|Dramatis Personae|| |
29 August 2015
The quest for the Skullradio (TM) skull!
The trees grow more sparsely in this area, and those that do grow are small and stunted. There is a great deal of growth in the marsh, however. Dull greens and browns spread far, mingling with the slightly darker brownish-green water. Spots of color are rare, but some flowers do bloom in this boggy ground, so the bright red or brilliant purple stands out.
Solid ground is harder to find than it is in surrounding areas, and it can be hard to discern true land from spaces where plant-life only makes it appear to be firm. It's largely quiet here, but for the sounds of water, but at times the inhabitants of the marsh make themselves known, often with small, subtle sounds. Reptilian hedgebeasts are most common here, but even some hobs have made homes for themselves on the larger of the islands.
It's hard to hunt something down in the Hedge under the best of conditions; the thorny brambles clutch their secrets tightly, and seem at times to work against even the most canny of hedge-wanderers with a malevolent intellect all their own. The natives of this strange place take full advantage of that fact -- up until the day it turns on them, too.
It's even harder when you don't know what you're looking for. Thus far, however, they've managed to skirt around the obvious traps... the paths that lead into loops that circle forever, the scattered coins of gleaming gold that they realized rested in grass that hungered for mortal blood.
The thorny trees of the paths that the pair of Lost wander have begun to fade as they travel, giving way to twisted and stunted growths more like briar-bushes than trees, and the trail's earth is spongier underfoot. Where there are trees, they slouch like hunchbacks, long vines draping from tree to tree and carving the sunlight into dim, far off illumination.
Not long after that, their steps cause small splashes; the murky water deepening, but there are spongy islands of greyish moss that emerge in a patchwork of islands ahead, easily hopped between as necessary. And then, in the distance, they see a light - dim, flickering, but unmoving. And the soft music of bells.
Kyrie is prepared for at least some of the dangers of the hedge. It may look a little odd, though, with a pack and bow across her back, quiver on one side, sword on the other, but maybe it helps keep the Troll balanced? She pauses now and again to discuss something with Tock, before pausing at the sound of the music, her eyes narrowing. "Aren't there tales of things leading people into swamps to kill them?" she asks, free hand finding the hilt of her sword, the other still holding her shield.
Tock has changed, obviously, from her earlier tea dress ensemble. As usual for Hedge adventures, she seems to be dressed a little like a pirate: tricorn hat perched atop her tied-back cornsilk hair, long Hedgespun pirate coat in fawns and russets with golden fastenings, flowing russet shirt to match, trousers, tall boots. A woven metal bracelet circles one wrist and a leather strap secures her locket with a stylised alternating current symbol on its front at her throat. Plenty of deep pockets and pouches provide hiding places for supplies, in addition to a pack on her back. A glint of electric blue dances along her skin and what appears to be a steampunk raygun is holstered at her hip. She takes care with the electricity that it stays well /inside/ her boots and clothing once the pair of them both end up walking in water. “Yes, it is worth being wary of random music in the woods. It is pretty, though.” The clockwork girl chuckles, a hint of music-box quality buried in the more mirthful sound. “Keep a weather eye out and watch your step.”
Kyrie looks back to Tock, grinning while winds swirl about her, more than is usual. "I take it you want to investigate? I doubt something that plays bells has a skull that'll work for our purposes, but then, I could be wrong." And with her hand on her sword, she continues forward, stepping carefully, keeping an eye out for sure.
“Well, if there /is/ something luring people from this close to the Freehold, it wouldn't hurt to at least know what's going on,” Tock muses. She keeps a close watch on the ground, yes, but also the general surroundings and even a glance overhead now and then. Particularly until the source of that music can be better identified. “Maybe we'll find an antelope with a xylophone. You never know.” She returns Kyrie's grin with one of her own, both rows of pearly whites displayed
Kyrie doesn't seem too worried about potential danger either. "I don't know that I want to find an antelope with a xylophone," she replies, laughing, but despite the humor? She's still vigilant. Laughing is when eighty percent of beasties attack. True fact.
The islands of moss sink a little under the steps of the intrepid Lost, although not so much that they're in danger of falling in; enough that they can tell they're not terribly stable, though, dirt and moss clinging to roots and stones rather than anything too solid. The water burbles from time to time, bubbles bursting up to the surface and releasing wisps of cerulean blue gas that swiftly fade into the surrounding atmosphere.
As they continue along what's left of the 'path' of islands onward, the source of the light soon becomes visible; a lantern upon a post at the end of a dock-like structure, the blue fire in it flickering faintly in the wind's swaying. It seems anchored to a more solid island, upon which a wheeled vardo - despite having nowhere to go - sits doors shut, colourful paint peeling off to reveal aged wood beneath. The source of the music, it seems.
“It could play with its hooves. It wouldn't even need mallets,” Tock elaborates on the mental picture, miming cloven hooves hitting things using both hands in an almost Live Long and Prosper posture. She eyes the odd colourations to the gases coming up out of the swamp. “If something starts making you feel odd, say something right away.” Though she quiets as they approach what appears to be a wagon. “Well, the bells seem to be in that wagon. Should we investigate?”
Kyrie's lips twitch and she shakes her head. "You're not right," she jokes before she sobers and nods slowly. "You, too. Maybe if one of us doesn't look directly at it? No earplugs, so can't do anything about that." But she does begin to approach, albeit slowly, and with her sword an inch out of its scabbard.
The last 'island' of the marshy path is a couple feet from the dock -- but it's nothing that can't be jumped easily.
As they draw closer, though, the music stops with one last echoing note.
“If you want earplugs, I am sure I could make something that would work rather quickl--” Tock begins, but then the music ceases. Her expression shifts from amused to more serious, as well. “Methinks we've been noticed. Maybe we should approach like civilised people at this point.”
"Music stopped, so we should be safe on that point," Kyrie muses, jumping to the next island before stopping, letting Tock do the same. No getting split up here. "Who's in there?" she calls out.
The call brings nothing but silence from the wagon.
A few moments later, however, a grey-and-blue feathered bird flutters down from one of the trees to perch on the lantern, peering down at the pair with human eyes in its feathered head.
Tock finds herself firmer footing before speaking again. “That is to say... Hello and good day. We are travellers.” Kyrie earns a sideways glance. She /did/ say 'civilised people', after all. Her head tilts a few degrees off-centre at the bird's arrival, the movement relatively birdlike, itself. “Is this your wagon?” One never knows in the Hedge.
Kyrie shrugs a little at Tock, but lets the clockwork lady do the talking. She /is/ more civilized than Kyrie, after all. She does, at least, slide the sword fully back into the sheath, though her hand doesn't leave it, not yet. She's still paranoid. Sue her.
"Mine?" The bird squawks back, "Mine? Mine! Mine! Mine!"
Wings mantle and flutter, spreading a bit, the mad repetition of the bird getting louder and louder.
Then the door slams open, a gnarled hand the color of tree bark shoving it so, and a head leans out -- or hair, at least, because the long, tangled grey-brown locks fall to completely hide any features, and there's a barked out, "Out! Get out, damn bird!"
Another "MINE!" and then the bird's fluttering away. The figure grunts, drawing back, "Well, come in, if you're coming in. Or get on with it on your trip. Just don't gawk out there, some Mine-ah bird will decide your eyes belong to it and pluck 'em out." Then back into the wagon the figure withdraws.
It is handy that Tock doesn't need to draw a weapon, so at least she can be prepared without looking aggressive. “Not yours, apparently,” she answers the bird's squawks. “Good day. Were you playing that lovely music we heard on our way over?” Lacking a better plan, Tock glances to Kyrie and makes a move to approach the wagon.
Kyrie narrows her eyes at the bird, and looks like she's about to hack it up when it gets told to leave and does so. Another shrug to Tock and she moves along with her companion, continuing to keep quiet.
"Of course it was my music," is a shout from inside the wagon, "Do you see anyone else out here? No? Either come in and shut the door, or begone with you. It's of no matter to me, hah!"
“Naturally. My apologies.” Tock makes a point of trying to get all of the marsh muck off of her boots before climbing the steps to the wagon, entering as instructed. “It was very lovely, however. Thank you for the warning about the birds.” She offers a smile along with the thanks.
Kyrie hesitates for just a moment before she steps inside, keeping close to Tock. She looks around the moment she's inside, not just looking to eyeball their host, but the wagon they're inside.
It's bigger on the inside, as one might well expect, but not by much; perhaps double the size of the wagon's exterior, and the majority of the extension is vertical. The confines of the vardo are cluttered with boxes, crates, parcels of all types packed in precariously high stacks, the upper limits of which sway alarmingly whenever someone moves too much. At the far end of the wagon is a nest of torn up paper and book covers, within which the wagon's owner is perched. There's little that can be made out save for the hair, thick and tangled, and the long arms that emerge from that hair, at least three feet to the elbow and three more feet to the long-fingered hand. Before him, a xylophone of bone rests on a copper stand, with three hammers made of bird skulls dangling from the side on a chain.
"Hmf! Polite, at least. But I had to! If you'd kept asking the obnoxious little things if this was its wagon, it would have gotten its flock together and flown it right off, and me with it, thinking it was true!" A rough snort makes some of the hair flutter, but nothing of facial features or body is revealed. "So what brings you to my part of this horrible little swamp, ladies? Nobody comes here. Nobody on savory business, anyway."
“Apologies, again. I will be more careful in the future,” Tock assures. Speaking of careful, she is /very/ cautious with her movements to avoid knocking over any of the wagon owner's things. “We are searching for a creature,” she answers quite honestly. She gestures to the bone and skull instrument, it being of a design somewhat related to what they seek. “For materials. Simply hunting. Nothing unsavoury, I assure.”
Kyrie doesn't move far, so long as Tock doesn't. But she does squint at the figure, trying to decipher more than just what its hair looks like. While Tock explains and negotiates? Kyrie is assessing for threats.
"Hunting, hm...?" As she gestures to the instrument, long brown fingers reach out to caress the polished bone keys, which rattle softly as they trail across it, "And what are you hunting for, little hunters? Bones, I can tell, yes. But if any bones would do, you could find those without coming here."
“Astute observation,” Tock allows with a nod. Compliments never hurt, right? “We are looking for a skull, to be specific. For a particular Crafting project. Preferably from a beast with good hearing, and horns. We were out seeking as much when we heard your music and were drawn this way.”
"Nothing tiny," comes the no doubt unexpected add in by Kyrie. And that's really all she says, just those two words. Her gaze is drawn away from the figure and toward the things laying in the wagon, gaze skimming over them. And though she still holds the hilt of her sword, her grip isn't quite as firm as it was a minute ago.
"A beast with good hearing, with good horns, hm, hm... well, I don't know of-- wait! Yes... yes..." Those long-fingered hands come together, many-jointed fingers steepling as the pile of dirty, tangled hair leans forward, "I do recall such a beast passing through. A delgeth, in fact. This isn't the sort of place they normally go, but oh! It was chasing a man who was fleeing its hunger, leaping from island to island as it crashed after him in a bloody frenzy, teeth gnashing and horns spearing the sky."
A lean back, "Mm, mm, but it chased the man into the blackmuck and neither ever emerged. It might still be there. Or its bones might be."
Tock's eyes light as the fellow seems to have information and to be willing to share it, too! She nods along with that description. “Well, that /does/ sound promising. Would you be able to direct us to where it had gone, please? The blackmuck, you said?"
Kyrie nods slightly as she listens to the figure, then glances to Tock, nods again, then arches a brow as she returns her attention to the stranger. She looks a little skeptical, but doesn't argue, just waits for the answer to the question.
"Would I be able to? Of course, of course..." A hollow little chuckle, and the 'head' of the pile of hair tilts a bit, "...but what do I get out of it, hm? Hmmm? Nothing for nothing, little huntresses, as the saying goes."
“Naturally, we might be able to trade for such information.” Tock nods as if she fully expected the topic to arise. “If there is something that you find yourself in need or want of? An item or a task, perhaps? We might be able to accommodate, depending on the need.”
Kyrie makes a low sound and nods. "Figured you'd ask for something." She pauses, glances at Tock, then smiles, murmuring for her companion alone, "What about the mine-ah bird nuisance?"
"Bah! Mere nuisances. No, no. There is one thing, though, one thing I do need... my instrument, here." A trail of long, gnarled fingers over the keys, "I am missing one." For the first time, that's noticed - a wider gap between two of the other keys. "I need a rib to finish it. A human rib, untouched by Arcadia's taint. Of course, I doubt you have such with you..." A soft chuckle, "But if you promise to bring me one -- say, within a year and a day? -- I would be willing to give you directions."
Tock nods along with that, her nod growing more knowing and expression empathetic about that missing piece. “I am afraid we do not have one on us. But such could be obtained and returned to you, naturally. We would have to leave the Hedge and come back, of course. Do you mind if I look a little more closely to make sure that we bring one that fits your instrument appropriately?”
Kyrie's eyes narrow at the request, but when Tock agrees, she doesn't protest. No doubt her mind is just working on how to do such a thing /without/ committing murder. "If we bring you a human rib, the debt is paid, right? So long as it's completely human, we're good?"
"Of course. And of course..." Those long fingers withdraw from the xylophone to allow Tock to examine it, "A simple gift for a simple request. Of course, I cannot promise it is a safe journey, because it is not. The blackmuck does not take kindly to visitors."
Tock examines the instrument closely, to get the appropriate size and shape well set in her mind for what will be needed. She gives Kyrie a reassuring smile. “Medical schools. People donate bones all of the time. The ones from cadavers in anatomy labs typically just get cremated when they are done with them, if no one asks for the remains back. Skeletons entire or in part can be purchased legally, as well.” Nowhere near murder, not to worry! “I think we can manage that. The directions and any information on this blackmuck would be appreciated.”
"We didn't ask for assurances for anything but the direction of this creature or its bones," Kyrie says, shrugging a little. Tock gets a short nod, no look of surprise. That must have been along the lines of what she was thinking, too.
"Then the deal is struck!" A hand moves with a sudden swiftness, lifting one of the bird's skull hammers -- striking it sharply upon one 'key'. The tone is loud, echoing in the vardo, and the boxes all begin to shudder. One topples from the top of a stack, plummeting down only to be caught deftly mid-fall by one of the creature's hands. It's a shoebox, tied with string. The string is plucked open, and a roll of parchment is found inside, removed and offered out, "A map. It will lead you to where you need to go."
Tock gives another nod in affirmation at that declaration. Her eyes track to the falling box, then watch as the fellow removes the map from within. “A map. That will do nicely. Thank you for the information.” Being closer, she reaches out to accept the parchment.
"If we find the creature where the map says it'll be, we'll be back with your rib. If not?" Kyrie trails and shrugs. "Guess we won't. You ready?" she asks, looking to Tock.
The parchment crinkles like the aged paper it is as it's passed into Tock's hands, and the hairy figure that owns the wagon leans back, "Well, well, get on with you then. The daylight's wasting... and you don't want to be out that way after dark, oh no, oh no."
“No, we definitely don't,” Tock agrees about not being out after dark. She does pause to unroll the map while they are still in a sheltered place, moving close to Kyrie to allow her to give it a once-over, as well. “Thank you again. Hopefully we'll be back quite soon with that rib.”
Kyrie glances over the map, just enough to ensure that it's actually a map of the region, before she nods to the figure and opens the door to slip back out of the wagon.
It does indeed seem to be a map of this part of the marsh, if it's being read right. A black area labeled 'THE BLACKMUCK' is a bit off, and there seem to be two paths leading to it through the swampy area -- a longer, looping path, and a more direct one that as a note 'hangman's noose' between the wagon (also marked on the map with a small drawing of it) and the target area.
Tock offers one last wave after rolling the scroll back up for safekeeping. “Have a good evening,” she says as she departs after Kyrie. “Do you think we should try the shorter path and just 'keep our hands to the level of our eyes' in case that Hangman's Noose name is to be taken literally?” she asks as they set out. “It is getting late, so a shorter path would be preferable to a long one, all else being equal.”
Once they're out, the door is shut by one of those gnarled hands... and before long, that eerie, plinking music begins to play once more from inside the wagon.
“I called the xylophone, though,” Tock jokes as they set out toward that Hangman's Noose path. She remains alert, again, as they prepare to go into unfamiliar territory. Now and then she spares a glance upward into the trees. There could be more of those birds or anything else out there.
Kyrie mms softly. "Don't gloat," she teases. "Can you keep us on the path, and I'll keep an eye out for dangers?" she asks, glancing briefly to Tock before doing the watching she just mentioned.
The path doesn't match the map exactly; the islands drift a little from time to time, but the pair are able to keep on a generally straight course. The little spurts of vile blue gas continue to pop up here and there from time to time, the water growing darker and murkier the deeper they travel into the region.
They can tell when they're nearing 'Hangman's Noose' because it's very obvious -- a great gnarled tree rising from the guts of the marsh, limbs spread and draping downwards like a weeping willow. Only from its many limbs dangle tangled vines, and from a distance there appear to be bodies, dozens of them, hanging from the tree.
“I can do that. Though I promise to also stay on the alert, just in case.” Tock does need to dedicate a bit more attention to that whole navigation thing. “I recognised the name of the beastie that he gave. The Delgeth? It is a Navajo legend. And more than legend, it would seem. I had heard some rumours of as much among the hobs, too. Man-eating antelope. We should expect more of sharp teeth than of grazing ones since it is a predator.” She slows as that tree comes into sight. “Probably we should try to stay out of reach of those branches.” In case that wasn't obvious.
"Antelope though, should have the right size and shape of skull," Kyrie points out before nodding. "Yes, let's skirt around it. Knowing our luck, that would be a tree that ensnares anyone who gets too close to it." And she starts doing just that, though trying to otherwise keep to the path.
The mossy, spongy earth of each island gives and sways underfoot as the pair move along - closer, and closer to the ominous shadow of the tree. It's big. Big enough that they'll be passing beneath its branches for some time before they're past it entirely.
The corpses that hang from its vine nooses swing slowly in the wind, branches creaking a little, broken necks ensuring the rotting skulls swing uneasily back and forth.
“It does sound like exactly what we were looking for.” Tock wasn't entirely joking about that Phantom of the Opera inspired hand positioning. She is keeping one arm up in a manner that seems to be shielding her face. “There is no getting entirely around this thing that I can tell. Just...make sure you're blocking your neck, if you can.” Hopefully that little shock to be offered from the electricity glinting over her skin will help matters, as well.
Kyrie does lift her shield to place it between her and the tree, but her eyes narrow. "Tock? You know how those things are swinging? There's no wind. Keep me between yourself and the tree, just to be safe," she says, putting a few more paces between her and it.
They're under the branches, now, although no vines have dropped to try and seize their throats as Tock seems to fear. Above, the bodies swing slowly, languidly in a wind that - as Kyrie's just pointed out - can't be felt. The shadows of the dead dark, drifting motes over the sodden islands of earth and moss they're walking over.
“I think we can award points for creepy factor. Probably we could even get an appreciative nod from an Autumn here.” Tock is mostly remaining terribly alert as she tries to make her way through quickly, with as firm footing as can be managed. It might not be certain /what/ is doing the killing here, but it seems pretty clear that something has been up to as much. She does let the Valkyrie take up the defensive position that she requests. There is no point arguing the matter.
No point indeed! Kyrie's eyeing the tree, up and down and around, as they walk past it, though she's not ignoring the unsteady ground they're moving over either. "I'm wondering if it's a decoy to distract from some other danger around here."
A long minute passes as they move beneath the tree's skeletal limbs, of the shadows of the corpses above...
...and then there's a rasping hiss like rope being unspooled, and the hung dead drop all around then, splashing into the waters or landing on the mossy islands. The vine nooses still lead up to the limbs as the bodies rise unsteadily once more, loose-necked heads turning their hollow eyes towards the pair. Hands lift, and they lurch towards them!
Kyrie isn't one to hold back when she sees a threat. Nor are valkyries slow. She turns, yelling as she swings her sword, putting her whole body into it. The blade cuts into the nearest zombie, then /through/ it, effectively decapitating it in one stroke. Go go valkyrie mojo!
Tock's fingertips open to reveal sharp and shiny tools that were hidden within each. Putting her back at Kyrie's to maximise their defensive positioning, she claws at the nearest zombie's vine with an electrified hand. The vine severs and the zombie tumbles into a lump of bones on the ground. “Kyrie, I think the tree is the real enemy here! It is controlling the dead!
The remaining few zombies that are already in close range lunge for the pair -- broken, rotting fingers battering against Kyrie's shield and sizzling to fire beneath the touch of Tock's elemental aura. They don't get a grasp on them, though, and right behind them... others are pulling themselves out of the murky waters of the marsh, piling in from all sides.
Kyrie nods slightly, but that's the only real sign that she heard Tock. Other than, you know, when she starts to head toward the tree. Okay, so she has to go slower than she'd like, to slash at another of the undead critters. It's not as badass as her first swordstroke, but then, the zombie is missing a piece or two when she's done with it.
Being a ways away from that tree yet, Tock decides to test a theory. She draws the raygun from its holster, depressing the trigger with only a flash of electricity seen at the end of what would be the gun's barrel, at first. She balls up the electricity that gathers there and arcs it to the tree's trunk, a good way up from the ground. It sizzles and burns at the trunk, at least. “I can keep that going there for what it's worth,” she offers.
There's a wooden creaking like a tree's roar as the arc of lightning scorches into the wood of the Hangman's Tree, and the trunk sways back and forth in a rage -- branches shaking, more and more of those vine-tethered dead beginning to drop into the murky waters near them. The gathered dead clamber over moss and their own fallen to pile on Tock in a mass, pounding on her armour with rotting fists, the steady beating beginning to take its toll on the woman...
...but in the process, Kyrie has a clear path to the tree's trunk.
Kyrie has a moment of indecision, before she apparently seems to trust Tock. So if Tock dies? IT'S ALL HER FAULT! Really. Yelling, the valkyrie charges the tree, drawing her arm back, so at just the right moment she can thrust forward and stab the blade deep into the wood. She really /is/ stronger than she looks!
The creaking groan of wood turns into a splintering shriek as the valkyrie's sword cuts deep into heartwood; a thick, oozing red sap welling from the wound and slowly dripping down the bark from where the sword's impaled within it.
The rotting bodies that are literally piled up around Tock suddenly drop to the ground like puppets with their strings cut. Of course, now she's buried under the weight of five corpses, but at least they're no longer trying to kill her.
Tock holds the electricity on that tree and sets about healing herself...only to be flopped on by five dead guys. Being covered in corpses: it's distracting! The effort flops as surely as the corpses do and she busies herself for a time with getting back out from under them. “The bath I am taking when we get home. It will be a thing for epic poems,” she grumbles.
Kyrie smirks at the groan and the sound of bodies falling behind her. She glances back, winces sympathetically, then yanks the sword free. "I don't imagine I smell too great either though...you may want to go for a swim before fouling up a shower or tub," she admits, fighting a smile.
There's stillness around them; just the dangling vines and the corpses, some hanging still, some laying in piles or floating in the murky waters of the marsh. An eerie stillness, in fact, that seems to go for miles.
The marsh doesn't seem like a great place for a bath, though.
“Yes, the clothing could use a...something. Before I go near civilisation again,” Tock admits ruefully. At least the smell issue is better temporarily, all petrichor and ozone as her second healing attempt proves more successful. The bruises lighten and she no longer limps when she moves. The clockwork girl gives a little summoning gesture in the direction of the tree once she is certain that the thing is /down/, pulling the electricity from it into a little ball.
Kyrie pulls out a handkerchief to wipe her sword off before she sheathes it. "So where does the map say we go from here? Smell aside?" she asks, walking back toward Tock.
The map suggests that the rest of the trail isn't far; whatever The Blackmuck is, they'll be there before the sun's fallen beneath the briars.
Tock consults the map after wiping her hands clean on her own handkerchief to avoid fouling the thing. “The Blackmuck is apparently just ahead. There aren't any other ominously labelled things in the path now, at least.” She shrugs, motioning that they should continue on.
Kyrie mms softly. "Still, let's be careful. I'd rather not have to explain to my brother and the rest that I got their motleymate and my friend killed," she says, continuing on, after sheathing her sword.
“I'm not that easy to kill. See? I just got all-out mauled by five zombies and came out...okay, if not smelling like a rose,” Tock assures with a chuckle. “I am here of my own accord, too. So at least you can share the blame if something happens.” For all the chatter, she continues to remain very much aware of their surroundings as they walk.
Kyrie grins. "I know. But think about it from my perspective. You're a friend, and a good one. I don't have many of those. More, I've already lost damn near everyone. I /won't/ lose any others if I can help it," she explains, shrugging a little.
“I will do my level best not to die,” Tock vows, drawing a little cross over her heart with an index finger. “Entirely for your sake, of course. I would hate to be upsetting.” The attempt at deadpan delivery falters a little with a twitch at the corner of her lips.
Kyrie glances over, her own lips twitching. "Smart ass," she says, with no heat. "But that is a completely valid reason to not die," she retorts, before her grin resurfaces.
The water is getting darker, murkier; becoming more like a sludge than water, really, an unpleasant black muck that fills the space between the small islands of moss and grass, and the spindly trees that rise here and there. Even the sky is darker, and it's hard to tell if it's because of the late hour or not.
Tock flashes a grin at Kyrie when she turns her glance her way, displaying both rows of teeth lined up neatly end to end. “I like to keep a long list of reasons to stay alive. Perhaps there should be another epic poem.” Her nose crinkles faintly as they continue. “Well. The name for this place is apt enough.”
"You are not wrong," Kyrie murmurs as she looks around. "This place just screams danger." But the map says it's here, and she's not leaving without the skull they came for. "Well, it's not going to get any better if we stare at it," she says, sighing and continuing on.
There's a faint gleam of white from the dark muck, a little bit away. The two huntresses spot a bird fluttering down towards it, hear a muffled squawk of "Mine!" as it dives... and then there's a sudden roil of black, oozy mud from the surface, lashing up to engulf the bird and pulling it under almost faster than the eye can watch.
“Well. It was right for a second,” Tock comments on the bird's claim and subsequent demise. “That seems like it might be some kind of will o' the wisp or other lure. Best to avoid the shinies here.” She pays particular attention to the ground and what lower growth there is to observe, seeking signs of a large hoofy beast having run through. “There seem to be a lot of broken bits of vegetation heading this way,” she informs, gesturing the direction that the signs follow.
Kyrie eyes the dangerous area ahead of them. "Gonna see if I spot this thing," she says, swinging her bag around. She gives it a shake before sticking her hand in...then her arm, all the way up to the elbow, digging around until she pulls out a pair of binoculars. "Thanks," she tells the pseudo-living bag, letting it fall back. She peers through the binoculars and scans the area as she listens. "Right. No shinies." There's a minute before she grins. "How about a skull? It's not even /in/ the muck. It's caught on something." She lowers the binoculars and drops them back in the bag. "Same direction," she says, before starting that way.
Tock's eyebrows lift in surprise. “Well spotted. It's already being a skull, then. I was expecting to have the toothy beast out here to confront.” She continues to step carefully and stay on alert as they proceed forward. “Not that having such a thing already dead in here is much consolation. Something worse had to have done it in.”
"So was I," Kyrie admits, moving slowly. "It could have gotten stuck, died, then been scavenged, though," she points out. "We weren't told /when/ it was seen, after all. And the map was on hand. Either way, I think it'll be a trick getting it and getting out safely."
The broken branches and shattered twigs lead them on their path towards that glint of white in the distance, moving them around some otherwise safe-looking islands of moss and grass... but the path doesn't lead that way, so maybe they aren't as 'safe' as they seemed? Closer, and closer, the horn'd skull soon coming into view between the marshy trees. It rests between the branches of a tree, the entire tree spattered and oozing with black muck, picked clean to a gleaming shine, horns spreading far to either side. There's no safe ground near it, either.
“Hm.” Tock pulls out her own spyglass to get a better look at the skull. “Well, it's kind of oozy and kind of spattery over there.” She waves off the electricity ball that has been travelling with her, sending it to go hover near the skull to at least improve their view of the spot it's in.
"Light is good. I've got an idea, but..." Kyrie looks around for a stick or something else that isn't metal or stone, so she can stick it in the ooze and see what happens to it. Apparently the answer decides whether she'll go through with her plan.
The stick plunges into the ooze. It becomes mucky. There's no particular reaction, though.
“Unfortunately, the electricity isn't strong enough to fetch the skull for us,” Tock laments. She quiets for a moment to observe Kyrie's experiment. “Negative results are still results. And, in this case, actually positive for us. Though 'organic' and 'alive' aren't the same thing. I would still have a care after what befell the bird.”
Kyrie glances to Tock. "I have a bow. Maybe if I tie a line around an arrow, and am very, very accurate I can snag the skull and we can pull it to us. That's why I was testing this muck. If it dissolved organic material, that wouldn't have worked." She looks over to the skull. "Think I should give it a try?"
The ball of electricity crackles like St Elmo's Fire in the air, casting strange shadows over the skull.
“Depending on how long it has been there, slamming the skull on the ground might cause it to fall apart,” Tock cautions. She looks around to see how far any trees by them might be from the edge of the muck. “If we had a strong enough rope and strong enough tree that we could attach here and there, we could try to climb over?” Her head shakes. “There is a lot of 'if' on that plan,” she admits. "Or if we could gather enough wood to make a little bridge..." She's a Manikin. Building things was bound to show up on the list of options.
"It's only six feet, too. We could always jump it," Kyrie muses. "Maybe one of us jumps with a rope tied around them, just to be on the safe side?" she suggests.
“I am going to admit here that my feats of athleticism are /not/ the things of epic poems,” Tock imparts the information with a self-deprecating shake of her head. “I do mean to make use of that gym of yours to remedy the situation, as I might have mentioned. Do you feel up to that task?”
Kyrie nods and digs into her bag again before she pulls out a coil of rope. Her shield is hooked on her back before she wraps one end of the rope around her waist, as securely as possible, before she offers the other end to Tock. "Luckily I go for light armor," she says, grinning. "Besides, I trust you to pull me back if the worst happens. Just tell me when you're ready."
Tock accepts the rope and ties it off around her own waist, to maximise leverage should the thing be needed. She squares her stance and nods to Kyrie. “Good luck. I promise to pull /very/ hard if you need it.”
Kyrie nods and eyes the tree, takes a few steps back so she can get a running start. Luckily, the armor really doesn't seem to hinder her, because she leaps over the feet separating her from the tree, and manages to grab hold to avoid getting dumped into the muck. Then, promptly, sighs with relief. "If I toss the skull back, think you can grab it?" she calls.
It's an excellent jump; a good landing, hands around the branches of the muck-drenched tree. There's only one problem that she soon discovers...
...it's not a tree. Just after she's caught onto it, it starts to move, hauling itself up from the black mud and turning its tree-like limbs inward, a horror of darksome sludge that fills the skull like a mask turning towards her. And she's holding on to its chest and arm.
Kyrie mutters something that no proper British lady should ever be caught uttering. But then, she's not proper anymore. Still, she clings with her legs keeping a hold of that thing so she doesn't go tumbling into the muck.
“Wouldn't it be easier just to put it in your pa--oh my,” Tock's thought is interrupted by the beast-tree-muck-thing arising from the...more muck. “Kyrie, that thing is covered in /wet/ and the only way I can attack it is to use the electricity! Is that something you can handle?” The clockwork girl is shouting and covered in glinty-blue, herself. Meanwhile, she also uses that electricity ball to zip around the tree like an annoying little pixie. Maybe it will serve as a good distraction...
There's a wet, unpleasant slurp as the mucky horror rises up, and then there's a valkyrie gripping and clinging to it; one muddy hand swats at her, the torso of the thing twisting sinuously, and yet somehow it fails to dislodge her!
Kyrie fights to hold onto the creature, even as she focuses on what Tock said. A moment later, she yells, "Shock it! I'll be fine!" And man, no one has volume like Airtouched have volume. Especially not when she's surrounded by winds. The fact that the thing is probably being hurt just by her touch? Yeah, it makes the sadist in her smirk.
Tock gestures more emphatically at her electricity ball. “Watch your eyes!” she warns quickly. The little electricity ball goes from an annoyance to an impressive arc of lightning, striking at the tree with equally impressive sizzles and sparks.
The muck monster reels from that arc of lightning; staggered a little, arcs of it crackling and snapping between its limbs, stunned it seems for a few vital heartbeats!
Kyrie's smirk widens when the creature gets zapped, and she grabs for her bag with one hand, the skull with the other. Though it shouldn't fit in the bag, especially not with those horns? It does, sliding in like the bag was made for it. "Got it," she calls back, which is probably as much to let Tock know she's okay as anything.
Tock draws her gun again, depressing the trigger to call up yet /more/ electricity. It's a flashy sort of day, apparently. Again, the electricity crackles to the end of the gun's barrel, between the metal teeth situated there. Again, she gestures to gather it up and arc it over to the tree. There is more sizzling, more crackling, though less impressively this time. “Get out of there as fast as you can!” she calls. As if Kyrie needed encouragement on that one.
As the skull's pulled off the 'head' of the muck horror, it lets out burbling howl-- bringing its powerful arms up and slamming them down, though the impact is only jarring as it smashes into Kyrie's armour.
Kyrie's eyes narrow as she's hit and shifts until she can get her feet braced against the creature. A low sound builds in her throat before she launches herself off and back toward Tock. Nevermind that she probably won't land on her feet. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be effective! So when she lands, she just works on getting upright and her bow in her hand.
Tock watches the actions unfolding closely. The moment Kyrie touches down, she unties the rope from her own waist. Being tied together limits manoeuvring options. Meanwhile, she keeps that newly summoned electricity on the muck-tree, continuing to zap and sizzle at it steadily.
It may no longer have a head but it's still moving; even as muck and mud burns beneath lightning's kiss, the horror slodges forward through the pool, undulating and heaving itself forward, pulling up the side of the mossy clump of land that the two are on.
Kyrie trusts Tock to not dive headfirst into the muck, so once she has her bow in her hand, she grabs an arrow, nocks it and looses it at the creature. Because, clearly, if it's solid enough to jump off of, surely it's solid enough for arrows to make it go ow!
The monster draws closer and Tock switches out raygun for claws. The ball of electricity trades out for the electricity crawling down her arm, instead, and she slashes at the beast's arm with yet more sizzling in response.
The horror reels as its struck with those crackling claws, mud spilling away in burnt-solid chunks, and then one massive limb spears out for Kyrie -- crashing into her with bone-splintering force, sending her stumbling back a step to the edge of the island and the black, churning muck below.
Kyrie drops her bow, possibly because of the hit, possibly on purpose. Either way, it's her sword she reaches for next, yanking it free and thrusting it at the creature even as she tries to shift her weight so she doesn't go tumbling off the island.
Tock brings the ball of electricity back around again, arcing it into where the thing's head /used/ to be. There is more sizzling, more crackling, and more burnt mud to be had.
There's a thickening of dark, murky glamour in the air as the muck horror surges forward, pieces of it falling off, massive arms raising up and then slamming down--crashing into Kyrie's arm as she lifts to block its blow, although it does jar her solidly!
Kyrie hisses and is hurt, that much is clear. But she is not at all interested in stopping the fight. Not when it has shown it will chase them. Her sword slashes out and slices off another piece of the monster, though it still doesn't go down.
Tock tries to arc the electricity at the beast again, but it moves too quickly in its lunge for Kyrie and the arc sparks harmlessly in the air.
There's a deluge of black mud over Kyrie as the mass of living sludge wraps its massive arms around her, hauling her up into the air and off her feet -- the stench of the swamp oozing around her, though the thick-packed sludge may as well be hard as steel from its grip!
Kyrie squirms and fights against the creature, but mud is seriously strong and she doesn't do much of anything beyond get her armor more muddy.
If at first you don't succeed... Tock gestures the ball of electricity back, the arc far more effective this time in zapping the beast. Crackle, dried mud. It still isn't down yet!
The arc of electricity crackles into the mucky horror, and it shudders... its grip around Kyrie tightening, and for a moment she can't breathe, even her armour groaning in protest. Then... it explodes.
Black, stinking muck flies everywhere, splattering all over Tock, and Kyrie herself drops onto the ground in a messy pile of it, coated from head to toe.
Kyrie lays there, looking thoroughly pissed. "What do you say we get the /fuck/ out of here?" she asks, sliding her sword into its sheath, then snatching up her bow. "I need a bath, to scrub my gear and to gorge on fruit."
Tock scrubs what mud she can off of her face with her fingers. “You might want to add a few verses into the epic bath poem for yourself,” she adds wryly. “Yes. Away is best. Do you need healing?”
A hand is waved, Kyrie shaking her head. "So long as nothing else attacks us I'll live," she says, though she's moving a little more carefully than before. "I don't know if this is epic though. More embarrassing. I damn near got my ass kicked by /mud/."
“I will tend you once we reach relative safety then, if that is your preference,” Tock allows, not immediately rushing into the healing. “Mud /monster/. Giant mud monster reanimated skull creature. That is much more impressive, when you describe it properly.” Away is the order of the day, and away she heads.
"Safety, I suppose. Though if we can do healing fruit first, to conserve /your/ energy? That'd be best," Kyrie decides, making sure she has everything before starting to head off with Tock.
The darkness of the Blackmuck soon behind them, the map serves them well in escaping the marshes. Only a single minor deal left to fulfil, and the skull is theirs...