Fresh off a plus in South Starn, before the payment settled in the bottom of our hutches, we received the mission for Haganz. This is how it’s been for the last six years as things move faster and faster towards tote world war. Of course, we go wherever we need, or we’re needed, to keep busy.
Our unit comes and goes, as do the soldiers in it. Viktor broke his grandmother’s sword to join us as these last orders hit Top’s hands. This would make the fourth mission for Team Vulture without a new recruit so we were hungry for some fresh blood. Viktor was an easy mark. His boyish face showed an appreciation for warfare and mischief; hard to say which he preferred. Pretty sure Top saw it in him, too, because he immediately gave the four of us orders to “welcome” Viktor by slapping him when his guard was down. His only caveat was we couldn’t actually wound him because that would waste supplies and time. How could we grumble with such pos therapeutic orders? Instead we jumped immed, but agreed to carry out the inish in moments not motivated by anger – we did actually like the kid. The others would always position ourselves so that we could pretend not to notice the slap taking place. Nothing like a slapping conspiracy to further hone our esprit de corps. Viktor would figure it out in time and when he began to read the signs and pre-emptively deflect the slaps, the orders would be to cease and deese and he would get his nickname. DJ took bets on the length of time it would take to get there. Too few of our orders are that much fun.
As we trudged the countryside, Viktor proved himself a good fighter both with a sword and at range with almost equal skill. Once we ran into a herd of intelligent taarg and Viktor, having emptied his quiv, jumped down from the tree where he was perched and began to hack. DJ, seizing a moment of calm in the chaos, slapped Viktor as a taarg rushed toward them. Viktor was shocked at DJ’s blow to him and then his immediate fatal blow to the taarg, but recovered in time to jump out of the way as the taarg fell. The rest of us had to stifle in order to not get killed ourselves in the moments after. We’d secured the area and set up camp, when Top pulled DJ aside and either praised him or tore him a new orifice, depending on who you asked. We were a little loathe to praise Deej for the performance (except Kaylee, who praised him in her own way), but we all secretly wished we’d done it. Buttercup and Switch are pretty sure Viktor got his revenge on DJ, though. At a later point during the journey, DJ came down with a horrid case of trots and Viktor made a point to keep his distance while Kaylee tended to him, which Buttercup and Switch found hilar. The boy had an extensive knowledge of herbs and their uses.
We arrived in the village of Haganz, restocked, and gathered intell from the villagers about happenings close by in the moors. Frost demons were encroaching, as they do, first destroying the crops, then the animals. We are all too familiar with the path of destruction these Iceholes follow and what they leave behind. Recovering the land takes decades after they have done their “work.” We headed in the direction of the Frosties.
We had been shivering on this rocky outlook for hours, watching an increasingly large team of Frosties come and go in the camp below us. Our close quarters made slapping Viktor a lot more difficult so we were all a little grump. Plus, the cold sucks slimy Wazier teet. Frosties generate a magic enhanced cold. If you get hit with a solid breeze of it, not only do you feel the pain spikes, but you also experience a kind of brain paralysis. There are potions to take that minimize the brain freeze for a few hours, of course, but even if we could afford to be fully outfitted, we can’t carry much. So we have to husband it and only imbibe immediately before active engagement. Until then, you just have to be smart, quick, and strike at range.
Our goal was to break up Frosty’s camp, force them back twenty miles north, and relieve the pressure their presence placed on the neighboring farming village. Viktor was able to take out one every now and again with an arrow. He had lived through an attack of Frosties before and he knew of a special concoction that he and Kalyee could cook. As soon as he found out about the demons, he had us all looking for certain plants on the trudge. We collected them and he agreed to carry. Now he would take the paste and coat the tip of our arrows. When he’d get a clear shot of the frost demon’s vulnerable notch, he’d take it and reduce their number by one.
The second night came. The temperature, which had started out cold, had steadily decreased as the monsters assembled in camp until it was not only miserable, but dangerous. We knew we had to move soon, but how? In this cold, with that many Freezers below us, we’d lose for sure. We needed a stealthier way to get these Iceholes out. The way they were massing at the bottom of the rocks instead of moving either suggested that they were unfamiliar with this type of geographical formation or that they were planning something. We weren’t sure since Frosties aren’t the most intelligent creatures we’ve encountered – it could have been either.
Buttercup and Switch put their heads together over some targan jerky on night watch and devised a plan to go down to Frosty level with an explosive elixir. If we managed to kill out a large number of demons in the core of the gathering, the rest would scatter, sliding in all directions, making them easier to take out even by mediocre archers. They took the plan to Top, who agreed to work with them to mix the explosive. They used some of the paste bound with Kaylee’s magic to form the capsule. Viktor and Kaylee worked on preparing more paste and coating a huge store of arrows.
As planned, Switch and Buttercup took the explosive down the rock on the opposite side and started goating their way around to the gathering. DJ went down to ground on the opposite side. Kaylee continued infusing arrows while Top and Viktor kept lookout. Once they got to their mark, they gave the sig, and everyone drank a vial of the anti-brain freeze. Buttercup barrelled into the gathering staying low to the ground. She placed the capsule as close to the core of the demons as possible and began fighting her way as best she could away from it, with Top and Viktor helping clear a swath. As soon as the shot was clear, Switch fired an arrow into the explosive. The blast did the job. Freezers scattered and we began picking them off with our swords below and the archers from above.
Things seemed to be going plus pos until we noticed why the demons had been gathering circular instead of moving along in a path across the land as usual. Top and Viktor saw it first from their vantage above, when enough Frosties scattered after the blast. In contrast to the frost demons’ white-transparent mist “body,” this thing was like dark gray smoke. Looking back, we wondered why we didn’t notice it amongst the swirling white before. We figure it’s the reason the demons were behaving so biz – somehow it was collecting them or they were feeding on each other symbi. Top began shouting at DJ, Buttercup and Switch to “Fall back!” so they began working their way around the border of the rock. But then all hell broke. Even Kaylee may have screamed at some point.
Frosty rushed the rocks, fleeing up into the sky in a gale of cold and pain, and as Top later told the survivors, he and Viktor found themselves face-to face with the black smoke. There was no way to discern a weak spot – not like the Frosties – and instead of freezing the air, this thing made it burn. Top saw the hair on his arms singe away, Viktor’s eyebrows disappear, and his hair begin to melt as it hovered near him. But not just that, it seemed the smokey creature made the air unbreathable – like your lungs wouldn’t work. They had no idea how to attack it. Viktor looked to Top for an answer, but having none to give, Top just swung his sword at it. When the sword passed through the smoke, an angry sound came from somewhere inside.
The smoke shifted itself in the direction of Top. Top swung again. The terrible sound came louder. Top’s glowing red sword clattered on the rock and he held up his blistered hand, his glove burned away. Kaylee caught Viktor’s eye and held up the paste. He nodded. The smoke swirled at Top. Viktor, seeing his Sergeant disarmed, did the first thing that came to his mind – he pulled back and slapped the smoke. To his surprise, his hand connected with something soft at the heart of the smoke. The creature groaned louder and began to spread wider. Viktor could see it closing in on DJ and Kaylee. He knew it would soon reach them all. Viktor drew back and punched with all his strength, grabbing for the soft center. He got it and squeezed. The smoke shrieked (or was it Viktor?). Viktor’s arm began to melt, but instead of letting go, he reached in with the other hand.
DJ made it back up above first and had immed placed himself between the smoke creature and Kaylee. Buttercup and Switch crested the top of the rock as Kaylee threw a mixture of the paste in an arc over herself, DJ, and Top while chanting a protection spell. The shrieking made Buttercup and Switch pause. In the months to come, both would re-live that sound in night terrors. They would talk in hushed, knowing tones until sleep was again possible.
The smoke creature shrieked and writhed (in pain?), dissipated, then reformed, but in it’s spasms it retreated and disappeared into the horizon.
Kaylee moved quickly to Viktor to assess the damage, but there wasn’t much of him left. The smoke had burned through his gear and reached his skin even before he touched it. So when he swung, he was too vulnerable to defend against the intense heat. Kaylee turned her attention to Top’s injuries since Buttercup and Switch reported none.
As Kaylee bandaged his hand, Top recounted the details to the others as best he could remember. When he got to the part of the story when Viktor slapped at the smoke, everyone fell silent. DJ said, “That was one hell of a punch Viktor threw.”
“His name is Punch” declared Switch.
“Was.” said Top, “His name was Punch.”