|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
he rescued party members are given a day to recuperate and then the whole expedition strikes out for the lake as soon as possible. Soon they are out of the odd dead lands, indicating they are beyond the reach of the rollers. At Lake Ontar they clean, refresh and refill themselves. Passing along the north side of the lake takes them through many ruins, some of which speak to Tira as did Montral. With the aid of the Raven, they are forewarned of any dangers and avoid much unpleasantness. Farallon talks Hank into taking him aloft and turns out to have a real affinity for flight.
After another ten days or so of travel, they reach the ruins of Niagara. Hank and the raven alight and rejoin the party on the ground before becoming noticed by the bat-folk, whose roost may be barely see on the farther fall. On the outskirts of the town they become aware that they have alerted a scout, hidden in a ruined factory of some sort.
They decide to take a frontal approach, and to be open about their presence. Soon they are hailed by a military company. The soldiers command a war creature of large and frightening appearance. Though they have no way of knowing it yet, the creature is identical to the extinct Triceratops. It has a howdah on its back. The soldiers are not pleased to see the expedition and demand they show themselves and stay in the road. Not wishing to be trampling targets for the war beast, they stay spread out. The soldiers further identify themselves as representing the forces of the Saginaw. Negotiations break down almost instantly, with the Saginaw soldiers firing on the expedition. The Triceratops charges. General melee ensues. One of the expedition soldiers is killed, and many of the party are wounded. The Saginaw are killed to a man, along with their triceratops. They were obviously unprepared for this level of resistance.
Not knowing what further forces might be nearby, they fan out for a quick scout while burying the body of the dead Tallonite soldier. Persia soon discovers a man in simple peasant dress in the ruins of a place called "...UARIUM..." He is plainly surprised to see her and quickly surrenders to her. He is obviously no kind of combatant. When questioned he identifies himself as Alexander Finn, a prisoner of the Saginaw. Persia takes him back to Gilead and the rest of the party.
They escort him back to the ruined factory, where they plan to hole up. Although they tell him he is not their prisoner, he obviously has nowhere else to go but back to the Saginaw. He answers their immediate questions, but poses many more. He tells them that he was brought here with the Saginaw to help them examine a stone. He does not understand why, but has the knowledge that can aid them to build a diving bell. The stone is submerged and requires special preparations to reach. He tells them that the Saginaw are commanded by someone named Yuriko Hawkeye, an adept by his description. There is another adept named Fenris, at least fifteen more soldiers and over a dozen slaves. He says there is also at least one animate, though he says the Saginaw call them Mecha. Finally, there is another triceratops, which he identifies by species.
Here is where the strangeness begins. He claims that he is from the city of Chicago, not Shakka-go. He says that he was born in the times before the fall of man. He knows nothing of Demon Kings and has fuzzy memories of dying. His speech is odd but they are given to understand that he was something called a "marine engineer". They question him far into the night but get little more useful information from him.
The next day, the party sends out scouts to get a better look at the fort of the Saginaw. Alexander has told them it is built under the ruins of the old bridge. The bridge is made of concrete and steel, but the fort walls are log pilings. Slick Russpelt is sent out upstream while Persia and Tira go down. The two downstream scouts discover a sentry at the same time he discovers them. With the arrogance that seems to be characteristic of the Saginaw, he orders them to surrender. They refuse and actually parlay a few minutes. Persia seeks to take advantage of a minor distraction and dives for cover. The man's arrow is loosed and another arrow nocked before she can nock her first arrow. His speed is phenomenal, obviously enhanced. He quickly proves to be more than a match for the pair. Tira makes a strategic withdrawal while Persia covers her. Kamlak comes running up, giving his war-cry since the neo-paladin has already whistled some sort of signal. He arrives just as Persia falls to the flat of the sentry's blade. The stranger seems to want to take her alive. Kamlak realizes he cannot catch up and issues a challenge. A short time later, Kamlak is also on the ground. Persia has recovered though and stands over Kamlak's body, threatening death. Again she is dropped. The man again shoulders Persia, since Kamlak appears to be mortally wounded.
The others catch up, but Persia is gone. Farallon begins to work feverishly upon Kamlak. Hank takes Gilead towards the bridge, reasoning that the enhanced fighter must cross at the top in order to get to the fort gate on the far side. To his chagrin, though they do intercept, the fighter dispatches Gilead with ease. He announces his intention to take Gilead instead, whom he seems to know is the leader, when Hank circles back around with the Raven. Hank knows that Gilead is aware that Tira is a Sympath while Persia is not. So he uses his one available fly-by to snatch Gilead instead of the cat. Persia is taken to the fort, while the whole Tallonite expedition retreats.
In the fort, Persia is ruthlessly and efficiently interrogated by a female adept who identifies herself as Yuriko Hawkeye. Any evasions or lies are met with adept-induced pain. She still retains her pride and integrity though. She even manages to learn that Yuriko is aware of the names Hadrian, Zachris and Burke, the principles of the prior expedition. To her horror and confusion, among the Saginaw she also sees their mecha. It is Iron John!
The rest of the expedition decides to try and contact the bats. Perhaps they have some influence that can help. Hank and Tira fly the Raven up to the top of the huge horseshoe-shaped falls. At the top stands Stone Roost, an unnatural spire of rock projecting upward from the crest of the cataract. They land upon the island which still bears the scars from where it's Standing Stones were ripped. They do indeed make contact with the tower. There is a cat-beast in the tower of Stone Roost and not a bat at all. The cat indicates by pantomime that the island is sacred and they must vacate it immediately. They fly around the stone outcropping, exchanging brief inquiries as they pass. The cat indicate that she is from Tallon as well. Could it be Mranda, Persia's lost mother? They are told that they can try and speak with the bats after dark.
They fly back and confer for a while about what to do. If the bats are unfriendly, they could be giving themselves two enemies. Eventually they decide to try. Hank will fly Gilead and then Tira up to the bank of the river above the falls. By the time Tira has arrived and they have waited with no contact for nearly half an hour, they become aware that they are being watched. There is an old cemetery nearby. Hiding behind one of the markers is an iron animate. He looks exactly like Iron John with the exception that he does not bear the sword, Crystalwind.
He tells them that they have the cat and that they must leave the area by nightfall, or she will be killed. He identifies himself as Viginti and hints that there may be more like him. Viginti is an ancient word for "20". Gilead and the others are becoming frustrated by this time. It seems like the Saginaw are constantly one step ahead of them. They return to the camp after Gilead converses a while with Viginti, who in turn learns that there is one of his number in Tallon. Viginti is free with some information and absolutely secretive about other.
Returning to the camp, the company is dispirited until it is realized that the iron animate would be the most likely guard for the underwater adept. Realizing they have limited time before Viginti returns from the top of the falls, they hurriedly consult with Alexander, their marine engineer on the best way to get to the diving bell (which they have confirmed is deployed.) He tells them that there may be some usable equipment in the old aquarium. They hurry there and find five antique diving helmets. In a daring raid, they make their way downstream under the cover of water until they are beneath the bell. Hank cuts the signal rope while the others grab the adept. The adept makes a small resistance, but he is no match for the five heroes. They have a hostage of their own!
Armed with this, they send Gilead out to parley with the Saginaw. They will not bargain openly in front of the troops and slaves, but agree to a private conference. The Saginaw commander agrees to send them her Quickfighter to ensure Gilead's safety. The Quickfighter refuses to be bound, but goes with the company willingly. Gilead is taken in to speak with Yuriko Hawkeye, the Saginaw commander. She is a hard and lean veteran with a no-nonsense look. She questions Gilead as hard as he does her. Afterwards he is not sure how much information he has unwittingly revealed to her, but an agreement is made.
All hostages will be returned.
The Tallon party must leave the area as soon as possible without contact or disturbing the bats
in return for this, they will be allowed a single reading of the stones.
Tira goes won into the bell and reads the stones while being guarded by Gilead. She goes into her Sympath trance and discovers several things: This stone is slightly different than the Merikian Stones she has so far encountered. The voices and images are different and would probably lead to different disciplines. In particular, Anima seems different. It will take her much time and reflection to puzzle this out, but she is only allowed one reading.
Afterwards, all parties are true to their word. Hostages are exchanged. All are allowed to leave unmolested. The day is late, so the Tallon party is given until dawn to get underway. They retreat to the ruined factory base to spend the night.