The village on the shores of U-Ren didn’t have a name. It was nestled between steep, rocky cliffs covered in deep tropical forest. Various flying beasts circled and roamed overhead, some lizard-like birds with scales instead of feathers, some bird-like lizards with feathers instead of scales, and some that occupied some indefinable midpoint, couldn’t decide on whether to go with scales or feathers, and as a result went with both.
Nobuhiro disembarked from the skiff that had lately set him ashore, and turned to Chen.
“The market is that way. There we will meet Allegheny, who will take us to the Pirate King. His day of reckoning is long overdue.”
Behind them, Mbungo and Victoria wrestled what little luggage they had out of the skiff. Pirates and ninja travel light, and savages lighter still. Ming-Wa stood on the dock, casually flicking her bags out of the skiff one by one, using the wind itself to do the work.
The village was crowded today, and some sort of religious celebration appeared to be in full swing. Dozens of celebrants carried massive, three-story tall religious icons on heavy wooden poles, the tops of the icons swaying in response to miniscule movements at their base. Large riding dinosaurs looking somewhat like ostriches strode about, responding to the kicks and spurs of their riders. Everyone seemed to be in the streets.
Chen led the way to the marketplace. As a pirate, he had developed a nose for places where goods could be sold. The others followed.
“Where do we find this Allegheny?” Mbungo asked Nobuhiro. “He is one of the Pirate King’s men, yes? Can we trust him?”
Nobuhiro did not have the chance to respond. A blood-curdling scream erupted from the far end of the marketplace, and a handful of…
…burst out of a doorway. Their skin was a pallid grey, their clothes the ratty remnants of what a pirate might have once worn, and they appeared to have died either before, or perhaps during, procedures during which various steam-driven modifications had been made to their corpses.
Oh, and they were dragging Allegheny out of the doorway by his hair.
They ran up to an undead centaur that had been modified in a similar manner, and threw him over the beast’s back. Three iron bands emerged from the thing’s torso, and locked him into place, and the thing bolted down the street, with Allegheny still screaming. The creature was plowing through the crowd, through smaller beasts, and through bamboo poles holding parts of various buildings aloft.
Victoria darted after the beast, whose retreat was being guarded by the undead steam-pirates. She climbed up a stack of boxes as the undead centaur galloped off – very quickly. She realized she’d have no chance of catching it, and began to try to figure out if it would need to double back at some point.
Chen sprang into action, leaping up onto a howda set precariously atop a triceratops, and populated entirely with dancing girls. He grabbed the reins from the rider, who dove over the side, having no doubt made an accurate assessment of his future prospects of continued mortal existence. Chen looked over his shoulder, and noticed Nobuhiro clambering up a bamboo pole to get an overview of the situation.
Mbungo leapt on the back of an ostrich-saur, kicking its previous owner to the ground, and began wrestling the creature into the right direction. Ming-Wa took a more direct approach, and drawing upon the power of the winds, lifted herself into the air and flew down the street!
As this afforded her a fine overview of the chaos below, her eye was drawn to the bamboo scaffolding of one of the shanties fronting the road. The undead centaur charged through the poles supporting the upper floor, and Ming-Wa watched in horror as a mother and her child tumbled from the platform as it crumbled. The mother fell to the ground, but somehow the infant managed to get hung up at the very top of one of the bamboo poles by its diaper. The pole swayed dangerously from side to side, and the baby let loose with a shriek that startled a velociraptor below.
Ming-Wa summoned up her will and began to gently lift the infant off of the pole with a gust of wind. Her powers were more suited to sudden violent bursts, however, and just as the baby reached the top, she lost control, and the gust of wind died to a whisper. The child slipped back down onto the pole, this time in even graver peril of falling. From the howda, Chen weighed his options, and pulled his bolos out. With one flick of his wrist, he lashed the baby to the bamboo pole, and the pole to the structure of another scaffolding. The dancing girls on the triceratops let out a satisfying smattering of sighs.
With the infant rescued from a horrible baby death, Nobuhiro refocused his attention on the swiftly receding undead centaur. Mbungo was catching up with the triceratops, which was lumbering down the street with Chen at the reins. Victoria was nearby, and was clearly preparing to head off in entirely the wrong direction. Nobuhiro knew Victoria well, and grabbed her by the waist. He then climbed further up his bamboo pole, until his weight bent it down, bending it so low that he was able to step off onto the howda.
“Hello, ladies,” he said to the dancing girls, letting go of Victoria.
“They’re going that way!” Victoria seethed, pointing off towards the center of the village.
Chen drove the triceratops forward, and chopped loose a bamboo pole from a passing scaffolding, spinning it around and bracing it on top of the triceratops shield. The dinosaur barely reacted, seemingly unaware of the fact that it now had yet another mortally dangerous, sharp appendage pointing forward.
The two pirates and one ninja on the howda had completely forgotten about the undead steam-pirates. As the triceratops lumbered forward, they had grabbed onto streamers dangling from the howda, and were now climbing up behind them. Mbungo was approaching from the rear, and had seen them, however, and he steered his dinosaur close behind them.
He leapt from his mount and ran along the side of the beast, striking one of the pirates with his quarterstaff before leaping back to his own mount. The pirate lost his grip on the streamer, and fell to the ground. This brought the other undead steam-pirate to the attention of the occupants of the howda.
The dancing girls screamed.
Chen spun around his new-found bamboo lance, and poked at the remaining undead pirate. The length of the pole would keep the thing at bay, he thought.
“Ooof!” he grunted, as the pirate reached up towards him with a metal hand, and his fist extended the last five feet to Chen’s nose, driven by a steam-powered piston. Nobuhiru and Victoria moved over to back up Chen.
The undead centaur reached the end of the street, and took a hard right down a market street along the river, plowing through celebrants as it galloped along. The triceratops continued its lumbering path, heading directly for the river. The dancing girls were hanging on for dear life.
Finally, Victoria plunged her rapier through the undead steam-pirates chest, severing some steam hose or otherwise important bit, and the thing let go of the howda, and tumbled to the ground. Chen leapt back to the reins, swung his bamboo lance back around, and pulled hard on the reins. The triceratops was not a maneuverable beast, and it skidded and slipped a little as it cleared the corner.
Once again, they had a clear view of the undead centaur as it forced its way through the crowds and past massive, three-story idols being carried by dozens of porters. It was headed to a large, arching stone bridge. Chen flicked the reins, and the triceratops lurched forward. Mbungo flew past on their left hand side, driving his much faster ostrich-saur through the crowd. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed shadowy figure in an alleyway, intently watching the chaos.
“No time for that now,” he thought, and galloped forward.
Ming-Wa flew above the rooftops and swooped towards the undead centaur. Allegheny was still screaming, which she took as a good sign. She looked ahead towards the bridge.
Another massive idol was just being carried up the opposite side of the bridge. Like the others, it was a massive wooden structure thirty feet high and fifteen feet wide, incredibly elaborate, and being carried by about two dozen porters.
It was also directly in the path of the undead centaur, and neither had any room to let the other pass.
If the undead centaur saw this, it gave no indication. If it cared, it gave no indication of that, either. It charged up the near side of the bridge, and the porters carrying the idol tried ineffectively to get out of the thing’s way. The impact was enough to catch Nobuhiro’s attention. The triceratops began to charge up the bridge. The idol swayed, and pivoted. The porters were fighting a battle with momentum and gravity, and not faring well. The undead centaur lost its footing and fell to the ground, sliding down to the far end of the bridge.
Nobuhiro reached for the bamboo pole, intending to vault the impending mess. He caught air, as Chen had had the same thought a fraction of a second earlier. Chen planted the pole into the gap between two flagstones, and flew up into the air. Nobuhiro managed through unearthly reflexes to shift his grip at the last moment and grab Chen’s belt loop, and pirate and ninja flew into the air.
Chen let go at the apex of his vault, missing the idol by inches, cleared the crowd, and landed in a jumble near the undead centaur and Allegheny. Nobuhiro impacted the idol solidly, hitting it about two thirds of the way to the top. It swayed ominously again, and began to topple towards the river.
Mbungo rode up, leapt from his mount in one movement and ran up the railing of the bridge. He cleared the area where the idol fell a fraction of an instant before it toppled and took out the rail and part of the bridge. Ming-Wa soared over the disaster and swooped down towards the sprawled centaur.
Victoria took in the scene, and vaulted over the howda’s rail and landed directly behind the triceratops’ shield. She grabbed onto a couple of bony protruberences, and yanked them to the side. The dancing girls saw what was about to happen, and abandoned ship.
“There’s only one way we’re getting through this mess,” Victoria said to the beast, ducking behind the shield for cover. “Right down the middle!”
She kicked hard with her boot into the things shoulder, and the triceratops surged forward, smashing through the crowd, splintering the idol, and careening down the far side of the bridge. They thundered over the undead centaur, and she took note of the sounds of splintering bone and venting steam as the triceratops trampled the centaur into a well-deserved second death.
Victoria jumped from the howda as the triceratops lost its footing in the viscera from the centaur, and admired her work. The village was silent as the chaos subsided.
“VICTORIAAAA!” Nobuhiro’s scream split the silence.
“Hey, Nobuhiro, did you see that?” Victoria replied. “Wham! Pow! SPLAT!”
Nobuhiro was shaking in frustration.
“Victoria,” he said deliberately, his jaw clenched tight, “what about Allegheny?”
“Allegheny! The man we were coming here to see! The one who was going to take us to the Pirate King!”
Nobuhiro pointed at the wreckage of the undead centaur. Mixed in with splintered undead gore and steam-driven parts was the remains of a man who ribcage had been crushed by large, triceratops-shaped feet.
“Umm,” Victoria replied. “Oops?”