IC: Marrow (and minions) – Irnakk’s Tooth
The rumble of a powerful impact somewhere outside sent a thrill of panic shooting through Marrow, cutting deeper than any of the trepidations that had plagued him during his descent. It was even stronger than the awe and dread that came with the grim knowledge that Irnakk had just bestowed upon him.
He tensed, waiting for further sounds or sensations, but nothing more came. The silence was almost more unnerving than the cacophony he’d expected. The warskaks weren’t the sort to stop with a single shot fired. What was happening up there?
“I… thank you…” he stammered, rubbing his numb shoulder. “I should… I have to go. My people need me.” He turned his back to Irnakk’s pervasive presence and began moving away from the pit, towards the tunnel entrance…
* * *
Little was spoken between the four Mesi as they ran ever deeper into the mountain. Having spent their entire lifetimes living underground, they had no issue navigating in the dark… it was what waited in this particular dark that troubled them.
As her feet skidded down coarse stone steps and crunched down upon gnarled rahi bones, Opal felt fate hounding her heels. The ceiling behind her collapsed in a constant cascade of dirt, and she fled from it as desperately as she fled from those that had attacked them. The avalanche of anguish swallowed the screams of those too slow to escape it, leaving Opal alone in the memory of her worst day. The day that the only Onu-Skakdi in the party had panicked and ran instead of trying to stop the tunnel from collapsing.
She’d failed them. All of them. Then and now.
Marrow had given her a chance when no one else had, and she was failing him as well.
And then she heard it. A weak whimper, somewhere just behind her. She rushed desperately towards the sound, feeling the flailing hand of a prone figure strike her shins. Gently, she reached down to take the hand in her own…
* * *
The walls closed in on Hakkzan as he scrambled and screamed, feeling the fetid breath of Shagrak’s progeny upon his back. His brother was at his side, the two Ta-Skakdi’s hands intertwined as they manifested flames in midair and sent them screaming back towards the monolithic maw of the monster pursuing them.
And then the beast struck. Hakkzan heard his brother’s bones crack, felt his grip go slack, and then he was torn from his grasp. Hakkzan was flung against the tunnel wall as the sandworm simply rolled past him, crushing him into a crevice in the rock as it continued on its way. And then the beast was gone, and the weakened tunnel it left in its wake trembled, then tumbled in on itself, burying Hakkzan.
What felt like hours later, hours that were spent unable to move, barely able to breathe, they finally found him. Friendly hands broke through the wall, taking his hands and pulling him out of the dark…
* * *
While the others walked in the dark, Scarrow and Weaver walked in the light. They’d banded as the nightmares began to take hold, merging their powers of psionics and sound in an effort to dispel the illusions. It was an imperfect effort – the searing sun still stung at Scarrow's skin, and Weaver’s every uneven step was harried by the jeers and insults of the warskaks who’d once held her captive – but the horrors were weakened, and the pair pushed on.
They soon came upon Opal and Hakkzan, clinging to each other as they struggled to walk forward. Scarrow and Weaver expanded their shield of sound and mind to cover their companions, warding away the worst of their woes. Together, the four pushed on through the pain and panic, picking up the pace as they renewed their retreat…
* * *
Marrow’s dread grew with each tentative footstep he took into the tunnel. Irnakk lurked beyond the opening behind him, the entity's expectant presence seeming to mock him. The knowledge the monster had given Marrow wasn't worth the lives of his comrades. The thought of losing more followers – more friends – without him even being there to try to save them was horrifying beyond any nightmare this place could throw at him.
So it was a welcome relief a few moments later when the sounds of panicked footsteps and panting breaths wafted towards him from the bend. Soon he could discern the familiar sounds and auras of his four companions.
“What happened?” He asked, rushing to join them. “Are you alright?”
“We’ll survive,” Hakkzan coughed, his unsteady voice betraying how shaken he was. “Physically at least.”
“An airship…” Weaver panted. “Fired… as soon as it saw us… we had to leave the Reprisal…”
“The mech doesn’t matter,” he replied. It was a lie, somewhat. Attacking Fort Nektann would be more difficult without the armoured support, but that was a problem for later. “Who attacked you? How many?”
“I only saw the one ship, no idea how many were on board,” Scarrow spoke up. “They fired from long range, but if they landed and came in after us straight away, they might only be a couple of minutes behind… depending on…”
“...depending on how they fare against their fears,” Marrow finished. “We’ll take them here in the tunnels.”
He grinned, though the gesture would be lost to most of his company. Though Irnakk’s Tooth was a world apart from the Underhive of the Mesi, the darkened alcoves of the mountain’s tunnels weren’t very different to the domain they knew. No matter how many enemies came, their numbers would work against them in the enclosed confines, especially given how shaken and uncertain they were sure to be after the nightmares. Not to mention the obvious benefits to the Mesi of having Onu and Ta Skakdi on their side inside an active volcano.
Squeezing against the wall to let the others shuffle past him, Marrow then took Opal’s hand, combining powers with the Onu-Skakdi to manifest a series of barriers and snares – a half-dozen chest-high tangles of packed earth and woven roots for cover, and sporadic patches of loose dirt and ankle-high vines to trip up the unprepared – along the length of the tunnel between their current position and the towards the next tunnel bend in the direction the attackers would be approaching from.
“Marrow… this place…” Opal said quietly, “We saw… felt… things on the way down here.”
“I know. None of you were supposed to face that,” he grimaced. “It was my burden. But whoever attacked you is flesh and blood, and that’s something we can face without fear.”
The thickest of the barriers formed directly in front of where the five Mesi stood, and Marrow crouched behind it alongside his heaviest hitters, Opal and Hakkzan, with Scarrow and Weaver hanging back just around the corner behind them. Their elemental powers were close to exhausted from the fight against the nightmares; they were going to be of little use in the fight to come.
Marrow set aside his macuahuitl and readied his cudgel. There wouldn’t room enough to wield the bulky weapon in these confines if it came to a fight. Hakkzan trembled at his side, and he gently laid his hand upon the Ta-Skakdi’s shoulder.
“The dark is our domain, and you do not stand alone it in,” he whispered. “Our kind have survived the very worst that this island has to offer, endured things that would rend the flesh and break the minds of those who dwell above and call themselves our betters. Whoever is coming for us, we have no reason to fear them… they should fear us.”
And with those words, the five Mesi fell silent, as they waited for their enemies to arrive.