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Johnnysaurus Rex

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Wagon wheels hitching and rattling. The sounds of voices making idle conversation and the efforts of the horses propelling the caravan along filled the air. Families, clergy, and merchants all made up this long chain of people traveling from Naruub into Aureus. The long road from Bastion to Harvest wasn't the most hazardous route in all of Myr, but it was still one that was best traveled in good company. Between the Avalaran military and hired adventurers, the monster population was fairly well contained. The issue that slipped through the cracks were bandits and highwaymen.

The caravan was a couple days into this four day journey and so far it was without incident. At least until Torfa of the Rust Company made his move. The dwarf observed the caravan traveling from afar with a spyglass and took stock of everything he saw. Definitely some trouble for the men and women who served under him, but orders from up the chain told him to take the caravan and Torfa liked getting paid.

"That them boss?" one of Torfa's bandits spoke up as their boss lowered the spy glass.

"Seems like," he grumbled. Torfa made some notes on a map in front of him before rolling it up and turning back to them, "Send a messenger up the line. Get archers put up at these points and gather our casters. We'll hit them when they stop to rest again."
 

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Ta and Oma both sat somewhat away from the other passengers in their wagon, though very close to each other, drawing some perplexed glances. Fortunately their Peacemaker badges discouraged most folks from interrupting them. While they spoke to no one unless directly addressed, the twins conversed with one another often.

Ta had laid out a clean beige cloth on his lap and had placed the pieces of his disassembled revolver on it as he cleaned each part of the weapon meticulously. Meanwhile Oma sat directly beside him reading a map of the region carefully. Their targets, the Black Jackals, had been spotted crossing the border into Aureus just a week and a half ago. It was a concerning move on the gang's part. The kobold bandits usually operated in Naruub exclusively, so this sudden migration raised questions. The twins knew their jurisdiction ended at the border, and feared their continued pursuit of the Jackals could cause an international incident. But they were far too close to their quarry to simply let them slip by. They had resolved themselves to simply go about their business quietly by moving with a civilian caravan. Hopefully they could capture the Jackals and return to Naruub without arousing the suspicion of local law enforcement.

"I still can't make any sense of it..." Oma mused aloud with a faint Naruubian drawl. "What business have the devils got in Harvest?"

"Nothing telling us Harvest is their final destination." Ta replied as he raised his revolver's cylinder to his mouth and gently blew the sand off of it. "Could just be a pit stop on the road..."

"To Avalar?" Oma wondered.

"Or Orkesh." Ta suggested.

"Sounds like they're planning another big heist." Oma said with a scowl. Ta nodded.

"We best hurry up and get the job done then."

"By 'job done' do we mean apprehend them? Or attempt to apprehend them?" Ta of course understood Oma's actual suggestion, and that gave him pause.

"We'll have to think about that part some more..." He said uncertainly. Oma nodded as he folded up the map and slipped it into his breast pocket.

"Thinking is fine, so long as we don't hesitate when the time comes." He replied ominously. Ta clicked the cylinder back into his revolver's frame.

"Naturally..." He agreed.

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Vulpes was in something of two minds. Of course, there was no way she wanted the caravan to be attacked. That would be terrible and not at all what a devout person would wish for. On the other hand...well, it was very, very boring just sitting and waiting for something to happen.

Vulpes was not long on patience. She'd been waiting her whole life for something and was beginning to think it would never materialise. Not that she would share her concerns with any of the others present. One day she was sure she would receive some divine inspiration - and maybe today was the day?

Sighing loudly, she fiddled with her sword and honed the edge for the fifth time today before polishing it with the white cassock she wore over her armour. Which was another reason to wish for a change of pace. Sitting all day in stuffy armour was no fun - and she had just developed an itch below her right shoulder blade that she knew she could never reach without disrobing. So she closed her eyes and focused on a passage from the holy book, reciting the lines in her head - albeit her lips moved from time to time - and hoping the scripture would prove sufficient distraction from the irritation.

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At the snap of the cylinder returning into position, Kestra opened one eye. She had been napping for the better half of the long journey, which was not unusual for the Caitsith, but the characteristic zip of the firearm's mechanism perked her attention. She had no familiarity with the Gemini twins, other than the occasional snippets she caught as they talked to themselves, mixed with the conversations of the other passengers.

Of course, they were talking about their Peacekeeper business, which Kestra frankly had little interest in. As long as their activities don't stop the caravan or keep her from traveling to Aureus, she did not really care what they were doing here. At least if trouble does arrive, there are plenty of people look capable in a fight in order to ward off any threat, especially the armored holywoman who was busying herself with... religious things. At least, the appearance of possibly capable armed defenders should ward off any threat.

She stretched and yawned, unintentionally drawing her claws as she settled into another napping position. She drew the glances of the other passengers, who gave her momentary looks of annoyance before returning to their own business.

Although well dressed, Kestra was not well packed for a long journey. She had planned to offer alchemic services in exchange for food along the way. What she did carry offered little apparent value to the others: a sword, a bottle of ink, and a book. Her match of appearance and belongings had generated rumors among the others: many of which she could hear as they talked among themselves in believed secrecy from her.

Is she actually an inquisitor? A noblewoman on the road? An assassin from the Theed College of Magic? The Caitsith found the wild speculations amusing to listen to, compared to the reality of a mage of informal background. The air of mystery was entertaining to watch.

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Johnnysaurus Rex

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The rest of the days travel was just about as eventful. Most members of the caravan growing more and more restless as the sun began to inch closer and closer to the horizon; hoping they'd stop just a little bit sooner so they could do something to relieve the boredom of travel. Most an expended their most interesting stories on the first day if they were lucky enough to have a traveling companion. Those who were forced to journey or drive a cart alone had only their resolve and resourcefulness to keep themselves from slipping into boredom induced apathy.

Finally, the lead wagon relented and pulled off to the side of a road into a clearing. Enough space to circle the wagons, but keep a view of the road. The caravan members began eagerly unpacking their amenities. Cooking utensils, recreational items, and bedding were spread out and in the make shift campsite. It didn't take long for the sounds of din and crackling fires to fill up the space.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Another smaller camp sat in the forests. Quieter and with an absence of mirth. Torfa and his gang readied their equipment for the night's raid on the caravan. The dwarf preferred a good longsword for these types of jobs. A lot more versatile than the chopping of an axe or thrusting of a spear. He also kept a small pistol at his belt. Not that he was particularly good with it, but it was much more manageable than trying to manage a bow and a lot more effective than chucking javelins. It could only fire a single shot and if it jammed he had no clue how to service it, but most jobs never required him to fire it at anything other than the sky.

Torfa looked to his second-in-command. The two sharing a nod as she began to assemble the dozen odd men they had. Reports from their archers said the caravan began settling down for the night and it was prime time to strike. He still didn't like it. Seldom did Rust Company send out orders to their individual cells. The organization itself was designed to be irregular as to not lead any trails to the guy at the top. Some guy who called himself "Asher". Apparently the thing they wanted was "coffin shaped" and that did not make the feeling in the pit of his stomach go away.

The dwarf made his way into the woods in the direction of the caravan. Whatever the thing was, he'd soon find out.

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As the caravan pulled off the road to make camp for the night the twins would waste no time in getting to work. While Oma set about pitching their tents and starting a fire, Ta would approach the caravan leader, rifle slung over his shoulder.

"I'm gonna see if I can't rustle up something fresh for supper." He said with a smile. "Just thought I ought to let you know. Don't go and start a panic when you hear gunshots." The Peacemaker would be quick to try and make his way into the forest after that, not particularly interested in any company. Little did he know he would be walking right into the approaching bandits on his current course.

Meanwhile Oma sat on a log a little ways away from the others, nursing the small fire he had created into something large enough to cook with. Through his mental link with his brother he would be able to continue conversing with him even as they separated, leaving the man with something of a vacant appearance and expression as he sat poking at the fire.

"The others are coming up with some interesting stories about that one woman, the Caitsith." He thought.

"Let's not waste our time with gossip." Ta replied with clear disinterest. "The lady seems harmless enough."

"Aside from the sword of course."
Oma commented.

"Some ladies carry swords."

"Like that paladin. What do you suppose her story is?"

"Nothing that concerns us I'm sure."
Ta came back with finality. Oma visibly sat back and rolled his eyes.

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Vulpes was doing what Vulpes usually did - keeping herself to herself. It was too easy to 'big up' her role - there were always plenty of god-fearing folk on caravans like this - but she knew it would be false. Yes, she was handy with a sword, but as far as divine inspiration went, she was sadly lacking in that department.

But even the most devout could recite the holy words for only so long - and finally Vulpes opened her eyes and in the same movement, stood and decided to go for a walk. Nothing special or elaborate, just a wander around the perimeter of the camp that was being set up. She would nod at anyone who looked to engage her, and offered a smile to anyone that seemed friendly - but she avoided small-talk and took the task of sentry duty diligently.

Once she'd made a full circuit, she reversed diction until she arrived back at her starting spot for the second time - when she finally relaxed and wondered if anyone would consider her jaunt worthy of a free meal. Left to her own devices, she would eat cold rations.

Apologies - I was waiting for my turn to post, not realising it was my turn to post

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With the caravan stopping for the night, Kestra's long nap had come to an end. She watched as the other caravaners gathered their things and pitched tents for the night. It was impossible not to notice that one of the wagons had some heavy cargo, requiring several well muscled travelers to lift them from the wagons. Kestra never saw them pop a crate open, or leave them unattended. Surely, they contained something of value, but the Caitsith never felt the need to pose the question.

While Kestra observed the others from her choice of perch, lounging on a stack of less-important crates, her attention was drawn to the holywoman making her round of the camp's perimeter. She watched as the armored paladin sat down, looking around as though in anticipation of someone to engage her. To which she obliged.

"Waiting for charity?" Kestra teased. Then her stomach growled, betraying her state.

"I mean, I could use some succor," the mage smiled sheepishly, keeping a hand close to her aching stomach. "Not had a bite since this morning."

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Johnnysaurus Rex

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Let me know if this pacing and style is working for everyone.

First thing you learned in a raid was to make the opening move hit as hard as possible and as fast as possible. From the trees the Rust Company were poised to do just that. Not often did groups like theirs have any sort of magical ability, but Torfa had been lucky enough to pick up a couple street rats that had lucked their way into the casting arts. They would be the opening salvo.

Nothing showy, if they had the skill to do any real damage they wouldn’t be slumming it with bandits. No, where their strengths lied was incapacitation and diversion. Typically that meant casting sleep spells that were good at catching most people unaware followed up by some illusions. Their image of choice usually was a pack of gremlins. Nobody usually second guessed one of those little bastards sprinting at you with their teeth gnashing and claws flailing.

Just as the Company got into position they waited for it to begin. Muttering under their breath the Rust casters began working their magic. Suddenly, some of the members of the caravan felt their legs get heavy. Their eyelids impossible to keep open. As they slumped over a few drew alarm from their companions. Some began shaking their now sleeping friends and family members while a few raced around looking for a cleric or doctor. That was until someone’s shout broke the night.

“GREMLINS!”

Immediately the camp was in a fervor as from the dark trees waist high monsters surged forth. Their red eyes glowing in the dark as they sprinted towards the vulnerable caravan. The trick was making them aggressive, but not successful. Any Gremlin illusion that came into contact with a physical object would pass right through it. They just needed enough time for people to be displaced and confused enough. Then the Rust Company would strike.
 

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Oma looked up from his fire as several members of the caravan suddenly started slumping over, drawing concern from the others. He scowled. Magic. Best double back to camp now. He thought to his brother. Something ain't right... He received no response but knew Ta had gotten the message and was on his way. That was when the shout of "GREMLINS!" came.

Red-eyed little monsters burst forth from the darkness, rushing the camp from all sides. With trained reflexes kicking in Oma stood and spun around with lightning speed, drawing a revolver and squeezing off a shot at one of the monsters. He hit it right between the eyes, or at least he would have had it not passed harmlessly right through. An illusion? Oma thought to himself, eyes widening in surprise. "It's a trick!" He shouted across the camp, trying to keep the civilians from panicking. "Never mind them they can't do nothing! Stay sharp!" Oma's eyes would immediately scan over their surroundings, looking for any sign of movement from the real attackers.

Meanwhile Ta rushed back towards the camp, rifle in hand. Getting a decent idea of what was going on from his link with his brother he didn't enter the camp itself however. Instead he hung back while the illusions attacked, searching the brush just like his brother. If he allowed who ever was attacking them to move in first, he'd be able to get the drop on them.

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Vulpes looked around slowly. She believed she was being addressed, but couldn’t be sure. Finally, deciding it must be her that was being spoken to, she frowned slightly, before a faint smile returned to her lips.

“The unfortunate need people who will be kind to them; the prosperous need people to be kind to.” It was clearly some quote from a holy book. By way of explanation, Vulpes continued. “I seek not charity, but others to be charitable towards. But if you mean would I partake of some nourishment if some were offered, then it would be uncharitable to refuse, surely?”

But before the conversation could continue – a commotion caught her attention. She scoured the camp and noticed two things immediately. Firstly, people were slumping over. Poison, or magic? Neither was a positive. And secondly came the cry of GREMLINS!

Vulpes drew her sword and was about to wade into the attacking horde when she heard a second shout. A trick? Was that – in itself a trick?

All this second-guessing was doing Vulpes no good and so she remained steadfast and waited to see if the rampaging gremlins were indeed just magic – and if so, who were the real enemy?
 

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The holywoman's response was so far beyond what Kestra was expecting that she was at a loss for words. "Uhh... That was not what I meant. If you don't have rations to spare, I won't pry."

"I guess I'll just sleep on an empty stomach tonight,"
she yawned and stretched.

She was feeling a little sleepy (which was not strange at all) and was ready to lie down to nap again when she was surprised by the scream.

"GREMLINS!"

Kestra slipped off her perch, planting her head on the ground with a yelp. Grumbling, she righted herself as a swarm of the critters seemed to storm the camp. Where were the guards? She hissed at the closest one, swiping at it with her claws. But she noticed that the gremlin didn't seem to react to her.

Drawing her blade, Kestra swung at the closest one. No resistance.

"Magic," she said plainly, confirming the paladin's suspicions as she swung at subsequent images. "By whom?"

Kestra glanced at her own rapier's edge. She had no runes prepared for the occasion.

"If you allow me, I can prepare some magic of my own before our assailants reveal themselves," she said to the holywoman.

With a moment's reprieve, Kestra could draw one or two quick runes, but otherwise she would be a simple swordswoman.

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Gunshot? Torfa was hoping these travelers wouldn’t be that well armed, but he was pleased to see the “gremlins” were doing their job. Guess it was about time. He grabbed his second in command by the shoulder and directed her towards the wagon they had observed something large being handled as cargo. Best place to start.

The dwarf’s eyes scanned the camp one last time before he noticed a few who seemed to have their wits about them. A human and a caitsith? Guess they were first. Torfa drew his longsword and turned to his company and shouted, “LET’S GIVE IT TO THEM, RUST!”

The Company broke into two groups. Torfa led six of his bandits straight towards the two he identified as a threat earlier. They seemed to be geared up and he was prepared for a fight. As they closed the gap he drew his pistol and took a shot at the caitsith. Obvious target since the human seemed armored up.

The Rust Company archers started nocking arrows as the casters let up their illusion and withdrew. They wouldn’t fire into the frey, but if anyone else showed up they’d begin firing.

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"Circle up and stick together!" Oma shouted to the civilians as he drew his other pistol and backed towards the center of the camp. He had no real authority here, but he hoped as a Peacemaker he'd be able to lend some courage to the untrained and prevent a total panic. With no idea how numerous their opponents were his primary concern was to ensure as many people survived this attack as possible. If some of their things were stolen? Unfortunate but he was fairly sure they'd be content to walk away with their lives. So long as they stayed in a group and covered each other the bandits would hopefully just nab their supplies and run rather then attack the caravan members directly.

Seeing the six bandits rush the paladin and the Caitsith Oma focused his fire in that direction, raising each of his revolvers and firing in quick succession, each shot aimed at the upper torso of their assailants. Meanwhile Ta watched the battle commence from the shadows. Looking up he spotted the archers moving into the trees. It seemed they hadn't noticed him yet. With everyone's attention on the camp he decided to make a surprise attack of his own. Slowly raising his rifle and taking aim the Gemini fired, aiming a shot directly at the head of one of the archers. If he succeeded in downing his mark he would immediately pull the lever on his rifle and let the shell fly free before quickly adjusting his aim to the next archer and firing again.

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Vulpes focused her eyes on the gremlins and her ears on the magic user nearby. “I’ll cover you whilst you do whatever you need to do,” she responded. “Just because some of these critters are magical, doesn’t mean they all are.Not that she could be sure either way, but she had learned the hard way to be pragmatic at all times.

Brandishing her sword, she kept her eye out for any of the creatures that avoided her, for the magical variety seemed to ignore them and were simply created to create the illusion of running amok.

A gunshot definitely sharpened her thought process. Gremlins and firearms did not seem a likely mix and so perhaps now they were about to face their real foe. And then she spotted them, half a dozen or so bandits heading their way. And by their way she really meant they were heading straight for her and her caitsith companion.

“Prepare for some real fighting now,” she said, “And whatever you were in the middle of preparing, I’d either hurry up or put off for now – I’ll do my best to hold them up for as long as I can.”

The one that she surmised fired the shot seemed to be leading, so she moved laterally to ensure she was directly in his line of sight. Often, bandits were little more than a pack animal and if their alpha leader was taken down a peg or two, they would disband readily. So, she took up a defiant pose, her chin leading the way and she held her sword with two hands in front of her, pointing towards the oncoming group.

“One leak will sink a ship, and one sin will destroy a sinner,” she called out loud to the troupe. “Turn back now whilst your soul is still intact, less your body is torn asunder.”

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At the paladin's promise, Kestra knelt down and procured her bottle of ink. Drawing a quick rune of fire was easy to do in the heat of the moment, but Kestra felt that it would make sense to have more options available. But the crack and whiz of a bullet nearly hitting her broke her concentration, leaving the second rune, well, ruined.

Hissing a quiet curse to herself, Kestra flourished her rapier as the holywoman shouted a warning to the approaching bandits. "Pardon me, Sister, but their chance to flee has been spent the moment they revealed themselves."

Kestra stepped forward, pointing her sword at the charging dwarves. More shots were ringing out, but the absence of hissing bullets hinted that the shots were not meant for them. Without a hint as to the source of the shot that was aimed at her, Kestra simply opted to point her blade at the thickest grouping of the six to seven dwarves.

"Ifrit!" she commanded.

The rune glowed in response, cascading through the finely edged linings of her blade and formulating a great fireball that barrowed down into the approaching pack. It was guaranteed to explode on impact, but it was anyone's guess how prepared these dwarves were for magic.

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Two of Torfa’s men crumbled as well placed pistol fire took them out. The dwarf was too focused to care. That’s what the archers got paid to do. Instead his sights were set on the armored woman who issued a challenge to him. If there was anything he enjoyed about the job it was a good fight.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Torfa’s second, Juri, was able to advance largely unabated. Some of the caravan members had risen to fight them after someone shouted for them to band together, but they weren’t combatants. Juri and her group made quick work of them before arriving at a kart. Two of her men jumped in the back and began uncovering their quarry.

“No way we’re walking this one out of here, ma’am,” one of them said.

Juri looked to the horses still hitched to the cart. They were spooked, but that probably made getting them to go that much easier, “Don’t have to!”

Juri jumped into the driver’s seat and took the reins giving them a couple good whips and the horses began taking a few steps forward.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

The archers began to turn towards the direction of the pistol shots and loosed arrows. Before one could release his missile he went slack and fell from the tree as a bullet raced through his head. Instinctively, the archer closest to him snap fired another arrow at the new attacker, but wasn’t able to get a follow up shot as he met a similar fate. The remaining three archers dropped from their spots. Using the trees for cover they began to move towards the spot the second shooter was assumed to be.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Torfa gripped his longsword, a smile across his face as he yelled once again. He began to close the distance between himself and his target when suddenly the area around him erupted into flames. Blinded for a second he kept rushing forward and emerged from the blaze. Beard singed, Torfa launched himself towards the human woman to begin their fight. Two more of his men had fallen to the flames. The last surviving one, an orc, rushed towards the caster with his buckler and shortsword.

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Things were quickly getting out of hand as Oma noticed more bandits rushing into the camp from the other direction. The civilians moved to defend their property and Oma started to turn to assist them before his brother sent him a mental image of archers in trees. The Gemini ducked as an arrow barely missed him and moved to take cover behind some boxes.

Ta's reflexes weren't as quick. The snap shot from one of the archers hit his arm. He grit his teeth and ignored the pain, putting a bullet through the archer's head for his trouble. He then paused to pull the missile from his arm, grunting in displeasure as he did so. Looking back up again he saw the remaining archers starting to climb down to come after him. He growled and started to back up to maintain distance, firing on the archers as he did so. If they returned fire, he would take cover behind one of the trees.

Sensing the archers were now focused on his brother and not him Oma emerged from his hiding spot. A quick survey of the camp showed the ladies seemed to have things handled on their end. The Peacemaker's first instinct was to move to assist his brother, but the cries of the caravan members being slain demanded his attention. Seeing the second group of bandits trying to flee with a cart he jumped into action. Holstering his revolvers he ran to grab his rifle and took aim. Firing off a shot to blast through one of the cart's wheels and bring the whole thing tumbling over. Oma smirked and levered his rifle to let the empty shell fly free as he stalked towards the cart.

"Where do you think you're going?" He shouted to the bandits. "Party's right here!" He would then take aim, prepared to fire at the first thing he saw emerging from the cart.

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If there was anything about her vocation that Vulpes enjoyed – a good fight would be well down the list, if not at the bottom. She perceived combat as something of a failure, albeit a necessary aspect of her role in upholding the law, but more importantly the moral fibre of the folks she swore to protect.

So, she sighed somewhat resignedly when none of the marauders took heed at her words. But, on the other hand, she had a clear conscience that she’d given them every opportunity to turn back – but had chosen not to.

She decided to wait for the one she supposed was something of a leader to come to her. So, she planted her feet, the left slightly in front of the right, and drew her sword. He would have the advantage of the heavier sword, but she had speed on her side and would look to parry and counter as this was her preferred tactic.

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The smell of burnt flesh assailed her before the orc could. Kestra wrinkled her nose at the scent as the sword-and-buckler brigand engaged her. She held her posture loosely, with rapier in a low ready stance while plugging her nose with the other. Kestra jabbed at the orc as he closed distance, hoping that he would skewer himself on entry, but the orc swatted her blade aside with the buckler while following up with a rather scary swipe with his shortsword. Kestra sidestepped it quickly, hopping back to reset the duel.

"Must be quite the reward to risk life and limb for," Kestra said to the orc offhandedly. "May we come to an arrangement?"

It is quite probable that the orc is the more competent of the two when it came to locking weapons. Her rune of flames would be the difference, if the mage could hit her target at such close proximity. The caitsith pointed her rapier at the orc, like last time, steadying her aim in anticipation of the much larger and stronger orc descending upon her once more. She wet her lips, ready to command her rune at the moment of the orc's charge.

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