Journey through the hungry jungle, part 14
Major Raquel’s debriefing wasn’t as unpleasant as Marco had feared. They’d spent two hours going over every detail, and her questioning had been thorough to the point of exhaustion. She was especially interested in the Guewilla’s and BR’s. She took notes, and at one point she showed them their probable route through the jungle on a map she was carrying. «Your navigating was rudimentary, but you were heading to Uppenup.»
Count Black spent about as much time with Lucy, though from the snatches of conversation Marco could pick up it seemed significantly friendlier.
It took some coaxing (and getting Crunch to take the Red Spots to the far side of the terrace), but Marco had managed to get Lily to come out of the lake and introduced her to Raquel and the Count. They’d never run into her type of Natural Ally before, and said they’d bring up the topic of an Alliance, though that was ultimately up to the full Komissar council.
Afterwards the count had Ordered them to help set up the tents(!) and called it a night. Just as Zheng was setting up for first watch, the count waved him to bed with a silent order. He, Raquel and Crunch would keep watch. For the first time in two months, Zheng and Marco slept through a full night without any worries of random feral attacks.
«That’s it, now kick your foot over and on the other side of the saddle, careful not to lose your balance.» Sky Captain Crunch’s reassuring words gave Marco something to focus on other than the fact that he was on top of a huge winged red and white bull.
He almost slipped off but managed to grab one of the horns for balance. Riding was impossible unless you were a Knight or Commander, so the plan was for Lucy, Marco and Zheng to ride in tandem with Count Black, Sky Captain Crunch, and Raquel respectively. Not for the first time, Marco thanked the Titans for the small blessing of having a reason to wrap his arms around the hunky Sky Captain all day. Now to avoid embarrassing himself.
«All right everyone, take off and fly out!» And with count Black’s order they all took to the skies.
Marco looked down and waved goodbye to Lily, Zheng and he yelled a heartfelt «Diggem!» as loud as they could. Lily actually managed an impressive leap and dive into the lake after them, ribbiting «Digyou, Digyou!»
Flying was unlike anything Marco had experienced. The sensation was closest to falling that first time into the temple, mixed with the view from the top of the waterfall. The wind, the rushing motion, the height... it was terrifying and surreal, but he could understand why Crunch had a broad grin on his face. Crunch roared over the wind «You enjoying it so far?»
Marco laughed in response; it was part nervous, but mostly thrilled.
The Red Spots ran on the wind ahead, behind, and around them, a constantly shifting Screening swarm. Any birds that flew too near would get chased away or bit at.
They had just crossed the hex boundary when Marco felt the stack bonus go down. He was about to ask Crunch if one of the Spots had left the stack to chase a bird when Crunch steered the Redbull into a sharp bowels-voiding turn. «Fwip!» An arrow! The entire stack was under fire!
Marco grabbed on for dear life. The Red Spots were trying to screen, but there were too many arrows from too many directions. He could see the air stack flock around the Count and Lucy, they twisted in the sky in severe turns and loops, desperately trying to gain altitude and leave the hex.
The beast under him roared in pain, it was taking hits, they all were.
«Sky Captain, help!» It was Major Raquel, she was pointing at the count’s rapidly falling Red Bull. Marco could barely make out a spear(!) sticking straight through a wing, crippling it’s Flying special.
«Hold on to your rations Marco, there may be some turbulence.» And with that the bull tucked in its wings and dived down fearlessly. For a fleeting moment the weightlessness of the Fall amazed Marco, but Crunch immediately drove the bull into a series of weaves and brakes that avoided the oncoming hail of arrows.
On the descent Marco managed to see brilliant blue shapes that had nothing to do with the extreme speed. «Navatari Elves!» Marco pointed at the nearest one perched on a branch.
Crunch actually managed to get his bull to knock the elf off the shelf with a well-placed horn strike before spiraling around the tree to brake their speed and land next to the Count.
Marco immediately dismounted and stacked with the unconscious count and Lucy. Lucy was still awake and had dragged the count to cover behind the bull. Miraculously the bull was only Incapacitated. He scanned the ground and canopy, spotting several elves being harassed by pairs of Red Spots. The dogs were tearing them apart up close, but there seemed to be more elves than Tar Zhay units.
Moments later the Major landed as well, Zheng dismounted by sliding off the flank and stacked up with Marco. For a moment Marco thought that the Major was about to Order them to load Lucy and the Count onto her and Sky Captain’s Red Bulls when the Captain shot her a look. He turned to the Pikers and said «Keep them safe, we’re cleaning up the hex.»
They peeled off into the sky and started spiraling, ducking, and weaving through the canopy with terrifying speed and purpose. The Sky Captain slashing and stabbing elves, while the Major harassed individual elves with two Red Spots before giving them the horns.
Marco and Zheng took position on either side of Black and Lucy, ducking behind the fallen Red Bullseye for partial cover. Lucy was crouching down for the Count and already applying some of her Healomancy bandages.
They instinctively scanned the ground and treetops. The elves were occupied by the Red Spots, but it wouldn’t be long before there were Trixie fur boots on the ground.
«Take these, quick!» Lucy was holding out two colorful objects, one in each hand towards Marco and Zheng. He hesitated a moment before taking his. It was a tiny rainbow. As he thought of how odd it was to hold something weightless, the thing Automagically vanished.
«What did that just do?» Zheng looked puzzled as the soft foam heart he’d been holding vanished, only to turn back to scanning the horizon.
Lucy ducked back down and said «Luckamancy charms, I used one on the bull before it crashed.»
The beast was alive, so they must be working. Marco suddenly felt a wave of déjà vu. This was an ambush. The elves had been waiting for them on the surrounding hexes. But how did...?
He didn’t have time to ponder the question, a rumbling and snapping of branches was coming closer. He looked over to Zheng and felt for the comfort of the stack connection.
With the great roar of a falling tree (and the surprised scream of the elf in said tree falling off) a Battle Bear made out of blue and gold cloth charged through the foliage and cleared a path for a Warlord with a stack of three Navatari by his side. «Visa, charge the Bullseye and Pikers. Snap, Crackle, Pop, capture the commanders.»
The sound of the baying Red Spots went muted. The elves screaming and shooting arrows faded in the distance. Even the ever present sound of the jungle went hoarse in Marco’s mind. It was Lieutenant Fu Bar. In a resplendent Banana Republican yellow and blue uniform.
When asked later, neither of the two would be able to properly describe how they knew to do what they did next.
Zheng rushed out the side of the Red Bullseye and landed a solid hit with his Pike on the Bear’s right foot, but rather than pull it out he pushed the Pike over a nearby stump. Marco meanwhile had climbed over the Bullseye and jumpedonto the pike, the resulting fulcrum made Visa lose its balance, tipping it over and sending it crashing over Pop and Crackle.
«Snap» was the sound Zheng’s Pike made when Snap took advantage of the moment. Marco didn’t have to look to know how Zheng must be feeling at that.
«Visa, swipe them!» Lieutenant Bar was holding back, applying his Leadership bonus and letting the troops slough it out. Predictable. Also predictable: calling his attacks.
Marco and Zheng dove prone onto the ground. The next «Snap» they heard was the poor elf being snapped in half by the wild claw swipe.
Zheng rolled out of the way of the bears stamping feet, while Marco managed to get up and grab Polo. He saw the unarmed Zheng stumble onto his feet and backpedal from the Battle Bear, and for a fleeting moment he wondered whether to go help Zheng or try to croak Fu Bar.
The question was answered when he barely deflected a sword strike from Lieutenant Bar.
Marco did some backpedaling of his own, trying to get some range, but the Lieutenant was pressing him hard. «Croak, traitor!»
The Lieutenant’s carefree laugh was not what Marco was expecting. «I may be a traitor, but the Banana Republic makes it look good. » He scored a stab into Marco’s stomach, 2 Hits!
«It’s because of you that all of my stackies are dead!» Marco was off balance, literally and emotionally, as he walked over unseen ground. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Zheng suffer a resounding punch and get knocked back.
Seeing the Lieutenant here was a kick in the guts, he should be croaked, not dressed like a Prince in Banana Blue! The Lieutenant kicking him in the guts and knocking him down was just salt on the wound. «Should I know you?» He held his sword at Marco’s neck, waiting for a reply.
«Stop! Don’t croak them, please!» Lucy’s voice rang out clear and loud in the jungle din. She was walking out from behind the Bullseye with her hands up and stretching out the manacles between them.
Lieutenant Bar called out «Visa, decline!» Marco looked to the side and saw the Bear drop Zheng in a heap, still alive. «So you’re the treasure they dug out of that ruin. Well little Lady, if you surrender yourself to us right now I’ll consider only incapacitating these two.»
«Lucy, no! Ru—augh!» The Lieutenant dug his boot heel into the sword wound in Marco’s belly.
«I accept.» She never broke eye contact with the Lieutenant as she walked over, and tripped on Zheng’s broken spear because of it, landing at the Lieutenant’s feet.
He chuckled, and gallantly leaned over to help her up «Clumsy, but you won’t have to worry over tripping up once you Turn to the Banana Republic. Best decision I ever--»
Marco felt a sudden surge of strength as his Leadership bonus returned, and capitalized on it by grabbing the Lieutenant’s boot and tipping him over. In one swift motion he grabbed Polo and tumbled to a standing position, then rushed at the quickly standing Lieutenant Bar.
He heard the baying of Red Spots as a trio started harassing the Battle Bear, Visa with a high interest. It swiped its paws trying to smack them as they dodged and weaved and bit. Zheng wasn’t near the bear anymore. Marco was peripherally aware that the din of battle was dying down, it sounded like their Air force was routing the elves.
Marco thrust Polo forward and managed to strike the Lieutenant so hard he went reeling back two steps, and parried the weak return blow. He pressed the advantage and started fighting him back towards the Bullseye. He delivered three hits and took two himself; taking him down to 4. One good hit and he’d be croaked.
A Red Spot hit the ground beside him and lay croaked, probably swatted down by the Battle Bear.
The lieutenant was getting angry now «Just croak already!» Despite Marco’s efforts the Lieutenant was still at half his Hits, but now he had lost his cool. Predictable.
«You first.» Marco feinted a lunge but ducked down, and swept Polo under the Lieutenant’s feet. Fu Bar saw through it and jumped, readying his sword for a crushing downward sweep... but when he came back down Zheng’s new Navatari spear was waiting.
Lieutenant Bar only had time for a small gurgle before his eyes went to X’s. Zheng grinned. «I just leveled!»
Their satisfaction was cut short when a shadow literally fell over their victory. «Move!» came the Order, and Marco and Zheng ran flat out and narrowly avoided getting crushed under the Croaked Battle Bear. As it hit the ground over the Lieutenant the Heavy actually shook the Erf with a resounding «Thud!», knocking them over.
They looked up from the ground; the Count was leaning on Lucy and walking towards them with a huge grin. That’s where their Leadership came from! He must have gotten healed and mobile enough to restack!
Despite having most of his head and right arm covered in pink and yellow Healomancy bandages, the count was beaming. «Simply exemplary! Good work men, I’m opening my wine cellar for you two! When we get to the city of Dis, Count Black Friday’s Ale is on the house!»
This is some high quality Erfworld-style battle!
It's cool that Banana Republic isn't doing nothing, they're busy gaining natural allies and Turning leadership.
And it's interesting having "high-powered" Warlord Units on their side, it kind of puts into perspective their roles "just little guys" in the bigger scheme of things.