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Posted: Sun Oct 16, 2005 4:52 pm
by Commissar D, the Evil
Tom, you're a natural at this. Take your time my friend, I like the rich texture of this story and it doesn't seem rushed or hurried.

Work at you own pace but, be warned, you already have us hooked!


Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:06 am
by Tom Houlihan
As it turned out, Beppo was the first to spot the riders approaching. They were moving rather slowly. Through the binoculars, Tom could see that there were perhaps a dozen horsemen, with a small horse-drawn cart behind them. Sam turned the car towards them.

“Alright, lads, be ready. There’s no knowing who or what they are. Weapons handy, safeties off. Shadow, make sure the gun is ready.”
“Feeling threatened by the cart?” Tom merely rolled his eyes.

As they drew closer, Tom could begin to make out detail. It didn’t make any sense. Horsemen he understood, since even the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS used cavalry. The Kuban and Don Cossacks even carried swords. But these wore armor, and bore spears! When they were about fifty meters away, he had Sam come to a stop. “But keep the engine running, and Frodo, you be prepared to get us out of here backwards!”
The lead rider began to approach the car, with the others fanning out around them. Tom, Shadow, and Beppo all swiveled their eyeballs as they beheld this odd sight. For all the riders were female, and beautiful they were!

“Sarmatian, I would think,” said Shadow. “Note the lack of the right breast, reminiscent of the alleged link to the Amazons. I’d wager that those tan things hanging from the reins are scalps. The Scythians would scrape them clean, and use them for napkins. The more napkins, the better the warrior.”
“Where do you learn all this tripe?”
“Ah, Tom, who else spends more time than you with his nose buried in books? See the gold? I’ll wager it’s all real, another connection to the Scythians. They’ve been in this region since about the 4th Century B.C., give or take a century.”
“Aye, but what century are we in now? Sam, are you getting anything from this?”
“Not a bit. What’s your Sérkatoray say?”
“Oh, damn!” Tom pulled out the little disk, and held to his eyes. Red! “Stand by for heavy rolls, boys!”

As he spoke, the leader jumped from her horse to the deck in front of the turret. Her face had an ethereal beauty that was unlike anything Tom had ever seen before. Her black hair hung down, glistening, the colors of the reflected light roiling about the tresses. Her eyes seemed to almost literally drink him in. Her arms came up as she leaned into him. As his arms lifted to meet her, almost of their own volition, his lips parted to meet hers. Her eyes clouded over, then melted away. The skin began to peel away, and he was millimeters from kissing a grinning skull!

“FIRE!” As he screamed, he grabbed the wraith by her hair, and smashed her face into the edge of his hatch. The skull shattered with a crash, dust and shards scattering about. He screamed again as the dust lit on his hands and face. It burned. “FIRE! SHOOT THEM!”

The sound was deafening. Where moments before the only sound was the soft clop of the horses’ unshod hooves, now machine pistols stuttered, the coax MG barked out. Through his squinted eyes, Tom could see that none of the horsemen, er, horsewomen were falling, despite the fusillade of fire. He could see the impacts on their torsos, but…

“Aim for their heads! Their heads are vulnerable!”

Now he saw horses begin to fall, so they were vulnerable as well. The bullets were not killing them, but it looked as though a hit would keep them from moving forward. Then one got close. Raising her arm up high, she brought her sword down, slicing through the superstructure.
Sam caught movement, and looked through the visor just as a sword came scything through. It knocked off the visors, and almost took off his arm. He pulled his pistol, and fired blindly.

Up top, Tom saw the sword-woman’s head explode, and she fell. Movement drew his attention, and he saw the cart begin to turn away. Sadly for the driver, it moved directly in front of the main gun. The Shadow hit the trigger, and the 50mm AP shell tore through the driver, then through the poor horse, splitting him almost in two laterally. Another round, and another horse and rider exploded.

Tom was almost swooning with pain as a new warrior charged into his line of vision, sword upraised. He jerked the trigger of his MP40. The rounds cut into her legs, knocking her to the ground. Another burst hit her in the sternum, throat, and nose, literally blowing her skull into dust. Quickly he jammed another magazine into the weapon as he tried to spin in the hatch. As quickly as it had started, all sound stopped, deafening in its own right. Nothing moved, except our intrepid crews’ eyeballs.

“Anyone hurt?” yelled the Shadow. He heard Tom groan, and as he turned, saw him slumping down into the turret. He dropped down and grabbed his commander before he did any more damage to himself. He looked up as Sam scrambled from the front seat. “He’s all blistered! I can’t find any blood, but it’s as if he’s on fire!”

Sam reached back behind him, and pulled out a small canvas sack. He pulled a canteen down from its hook, and ripped the cup off the top. Tipping the sack up, he poured a measure of the contents, dust, into the cup. He then dumped a bit of water in the cup, and using a pencil from Tom’s map case, mixed it into a paste. Gently, he began to spread it on Tom’s face and neck. “Get his wrap and shirt off, quick.”

Shadow stripped him to the waist, and gently laid him on the floorplate. Frodo rolled up his Panzer wrap, and put it under his head. Sam continued to spread the paste, as new blisters formed on Tom’s skin. “Jest like wimmen,” Sam muttered. “All beautiful when you meet them, but let ‘em git under yer skin, and ye get burned every time!”

The Shadow chuckled. “Sure and a romantic you ain’t, Sam. Frodo, get in one of the driver’s seats, and stand by to move as soon as we get him stable. Just watch out for the bigger bumps.”

Sam leaned over and whispered in Tom’s ear. Shadow couldn’t make out the words, but he thought that the language sounded Celtic. He realized that there was even more to Sam than he had previously realized. As he watched, Sam sat back up. He was just able to make out a whispered plea, “Stay with us, Lad. Don’t go visiting Tech Duinn just yet.” Sam saw Shadow staring at him. “Tech Duinn is the House of Donn, the Lord of the Dead. He can’t go there yet…”

Meanwhile, outside the car, Beppo had been keeping a lone watch. He could only look on in amazement as the corpses of both (wo)man and beast dissipated in the breeze. It was as if six centuries of decay were catching up in just seconds. All that was left were the cart, some tack from the horses, and twelve little piles of golden armor. Golden or gold? Taking a quick look around the horizon and seeing naught, he walked over to a set of armor laying in the grass. He reached down and picked up a breastplate. He had heard Shadow’s comment about the lack of a right breast, but only now did it have any significance.

The piece he held in his hand appeared to be real gold, finely hammered to shape. Looking at other pieces, it was obvious that each piece was made to fit the wearer. He noticed that the recesses for the left breasts were all different sizes. “They must have been something when they were originally alive,” he muttered.

“Not really.”

Beppo jumped at the sound of the voice, and spun around, pulling his pistol as he dropped to his knee. Instinctively, he fired off one round, which hit the intruder square in the chest.

“Hold, Human! Your weapon will not harm me. Had I wanted to hurt you, already would you lie dead.”

Beppo said nothing as Sam and Frodo leaped from the car. The Shadow exposed only enough of his upper torso from the turret to properly aim his MP40. Only then did Beppo realize that there were not one, but a small crowd of intruders standing what was until seconds ago, behind him.
Beppo looked from Sam to the newcomers and back. There were definite similarities, but they were distinctly different. The newcomers’ cheekbones were higher, their eyes a little narrower. Their faces were wider, too. There was not a green stitch of clothing to be seen. There was nothing bright about their clothing at all. Almost all was earth-tone, though he spotted a flash of dark blue. He never knew there were so many varying shades of brown.

Sam approached the leader, and put out his hand. Without hesitation, he grabbed Sam’s arm by the elbow. They stared at each other, grasping arms. Though there had been no hostility, Beppo could see looks of understanding, compassion, and concern pass across each of the faces. Sam stepped back, and simply stated, “Cousins.”

Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 8:14 am
by AAA
Latvian leprechauns? No real equivalent in our folklore.

I guess we have the wrong kinds of mushrooms growing here (can it possibly be an coincidence that the Irish associate the wee folk with fairy rings and magic mushrooms? Mhmmm. I think not.) :D :D

Posted: Mon Oct 17, 2005 8:14 pm
by Tom Houlihan
AAA wrote:Latvian leprechauns? No real equivalent in our folklore.

I guess we have the wrong kinds of mushrooms growing here (can it possibly be an coincidence that the Irish associate the wee folk with fairy rings and magic mushrooms? Mhmmm. I think not.) :D :D
Never thought of that! Interesting connection!

Now, if we find a still, with a fairy ring around it, and mushrooms all around, we're good to go! :wink:

Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 12:53 am
by Prit
Great stuff, Tom!

Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 6:10 am
by Tom Houlihan
Faerie Emergency Magick Assistance (FEMA)

Within an hour, an encampment was erected, and Tom was in the hands of a healer more skilled and better equipped than Sam. He still hadn’t regained consciousness, but the healer was sure he would survive. The others were each taken to separate tents and given the chance to bathe and rest. When they awoke, their clothing had somehow been cleaned, and they were brought together again for a meal.

“Sam, they haven’t spoken a word, yet you and Frodo seem to know what is going on. Can you clue me in?” asked the Shadow.
“Well, it’s like telepathy, sort of, but it takes physical contact. It won’t work with you, because you aren’t of the blood. Only Frodo and I can communicate with them, though I’m starting to think Tom could if he were awake.”
“Have you seen him since they took him away?”
“Aye, he’s looking a little better. The blisters are almost gone, but the burns are still there. What’s that clanging sound?” The two of them stood, and left the dinner tent. Beppo and Frodo stayed behind, going at the table like they couldn’t be sated.

Behind the encampment, they found two of the “cousins” had set up a smithy of sorts. Hammers in hand, they were pounding on the remaining pieces of the Scythian armor. Only a few small pieces remained. There were a breastplate, some greaves, and two swords left. Everything else had been beaten into small cubes, which lay in a pile off to the side. Shadow picked up a sword, and the “smithy” gestured that he could keep it. It wasn’t his weapon of choice, but it least it felt somewhat comfortable in his hand.

Shadow noticed the cart that he had immobilized, and walked over to see what was in it. He and Sam poked through it, finding some foodstuffs that didn’t look overly appetizing, as well as some personal items. As they were mostly gender specific, he didn’t bother with them. Under a blanket, though, was a long wooden box. Pulling it out, he found that it was smoothly finished, and finely crafted. The joint where lid met bottom was barely noticeable. The hasp and hinges were of gold, and also very nicely made. There was lettering, inlaid in gold, across the top.

“What’s it say,” asked Sam?
“I’m not sure,” Shadow replied. “I’m pretty sure it’s Greek, but I can’t quite figure it out. Something about ‘killer,’ ‘destroyer,’ something along those lines.” If Sam had any comment about Shadow’s store of knowledge, he kept it to himself.

Opening the box, they found it contained a spear, and a spear thrower much like an atlatl. The spear seemed rather nondescript, and Shadow wondered why in was so carefully stored. The haft was smooth, but plain. The leaf shaped head appeared to be merely beaten iron, lusterless in the sunlight. Obviously, it had a value beyond his ken. Since the smithy seemed to have ignored the “spoils,” he took the initiative to help himself to the box. He took it back over to the car, and strapped it onto Beppo’s old seat.

After stowing the spear, Shadow ambled over to the tent where Tom still lay unconscious. He could see that his burns were not as angry looking as before. Next to the pallet he lay on, his clothes were stacked neatly, with his personal items on top of the pile. Noticing the
Sérkatoray at the top of the pile, Shadow picked it up, and held it to his eye. Nothing happened. He stepped outside the tent, ignoring the glare of the guard standing over Tom. Again he held the device up to his eye, and again, nothing happened.

“Lovely,” he muttered. “A magic compass, and the only one who can operate it is in a coma.” Stepping back inside, he replaced the device on the pile of clothes. Another look at his ‘fearless leader,’ and he left.

In the morning, the crew was surprised to see that Tom was awake. He wasn’t fully functional, but he was able to sit up and eat. Sam filled him in on what had happened, and asked what was next.

“Well, there isn’t much choice. We have to go on.”
“But Tom, no offense, you’re almost useless.”
“I know, but what else can we do? As much as I like the treatment we’re getting, we can’t afford to sit here. Damned if I know what it is, but we’ve a mission to accomplish. Maybe if we finish whatever it is, we’ll find out what it was!”

So, after another simple but filling meal, the crew packed up their belongings, and mounted up. No one was more surprised than Tom when the leader of the locals came up and clasped his arm. Thoughts flashed through his head, like scenes in the cinema. Somehow, he understood which scenes were from the past, and which were things he was to expect in the immediate future. He knew, somehow, that whatever means of telepathy Sam had used was now available to him. He was reading the other “man’s” thoughts, which meant his own were being read as well. He didn’t know whether to feel honored or violated. Hopefully, the ‘reading’ didn’t go too deep, or he’d end up being embarrassed as well.

His crew helped him up into his hatch, but only after vigorous protests. He insisted, based on the newly discovered fact that only he could make the Sérkatoray function, which in his eyes meant that he had to be up in the turret. He didn’t mention that it would still work down inside the car, but he just didn’t like riding down there.

Waving to their hosts, they moved slowly out of the encampment. Shadow gazed back at the rear fender, still pondering the writing on the spear box. Sam noticed that one of the smithies had made repairs to his compartment, repairing the damage done by the Amazon swordswoman. It wasn’t to factory specs, but it would keep the rain out.

Posted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 5:39 pm
by Tom Houlihan
Tom had Sam drive until the encampment was just out of sight before he pulled out the Sérkatoray. There was no color showing yet, so they just continued on. It wasn’t long before time lost any meaning it had regained over the past few days. Sam and Frodo each took turns at the front steering wheel. Tom drifted in and out of sleep, still not quite himself. In response to his gunner’s query, he admitted that it was still rather painful, but getting bearable. He had been given a small flask, and every so often he’d take a small draft. Of them all, only Shadow seemed to be able to maintain a steady state of wakefulness. Of course, eventually, even he lost track of the passage of time.

Eventually, there was a shadow (a physical one, not our Hero’s sibling) on the horizon. Tom pulled out the Sérkatoray. A bright cobalt blue light shone from the bezel. “Sam, head thataway. Whatever it is, it appears safe.” Sam made the course change, and Tom pulled out his binoculars. It didn’t take long before the effort of trying to keep a distant image centered in the lenses combined with his already weak state to make him feel almost sea-sick. He handed the glasses to his gunner, and leaned back against the cupola. Glancing down, his stomach did another flip.
“Shadow, do you see anything yet?”
“Nope, just a bunch of trees, deciduous mostly.”
Tom rolled his eyes at that one, but didn’t bother to comment. “That’s all, just trees?”
“Yeah, why?”
"Well, this thing is mostly glowing blue, but I’ve caught a couple of flashes of red. Beppo, can you see anything?” From the rear of the turret came a plaintive “No.”

A few minutes later, after scanning the horizon, Shadow’s gaze fell back across the wood to their front. It was still about half a kilometer away. It seemed small, covering only a kilometer or two of the horizon in front of them. What bothered him, though, was what he saw moving around the left end of the trees. He lowered the glasses, and wiped his eyes. The glasses went back up to his eyes. “@#%.”

“What’s wrong?” Tom saw that the Sérkatoray was starting to show red. “What is it? What do you see? Sam, slow up a little.”
“Boss, you’re not going to believe this. Take a look.” He handed the glasses back to Tom.
“Oh, my God. You’re right, I don’t believe this. Am I seeing what you saw?”
“Large, scaly, ugly?”
“Damn, I was hoping it was the medication. Why don’t you slide down behind your optics, there, and make sure your muzzle stays looking at him. I’m reading a distinct lack of friendliness here.”
“Zu Befehl, Herr Oberscharführer!”
“Oh, shut up and get ready to fire!”

As they slowly drew closer to the wood, Beppo pulled himself up to see what they had been discussing. “In for a Mark, my ass,” he thought, as he caught site of their new nemesis. This was just way too much. “Hey, Tom! The next time I even think about stowing away, or even eavesdropping, I want you to kick my ass!!”
Tom chuckled. “If this is what happens when we bring you on a picnic, I’m gonna kick your ass just for general principles, Leutnant!”

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:58 am
by Tom Houlihan
For ahead in the distance, to Beppo’s surprise, (not to mention the rest of them) was a large reptile. It looked almost like a snake with a beer-belly, but it wasn’t a snake. It had arms, and legs, but they looked almost atrophied, or maybe even vestigial. About a third of the length of what would have been the spine displayed a row of short fin-like appendages. Its body was a greenish-gray color on top, lighter gray on the bottom. The fins along the top were a dark, olive green.

They continued to close on the wood, as the lizard slowly undulated towards them. Even in low gear they were moving faster than it was, so that was a good sign. Even so, they were several hundred meters short of the wood when the lizard reared up. It was hard to tell which of our lads was more surprised when the beast spoke.

“None shall pass.”
“Ho, there, Great Lizard!” yelled Tom. “We must enter the Wood.”
“None shall pass.”
“Now, Lizard, we have no argument with you. Were you to stand aside, all would be well with us!”
“None shall pass.”
“Now, see here!”
Sam called out, “Wait, Tom. Frodo, you’re with me. Beppo, if you’d be so kind as to take the wheel?”

Sam and Frodo jumped out, each with a Panzerfaust. Tom wasn’t sure where they had been hidden, but this probably wasn’t the time to argue. He was a little surprised, though, when Sam reached back and pulled out one of the Sarmatian swords. He was even more surprised when he reached back, and came out with two helmets. The two leprechauns buckled on their Stahlhelms, and set off. The three tall men watched as the two not-so-tall men strolled up to the lizard like they were at the zoo. Beppo sat making sure he could move the Puma as fast as he thought they were going to need it. Shadow merely sat with his eye glued to his sight, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, humming a strange tune.

Sam and Frodo approached the lizard, maintaining adequate dispersion. When they were about twenty meters away, they halted.
“Greetings, O large one! I am Sam Kimchee, from County Cork. My Master, the Houlihan from County Clare, has great need of going into yon Wood. Would you please allow us passage?”

The lizard turned its head, so it could eye our two intrepid wee folk. In a voice loud enough to be heard back at the vehicle, it spoke.
“I am Skînarth Ûlnach, and I am the 152nd in my line. None of my mothers before me have allowed entry into this Wood, though many have tried. Again I say to you, none shall pass.”

In the driver’s seat, Beppo started to chuckle, then guffawed. When Tom asked him what was so funny, he asked, “What are that things initials?”
“Skînarth Ûlnach? Well, S.U.,” replied Tom.
“And she’s the 152nd in her line?”
“That what she said. What the hell are you getting at?”
“Well, that’s the first SU-152 I’ve seen with no treads!” And he broke out laughing again.
“Jayzus,” Tom replied, but he couldn’t help laughing, either. He even though he heard the Shadow chuckling as well.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:59 am
by Tom Houlihan
Sam drew his sword, but kept it down by his side. That wasn’t an easy task, considering his size, and its length, but he tried.
Quietly, he told Frodo to “get that tube ready.” To the lizard, “Great One, My Master has urgent business in the Wood, and it is imperative he be allowed entry.”
“None shall pass.”
Dropping to his knee, Frodo shouldered the Panzerfaust. He took aim at where he thought the breastbone would be, and let fire. The projectile flew through the air, striking mere inches from the point of aim. When the explosion cleared, nothing had happened. Sam raised his sword, and charged. Ducking under her head, and easily avoiding the vestigial arms, he jammed the sword into her belly. With a mighty roar, the lizard turned its head, opened its mouth, and let fly a jet of flame that completely covered the two wee folk.
“Sam! Shadow, fire!”
The Shadow pressed the trigger, the round flew away. Flying true, it struck the lizard in the throat, and bounced off. The lizard turned towards the car, its mouth opening again. A cloud blew out of its throat, swiftly reaching the car and enveloping it. Noxious it was, to the point where Tom could barely blurt out a command to secure the hatches. As he dropped inside the turret, he could see the yellowish cloud seeping in through vision slits. “Beppo,” he coughed, “back up!” But, Beppo could not comply. He was retching too hard.
“What happened? Is she firing blanks?” coughed the Shadow?
“Nah. Misfire,” gagged Tom.
Just then, Skînarth Ûlnach belched again. In addition to the new jet of flame, the cloud also flared up, unwittingly catching the Heroes in the world’s first fuel-air bomb. Fortunately, it was pre-experimental, so it wasn’t quite as devastating as it could have been. Still, clothing was scorched and burnt. The paint on the car was virtually gone. Tom couldn’t tell what other more serious damage had been caused. “Shadow, Beppo… Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Boss.”
“I think so.”
“Beppo, get this thing moving!”
“I’m trying, but it won’t start!”
“Keep trying! Shadow, fire again!”
And he did, but to no avail. Again, the round bounced off, though this time it did knock off a scale. A third time he fired, then a fourth, but he might as well have been throwing snowballs. Tom stood back up in the hatch, and saw that Frodo and Sam were moving. They were alive! They were crawling, trying to get away from the lizard.
“Beppo, let’s go get them!”
“Sam and Frodo! They’re alive!”
He climbed out of the turret, and jumped to the ground. Recovering, he sprinted towards his friends. He could hear Beppo stumbling along just behind him. He got to Sam, and grabbed him under the arms. Looking around, he saw Beppo throw Frodo over his shoulder. They took off, heading each in a different direction.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 3:59 am
by Tom Houlihan
Suddenly, a smile lit up the Shadow’s face. He threw his head back, and yelled “That’s it! It’s Dragon Slayer!” Out of the turret he flew out of the turret faster than he ever had before. Recovering from the jump, he went to the rear of the Puma, and unstrapped the bundle there. Opening the fine wooden box, he grabbed the spear, and ran towards the lizard. He carefully noted that the others were headed away from him. Circling around, he ran as fast as he could towards the lizard. He hoped that the thing wouldn’t notice him.
As he drew nigh, the lizard squirmed, trying to get a better shot at the fleeing targets. Not believing his luck, Shadow saw what passed for a rectal orifice facing upwards. Sprinting the final yards, he raised the spear over his head, and jammed it into the hole.
Immediately, the beast began flailing, as sulphurous smoke began pouring out of the hole. Pulling the spear out, Shadow stabbed her again, and again. Each time, more smoke poured out of the gashes he rent. As he watched, her skin began to buckle and peel. As if she were afire inside, more holes appeared, and flames joined the smoke pouring out. Roars filled the air, beating at their eardrums as the beast screamed in pain.
Tom set Sam down, and turned back to the dying beast. He could see another Panzerfaust lying in the grass where Frodo had dropped it. Without thinking, he ran for the missile. Scooping it up as he ran, he stopped only a few feet from the beast’s head. “Skînarth Ûlnach!” He cried. As the beast turned its head towards him, he yelled out, “Hey, S.U.! F.U.!” As she made a desperate attempt to turn her fiery breath on him, he fired. The Granate flew between her front teeth, right down her gaping maw. He threw himself to the ground, belatedly wishing he had enough of Sam’s foresight to have grabbed a helmet.
The initial explosion was muffled, and the Lads could barely hear it. The secondary explosion, though, could be heard for miles. Whatever manner of chemical it was that allowed the beast to breathe fire reacted rather nicely with the Panzerfaust projectile. The explosion blew her body literally into tiny pieces that flew in all directions. Even Sam, Frodo, and Beppo, the farthest from the blast, were bounced around like peas on a drumhead. Tom felt as if he had just been repeatedly clubbed by hyperactive Trolls, but that was another story.
When he was able to breathe normally again, and lift his head, he looked around. All that remained of the lizard was smoking pieces of meat strewn about the area. He turned, and saw The Shadow lying in the grass. As a feeling of horror passed through him, he pushed himself up, then stood. Shakily, he began moving towards his gunner and friend. As Shadow rolled over, he could barely stand the sense of relief. When he had helped him to his feet, they held each other up as they stumbled to the rest of the crew.
When they got there, they found the three of them laying on the ground laughing. “By all that’s holy, what in the hell are you three eejits laughing at?” Tom yelled.
Beppo was the only one that tried to speak. “I told them about SU the 152nd! Then… the… Shadow…” He had to stop to breath. “Just like…a real… SU…. Hit ‘er… in the arse…
where the armor’s….weakest!” Again, he fell into paroxysms of laughter. Tom and The Shadow looked at each other, and they too began to laugh. Though it wasn’t all that funny, the relief at finding each of the others still alive was almost unbearable. Each of them should have died at least once today, yet they sat here together, laughing at nothing. Life was good.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 4:00 am
by Tom Houlihan
When they were finally able to control their mirth, they all went back to the Puma. Water, tobacco, and more water were all on that they had on their minds. As they stood there eyeing the car, Tom eyed his crew. Not one of them would need to see a barber any time soon. None of them had much hair left, thanks to S.U. All of them were suffering from at least minor burns to any exposed skin. The burns should have been worse, but since they didn’t have a Sani, he wasn’t going to complain.
He thought that it was a good thing they had a real Heer Leutnant with them. He respected both Rosselsprung and Nibelung, but he knew if either of them saw what was left of the crew’s uniforms, they’d blow a gasket. Beppo looked just as bad as the SS men, so Tom figured he’d run interference for them. He smiled, though, as he looked at his men. All of their Panzer wraps and trousers deserved to be thrown on a pyre. They were torn, burnt, and stained with the blood of their most recent foe. Actually, there were still a few pieces of meat stuck here and there.
The Puma hadn’t fared much better. Almost all the Kelly Green paint had been burnt off.
The regulation yellow paint was visible in some spots, and primer in others. In a few places, the paint had been completely burned off, exposing metal. All of the external gear, every bit of it, was destroyed. Well, except for the jack.

Tom wanted to know how Sam and Frodo had lived through the flames.
“Well, I’m thinking,” said Sam, “that these undershirts they gave us were a little more than just undershirts.”
“Aye,” said Frodo. “When that big bitch tried to torch us, I knew I was a goner. I just ducked my head, and hoped that I’d go before I felt too much pain. Burnin’s such a lousy way to die.”
“When the fire hit me, I could feel it all over, but my body felt cool. It was almost as if the hotter the flames got, the cooler I felt. I’m guessing that’s what saved us. The helmets are gone, though. There’s nary a bit of paint left on ‘em, and the leather is pretty much all burnt up. The supply sergeant will have a cow when we get back!”
The men did little more than stand there for a while. They drank water, and smoked, reliving the fight. Tom wanted to know why Sam had bothered trying to stab such a behemoth with the Sarmatian sword. “Well, since everything else we’ve seen around here is abnormal, I figured maybe the sword might work beyond what we’d expect. Apparently, I was mistaken.” Which of course, drew a round of guffaws.
Eventually, Tom’s mind turned back towards “the mission.” He pulled the Sérkatoray out of his pocket, and saw that there was no more red. Only that bright, clear blue shone from the device, indicating that whatever was generating the feeling was straight ahead.
“Well, lads, we need to go forward. I’m not too sure about going into that wood this late in the day, though. There’s no danger on our little emotional compass here, but that wood looks mighty dark.”
The Shadow spoke, in his deep languorous voice. “Well, if we’re afoot now, I’d rather sleep within the cover of the woods. I’d rather not meet any more Sarmatians, or anyone else for that matter, sleeping on this open ground.” To this, the others all agreed.
Each man started gathering his personal gear from the car, or at least what was left of it. It wasn’t easy, as the inside of the car was still full of choking, sulphurous fumes. One at a time, they crawled back out, coughing and retching. Only Sam tarried in his seat. Looking around, he whispered to himself, “Sometimes, you’ve just got to say, ‘what the feck!’” Pulling out his bag of dust, he blew a small pinch up under the control panel. Then he climbed out, and opened an access panel for the engine. Again, he blew a pinch of dust, though slightly more this time. Going around to the other side, he repeated this operation.
“Come on, now, Sammy boy! Don’t waste such a precious commodity,” called Tom.
Sam ignored him, and climbed back into the drivers’ seat. “Oh, Néit, (The Gaelic god of war) I’ve never asked much of ye before. But if ever you were going to help an errant band of Irish warriors, now would be the time. Hear me, O Néit!” With that, he crossed his fingers, shut his eyes, and hit the starter. Nothing. He waited a few seconds, and hit it again, rewarded with a sputter. “Néit, you insufferable twit, I said give us a hand!” Again he pressed the starter, and the engine roared, well, stuttered into life. But she was running.
The others let out cries of thanks and congratulations as they threw their gear back aboard, and climbed into their respective positions. Beppo was most appreciative, since, as a Panzer officer, he was very disdainful of those who had to walk more than a few yards at a time.
Once more, the Puma rolled off, headed for whatever awaited in the wood.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 4:01 am
by Tom Houlihan
As they approached the wood, Sam sought an opening big enough for the car. Spotting one, he pulled in as far as he dared, which wasn’t all that far. At least the car was completely in the trees. Unfriendly passersby weren’t likely to notice it immediately if they weren’t searching for it. Again, our intrepid adventurers dismounted. Tom again pulled out the Sérkatoray. Now, the blue light came from all points on the device. “Well, it would seem that this place is safe enough. Let’s see if we can’t find out why we’re here?”
The men strode off, though small clearings, and dense thickets. Roots picked at their feet, and branchlets picked at what was left of their clothes. It wasn’t long before their faces and hands were scratched and nicked. Looking about them, they could see that this was an ancient wood. There didn’t seem to be as much undergrowth and scrub as one would expect. The great trees all about them were tall, gnarled, and weatherbeaten. Strangely enough, as they marched deeper into the wood, each of them began to feel more comfortable, more at home. No one said anything to his companions, though. They each considered the feeling too strange to voice, even to friends.
After about an hour, Tom called them to a halt. He had spotted a little spring, which allowed them to refill their water bottles, and get a good drink. The water was cool, almost cold which was just strange enough to be logical around here. Frodo and Beppo found a small spot of sun on the ground, and they both lay down in the warm rays. Naturally, the Shadow eschewed such a bright spot, and sat down instead against the trunk of a tree, pulling his hat down over his eyes. Tom and Sam sat down, companionably against the same tree, though neither one spoke. All of the men checked their eyelids for “light leaks,” not knowing that each of them was succumbing to the soporific qualities of the spring water. Suddenly, Tom felt an earthquake. He jumped up, only to find himself entangled in a mass of branch and twig.

Okay, I'm about caught up! It may be another day or two before I can continue.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 5:56 am
by Tom Houlihan
“Hoo hoom! What have we here? You are not an Entling!” The voice came from over Tom’s head.
“Boys, wake up! Hey!” But he was too late. Belatedly, he looked around, and saw that all of his comrades were wrapped up just like he was, twisted up in tree branches. “How long have we been asleep?” he wondered?
“What are you doing in my Wood?” again came the voice. Tom looked up, trying to see who was speaking. There was no one there. “I should crush you, and have done with you, but I mustn’t be too hasty.” It was then Tom realized who was speaking. Looking closely, he could make out what passed for eyes about the mouth that was speaking. The tree was alive. It was talking to him.
“Listen, Tree, there’s no need to crush us, or hurt us at all. We didn’t come here to hurt you, honest! Hell, we haven’t even built a fire! Leave us be, please!”
“Well, you have the right of it, I smell none of my kin burning. I shall not release you, though, until I know why you have entered my Wood.” As quickly as he could, Tom told the tree the story. The further he went, though, the more he wondered why the tree should believe him. He was there, and didn’t believe half of what he was saying. When he got to the part about Skînarth Ûlnach, he could feel a rumble coming from the tree.
“Well, you have done, to rid us of that beast. None has she allowed to enter here, even those that belong. Many of the Ent has she burned. For that alone, you have my thanks, and good will.” And with that, all of the men were released. They stumbled away from their captor trees, gathering together in a huddle in the clearing.
Tom started, and they all introduced themselves in the most formal manner they could put forth. When Frodo was done, the Ent said, “Bigguns? That’s a name that sounds familiar in my mind’s roots. I think I should know ‘Bigguns. It sounds like I should know it.” He paused momentarily. Pensive, almost, if a tree could be pensive. “Bigguns are not bad, I think. But I can’t be sure. I will have to bring you all before the elders, and let them make a decision.”
“Elders? But, surely you are old!”
“Hoom ho! I am barely a thousand of what you would call years. I am still young in our community.”
Each of the men was again picked up by a tree, but much more gently and solicitously this time. When they were all firmly seated, their escorts started moving. Tom leaned over to the Shadow and whispered, “Mebbe they should have just told us where to go. We would have gotten there sooner!”
“Hmm, hoom, Tom Human, you must forgive us. We move not as fast as you would, this is true. Understand, though, that for us this is quite a rapid pace.”
With a slightly chagrined look, Tom looked up. “I apologize, Ent. I meant no offense. Since I have never seen a tree walk at all, I imagine we could consider you to be moving right quickly!”
As they moved through the Wood, they began to hear a rustling. It had a different sound to it, and it was the more puzzling since there was no wind. Certainly the trees weren’t generating a breeze as they moved. The column stopped for a moment, then began moving in a different direction. Soon, they stopped again, their escorts in sort of a semicircle around one particular tree. Our lads were set gently on their feet in front of a tree that looked as if it had been old when Christ was born. Few leaves grew on this wooden leviathan. The few small branches that were still supple gently came down and corralled the five of them in. “Come closer,” it said to them in low rustling whisper. “I am thinking that you have come for me, and for my fruit.” For the fruit of this tree was what had snared their attention. Though few leaves still grew on it’s many branches, a fruit of sorts seemed to hang plentifully everywhere. Growing on this tree were indeed a crop of Iron Crosses.

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 6:46 am
by M.H.
Growing on this tree were indeed a crop of Iron Crosses.
:shock: *gapes in awe*

Posted: Fri Oct 21, 2005 7:32 am
by Prit
icon_eek.gif *gapes in awe*