512 Bird Watching
In the twenty-four hours since claiming the graveyard, the Undead Faction lay claim to the Fury Burrough (15) and all but three Precincts in the Peril Burrough (14). The northern section of Peril featured mountainous terrain that made regular traffic tedious. A plateau near the highest peak marked the location of the Burrough Graveyard, Tsavo Summit Precinct.
The stone buildings of the Fury were a welcome change from the cave and tents of Xander. Although the HQ briefing room was rather Spartan, it was several steps better than standing in the mud. Alfie, Edi, and the Inferno Officers sat around a large wood table, discussing their plans. As agreed, their access to [Thine Enemy] rings remained a carefully guarded secret.
Semmi had her hud opened up and was zoomed to the northern area of Peril, where the enemy had bunkered down. "The northern section of Peril is not easily navigated by foot or horseback."
Pon pointed to the dozen or so peaks. "Does this mean we're boned?"
"Short term, yes. It will take lots of effort to get rid of these guys." Semmi zoomed the map out far enough to include the two Burrough to the northeast and east of Peril. "Once we do take the Peril Burrough (14), the two bordering Burroughs of Courage (12) and Honor (13) will be able to attack us. In this instance, since the Courage Burrough (12) borders us to the northeast, they won't be able to rush at us because of these mountains."
Edi glanced at the timer; they could summon reinforcements from the Striker Graveyard in a few minutes. It was the first time she felt like they had an advantage. Not that it mattered with this group, they had complete confidence in themselves and each other. "When we originally lost this Burrough, the fighters from Courage were unable to traverse the mountains and were forced to join ranks with Honor."
"9,113 Ice Faction left." Semmi closed her hud and leaned back in her chair. "That isn't much when you consider how much will be garrisoned at the Keep."
Jun Li nodded in agreement. "If they spaced them out evenly, we might be facing only five or six hundred troops per Burrough. The numbers will sway in our favor with these next two graveyards."
"Until we get to the Fortress," Semmi added.
"What about water attacks?" Nix had remained quiet most of the meeting; his mind was trying to unravel Ducky's situation. "Say, for instance... I had a ship. Could I sail up the coast and open fire with cannons?"
Edi nodded slightly. "In theory. We've built makeshift rafts in the past and used them for scouting. The surrounding ocean has no boundaries."
"You hiding a ship, Nix?" Pon asked the question in jest, but wouldn't have been overly surprised if he had one."
"Nope. I've got a turtle. Which is way better." Nix stood suddenly and walked toward the door. "Going to scout this fucking Keep in person. If anyone needs me, I'll be with Soup."
"I've said it before... Big mistake underestimating my girl." Nix knelt in the surf of a rocky cove, hidden from prying eyes. He slipped [Thine Enemy] onto his hand and then summoned Soup.
The Aquamarine coloring of Soups shell was unexpectedly scored in several places; not only that, she appeared to be a bit smaller than last time he'd seen her. He stroked her smooth head, squinting when she slapped the sand with her front flipper, spraying his face with saltwater. "You shrank?"
A crisscross of long scratches adorned her outer shell; her diameter looked to be about three meters as opposed to the last time he saw her when it was nearly five.
Soup chirped at him, a high pitched noise that marked the extent of her communication skills. Ducky seemed to always know what she was thinking.
"Miss the old days? When it was me, you and the tiny cabin on the lake?" Nix followed her deeper into the surf and then lay across her shell. Before the Sea World had been upgraded, it was basically filled with turtles. The warmth of the sun on his back made him long for the naps of those days, but instead of drowsing, he moved until his chin was resting comfortably behind her head.
Soup stayed above the water, a necessity that slowed them down considerably. The duo made their way north along the shoreline. After passing the Courage Burrough (12), Nix brought up his hud map and tracked their progress. He was hoping to see troop movement or perhaps even fortifications, but sea-level visibility was somewhat limited.
The sun was high in the sky by the time they arrived at the Tribunal (2) Burrough. Nix's endeavor was rewarded with his first close-up view of the Bone Fortress. "Fucking A..... That is impressive as hell." The keep was surrounded by an impressive wall that looked to be close to thirty feet. "How the hell did they lose this place to start with?"
They moved as close as they could to the shore; Soup stopped just short of the beach, unable to go further. From their vantage point, they had a clear view of the Northern face. It was here Nix discovered that the impressive wall didn't extend completely around the fort. Two hundred feet of verticle cliff stopped that from being a necessity.
"I might be able to climb that while in Salamander form." Nix brought out the Nether Rat puppet and inhabited it. "Take good care of me, Soup!" Rat-King Nix stroked the turtle's head for a moment while looking for the best possible route.
Ducky frowned at the hero standing in her doorway. From his clothes and weapons, she assumed him to be a rogue or some close variant. "I would like some privacy."
Darwood shrugged slightly; his thin frame continued to stand in the doorway. "It's best that you learn how things work around here."
"Oh?" Ducky gave him an innocent look. "You're going to teach me? Would Glacia be okay with that?"
"The One-Thirties run the player side of things... The Trifecta has enough strength to take the Keep from her if we wanted to."
"Trifecta? Would that be Slaughter, Road Kill, and the Raging One-Thirties?"
"I'm Sloan, and you are very observant." Sloan moved into the room cautiously; the newcomer hadn't responded to any of the provocations toward her. Outside of her initial testing, she appeared to be quite docile. "You don't fight at all... Do you?"
Ducky's blue eyes brightened considerably. "Why would I want to fight such a pretty bird?"
/Trifecta: Sloan: Going to push this newcomer a bit, see if I can get a read on her.
/Trifecta: Durham: Tag her and bag her Slo!
/Trifecta: Sandi: Gross guys.
"Am I a pretty bird?" Sloan laughed loudly, an annoying noise that sounded like a barking dog.
"There are too many windows, Soup." Rat-Nix counted at least a dozen different windows carved into the sheer side of the keep. "There's no way I'll be able to figure out wh... The fuck is that?"
A figure climbed onto a window ledge near the top of the keep and jumped out into the open space. Despite the fact that his arms were flapping like he had wings, he plummeted downward and splatted onto the rocky shoreline.
[Whisper: Nix to Ducky] Someone just jumped out a window.
[Whisper: Ducky to Nix] Nix?
Rat-Nix spotted his spirit companion when she appeared at the same window a moment later; the Water Witch waved excitedly with both hands.
[Whisper: Ducky to Nix] Soupy? Soupy! Soupy!
[Whisper: Nix to Ducky] Hey! I'm here too... What happened to this guy?
[Whisper: Ducky to Nix] Birdman flew out the window. Are you going to climb up? It's very steep!
[Whisper: Nix to Ducky] Nope. I'm going to breaking in. That's my thing.
[Whisper: Ducky to Nix] I thought breaking out was your thing?
[Whisper: Nix to Ducky] Good point... Anyways, I'll be up in a bit!
The Nether Rat stealthed and jumped into the surf. After a few seconds of swimming, he scampered onto the rocky shoreline, pausing for a moment next to the mangled corpse. Bits of bone and entrails were spread liberally around a large circle of red gore. "Birdman was definitely a player." A quick search of the corpse netted a dagger and ring. He dragged them to the base of the wall and hid them behind some rocks.
After a quick study of the wall, he found what he was looking for. A half dozen sewer conduits were spaced unevenly into the side of the keep. These were easily spotted by the discolored mortar caused by the runoff. The lowest of them was only about fifty feet up the side of the wall. Powerful nether claws dug into the stone as the Rat King slowly made his way toward the objective. It was tedious, but not especially difficult. After fifteen minutes of cautious climbing, he arrived at his destination.
"The Rat-King has once again found the sewer entrance... Home sweet home." Rat-Nix squeezed into the opening, his sharp vision piercing into the darkness of conduit. The passage entended straight into the keep, not turning for as far as he could see. The bottom was predictably lined with some of the nastiest things imaginable. Undeterred, the Rat-King scurried deeper into the Fortress.
He heard them in the distance, hundreds of screeching, chittering creatures. When Nix exited the conduit a few minutes later, he was rewarded with the pleasant sight of a rat feeding frenzy.
"Choke on me, you fucking rat bastards!" A small skeleton cursed the red-eyed creatures closing in on him. His arms and legs were manacled to a long chain that hung from the ceiling, limiting his movements to only a few inches. "Come and get it!"
Rat-King slithered easily through the mass of his smaller cousins. They were only about half his size and much lighter in color. Although there were thousands of rats crowding together, only a few hundred of them were able to push forward and gnaw at the skeleton's bones. As the seconds ticked by, only tiny bits of bones were slowly gnawed away while the skeleton kicked and shouted.
"That's enough for today!" A raspy voice filled with twisted pleasure and black though spoke from above, immediately afterward the chain hoisting the skeleton retracted until he hung a dozen meters off of the grime-covered floor.
The skeleton glared at the rats, snapping his teeth in anger. "Enjoy your taste of Horatio Leviticus Amista Duran, because one day I will feast on RAT!"
Rat Nix moved forward, apparently, this feeding was a normal occurrence because as soon as he was hoisted, the rats disappeared. "That's it? My poor cousins nibbled on your bones and your goal is to eat rats?"
Horatio stared at the Rat-King, his sunken eyes glowed like amber. "Fuck me... I've finally lost my mind."
Rat-Nix nodded in agreement. "Most likely."