Posted by: lordkyler | August 15, 2015

Radiance Part XII: Death from Above

Previously, the brave adventurers found passage aboard the airship Odessa, which carried them along the next leg of their journey. However, when they attacked a rival airship, they found themselves caught in an trap not intended for them. They managed to escape, but their ship was damaged, and has now set down in the mountains for repairs…

“Hand me that wrench, will you, Drake?” Caleb asked, stretching out a hand without looking. A few seconds later, a long silver tentacle stretched toward him and carefully set the wrench in his waiting hand. On either side of the airship captain, Qeni and Ian were hard at work on either side of him, welding pipes, patching damaged structures, and fine-tuning mechanicals. They were perched on one of the massive rotors, hanging some twenty feet feet above the ground. Drake was running supplies to them using his silver wire to enhance his reach.

The morning sun beat down with enough intensity to counter the chill of the mountain air, and Drake wiped his brow as he took in their surroundings again. Caleb had found them a secluded spot  on the slopes of the mountain, just big enough to land the Odessa safely. They were located between the walls of a narrow canyon. One end of the canyon was thick with trees and extended up into the mountains, while the other end of the canyon suddenly fell away into a cliff. It looked as though this ravine had once been home to a river ending in a waterfall, but the river had since detoured, leaving this small patch of green among the stony slopes of the mountain.

They had knocked over a couple of saplings during the landing, but they had enough room to move around and anchor the ship. Connor was currently on watch at the wooded end of the canyon, and Aria watched the cliffside. Iris and Lilly were clinging to the side of the balloon, patching sections that had been weakened by the fire.

Some of the hydraulics on the rotor had been damaged, forcing them to dismantle two the mounted guns, but Caleb figured that with everyone’s help, they should be able to get the Odessa up and running within a day or two. A long two days, with Drake unable to do much but stare at his boots and occasionally pass tools. Sighing, he stared up at the sky, willing the patchy clouds to move in front of the sun and provide some shade.

Some movement in the clouds caught his eye. Three bird-like shapes circled overhead, slowly descending. They had broad, spreading wings like an eagle, but something seemed strange about the rest of their bodies. It was hard to see from this distance, but they seemed too long and bulky to be normal birds. As Drake watched, the three animals suddenly folded in their wings and dove directly toward them.

“Hey, guys?” Drake said.

“What is it, lad?” Caleb asked without looking up from his work.

“Guys! I think we might have trouble!” Three heads lifted to see Drake pointing up toward the falling creatures. They squinted for a moment, trying to make out what they were facing, but it was still hard to tell. They seemed farther away than they should be, or perhaps larger than they had thought.

“Iris, dear?” Caleb called. “Please let the scouts know we may have some trouble coming.”

Iris relayed the message telepathically, and soon all eyes were locked on the diving beasts. Hands strayed to weapons, pulling out crossbows and pistols. Ian readied his shotgun and cocked it, ready for business. A moment or two passed in silence, and then Drake was suddenly able to tell what the creatures were.

“Gryphons!” he cried, in a mixture of awe and horror. The beasts – seemingly a mix between eagle and lion – were legendary, the frequent subject of dime novels and sensational cinema. They were renowned for their ferocity and speed, and while they were overly tough, they could do a great deal of damage. Larger flocks had been known to bring down the most massive of airships and ravage entire companies of soldiers.

There were only three Gryphons here, but that was still cause for worry. They seemed to be a small family. In the center, headed for the cluster of workers on the rotor, was a large male nearly the size of a horse, with bronze feathers and a white-capped head. An adult female angled her dive toward the cliffs, likely heading for Aria. She was more slender than her mate, with darker brown feathers flecked with gray. The last gryphon, a smaller, lanky juvenile that shared his father’s plumage, dove faster than either of his parents, speeding straight for Connor.

When the male gryphon was a few hundred feet away, the gryphons shrieked in unison, an ear-splitting cry so jarring that one could scarcely stand it. Drake fought through the noise and fired his crossbow, but the gryphon was too fast and jerked out of the way with a twitch of his wings. Ian also fired, but the shot went wide. The ungodly noise was unbearable.

The male gryphon, seeing that Iris seemed the most vulnerable, suddenly changed course and swooped at her, talons outstretched. But Lilly wasn’t about to let that happen. Using her whip as a makeshift rope, she leapt over the edge and landed by Iris, and then fired her pistol crossbow. The small bolt struck the gryphon in the wing – a non-fatal blow, but irritating enough that the creature veered to one side, circling around them and landing on the railing at the prow of the ship. It hissed at them in anger, and then let out another hellish shriek.

Ian fumbled in his toolkit for the earplugs he used with noisy machinery and stuffed them in his ears, while Lilly and Drake improvised by taking the wax from their disguise kits. Ian jumped from his precarious spot standing on the propellor blade for the slightly safer footing of the ring that surrounded the rotors. Qeni jumped agilely to the ground, and Caleb began making his way around the ring back toward the ship.

Meanwhile, the female gryphon had been busy as well. Aria had been perched in one of the small trees near the cliff’s edge. She shot at the gryphon, but the screeching threw off her shot, and she was forced to leap from the tree to avoid the deadly talons of the mother gryphon. She landed hard, rolling to one side, and the mother gryphon sailed past, circling around for another strike. Aria used the same trick of taking wax from one of her fake noses, and used that to insulate herself from the terrible gryphon’s cry.

Aria rolled to avoid another attack, and fired off another shot, but the gryphon was too fast, and Aria could not score anything more than a minor blow. They went back and forth several times, but eventually, the gryphon struck true, with one massive claw tearing into Aria’s shoulder.

At the upper end of the canyon, Connor was dealing with the juvenile gryphon. The young one was the smallest of the three, but what it lacked in size, it made up in speed. Connor drew his sword and readied himself to strike, but the gryphon did not dive straight for the warrior. Instead, he dove toward a place off to the side, and at the last moment, snapped open his wings and changed directions as if tethered to something. His quick change of angle, combined with the horrific shriek, meant that Connor misjudged his swing, and the young gryphon slammed into him like a battering ram. Connor tried to roll with the blow, but the gryphon was moving at such speed that only Connor’s armor prevented him from taking a serious wound.

Undaunted, Connor rolled and leapt to his feet, taking a potshot with his pistol as the gryphon carried on, but he missed. The young gryphon wheeled about, eyes eager, and shot toward the commotion on the ship. Connor, seeing that he couldn’t catch the young gryphon in time, tapped into his magic to boost his speed, and raced around the Odessa to assist Aria.

On board the Odessa, the big gryphon was angry. While Iris and Lilly climbed back onto the main deck of the ship, he bit at the bolt lodged in his wing until he managed to snap it off. But by that point, Lilly was up top, and she fired again. The bolt struck the other wing, and the gryphon screamed in frustration. It charged at the two women, beak snapping and talons outstretched. Iris dove to the side, but Lilly prepared another shot, and the gryphon, wary of being shot again, leapt to the side, jumping down to the ground where the cruel bolts could not reach it. Caleb and Iris ran into the cabin of the ship to search for earplugs and weapons, while Lilly ran for the remaining mounted gun.

While this was going on, the young gryphon, fresh from his success against Connor, barreled toward Ian. The burly mechanic was focused on the big gryphon, and with his earplugs in place, he didn’t notice the incoming youngster until it was nearly too late. He spun and fired his shotgun, but the shot just missed, and the crazed young gryphon crashed into Ian, sending him stumbling backward off the edge of the rotor ring. Ian landed in a rough crouch, but he was no acrobat, and his ribs and shins were badly bruised by the fall. Qeni, already on the ground, rushed to help Ian. Some fifty feet away, the furious male gryphon thudded to the ground, eyes ablaze and wings bloodied.

Eager for a target, the big gryphon bounded toward them, screeching madly, but Qeni and Ian fired as one. Their hurried shots did not strike any lethal blows, but the damage they wrought was enough. Snarling in a strange way, the male gryphon fought his pain and took off as fast as he could fly. He had had enough for one day.

His mate, however, was closing in for the kill. She circled around, keeping low out of the range of the big guns, and let out a triumphant cry.Her prey was wounded and fleeing. That generally meant a meal was close at hand. However, she did not know what her prey was running toward. Aria had seen Connor approaching, and the two soldiers sprinted at top speed toward each other, meeting under the shadow of the undamaged portside rotor. Aria tried to give thanks to Connor for his help, but the warrior had used morphology to seal his ears against the gryphon’s cries. He merely nodded in return, and readied his sword.

The mother gryphon swooped in for the kill. Aria fired but struck only a flesh wound, and then had to dive to one side to avoid the deadly weapons of the beast. Connor swung his sword, but mistimed the blow, hitting nothing but air. However, he came close enough that the gryphon promptly spun around in midair, clawing the ground until she came to a halt. She eyed the pair warily, letting out a hiss, and then leapt at Connor with the speed of a striking snake.

But this time Connor was ready. Drawing a deep breath, he called upon his inner strength, and in the space of a heartbeat, his already muscular frame swelled, the skin growing taut over muscles sculpted in iron. Moving like quicksilver, he spun to the side, barely avoiding the deadly, spearlike talons, and flashed is sword upward in a single fluid movement. The blade took the gryphon in the throat and carried through to the other side.

The head tumbled to the ground, mouth moving like some macabre puppet, and the majestic body crumpled and rolled to a stop in the dust. Connor exhaled, releasing the magic, and his body returned to normal.

Aria stared in awe. “I generally prefer to stealth over combat, but I must admit that sometimes I am jealous of a warrior’s skill,” she said. “Nicely done.”

Connor grunted non-commitally and cleaned his sword on his cloak before sheathing it. “Don’t sell yourself short,” he muttered. “Here, let me take a look at that shoulder.”

There was only one gryphon left, the juvenile that had knocked down Connor and Ian. Screaming with primal ferocity, he swung around to his next target, Drake. Drake quickly loaded and fired another shot, but the young gryphon was moving too quickly, and he avoided the bolt easily. Then, just before he was about to slam into Drake with his claws, he opened his wings like a parachute, halting his charge in an instant. His leonine hind legs carried on with his full momentum, and struck Drake like a pendulum, sending him flying backward to crash into the center cabin.

The young gryphon flapped backward and came to roost on the center of the giant propellor, resting for a moment while he chose his next target. Lilly trained the big guns on him, but until he took off, she could not fire without damaging the Odessa even further. Caleb and Iris emerged from the cabin, ears plugged and weapons ready, but before they could start shooting, Drake reached into his pouch and threw a smoke bomb at the triumphant young gryphon.

It struck at the creature’s feet, exploding into a roiling sphere of choking black fumes. The gryphon’s cry cut off into a series of rasping hacks and the sound of retching. A second later, a pair of wingtips emerged from the growing pillar of smoke, and the young gryphon flapped frantically, fanning the fumes away from him. The smoke was pushed toward Drake, Iris, and Caleb, and soon enough they were coughing as well. But the gryphon seemed to want no more of them, and quickly bounded toward the outer ring of the rotor.

He was directly above Ian and Qeni, who had just chased off the male gryphon. Eyes bright at this pleasant opportunity, the young gryphon pounced noiselessly, falling like a stone.

At the last moment, Ian and Qeni noticed the doom descending upon them, and Ian tried to fire. However, Qeni – seeing that this would not save them – shoved Ian to the side, making him miss his shot, but also moving him out of the way just in time.

The young gryphon thumped to the ground awkwardly, not expecting to come up empty-clawed. It quickly leapt to the side and screeched at them. Ian tired to load and fire in quick succession, but he was still woozy from the fall, and he could only clip the gryphon’s leg. The next moment, it was on him, driving him to the ground as it snapped at his face. Ian managed to twist to one side, but the sharp beak dug into his arm, drawing blood.

Snarling, Ian tried to buck the creature off, but it was too heavy. So he reached up with his newly-made electric gloves and grasped the scaly foreleg of the gryphon in his viselike grip. The gryphon was too large to be fully paralyzed by the shock, but its leg and shoulder locked up, and it flapped its wings in a panic to pull away from the unpleasant shock. It bounded backward, limping slightly and shaking its head in confusion.

Qeni took advantage of the distraction and rushed in with her long knife, landing several shallow cuts on the creature’s face. The young gryphon flailed it’s wings spastically, striking Qeni and knocking her on her back, but the young one did not pursue his advantage. Like his sire, he had had enough. He took off in an awkward three-legged lope, hopping and skipping until he managed to take off.

However, Ian and Qeni took one final shot, and this time, they struck true. The young gryphon’s wings collapsed as bullets tore into them, and the juvenile landed clumsily in the bushes. But before they could take another shot and finish the animal, it scrambled for the cover of the bushes and soon disappeared up into the wooded recesses of the canyon.

And then it was quiet again. The entire encounter had lasted only a few moments, but it had been no less dangerous for it. Everyone gathered back on the deck of the ship and applied first aid. Connor had access to healing magic, but he had spent too much energy to be able to heal their wounds. Fortunately, nobody was in danger of bleeding out anytime soon.

Unfortunately, gryphons had no magical properties about them, so the spoils from the slain gryphon were not as useful as some other creatures would be. Still, the feathers and talons were valuable as trophies, and Caleb offered to buy the prizes from them at a fair price of $250 apiece. Everyone but Ian accepted this offer, trading in their goods for cash.

That evening, Iris cooked Gryphon steaks, not wanting the meat to go to waste. They tasted like a mixture of beef and chicken.

However, that wasn’t the only unusual occurrence of the evening. Just as the sky began to redden, Aria spotted a small airship approaching. The gondola was no bigger than a cutter, not large enough to hold more than a dozen people. A balloon formed the main source of lift, with propellors twirling lazily at the flanks. The craft carried no obvious weapons, and seemed totally harmless. A white flag flapped from the lines to emphasize this notion.

Still, the party on board the Odessa quickly armed themselves, ready for any surprises. The small craft drifted gently to a stop at the edge of the cliff, and a ramp lowered from the bow. Three figures emerged, an Oqidan woman with a businesslike haircut and fashionable clothing, and two bodyguards, weapons sheathed. They did not wear a uniform, but their clothing was in the same color, and it was clear they were well-disciplined.

As the three stranger grew closer, it became easier to see their faces, and suddenly Aria gasped. “It can’t be,” she whispered.

The woman in the lead motioned for her guards to halt, and called out to the crew of the Odessa. “Greetings, friends. My name is Anata Shanto. I have come on behalf of the Anarchists to personally apologize for our accidental altercation the other night.”

Aria stepped forward, leaning far over the railing. “Aunt Anata?”

For a second, Anata lost her professional courtesies. “Aria? Is that you? I can’t believe it!”

“I can’t believe it either,” Aria said. “I didn’t- how long have you been a part of this?”

Anata stared keenly at her niece for a few moments. “Perhaps it would be better if we discussed this a little more closely,” she said. “We can disarm if it makes you more comfortable.”

The party looked over to Caleb, the captain. “Why don’t you go down to them?” he suggested after a moment. “I’ll stay up here with the guns in case there’s any trouble.”

This seemed a reasonable plan, and the group headed down to the lower deck, soon emerging at ground level. As promised, Anata and the guards had laid down their weapons. Anata stood with arms crossed, with just a trace of a grin curving the corners of her lips.

“It’s been what, five, ten years since the last time I saw you?” she asked, shaking her head. “You were just a youth then, always pushing the rules. I guess you pushed hard enough to break free eventually, didn’t you?”

Aria smiled, looking uncharacteristically sheepish as she rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah, it’s been quite an adventure,” she said. “But what about you? I never would have thought you were involved with the Anarchists? Or have you always been and I just didn’t realize?”

Anata sighed. “No, this is new for me. Do you remember my husband, your uncle Hamada?”

“He had the really long mustache, right? And the magic tricks? I remember him a little.”

Anata smiled sadly. “Yes, that was Hamada. Well, about three years ago, he left Keta on a trip to Paramount. He was there to make a deal with the government, to become a sole supplier. He didn’t return.”

Sheida, I’m sorry to hear that,” Aria said, features filled with concern. “What happened?”

“Well, that’s the reason I joined the Anarchists,” Anata said, dabbing away a tear. “They would never tell me. He was supposed to be under their protection, but I don’t know if he was assassinated or- or anything. They just sent me his things in a box and told me he had passed. And honestly, I don’t what was more insulting, the fact that they tried to placate me with money, or the amount they offered.”

Connor snorted rudely, but Anata did not seem to take offense. She took a deep breath, and when she spoke again, she was back to being a professional. “Anyway, I couldn’t stand their lies any longer, and when the Anarchists approached me, I joined at once. I work as a recruiter now, using my connections in the business world. I just have to hope that Hamada might still be alive somewhere, and if not, I can at least make the bastards pay for it.”

Aria shook her head in disbelief. “That’s terrible,” she said. Several other members of the crew murmured their agreement as well. Connor, however, cut straight to the point.

“So why are you here today? You didn’t know your niece was onboard, so you didn’t come here for a family reunion.”

Anata cleared her throat. “Yes, quite right. Well, simply enough, the leaders of the local cell, myself included, were quite impressed with your display the other night. If you are amenable, we have a special mission that should be perfect for those with your talents.”

“What kind of job?” Ian asked.

“I’d rather not discuss it right now, but given the skills you have demonstrated so far, I am sure it will be well within your capacity.”

“Well, no offense, Mrs. Shanto, but I’m not really interested in joining the Anarchists,” Qeni interrupted. “I’ve already got a record in Foundation, and if they find out I’ve joined with you guys, they’ll probably send bounty hunters after me. I don’t need that.”

“Actually, the fact that you are not members of our organization is one reason we need your help, but that’s all I can say about it right now,” Anata said. “But if you would rather not take the risk, that is fine. This offer is totally optional, but if you choose to help us, I can personally see to it that your ship is fully repaired and stocked by the time you return, – within the week, in fact – and in addition, you will have a favor to cash in with our network of operatives throughout all four countries. I’ll make sure the mission is well worth your while.”

The crew looked at each other. Qeni shook her head, still unwilling, despite Aria’s urging, and Lilly claimed she had had enough fighting lately. The two of them elected to stay and help repair the ship, but the rest of the party was game.

“The four of you, then?” Anata asked, looking at Aria, Connor, Ian and Drake. “Very well. You may come with us now, if you would like, and those who stay behind can tell the captain that we will send him all the supplies he needs first thing tomorrow morning.”

Qeni and Lilly nodded, and wished the rest of the group good luck. With that, the four of them boarded the Anarchist skycraft with Anata, and took off into the fiery sunset.

 To be continued…

Well, this was a fun little session. The gryphons may not have had much plot significance, but they may have been one of the more dangerous adversaries the crew has yet faced, and serve as a good introduction to the perilous wilds outside of civilization.

Had they failed in the battle against the gryphons, they would have had to retreat to the safety of the cabin, at which point the beasts would have torn up the ship, and then this little side quest would not have been optional. As it is, they came out a little richer and with some more experience, and now they will be embarking on a special mission with the Anarchists! Let us hope they haven’t gotten in over their heads…

Radiance Info: The Wilderness

When Radiance was first founded, they landed on Dawn, a smaller island off the coast of the main landmass, which served as home to the main population while scouting parties explored the continent. In their quest to build monumental cities with designs as close as possible to perfection, they wanted to make sure these cities were well planned ahead of time.

When these cities were eventually founded, the population stayed nearby, with only farming communities in certain specific locations. Over 90% of the population lives in the vicinity or outlying district of a major city, with very few small towns. Vast stretches of wilderness were set aside for preservation or later use, creating massive wildlife reserves. These are often the hideouts of criminals hiding from the law, but the wild stretches also see poachers, officially licensed monster hunters, gamekeepers, and tourists.

Travel by land or airship is generally restricted to specific trade routes, and building in isolated locations is a privilege only of the wealthy, who frequently have vacation homes in the wilderness, where they may hunt and enjoy their leisure in isolated manors.

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