Trying to compensate for lost time.
“Now what?” said Ærin.
“Look, you’ve used that line twice already,” said Magus. “Try to be more original.”
“And?” responded Ærin. “It’s still a valid question. We’re stuck outside a collapsed escape tunnel in a forest in the middle of nowhere and it’s only a matter of time before the cops come after us.”
“Simple. We have created a precedent. We killed the baron and there was nothing they could do about it! We shall rise up and tear the Empire stone from stone, starting with the baronies, and ending with Ankhgard itself.”
“Well that’s nice and all,” said Ærin, “but I meant in the short term.”
“Look,” said Magus. “I think I know where we are, and according to the map there’s a town over there. Let’s just head on in and figure out what else to do tomorrow.”
“A town you said. Nearby you said.”
“Shut up Petrov,” responded Magus. “This is a town.”
“This isn’t a town,” said Petrov. “This is a group of thatched huts that huddle together for warmth.”
As Magus looked around, he found that he had to admit that Petrov was right. The largest building was the inn, which was made out of stone, and had a few rooms for visitors. All the other houses were shacks which housed the people who worked at the inn.
“Does it really matter?” he said. “There’s going to be food and drink. What more do we need?”
“Hot water,” said Abda.
“A roof that doesn’t leak,” said Ærin.
“A bed whose insects haven’t yet discovered the wheel,” said Petrov.
“Come on,” whined Magus. “It can’t be as bad as that.”
Drip. Drip. Drip.
“We told you so.”
“Look, I said I was sorry! Now will you just shut up!”
Drip. Drip. Drip.
“Out,” said the innkeeper, rudely awakening them from sleep.
“Hey—” said Magus, but before he could finish the sentence the innkeeper said “Out. The empire’s looking for you. I did you a favor by not turning you in the minute they knocked on my door.”
“Look,” said Magus. “Surely there must be something we can do to make you hide us.”
“You don’t understand the kind of trouble you’re in, do you?” said the innkeeper. “They’ve sent a steam tank after you! Out! Now!”
Harried by the innkeeper’s comments, the party ran out into the forest until they eventually reached a lake which barred all progress.
“All right,” said Magus. “I think this is far enough.”
“Dammit!” shouted Petrov. “You jinxed it!”
Then, there was a crashing sound. And another. And another. Suddenly, out of nowhere came a huge boxy thing. It had two caterpillar threads on either side, with a central body that looked like a huge, mobile water tank. There were two slits in the front, each about the size of a human head, and a boxy thing on the top with a long nozzle protruding from it. In addition, there was an aperture on the back that belched smoke and steam. There were two arrow slits on each side, and positioned around it were ten imperial soldiers.
Six of the soldiers had standard gear with the exception of some metallic eggs pinned on their belt. Two in the rear of the party were carrying odd metal devices, and had several rods strapped to their back, and one to the side had an odd mask, made out of chain mail and smoked glass, along with a tube that had some kind of hose leading into a metal barrel attached to his back.
As the formation moved, the nozzle attached to the device swiveled from side to side, and the formation would change so that none of the infantry were in the way as if the device was about to spout some kind of horrible, flaming death. Then, it turned toward the party and began to spout horrible, flaming death.
Said flaming death came in the form of what appeared to be liquid fire, which spouted out from the machine in an arc. Ærin managed to block most of it with her shield, but quite a bit splattered past and landed on the lake, where it continued to burn in defiance of all common sense.
“What the hell is that thing!” shouted Abda.
“It looks like one of our baks!” responded Petrov. “The imperials must have stolen the design!”
However, as quickly as the flame started to spout, it suddenly stopped, and from inside the tank came the sounds of cursing and someone hitting a pipe with a wrench. Petrov took this as an opportunity to attack, shouting his battle cry of “Death to most tyrants!” as he leaped into a group of soldiers. The rest of the party tried to follow suit, but one of the masked soldiers bought his tube to bear, spraying flaming oil from its nozzle. Magus leaped over it, swinging his staff and denting the soldier’s tube, but he suddenly realized he was now right in the middle of a group of enemies, exactly the worst spot for a wizard to be.
He prepared for the inevitable beating, but after a while he noticed that it did not happen. When he looked up, he saw that the soldiers had all backed away, and one of the bombardiers was franticly shoving a rod into his device, while the other soldiers were kneeling and winding up the winches on their crossbows. Relieved, Magus waved a hand and a golden shield formed between them. Meanwhile, the tank had gotten the turret working again, but no matter what it did, the oil burst out over the heads of those nearby. Meanwhile, judging by the sounds coming from the other side of the machine, his comrades were doing just as well.
Then, unexpectedly, the rod burst out from the bombardier’s tube with a whoosh of flame, smashing through the golden barrier and heading right at Magus! He knew he had to act fast, so he quickly cast a spell.
“Job mi ut flant. It’s job ictu.”
The gust of wind did not smash the missile into the ground as Magus had expected, but instead it sent it right back at the soldiers. The formation simply stood still, standing in shock although a soldier in the back went and threw one of the eggs attached to his belt before the rod exploded, blowing him and his comrades to smithereens.
It missed Magus, and he picked it up, looking at it. Then, he remembered the tank. He leaped around, and saw that it had backed away, knocking his comrades over, and was now charging at him! He knew he had only seconds to live, and in desperation, he remembered the egg and threw it and it went straight through one of the vision slits in the front.
From inside the tank, he heard someone shout, and then there was an explosion. Bits of metal and odd pipework were thrown into the air, and the burning oil was scattered about the landscape.
“Dammit!” shouted Magus. “Why does this kind of thing happen to me! Gandalf never had to deal with this steampunk crap! I mean, exploding metal eggs! What kind of insanity is this!”
“It was probably a granat,” replied Petrov. “Just in case being a dying race wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got oneandahalflings all around trying to steal our technology. Why, back in the old county—”
“NOONE CARES!” shouted Ærin. Then, standing in the wreckage of the tank, surrounded by boiling oil, she asked the logical question: