One Cold Night on the Poison Steppe

January 26, 2018 Background  No comments

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Hey Samarians!

We know you like to get hints and previews of things coming to Dark Age, but we also know you like getting new stories and lore pieces. Today we are bringing you a little bit of both! Have a read, look for references to past pieces, and maybe get a clue as to some new stuff heading to Dark Age just around the corner!

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By Bryan Steele

“Why is it after us?” Tanler huffed exhaustedly, his voice somewhat muffled through the fabric of his shemagh, “What did you and your people bring to my clan?” He huddled into the shallow trench in the side of a salty dune, gripping the hilt of his tulwar with white knuckles. “The Onyx Ghost… it has come from us.”

“Kelm don, nomad,” Czheloi’s thick Taleni accent and local dialect reverberated through her traditional rebreathing facemask, “calm down. That thing is just another keehl’r shien… uhm, a soldier in a metal suit, nothing more.”

A metal grinding, screeching howl of speaker feedback blasted across the dusty flats, drowning out the whipping wind. Hidden beneath the machine-like whine, heavy hydraulic footfalls and the crackling of the steppe’s crystalline crust under them grew closer and closer. Whatever it was heading toward where the two lightly armored travelers were hunkered down, it was big, loud, and heavy.

“We can’t just stay here and hide,” Tanler shook his head, “we’re eggs in an open nest.” His amber eyes looked down at the sword and chained hook at the other’s beltline. “How good are you with those? Do we stand a chance in a fight?”

“Better’n you and your bolts,” she clicked her tongue.

“I just don’t know if it’s enough,” the tremor in the Salt Nomad’s voice was not one of terror, but more of doubt and worry, “but I have no idea how close Markelo and Vancet are.” He let out a rolling hawhoo hawhoo sound and tilted his ear to the wind.

A nearby explosion was all the response they received, showering their half-shelter with flaming chunks of molten salt and glassy sand debris. The whistle-cracks of other explosive projectiles impacting all around their position meant it had zeroed in on them.

“We can’t wait for your friends,” Czheloi drew one of her weapons, but pointed her copper-crystal alloy hook toward the next ridge – away from the direction of their attacker. “Do we try and fight, or do we try and flee?”

“Oathpourer Larcenia says that running from what might be is only a way to reach something else without breath,” he cocked back his crossbow and superstitiously spat on the head of the bolt, “and sometimes we must trust in the wilds to know what must be asked of us.”

The glow of the approaching machine’s searchlights washed over the top of the dune, enveloping the two huddled warriors in the deepening shadow all around. In seconds the Onyx Ghost would be on top of them.

“If that’s the case, jzun pha,” Czheloi gathered the ruffles of her long dancer’s skirt in her fist and tied it into a fighter’s knot, “it’s time to see who is inside the metahn shell, yes?” Drawing her Taleni-style gladius, she let the edge glitter in the encroaching beam of spotlight. “On your mark.”

Taking in one last preparatory breath, they leapt out of their hiding place with gymnastic agility. Tanler’s light feet gracefully landed, years of practiced running on the salty flats showing in his gait. Behind him was the Taleni fighting-woman, sliding across the loose salt and sand with a flourish. The braided chain of her barbed hook shifted with her movements, mirroring her every twirl or step, only a half-second behind. Where the nomad’s each step was perfectly placed for efficient movement on the shifting, crusty ground, Czheloi’s feet scraped and slid, shuffled and ground with the fluidity of a ballroom dance. Both warriors were confident and steeled against whatever waited on the other side of the dune’s rise.

All the confidence they could muster would have never prepared them for what greeted their advance.

Thirteen feet of metal and anti-ballistic polymers, painted a strange matte black that seemed to drink up the ambient light washing back from its eyelike spotlights, was the Onyx Ghost. A recent manifestation of what was originally thought of as a Blood Cult legend; the walking war machine was all too real. Flickering across the surface of its metal hide was the graphic depiction of a howling apparition made of sickly green flames, painted with eerie phosphorescent tints that – combined with the blacker-than-black primary hull colors – made the monster seem alive. On its shoulders were several launch ports, already clacking new munitions into firing positions. Its arms had no hands, claws, or anything of the sort. Instead it had two long gun barrels revolving up to speed, internal coolant hissing and dripping off the ends like the drool of a starving hound.

It only took a second of the Onyx Ghost filling their eyes to pour the freezing water of fear across the furnace of the warriors’ fighting spirit.

“Secondary targets confirmed,” its grating, mechanical voice trembled out from a loudspeaker, “commence firing solutions.”

“Tan!” a friendly voice shouted from behind the Onyx Ghost, accompanied by the whunk! of a heavy arbalest bolt slamming into its shoulder, “What are you doing? Get down!” One of the fearsome Dishonored that lives within Tanler’s clan, Markelo had arrived and was already loading another inch-thick shaft of bone and fired clay into his oversized crossbow. “It already got Vancet! Get back to cover!”

“Primary target,” the Onyx Ghost rumbled, exhaust hissing from locomotive servos, “… reacquired.”

With a surprising amount of dexterity and flexibility, the robotic soldier locked one of its heavy legs and spun in place, bringing its arm-cannons to bear on Tanler and Czheloi’s reinforcement.

“No!” Tanler cried out, but his voice was lost to the roar of the burst of high-velocity fire.

A stream of superheated projectiles erupted from the weapon pods on the Onyx Ghost’s arms, raising twin lines of sand plumes into the air as the weapons traced to Markelo’s position. With sick mathematic precision the lines of fire intersected precisely upon where the Dishonored stood. His relatively lightly armored body burst like a rotten filomelon dropped from a height. The grey-brown salty sprays gave way to a cloud of gore, leaving little behind remotely recognizable as a Salt Flat Nomad, let alone as the Dishonored himself.
”Secondary targets,” the ghastly killer’s announcement ran shivers down the others’ spines, “reassessed to primary status. Acquiring firing solution…”

“We have got to go, Czheloi!” Tanler’s words were unnecessary, but he had to say something. He wasn’t about to let them waste their lives. The bolt from his crossbow pinged ineffectively off the machine’s hull. This was not a fight he wanted. “Get back to the aaargh!”

“Sorry, hombrel,” the Taleni mercenary dragged the crystal-alloy edge of her blade across the backs of both Tanler’s knees, clipping the tendons there like an abattoir butcher hobbling livestock. With no way to hold his own weight, the nomad folded backwards onto himself with a yowl of agony. Eyes as wide as saucers, he looked up at her – already twirling away. “Go to your gods knowing you saved at least one life today, yes? Mine!”

She sprinted away into the gloom of night, the salt and sand on the air wrapping around her like a cloak in just a few leaping strides.

“Devils have you, bitch,” Tanler groaned, straining to see the Onyx Ghost approaching. He craned his neck forward to look up into the glowing eyelike receptors on the machine. “I just hope you find her, too.”

Tanler could have sworn the sounds coming out of its speakers was, right before it began to fire, laughter…

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