At the head of a clutch of Woodhelm’s town guards, we are victorious. Our enemies are unconscious or dead, bested. Like some medieval lava lamp, blood and hydraulic fluid mingle and swirl in the dust. The encounter was risky; his spring sprung, dented Ginson has had his mettle sorely tested, now tempered, now annealed by combat. Our blood is up, or whatever passes for it-the temptation to spare them does not compute. Down the rutted furrows of his memory banks, racing through his logic centers, to issue nanoseconds later from his voder Ginson shouts:
(Ginson) “Don’t kill the leader, we must talk to him!”
(Damocles) “Hmm, who’s to say they didn’t leave one or two as rear guard to surveil from the forest’s edge? If so we are undone, and surprise later will be forfeit.”
Sure enough, we startle a dire wolf from nearby concealment, and like a zephyr it is away with Sprox hot on its heels. To race after quarry, this is the purpose for which he was built. He obeys his directive: no escape, no survivors. Put two in the head-it’s the only way to be 100% sure, and always take a trophy: ears are good, very good, now virtually traditional.
Agape, dwindling in numbers by the minute, the rest of us watch him go. Now we are three. No time to plan, no time to question, interrogate, prevaricate. We call for horses, horses! Every minute takes our companion away from us, into the arms of danger, quite alone. Sprox, the only one of us that knows the trail, and has seen the lair of these bizarre half-breed bandits gone, torn off, solo.
“Horses, horses and a groom, now!”
We lose one half hour, a delay that takes Sprox far afield. Frederick leads far too fast, horses and their use are now but a dim memory, we learn too quickly. The horses are surly, clearly unhappy and unwilling to enter such a place. Jostled, chafed, practically flung we mend our pace. Cautious now, we find the trail and enter the gloomy depths of the woods. A dreadful place, each step taking us away from light and air, into the heavy mist of the Mourning. Not a bird, not a sound. Calling out softly to companions, your voice drops at your feet; life, language, hope stifled by death, death, death.
Later, how long we do not know, the dark form of a vast cut in the earth looms up: the fortress? It is. Ginson moves up, so quietly. Who knew he possessed such craft, he is almost as silent as Friend Sprox. Where is he-there is no sign, we are now three. The man groom hurries back, out of the forest leading the beasts:
“God save you in this accursed place!”
Probing like some spook, Ginson lends his faithful companion, the odd metal bird Actuary his eyes: take these, see for me and go! Clutching them like precious eggs in its sharp little talons, it buzzes off into the night. Too small and too stealthy for easy detection the discreet quad rotor homunculus nibbles at the defenses here, there. Grinning, Friend Ginson’s empty sockets emit a faint glow: I can see your processor, Oedipus!
We learn the plan of the structure. Built into the hillside, it is low, stout, stone built. Formidable construction, with two half-forged guards standing on the parapet above the gaping entry. We settle on a diversion, a small noise to attract the guards. We resolve to climb, avoiding the best protected and probably trapped main entry. It works-gaining the low parapet, we rush the guards. Blows, one is down. A staircase rushed, into the lamplight of the main structure-it’s midnight, four guards down below-the kitchen-kick in the door! Close work, arrows shatter on the stone, glance off armor as Friend Frederick storms them. For a moment all is well, in control, like coming home: back to back, in battle.
Behind us, a door, look out! A giant thing, a metallic monster: their leader. Not plate armor, warforged. Some kind of mismatched surgical patchwork-a nightmare scarecrow come to life, fashioned of the limbs stolen from many, many warforged corpses. The voice a grating command:
“Kill them! Kill the intruders! Exterminate, x-ter-minate!”
His ‘men’ respond, rally. Then it’s bad, desperate. As big as a Volkswagen, laying on right and left with a flaming sword, it’s all we can do to keep our heads. A close shave later, with Ginson’s help, we put him down.
“What kept you?”
“Well there was an ocher jelly in here…”
Damocles thoughtfully touches his (it’s) bloodied forehead, gently. Still and apparently deceased one moment before, it draws a ragged mechanical breath: spared? To what purpose? He came within a hairsbreadth of taking her life, and yet she brought him back. Who knew she had it in her.
“What is your name? Your life is forfeit, bandit. Tell us and be swift about it.”
“I am self-styled Davross, aka ‘Unit MC Prime’ or ‘Primo’ if brevity isn’t your thing, brought low by your hand. I am amazed the town could muster anything of your caliber; I am at your mercy. Let me live and it will be to your advantage, my Lords. I am the author of many creations, my hand expert in forgotten and neglected arts. I single handedly conquer death and grant immortality! My stature as a surgeon matches my physical might in every way; like a God I was, my future limitless, the world my dominion, a visionary. I am at your feet. I answer your beck and call, like a humble chamber maid. Let me live, don’t shut out the light, the future!
Your petty employers will reward you poorly. The Capital-Hah! Corruption, self-service, lard! Lard I say! Here in the hinterlands there is true strength, grit, and potential. I can command riches in gold and in knowledge worthy of the oldern days, before the fall. Would you cast this all away? A diamond in the rough is still a diamond. Gesturing to his dead men, saying: I have greater allies and associates than these wretches. Look to my followers, such as they are. Once men they were, yet perfected by my hand; this hand. Extending that hand, would you cut it off and sever this cord of genius? Please think on it. Do not act precipitously. Listen to the good council of your hearts. I await your command eagerly and with trepidation. I tremble!”
(Frederick) “I have dealt with devils with less gilded tongues, he is a snake, and should be treated as such.”
(Damocles) “Perhaps Friend Ginson could rework it’s chassis, eliminating all but his head. We could place it in a jar. Horrible, but just, no?”
Good thing Friend Sprox isn’t here or he would be killed out of hand, if only for his limitless conceit and boundless ego. He is amusing, there is no doubt. We bound him securely, trussed like a hog and flung like a sack of laundry into a corner. We place little Actuary, the quad rotor homunculus to stand sentinel over him.
There is something of a throne room nearby: a magnificent and imposing carved chair of granite stone beyond a well-crafted rug; an ancient masterpiece of some forgotten and defunct court. His throne no doubt, Lord Davross. There is also a well barricaded portal, odd. Why would they barricade an internal door within their own fortress? They were no cowards, so it must have bad décor. We resolve to explore later. We rest, finding passable food in the nearby scullery. Restored, we examine the throne more closely. No traps below the large rug. All is quiet, we are alone?
Frederick lays a hand on the throne, ready to claim Kingship, perhaps too eagerly. This is no dumb rock, but a vile mimic, a cheat, a monster! The rug rears up as well, animate and bloodthirsty it attacks! To be killed by furniture after all we have been through seems a gross insult! Good thing we rested, it is a sore trial. Cord wood we render the impetuous side tables, fragments the decorative vases, we shatter the fine stem ware. Another close call: henceforth we shall trust no settee, day bed or lounge. Meanwhile our prisoner has attempted escape while we are occupied with this impromptu redecoration. Actuary tells his master: alert, alarm!
We need Sprox, a forth to keep the captive secure while the party plumbs the depths. In the early predawn light we find Sprox, safe and sound. Where has he been? He is mute; perhaps ashamed? He gives us no indication, and little explanation. We swiftly return, and place Unit MC Prime/Lord Davross in his keeping. If an expressionless and generally taciturn robotic killer could melodramatically glower threateningly over a helpless captive, this would be the time.
“Don’t murder him while we proceed? Please!”