King in the Machine - part 7

After only one turn Kogane was sure - Turnamancy constructs are the only way to travel.
The Storm Snail was a marvelous piece of machinery. They moved at a steady pace, perhaps not as fast as a riding horse, but at least as fast as a fully kitted warhorse. The speed was only the beginning, though. Riding the Snail was unlike anything else!
The passanger compartment, or the "Tin Can" as some of the men called it, started out as stuffy, dark and cramped. Once four casters had to sit there for any length of time, this changed rapidly. The compartment seemed much larger on the inside then on the outside, allowing for comfortable chairs, a small table, and even a couple of hammocks. A few powerballs made the place seems lively, and Felix crafted small but sweet smelling trees, that he hung around the place. Sitting there felt more like lounging in a club then traveling cross country.
Next Kogane climbed the roof to meet the gunner on duty. She used to be part of a balistae crew, when she and her mate were shanghaied by commander Nala. Up there in the roof, in the shockamancy turret, there was no barrier between him and the world. The Snail rumbled and roared, the wind swept, and he could see and feel the great plains stretching all around him. The gunners had a special helmet that canceled the noise and allowed them to be in contact with the commander, and were considered stacked with her. This was very efficient, but discouraged any conversations with any tourists like him.
Kogane had the most fun at the front of the vehicle. There was a large window, overlaid with Allura's wonderful Foolamancy display. Here he could really feel the great mechanism of mechanisms that was the Storm Snail, how every little cogwheel had an important place in this grand creation. He felt as if he could lose himself inside it, letting the whir of machinery lull him to peace and sleep.
It took the a little over a turn to reach the ruins of Nasiphambeko. The ruins nestled between two tall hills that stood to the north and west of it. These ruins marked the end of the prairie, and the start of the Izindaba Ezimbi hills. Once they got to the ruins, Nala and the casters got out of the Snail, joined by three stabbers and a crossbowman. The rest of the men - The driver, gunner, and 4 more crossbowman - stayed in the Snail.
It was already mid-turn when the party finally entered the ruins. Like most ruins, it looked like a city site that was burnt to the ground many many turns ago. Kogane knew it was not so - Ruin hexes were ruin hexes, not unclaimed cities - but it still gave him the chills. He could just imagine how Odeon would look like as a ruin, with long grass growing in the courtyard, and the grand tower toppled to the side.
He could almost imagine the grand city this ruins could have been. The ruins had almost no walls - the city must have been peaceful. The ruins of the tower were immense, it's nase monstrous, and it's bulk covered almost half the hex - the city must have had powerful casters. That tower must have taken the brunt of the attack, for pieces of it were spread all over the hex. The top and bottom of the tower seemed to be relatively whole, as if the attack destroyed it's heart in one fell swoop. There were ruined fountains, and torn down mosaics, and sweeping avenues where only weeds grew. He could see the fantasy city in his mind, glorious in it's splendor, but tranquil.
"There! Hobgoblins!!!"
The cries of the stabbers woke Kogane from his reverie. He was standing in the middle of a Ruin hex, with no city in sight. The only thingf he could see were 4 hobgoblins huffing it into the middle of the hex.
Nala looked at the other casters, but mainly at Lu Zijian and Hitta. "So, Ambush?"
Both the casters nodded. "Yep. Ambush".
Nala sighed. "well, we may as well do some exploring while we're here, It's not like the barbarians will be leaving the hex any time soon."
This actually made a lot of sense. There was no point in running after the Hobgoblins only to let them choose where the fight will take place. Instead, the party moved towards the Tower's base and started searching for anything of interest.
After about an hour of searching Lu Zijian suddenly became excited, and called Kogane and Hitta to him. He stood near the ruins of a house near the tower, and beckoned to them. "We need to search here! We were meant to search here!"
It was a tough nut to crack, but after a thorough search Kogane sensed a complex mechanism under one of the walls, and called Hitta over. Hitta expanded some juice and Found a secret lever. Kogane was just about to pour some juice into the mechanism when Nala arrived.
"so, you found a hidden entrance?"
Kogane nodded. "Yes. This one seems to be behind a busted mechanism. looks like no-one used it for quite a bit."
Lu Zijian seemed almost giddy with anticipation. "This is where we were meant to go! Our destiny awaits us!"
Nala seemed less than enthusiastic, "I haven't been exploring as much as you have, Kogane, so tell me: What do you expect to be behind this door?
"Usually this is where the real enemy for the ruin pops. These chambers are also where the real treasure for the hex lies.
Nala nodded again. "As I thought. Let me ask you, prince Kogane - what does your duty tell you to do? Do we tackle the dangerous, juice draining tunnel?"
Kogane's head fell. "No. We finish the mission, then go underground. The mission comes first.
"What?!" exclaimed Lu Zijian. "Come on, Kogane, Don't turn your back from this. This is Fate - there's a price for walking out on it,"
"Don't worry, Lu" said Kogane. "We won't. I give you my word that we will explore this place before returning home. But Nala is right - Duty demands that we finish our mission first."
Lu Zijian took a deep breath, and calmed himself. "So be it. Let's get this hun-dan clan of gos-se hobgoblins, and come right back here. Hitta! Find those gorram hobgoblins and get it done!"
Nala called the rest of the stack together, and they advanced towards the main hobgoblin camp. On the way they ran into the same group of hobgoblins as before, who dutifully ran again towards the camp, visibly slowing down to allow their reluctant pursuers to see where they are going,
"Yep. Definitely an ambush" was all that Nala said.
They were nearing the edge of the ruins, and the hobgoblins could be seen running into a small cul-de-sac valley with a waterfall in the back. They started following them, when Hitta signaled that there was a stack of goblins hiding behind them, in the ruins. With an impatient sigh Nala signaled an attack towards the stack. "We'll finish the others later - there's no point in letting ourselves getting flanked."
As they turned the corner towards where the stack was headed, Kogane started getting a strange feeling of foreboding. He glanced at Lu Zijian, and saw that he wasn't the only one feeling concerned. Lu called out: "Nala, stop!"  But then the enemy stacked emerged from behind the corner.
The stack was made entirely of Hobgoblin knights, led by a chieftain with the Leadership special, and what apeared to be a witch doctor, with thin long braids. The Hobgoblins were all wearing war paint, and looking fierce.
Nala stayed calm. "Don't worry, everyone. This may be more them we expected, but we are more then a match to a few hob knights without mounts. We've got this."
Suddenly the caster took out a long, slender guitar. a distinct rock beat started blasting.
The leader said: "You gotta keep them seperated!", and the caster started playing his guitar. It was a strange sound, reminicent of the exotic lands to the east. The hobgoblins started dancing to the beat of the tune. 
"They're about to rock out! Take out that caster!" Nala called, now with real urgency in her voice, but then the caster started singing.:
Like the latest fashion
Like a spreading disease
Units are strappin' on their way to the battle
Getting weapons with the greatest of ease

We stake our own campus locale
And if we catch you  then it's all over pal
If one guy's colors and the other's don't mix
We're gonna bash it up, bash it up, bash it up, bash it up
Hey man Leading against me?
Take him out
You gotta keep 'em separated!
Hey man you disrespecting me?
Take him out
You gotta keep 'em separated
Hey don't pay no mind
You're under 8 you won't be getting by
Hey come out and play
Kogane felt himself getting Unstacked against his will, losing his leadership and stack bonuses immediately. He tried to restack, but it made no difference - While the song held, they could not form stacks. He tried blasting the caster with his wand, but without the stack and leadership bonuses his aim was terrible. He got nowhere close to an enemy.
Nala sounded downright terrified now. "Retreat! retreat! We have no leadership, and the enemy is rocking out! retreat!"
The stabbers ignored her, and auto attacked the enemy in front of them, only to be slaughtered by the dancing hobgoblins. then, with a rush, one Hobgoblin knight charged and hit Nala hard. She dropped to the ground, incapacitated.
There were battles all along the line now. Hitta conjured a sourmander and a Boar-qupine, and Lu Zijian was weaving and dodging blows, but they could not hold for long out here in the open. Kogane looked around him, and saw that they were near a small depression in the ground, standing near one of the buildings. Falling back on his Dirtamancy lessons, he Burrowed his way into a small cellar under the ruins. Carrying the incapacitated Nala, he ran into the cellar, calling on the others to follow him. Once they were inside, Kogane fortified the entrance to the bast of his abbilities, and Hitta summoned a particulary robust cave-bear to guard the entrance. With Lu Zijian healing it, that bought them a few minutes.
With an effot of will, Kogane concentrated on his sister's face, calling her with all his might.
The response was almost immediate. "Yes, Kogane, how can I help?" came Allura's sweet voice in his head.
"Allura, we were ambushed and about to be croaked! We need the Storm Snail to reach us and provide assistant ASAP!"
Allura's voice was calm and reassuring. "Will do, brother. What is your location?"
With a shock of panic, Kogane realized he wasn't sure where they are relative to the Snail!
"Don't panic, brother. I'll help." said Allura. Kogane felt a "Twing", like some unseen cord was plunked, and suddenly he felt his sense of direction expand, and become a sort of sense of location. It was a strange feeling, but he had more pressing matters to deal with.
"We are on the south-eastern corner of the ruins, on azimuth of 150 degrees and 500 meters from the base of the toppled tower!"
"Ordered relayed. With you presently."
All Kogane and his friends could do now was try to survive. Felix imbued some apples he had with him with airborne poisons and threw them grenade-style into the midst of their opponents. Hitta conjured creature after creature, with strong armor and many hits, and Lu Zijian did his best to heal them, but the shear force and tenacity of the hobgoblin knights was overwhelming. Kogane did his best to Ditto the creatures hits, but he wasn't very good at it, and it burned a lot of juice.
He could feel his reserves getting lower and lower. Hitta was now crashing the figurine of a lion, her juice all spent. Lu Zitian was using a scroll. Felix put on his glove and boots, and stood ready hold the line when Hitta's last summon croaked. Then the sound they heard the sound they were all waiting for - that great "KABOOM" of the Snail's main gun firing. 
The courtyard cleared of enemy forces. In the sudden silence Kogane shouted to Lu Zijian - "Quick! Heal Nala!"
Lu Zijian turned to Nala, put his hand on her head, and said: "Triage. Primary. Secondary. Ressucitation!". The scroll was consumed, and Nala was suddenly revived, with a few hits to spare.
Nala took only a few seconds to gaze around her before calling: "Quick! stack and let's get out!"
With a sense of relief Kogane felt the leadership and stack bonus again. they stepped outside, and saw on the floor near them a few croaked hobgoblins, including the caster. About 200 feet forward they saw the Snail, exchanging hits with the now-reduced stack of hobgoblins. 
Nala called in the Snail and ordered it to come back to them, ASAP. The snail broke contact and in a turn was next to them, his doors open. The casters hurried into the passenger compartment, but Kogane made his way to the forward area, ordering the driver to let him drive. He was out of juice, but he knew this Snail like no other, and knew he was the best suited to use it. Nala sat next to him, earphones and microphone plugged in, commanding the entire crew of the snail with efficiency.
The rest of the fight was no contest. The snail's gun delivered massive, deadly strikes, now with uncanny precision. The crossbowmen fired from behind the armored windows, then ducked into the armored interior to reload. Te hobgoblins brought two more stacks of regular hobgoblin stabbers, but without the dance-fighting their edge was gone. soon enough the Chieftain was blasted, and the battle turned to one-sided slaughter.
Bloodstained and weary, the party disembarked from the Snail. They were hurt, their number dwindled, and they juice all but depleted. Nevertheless, they were also victorious.
Kogane shook his head, "A caster? a full stack of knights? how could they afford that, being barbarians?"
Nala looked grim. "There is a chance I know how. Folllow me and we'll see if I'm right. I very much hope I'm wrong, though.
Together they walked towards the hobgoblin caster. Nala said: "When I heard the caster's song, it reminded me of a song called "Bloodstains", by the Jokers' Rhime-o-mancer Agent Orange. It's clearly not the same song, but the similarities were enough to make me suspect. Nala knelt besides the caster, and took off a small hat from his head. The change was immmediate and profound - the hobgoblins turned into a Joker! "And here is Agent Orange himself."
Nala turned to Kogane and said solemnly: Prince Kogane, I believe there was an attempt on your life today by Chief Isibanda, and that he is guilty of High Treason."
Kogane looked at her. "I believe so too, warlady Nala. We will deal with him too. However, right now, we have a debt to pay, for Fate itself. We must enter under the city."
Previous part - Part 4-6
Next part - part 8