The party pushes on past sunset under the cover of trees. The blood red sun has since set and night comes swiftly and dark on Cygnet Delta. Aleph, the silver moon is rising in the night sky. Everyone is jumpy and on edge after the death of two of their Mutie companions. By now, they can glimpse a familiar river flowing eastward towards the mine entrance. The water swiftly flows under Aleph's light.
In the dimness of the forest, both Zed and Albus, Muties with Thermal Vision spot the intruders first. They are approaching directly head-on about a hundred feet away, through the foliage. Max orders a halt, and everyone climbs swiftly off the wagon, advancing in a skirmish line ahead of the lizards-of-burden.
As they come closer, the party makes out the intruders to be intelligent bipedal rats - a patrol of six advancing in single file. The unmistakable outline of thin-muzzled slug throwers are spotted amongst the Rats.
As one, the party takes aim at the approaching Animal Muties - there appears to be no conserving of ammo this time. Marcus shouts out a challenge in Common Norte. At this, the Rats halt amidst squeaks of alarm and urgency. Marcus repeats his challenge but all they see is the Rats bringing up their fusils to bear.
"Hit 'em!" comes the command and the forest silence is shattered violently by the crack of Albus' AK as well as accompanying fire from laser pistol, plasma gun and the booming of a shotgun. As the echoes die out, none of the Rats are standing.
ML's note: It appears that the death of Henry's muties convinced everyone not to take chances. Everyone broke out the guns and decided to shoot first. Good thing they won initiative on the first round. All rolls hit well and as a result, they blew away all the wandering monsters from that encounter in just one single melee round!
They loot the bodies and find each Rat carrying a musket and ball, with the rearmost appearing to be a leader type. The leader was packing a plasma gun, almost identical to the one they liberated from the Buggems.
They decide to relocate and nervously push on towards the entrance of the mine even in the forest darkness. Eventually, they spot the edge of the treeline and the entrance of the Mine: a cave in the cliffside with a river running right inside it. Only now, there are campfires on the shore nearby and the outlines of more Rats. Lots of them.
ML's note: At this point, the players start arguing. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the Mine of the erstwhile Brainlashers has been taken over by a tribe of Animal Muties.
Just then, the stillness of the forest is again shattered by explosions from their left flank - far off across the river. There are sharp reports of gunfire and then, automatic fire. From their hidden place they see the Rats scatter, grabbing up arms and falling back to the Mine's entrance.
As if this wasn't enough, there is a heavy pounding of hooves and the crash of foliage being knocked aside far off on the right flank. They catch a glimpse of huge rabbit-like mounts, leaping at great speed through the forest. Astride each of the mounts is a feline warrior, saber bared and hanging on for dear life. They count about eight riders charging into the Rats' encampment.
ML's note: At this point, Doc Ben-g rolls up his eyes and says: "This is so Kamandi". I guess from my players' reactions, I really succeeded in 'Kirby-ing up' this encounter. For the record, my inspiration for the dragoons was JDJarvis' recent Mutant Future post on mutant future steeds. Excellent material!
"Panther swordsmen on giant leaping rabbits," remarks Marcus Truman. "What have we gotten ourselves into?"
Then, they sense they are being watched. They see a stealthy hulking humanoid form approaching from the rear. It seems almost human - and approaches with a hand raised in greeting.
Only Max breaks cover and parleys with the newcomer who turns out to be a Homo Erectus. This one seems more intelligent, though. They learn that the Homo Erectus is called Urgall. Urgall is certainly no friend of the Rats and claims to be allied to enemies of the Rats. He adds his friends are nearby.
While this is happening the distant sounds of battle are slowly dying out.
Urgall 'friends' emerge into the bush shortly. As expected, these are more Panther warriors led by what appears to be a tall, spotted feline. The Animal Mutant carries himself like a freebooter - complete with bicorne hat, a brace of pistols and frock coat. For a while everyone is edgy and guns are pointed at everyone else. The adventurers are most uncomfortably aware that they are outnumbered and quite possibly, outgunned. Fortunately, Urgall intervenes.
The Animal Mutants are prevailed upon to hold fire. Their spotted leader (apparently a Cougar) is introduced as Captain Krat. After convincing the Captain that they are no friends of the Rats, the group is 'requested' to accompany the felines away from the Mine entrance. Not seeing much choice in the matter, the group goes along.
By now, the rabbitoid dragoons have returned from their raid bearing bloody Rat heads on the saddles of their furry mounts. Captain Krat leads his band some ways down the river. Our adventurers are surprised to see a heavy, armed merchant boat chugging towards the shore. They group clambers aboard and Krat gives orders to sail away.
Aboard Krat's boat, Max discloses their group's identity: that they were the ones who slew the Brain Lashers and made their way through the mine some weeks back. The felines meow and hiss with derision - claiming this was another baldfaced lie by the hairless weakling Humans. Krat's first mate, a hulking orange furry feline called Tommy-kat suggests getting it over with and gutting the Humans for supper. After all, he argues, the crew is sick of Rat-meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Things are looking ugly again but Captain Krat restrains his crew. He decides to suspend judgment and thinks he has a place in his plans for these Humans and their freakish brethren (drawing dangerous looks from Albus and Zed). He says he means to make war upon the Rats and completely extirpate their kind from the Mine.
By now, the boat has stopped and our adventurers find themselves adrift at the junction the lesser Azure they recognize. Suddenly, out from the misty distance, a hulking mass floats towards their craft, positively dwarfing it. The approaching ship is tall, crowned with iron constructs, galleries and weapons bays. It is an agglomeration of salvaged and machined parts, to form an imposing superstructure.
"Welcome," purrs Krat in a low baritone, "to my ship - the Grand Cat-Tamaran!"
ML's note: The last scene was inspired by one of Sniderman's Thundarr Thursday episodes from the Savage Afterworld, in particular Captain Kordon's eclectic, whacky warship! I just could not resist passing up using the look of the ship as an inspiration for the Grand Cat-Tamaran.
As one, our adventurers ask themselves earnestly just exactly they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, life seemed very secure and peaceful back at Sanly Bowitts just now.
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