Meeting the New soon-to-be Neighbors in the Eisenwald

 

Prince Robert walked his camp watching approvingly as his soldiers prepared breakfasts and went about breaking down the camp. They moved a bit slower than usual weighed down by hangovers from the last nights revelry. “Uuuhhh I don't feel well” he mumbled to himself trying vainly to hide his own self inflicted burden, praying to the titans that dawn and it's reprieve would arrive already. After managing an impressive (he hoped) pose of looking to the hex edge as a pair of units passed by he stumbled around a tent into the back of a late rising unit.

 

Of all the units in camp to fall over, one of the many plushy soft Battle Bears, provided by Louise. She was an oddly focused one as Casters go. She primarily focused on bear pattern golems and while she would make others and craft them well they never seemed quite right. This bear for instance was a bright blue color and had no discernible neck, that space seemed overtaken by the enormous mouth cut into the thing from ear to ear. That mouth let the bear bite but fortunately it couldn't speak of it's Prince's early morning acrobatics.

 

As Robert and the bear rose from their jumble the sun finally got up too. Rob smiled as he felt the new day wash away the remains of the celebrations and saw the men and women at his command perk up as the dawns rays washed away weariness. He gave his soldiers a beaming smile as he walked among them packing the camp. A good and Noble leader must let his troops know that they were known to him. Occasionally lending a hand with morning chores or sharing drinks and jokes with them didn't give any visible bonuses to his troops but he felt certain it helped the natural date-a-mancy of command some subtle way.

 

It occurred to him a few moments into morning rounds that the smiles weren't quite reflecting his enthusiasm. In fact in the time between greeting one tent group and the next he saw outright worry in some pikers eyes. He stopped dead in his tracks when he realized why everyone was on edge, no one had move and it was not his turn yet.

 

Roberts head swam with unpleasant possibilities, he had never experienced a dawn without a fresh turn. The only reason a side wouldn't get their turn at dawn would be running into a hostile side in the battlespace. Build-a-Burger was the oldest side for at least 50 hexes in any direction which should ensure a place in the turn order well before any rivals. He summoned his scouts with a silent order and set his commanders too organizing the marching column into a defensive position.

 

The warlords assembled the troops on either side of the bridge with draftsmen in the middle, keeping it intact was crucial to the advance. The Burgerians we well versed in fighting a superior foe with mobility and any offensive would meet a wall of melee units with archers firing and repositioning with impunity from the safe side of the river.

 

Seke and his stack of scouts assembled quickly from the homeward hex edge in as close to formation as jittery scouts ever managed. “Hoo-yah ready for action LB” Seke announced, still on his latest nickname for Prince Robert. Any other unit would get a reprimand for such informality but the Titans saw fit to give Build-a-burger an energetic warlord with perpetually messy brown hair in the shape of Seke to lead it's scouting forces. Undeniably effective and mildy annoying, he relished in the scout version of professionalism which included nicknames. It took nearly a full hundred turn to put an end to 'Little Bob', but at the start of this expedition the moniker was uncroaked as LB.

 

Robert let out a long suffering sigh “Seke where are the rest of you? I wanted all the scouts here by now” “We flipped a coin, they set up on that ridge across the bridge to keep a eye on them trees in the path ahead. While we set up to watch for sneakers coming up from the hexes we left behind. They shoulda got back here by now... “ He tailed off and catching the look on the Princes face straightened up and drew his sword. “Whelp amigos, we gotta find our missin pals so that LB here can know whats what. Let's go, they were set up out by the next border we need to cross” and with that the 1st and 3rd scout stacks marched over the blue/stone bridge.

 

The campsite for Scout Stack 2 was is disarray, damaged tents, a cold fire pit and signs of struggle everywhere.  It looked like a stack of something big had surrounded them, come in and then dragged away several large objects.  Sekes first thought was Ferals, a body would depop at dawn and normally leave a simple depression in the grass unless claimed.  Ferals nearly all claimed  the body after a kill so it seemed likely except the turn hadn't started. 

 

Something with a very old side had come to this hex before build-a-burger and waited hidden until their turn then struck and left with the bodies.  One or two trails he could understand, it would be hauling off prisoners.  the only reason he knew to take them all was as fuel for an incoming Croakamancer. Seke stood up ordered 3 units to hide where they could see the hex boders and retreated to tell Little Bob the grim news

 

 

The world rushed back with a burning pain on the nose. Smoke and fire greeted Brad as he jerked awake, rolling back into the tree behind him. Alive, but how? Fire! Its everywhere it's... tiny? As consciousness rallied and beat back the confusion things fell into place. No inferno, he wasn't in That particular hex yet though this horrible forest felt close enough. The pain was from a damned Firefly taking off from his face. It didn't remove any hits but it certainly hurt. The clanking as he rubbed his nose brought another realization, he was a prisoner. Luck was with him it seemed, that last strike must have only incapacitated him and somehow he got the roll needed to wake up again at dawn rather than disband.

 

Butch heard muffled sobs behind him and managed to turn on the tree he was tied to. Several of his stack were with him, most incapacitated or croaked but one other was awake and crying, Impossible as it seemed it was Sadie! She was croaked for sure but then Bradly was pretty sure he'd been a goner too. As he watched she rocked forward and back slowly in a ball, her face buried in her knees and arms wrapped tightly around her shins.

 

“Sadie.. Sadie can you hear me?” She glanced up at him, her face briefly visible, dirt smudged and tear stained with the gray pallor of deep trauma etched into her signamancey. She said nothing but he could see the fear in her eyes ease a little bit but it took hold again as one of their captors approached with a steaming bowl in each hand.

 

The man was in the strangest raiment brad had ever seen. For a start his face was covered in something like an executioners hood, he wore a metal studded leather harness over a worn sleeveless shirt and spike forearm covering bracers. Deep green pants were cinched to his waist by a broad metal studded belt with a carved stone buckle in the shape of a fist, but with pinky and forefinger extended. The unit moved surprisingly quietly considering his heavy looking steel capped boots.

 

The unit tag Spiker blinked into view as Brad appraised his captor, “Not sure what that means, but it seems accurate.” As Spiker came closer a sweet smell wafted out of the bowl reminding him that while it was dawn no rations had yet popped. It was odd for a side to make food for a captive considering how cheaply they could be fed on low quality popped tarts or other prisoner fare. “Prisoner 2” the guard said handing him the bowl, half of a sausage sitting in some rice mixed with some kind of large green bean he hadn't seen before. Sadie didn't take her bowl prompting the captor to sigh and leave it next to her on a flatish root rising slightly from the forest floor.

 

As ranking unit Bradly knew what he needed to do here, he had to rally the spirits of his stack if they had any chance of surviving mentally. No unit liked being a prisoner and scouts made for movement and freedom hated it worse than most. Pile that on near croak experience and it's no wonder Sadie seemed nearly catatonic so he resolved to distract her. Keeping his voice low so the guards couldn't hear he reminded her of their wonderful king Big Bob and how his mighty army would come save them. “He needs us now more than ever, after that Lookamancer contract expired we are his eyes in the far off world. Just think of how many times our intel saved our friends and cost our enemies.” Slowly she was coming out of her scared stupor as he recounted their triumphs and minor losses, how they survived the various losses of their initial popmates and consolidated into the best scout stack Build-a-Burger had to offer, even being involved in alliance commitment forces sent to aid friendly sides on three separate occasions.

 

As all the tales of victories and past missions sank in Sadie finally smiled. She then stood up dropping her apparently unlocked shackles to the ground. Thank you for that Bradly, you have been very helpful so I'll do you a favor in return...” she turned to the several spikers standing around the crimson Lake Twoll in the chef hat and gestured at Brad. “Prisoner 2, double ration, a good cut this time” at which point the twoll stopped stirring and sliced 2 ribs of the roasting rack of meats beside him, putting together a decent looking plate of food. The nearest spiker brought it over with a small cup of red wine for Brad and a proper glass for Sadie.

 

Brad was too stunned to reply, feeling at lest half sure he was about to discover one could be critted by sheer confusion. As Sadie tried to drink her glass, she seemed to have difficulty and then reached up and PEELED OFF HER OWN FACE!?! Whatever kind of veil was being used here dispelled revealing a tall woman with aging signamancey still influenced by a fearsome kind of strength. Her graying hair was pulled back in a tight bun and her severe featured face looked down on his slack jawed horror with detached amusement the as mask made from Sadies drifted to the ground.

 

“Thank you for the information I'm moving you off kitchen detail and assigning you to the tryouts roster. Now if' you'll excuse me I need to pass this along and get back to the roast. A Side marches on it's stomach as they say and while Lake Twolls may have invented Wrong Pig I like to think that Changemancey and I perfected it. Now I have a busy morning ahead of me getting ready to welcome your friends to our jungle, but if you feel like sharing again just ask for Hannah and I'll be along if I'm still in hex.”

 

As this point the strange Hannah turned and left for the army of figures assembling though the obscuring branches and trunks of the rainforest. No, not a rainforest whatever the hex details said... Painforest was more apt. He barely heard as Hannah leaned in towards his two guarding spikers and mumbled “Make sure to watch the prisoners in case any are faking their incap, and keep an eye on prisoner #4 there.  He may try to make a break for it like #2 did.” In response they snapped salutes and gave an identical “Yes Dr. Belle” as she walked off sipping her Chianti.