Been a few days, I think. Things happened, got busy. Might have accidentally screwed with my time perception. People died. Not me, luckily, despite being marked for death by terrible dagger-AIDS, and then potentially unmarked when the wound disappeared (not sure about exact time, but I’m reasonably confident the branches and barbeques session with Nocalibur had something to do with it). Not sure what to make of it. Might be a vampiric dagger (life drain, not the undead), might be I just heal fast here, might be something else. I give 50/50 on dagger or other. Fast heal is too nice, unless it gives me cancer/is actually cancer. Make that 40/40/20, twenty on cancer heal. Also the dagger might do some other crazy shit, or that might just have been the tree. Pretty sure dagger though.
So, people died. No cancer heal for them. Jury’s out on undead. Good news: we know the cause, killed the cause, and now I can stop being paranoid about outside threats (because they exist and therefore it’s not paranoia). Bad news: there were a lot of causes, they hurt/killed more people while we were fighting them, and there’s probably more of them somewhere. Good news of the bad news: they look awesome, taste delicious, and aren’t poisonous. Yet.
Story of the fight goes back to the day after the tree-dagger incident. After wrapping my palm in a nice silk Band-Aid thingie-approximate (there’s bales and bales of the stuff in the storerooms. Is bales even the right word? Hay bales are a thing, these are about the same size, and actually thinking about it that’s a fuckton of silk. Whose stash even is this? We are so boned when they come back to their freshly looted temple and “armory.” Wait. If we have literal tons of silk in storage, who the hell said we don’t have toilet paper? I can’t be the first one to think of it. I swear I’m gonna punch Baldie in the face) Q and I went up top to our observatory/crow’s nest and just chillaxed for a bit. Was starting to nod off when Q abruptly shook me awake to point out the absolutely critical view of the empty forest. The very same one we came in from and (plot relevant detail here) our scouts had just entered. Thanks, Q. Never seen that before.
Jay-kay, she was actually trying to point out a single, specific tree in that forest. Not like I knew that until after she physically dragged me down the tower, out the courtyard and back into the deep green. Deep purple. Deep red, what-the-hell ever. Back into the forest. You know what I mean.
So there I am, being dragged around by a kid half my age and height, wishing Q could talk (pretty much confirmed at this point she’s either mute or traumatised. I have no experience of interactions with either kind of individual history, so dunno how to confirm. Could be a third option (wherein she just chooses not to talk, which makes her a massive dick), or a fourth (The Unknown. My favorite cause for anything and everything). Also snap! We’ve hit nested parentheses. Getting into deep meta here. Gotta pull out before the next wall breaks), crashing through the trees like a demented, way-too-fucking-early Santa Claus rhyme until Q suddenly stops and I run her and her rucksack over with my crit-failed reflex check. Ha.
Now sufficiently distracted from the pain in my hand by the pain in my everything, I disentagle myself from my legs and stand up, mildly surprised we didn’t impact on a tree. Apparently that’s because there aren’t any trees to impact on. Q dragged us into a clearing. A surprise clearing. A surprise clearing about thirty meters into the forest line. Weird.
Q, somehow, has managed to retain possession of my hand during our shared tumble, and uses it to leverage herself to a standing position as well, bouncing on her feet like a bipedal pogo stick. A few tugs on my arm gets her my attention, which she then directs towards the center of the clearing. Pain in my everything forgotten, I have to remind myself to breathe because holy shit how did I miss the giant burning tree with a sword sticking out of it?
Comparison time! Previously on This-Place-B-Whack, Yo, the trees were mentioned as Lorax derivatives. That is to say, branchless trunk, big ball of colorful stuff on top. Purple fur-moss. None of it on fire.
This tree ain’t got none of that, probably cause it is on fire. It’s a giant-ass tree, too. There’s almost a perfect circle (eight meter radius? Ten?) of dirt surrounding this thing. Not even grass. Just dirt. And above that dirt is a three meter gap of air before you hit the overhead thicket of branches and barbeques. This is like some Moses meets Winterfell level of burning tree. Q, naturally, loves the shit out of it.
I only realize she’s no longer holding my hand when her laughter (she can make noise! Torpedos non-trauma theory, I think) distracts me from thinking about what kind of idiot bird would nest in this deathtrap, and I notice we’re not alone in the clearing. Kind of. She’s dancing perilously close to the pillar of fire that is the trunk, following what looks like a cloud of glowing butterflies (or embers, or fairies if you write famous detective stories) as they wrap around it. The cloud coagulates next to the only non-flaming element of this whole play: Excalibur’s second cousin, thrice removed, currently embedded upside down (hanging? Hanging’s boring) in one of the branches, its mauve-red blade telling me (amongst other, probably larger, context clues) that it probably has a fire element and therefore does fire damage.
Q catches up to the coagulated cloud as it grows a plate and a pair of arms. The plate and one of the arms beckon to me while the other appendage plays with Q, dancing and whirling around to her delight. Surprisingly less hesitant to approach the omgwtfbbq thingie than I thought I would be, I sidle over, careful to keep Q between the thingie and myself so I can grab her and run if it tries to eat us.
It doesn’t try to eat us, thankfully, and when I get close enough to actually grab Q to cut and run, the thingie grows a pair of tongs, gently grabs Nocalibur sleeping in his nap branch, gives three sharp, ineffective yanks and pauses, apparently perplexed as to why the knock-off won’t respond to insufficient brute force. Realizing the error of its ways, the thingie grows more tongs and an extra pair of arms, then goes to town on the sword. This is where shit gets weird.
Busy watching my first literal beating of a metaphorical red-headed stepchild, I fail my next few spot checks until Q nicely jumps into my field of vision carrying a very glowing book (that’s you, diary). I actually react this time, heroically diving forward with a noble shout of valor to tackle Q before the fire phantom reads my diary and we all die.
Q dodges my fumble of a charge as I faceplant and lay unmoving, willing to accept defeat like I descended into the swimming pool of death and God deleted the ladder. She hands you to Thingie and you hang there, floating and making more light than strictly necessary as Nocalibur is convinced to Wake Up and Do Something. Couldn’t tell you what that something is. Hopefully it’s “grow a sheathe,” or “render unto its holder the sacred power of Getmethehellouttahere.”
The whole scene is so quiet I almost miss Thingie drop Nocalibur in the dirt when the sword abruptly falls out of the nap branch. Five minutes of lubrication and Thingie’s tender ministrations, blown in seconds. It’s so awkwardly hilarious I can’t help myself: my quiet giggling escalates rapidly into a full gutbuster, rolling me around the surprisingly-not-ash dirt. Eventually I finish, dry heaving the rest of my stress out of my eyeballs as I sit up, only to lose it once again when I notice everybody (Q, Thingie, even the sodding book) has turned towards me. I must have ruined the mood.
Second time’s the charm. Suppressing the remnants of my laughter, I wander over to give Thingie a hand with coaxing Nocalibur awake. They might not have souls, but even gingers think they can feel pain. Thingie’s approach isn’t going anywhere. Let’s try something gentler.
Thingie backs off when I approach, which I think is a good sign. Gives me space to try my thing. Encouraged, I walk up and place both hands on the hilt, conveniently forgetting I had an open, partially healed injury on one palm.
The first part of the plan goes swimmingly, or close enough to it. I barely have to pull to get the blade out. In fact, I overbalance and knock myself on my ass. I was disappointed by the lack of explosions, dramatic music, or spontaneous combustion. I was silly. The explosions were inbound.
Stumbling to my feet, remembering at the last second not to use Nocalibur as a crutch, I turn to Thingie and Q, expecting to bask in their awe and reluctantly accept their life debts. This was a mistake. Thingie takes one look at the blade and tackles Q, flowing over her and my diary before pulling them to cover on the other side of the tree. Confused, I take a closer look at my bounty and register four things.
Thing number one: My silk bandage is quickly turning to ash, the kind my vomit now makes. Thing number two: I am bleeding profusely again, and it’s all flowing towards Nocalibur’s pommel. My blood must be feeding it, cause it's getting real bright real fast. Number three: Nocalibur is vibrating faster and faster with tea kettle whistle accompaniment. Fourth, and this cuts it really close before I pass out: Nocalibur flashbangs me in the face.
Surprisingly, I wake up alive. More surprisingly, the tree’s still there, with Q and Thingie peaking their heads out around the flaming bark. More more surprisingly, Nocalibur is nowhere to be seen but I have a sweet new bracelet on my left arm, the same color as Nocalibur’s blade. Huh. I wonder what could have happened to it. Where could the sword possibly have gone?
Thingie and Q slowly advance towards my suspiciously un-immolated frame as I pick myself up, trying to avoid putting any kind of weight on the shiny new decoration. I take a few crunching steps forward and halt, remembering the ground definitely did not make that sound when Q was dancing and I face-planted.
Nocalibur’s self ignition, apparently, wasn’t limited to himself. A lot of the ground around me has a coating of glass. A thin coating, judging by the sounds, which also means my feet are probably bleeding right now. Ignoring how you should only get harder dirt from flash-barbequed dirt (does clay count as dirt? Broken pottery is sharp, and pottery is super barbequed dirt), I take a tentative step backwards and relax when I feel no stabbing pain or hear the tell-tale tinkle. The shadow I left in the flashbang is free from nature’s Legos, which means if Q can hop a two meter danger zone we should be able to leave safely.
It takes longer than I expected to coax her over. She still wants to stay for some reason I can’t comprehend. We triggered the bonus quest, got the secret loot sword, survived the getting of said secret loot sword, and now have to navigate the collapsing path out. Nothing left to see here. Nevertheless, Q still wants to play ‘round with Thingie before we leave. Not being hungry or in immediate need of a bathroom (and mildly less in fear of our safety than before), I acquiesce to her request and move to acquire my diary, now propping itself against the burning tree like the book forgot it was technically a flammable object. At some point I’ll stop questioning it, but that’s not today.
Eventually, and this takes literal ages, I manage to pry Q off of Thingie before she tries to actually climb the barbeque of death. I’m rather certain she’s still flammable, given Thingie’s reaction to the pre-flashbang. Q gives a final hug and we’re off, skirting the glass cover rather than risking the jump. She never stops waving to the fiery dryad and her biblical drug reference as we walk away, and the glance over my shoulder shows the dryad returning the wave as I imagine a smile on her face of a plate. Then she and the tree turn completely to ash, the space they took up rapidly filling with Lorax trees. I am left questioning many things, but my bracelet is still present and still red, and therefore my questions are shelved until further notice.
Anyway, people died. Turns out that earlier scout party I mentioned (the plot relevant one) encountered a pack of wild animals and got butchered by them. The group’s survivors fled back to the temple, which meant their ambushers got firsthand guidance to an all-you-can-eat buffet. All I’ve got to work off is a partially destroyed corpse and second-hand descriptions, but they’re pretty damn impressive. Armored war-cats would be a great start, except for the legs and tail. Their legs are chicken-ish, the backward knee structure thing. You wouldn’t think that looks too weird on a cat, except that their front legs also do that, and that looks pretty whack. The tail is where the real alien stuff comes in, though. Your regular cat uses it for balance as it’s pretty much a furry extension of their spinal cord. These guys have a club on the end and spines all along the length, which means when it gets whipped around during their pounces people get hurt. Also, apparently, the end club can unfurl into an X shaped mouth full of teeth. That’s a vicious piece of work I’m confident is more used for grabbing/tearing than actual eating, given that said mouth doesn’t actually have a throat attached. They’re roughly jungle cat size, they hunt (or this group hunted) in packs of six, and they scream while attacking. Banshee screams, insanely loud.
Weak spots are fairly conventional for cats, I suppose. Eyes, base of the tail, shoulder and thigh joints (the place where limbs connect to main body, if joints is incorrect). They didn’t really use their back legs in combat, for some reason, which seems weird. They were heavy on lunges and tail whips. No paw swipes, which surprised me until I actually saw their leg structures. They’ve got a vicious disembowel game though.
So anyway, scout team goes out, cats fall on them from the trees, group panics, dies, and flees. Cats follow to the temple, scale the walls (Cats have grip through fucking stone?), jump on people in the courtyard. Mass panic in the yard, people with weapons or leadership abilities (or both) rally the troops. People fleeing the yard have two objectives: run away, or loot the armory. Looters come back to join fight against cats, runners keep going? Not 100% sure about what they do. Figures.
Baldie’s not a runner, but he’s not a fighter. He started some of the groups running out to grab extra weapons. Probably saved some lives there, I think. Good panic response.
Total combat time was roughly thirty minutes. Thirty-eight dead, fifty-seven wounded, indeterminate number missing. Most of the dead happened early, when the cats were whipping their tails through people clusters. Most of the injured happened late, with tail bites and people mobbing a pouncing cat before it finishes the job. Pretty rough thing for Q and I to come back to, after the happy-but-sad departure. We’d been treated as two of the missing, so our return helped boost morale amongst people I’d barely spoken to but still knew who I was. Good, but still uncomfortable. Makes me feel like I should know who died, but I can’t connect names to dismembered corpses as well as they can.
Most important fact: people talking about the attack say it happened two days ago, which by my reckoning puts it the day before I shank myself. I distinctly recall not writing about armored war-cats eating people the day before my ill-considered experiment, which means we were gone for far longer than I had experienced. I don’t know if it’s limited to two days, either. People say they haven’t seen us for a while, but they don’t remember exactly when we last talked. That’s fair, I don’t ever remember talking to you, good madam. Still, let’s try to avoid any further displacements until we have solid measurements.
Got people trickling in again. Nobody with a time dilation like Q and I yet, and I’m trying to decide if that’s good or bad. People have been cooking the dead cats, which I thought was disgusting until I actually smelled it. Tastes as nice as it smells, too. Like ribs with a muttony flavor.
Yeah, let’s leave off with that happy note. The things that eat people taste pretty damn delicious themselves. Nothing creepy about that.
We'll see how the dagger's doing next time. Really hope Nocalibur doesn't flashbang again.