Tira go aloft in the Raven to scout, while the others plod on foot toward the source of the things. From the Raven, he scouts quickly discover a huge dome structure of dirt or some organic material, like a huge termite mound. Fully fifty feet in height and several hundred across, it squats on the foot of the mountains. While going back to tell the others, they discover a solitary creature travelling upriver, transverse to all the others. It is also grey, the color they have learned to associate with a dead specimen. They alight to investigate and discover that the thing is indeed dead. It is merely a skin, used to disguise a barbarian rabbit. After some initial caution, she introduces herself as Cinnamon, a rabbit of the Hudson Valley, beyond the Dirondack Mountains. She claims to have left her homeland to escape boredom. This is not unheard of among rabbits; a small percentage are exceptions to generally rabbit timidity.

She further tells them that the rollers won't attack their own dead. She has the skin of a slain one she is wearing as protection while passing through their territory. It takes surprisingly little work to convince her to join them. Though her speech is odd (she speaks Palachan Anglish), she is genuinely friendly. She agrees to add the benefit of her experience to their plight.

Soon, they have skinned the other dead rollers. With the addition of a final skin from a roller they kill from the air, they have enough to attempt an assault upon the mound. Five of the party creep up to the entrance: Tira, Char, Hank, Haiku, Cinnamon, Persia and Arthur. The entrance is guarded by two huge rollers, who "investigate" them by touch. The guardians recoil at the skins of the dead rollers.

The inside of the mound seems decidedly organic, rib structures and ooze covered walls seem to be the predominant architecture. They soon find a hall where returning red rollers gather. They insert themselves into niches in the wall and assume an amber color. Here is where food is stored until it is required by the colony. It is difficult for Tira's spirit sight to see through the rollers holding their victims, but they manage to locate one of the soldiers, who leaves with Hank. Tira finds Farallon next, by causing his lumina to glow. The Master leaves with Arthur. While Hank and Arthur take the unconscious party members back to the care of the others, they see the original wave of rollers returning. They have obviously reached their limit and are coming back to the hive. Helplessly, they see the hundreds of creatures cluster around the entrance. Most of them hunker under the few skins they possess, while Hank takes to the air with a passenger. Those on the ground are surrounded by rollers, yet they manage to keep themselves safe.

Meanwhile inside, the corridor is filling fast. As they free the last of the prisoners, Persia's cover is touched by a previously unseen variety of roller. This one is black, and it rolls about the interior apparently doing some sort of clean-up. When it touches her cover, it begins to consume the dead tissue. Hurriedly, Persia leaps to another skin. She is almost detected, but the rescue party manages to escape unharmed. Reunited with those outside, they retreat as fast as they can carrying the unconscious victims.

Exhausted, they reach a haven of ruins. Eventually, all regain consciousness and introductions are made with Cinnamon.