Walking back down the winding trail, away from the two pilgrims literally praying their lives away in front of the bizarre figure embedded in stone, the Survivors had barely made their way from mountain to rolling hill before they were given another shock.
In a manner identical to that of Bradamante, who had been absent now since The Tower (two days ago), Brittomart vanished with a loud pop and a swirl of air filling a fresh vacuum with exactly her shape & volume. She didn’t even have time to give a panicked look of realization, though the others more than made up for this. Gregory the scout had seen something of Bradamante’s occasional intangibility at The House, but was the least prepared for this. After the remaining Survivors (Roland, Rydell & Shiva) adjusted to this new reality, they needed to spend the rest of the walk south back into the ashen plains north of the pilgrim village’s surrounding grasslands calming him down.
As they finished exciting the hills they were greeting by still another bizarre sight, albeit one far less alarming. Standing not far ahead of them was a seven foot tall bear of a man wearing a thick black jumpsuit like Shiva, though it had a thick red band across the chest and another going from neck to groin, and a much more distinguished gasmask than any of them. His mask was both adorned and armoured by a layer of burnished silver. His feathered mane was made of both red and silver feathers, all much longer than the feathers on the other Survivor’s masks. Beside him was a large, dead boar that must have weighed in excess of two hundred pounds.
Walking towards this potential ally, Gregory and the others saw the man reach deep into the boar’s mouth to retrieve a butcher’s paring knife. Holding this gingerly, he spotted the group and hailed them in a friendly manner. They approached him somewhat warily, the Survivors given slight comfort by the feeling of familiarity for this man they’d never met – something else Bradamante had prepared them for, in her own first appearance. This newcomer introduced himself as Ridkross.
Like Bradamante, Ridkross knew himself to be of the same people as the other Survivors and felt a familiar comfort with them. Unlike Bradamante, he looked the part. Judging by the coloring of his feathers and his obvious martial prowess, the group felt their theory of the feathers representing some kind of class or profession assignment was reinforced by the newcomer – both he and Shiva being physically imposing, adorned with red feathers, wearing the thickest armour and skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Perhaps Ridkross was a captain or duke back in wherever they came from?
He didn’t have the answer.
But he did know that it was worth using his butcher knife to pare down the boar for both it’s meat and whatever other objects might be kept in its carcass. After the group worked away at it for an hour they came away with nearly fifty pounds of edible meat, salted so it would keep and given extra flavor with some garlic Rydell had found. This was some very fine food indeed, which is why the others immediately began bargaining with Ridkross for as much of it as he’d part with. Unimpressed, he decided that he would hold onto all of the boar meat and would ration it out to the others as they days went by. He also decided that Rydell should just give him the fresh apple he’d been trying to bargain with.
Within the boar’s great corpse there was also a pouch of the salt they used, a medium sized satchel made of oiled cloth – used to hold the meat – and a small, crystal whiskey flask filled right to it’s cap. Oh yes, there was also a bloody big, bejeweled Greatsword that was quickly slung along Ridkross’ back.
Despite the almost-standoff over the boar meat, the group quickly acclimatized to the new arrival. This was helped in part by his accepting Roland’s authority as leader. Said leader then decided that they should get moving on, heading roughly south-west towards the next destination in their “What happened to the pilgrim scouts?” tour around the far perimeter of the village.
After over two weeks of prodding at the damn thing, Rydell finalyl figured out what his mask’s special feature was – optical magnification for fine detail work. This put a spring in his step right until nightfall..
Otherwise this was an uneventful day of travel and boar meat rationing.
Coming near the point marked on their map by Gregory, the Survivors spotted a steeply sloping hill that dropped off suddenly on one side. Atop it was a man laid flat on his stomach, surveying the land with a pair of binoculars. Despite their best attempts at stealthily sneaking behind a smaller, adjacent hill…they were eventually spotted. The man, clearly of the same kind of people as the wretches with bombs in their heads, rappelled down the steep side of the hill and out of sight.
It was quickly agreed that Roland and Rydell would sneak up to that same hilltop to provide cover while Ridkross and Shiva would go around the side of the hill to confront the man and any of his contemporaries head on. Knowing how important he was for staying in the good graces of the pilgrims, it was decided that Gregory would hang back.
As the two groups moved ahead, Ridkross had an idea of his own. Next thing you knew, Shiva was sitting on his considerable shoulders and the two formed a truly bizzare sight. Stranger still was when, hiding just around the corner, Shiva stuck her head around for a look around the same time Rydell & Roland peered over the steep ledge and down at where the man had gone.
All three of them spotted the same thing: a campsite where a half dozen WWII Japanese commandos, not that the Survivors or Gregory knew that’s what they were, had been set up for several days. Warned by their peer, the other five men had joined him in a defensive position with three men standing and three men crouching in front of them as all six paid close attention to the corner where Shiva & Ridkross were hiding. Unfortunately for the Survivors, one commando spotted Rydell & Roland while another had the truly strange experience of seeing a feathered gasmask poking around a corner at an elevation of roughly thirteen feet.
Soon, shots were being fired. Dumping Shiva off his shoulders, Ridkross charged into combat wielding his Greatsword. Shiva followed suit with her leg torn from the robot that had been guarding the sheared mountain. Roland and Rydell let fly with bullets and billiard balls, respectively. The commandos rifles began to blare.
Shiva and Ridkross experienced some very good luck, resisting every bullet that impacted upon their armor while taking nary a hit to any of their more vulnerable parts. The pair inspired great fear in the soldiers front line as they carved and bashed away at them. This was not the scariest thing those soldiers would see, however.
After shrugging off a bullet to his arm, Roland felt a round tear through his left foot. The worn, dirty cloth he’d wrapped it in did him little good as flesh and bone were pulped, understandably sending him off balance. Thus began a streak of bad luck that culminated in the most amazing good fortune yet seen by the Survivors.
Slipping forward from the ledge, Roland saw his time since The Lighthouse flash before his eyes as he began a forty foot drop. Rydell tried to grab his friend but wasn’t quick enough. Reflexively, Roland tumbled and turned in an attempt to land on a part of his body that might not kill him. Despite having no formal acrobatics training, unlike Rydell, he did succeed in making sure he wouldn’t land on his head.
But what really saved his life was a mixture of his jumpsuit – the qualities of which the Survivors appreciated a great deal more after this day – and the exceptional misfortune of a Japanese commando in the front row of the unit. Busy fending off Shiva’s terrifying fists, while his knife failed to pierce her own impressive jumpsuit, the commando unwittingly became Roland’s landing pad.
In a strange tumble, Roland’s left thigh connected with the man’s chest with such force as to kill him instantly. Roland was hurt as well, but merely acquired the king of all bruises along the outside of his leg. Seeing the horror in the eyes of the soldiers at their friend’s chest cavity imploding, Ridkress seized the opportunity. Raising his sword high and bellowing with all his might, he managed to intimidate the remaining soldiers – all but one of whom had suffered injury by bullet & blade – into surrendering.
Kamikaze was something for pilots, this group reckoned.
But then, just as the Survivors finished tying up the soldiers with their own rope, Ridkross vanished in just the same manner as Bradamante and Brittomart. This not only cost the group a mighty warrior, he’d taken all the boar meat with him! His foot crippled and body aching, Roland surveyed the scene. These strange men with their excellent guns were clearly more important, skilled individuals of the same people as the wretched explorers they’d encountered thus far. But what was the connection?
Powerful rifles and pistols. Travel rations. Sunglasses. Proper shooting gloves. Sleeping bags. Canteens. Compasses. Cigarette lighters. Mess kits with actual PLATES and CUTLERY. Tents. Water purification tablets. Shovels. Even a few hand grenades. Though the patrol of Japanese soldiers had been run ragged by their travels and used up many of their supplies, their equipment was a bounty the likes of which the Survivors had never encountered in all the days since they awoke in The Lighthouse.
They’d need it all for what lay ahead at the final site in their investigation of what happened to the Pilgrim’s scouts. The five new prisoners also brought a handful of problems and moral quandaries into their lives. They would have been difficult to feed even with Ridkross’ boar meat, but now…