The party took a couple hours to reset and recover from their injuries before pressing on. They could hear scrabbling sounds and the voices of angry and frightened badders from down the wide stairway at the rear of the entrance. Moving cautiously and alert for trouble, the group descended into the depths of the steading.
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they spied a thick overturned table with a pair of badders armed with crossbows huddled behind it. Another badder was nestled into a small alcove a few paces behind the first pair. As soon as the party came into view, the badders opened fire.
Neeford and Crash rushed forward, using speed and teleportation to strike and fade back quickly. Nitro rushed forward and let herself explode, tumbling the badders like furry tenpins and disintegrating their furniture cover. The rest of the party closed in, dropped two of the badders with relative ease.
The third badder retreated around the corner into another room where another group of badder were waiting. In the center of this room was a churning, humming machine from Ancient times that glowed with a strange yellowish light. Along the south wall was a rough cage made of iron rods penning four listless humanoids clad in rags. The four people did not react to the battle around them.
One of the badders, a heavy-set boss of some sort, stepped up and unleashed a psychic attack against the clustered mutants. A paralyzing blast of raw fear swept over the group, stopping most of them in their tracks. Neeford suffered the worst, crawling under the remnants of the shattered table and staying there for most of the combat.
The mutants rushed the badders, who gave ground as they could, falling back to the Ancient machine. As the badder came closer to the machine, a few of the party noticed that even the most severely wounded of the badders seemed to be healing rapidly under the light of the machine. George charged the badder boss, goring him painfully on his horns…and discovered that the machine also drained the life energy out of those nearby! Under the machine’s rays and the badders’ counter-attack, George collapsed, dying from his wounds.
The mutants tried to press forward but a second badder boss crippled their momentum with another fear wave, allowing the badders to fall back to behind the machine. Ricky braved the deadly aura of the machine to close in and toss a Razor Grenade into the midst of the retreating badders, killing two and badly wounding a boss. Ricky then withdrew when he saw Nitro fall beneath a critical blow from the first boss, pulling her to the first room and out of harm’s way.
Oscar realized that the machine was severely hampering the team and so hurried forward to try to disable it. He found a control panel and started working through the cryptic menu selection, all the time suffering the life-draining effects. George, patched together by Crash, came over to help but in his haste instead set off a dangerous chain reaction that injured everyone nearby. Finally, Woodrow, after dispatching the last badder boss, found a power switch and threw it, turning off the deadly machine.
The mutants took time to tend their wounds and resuscitate their fallen comrades. They chose not to further disturb the strange machine and instead took stock of the imprisoned humanoids. All four possessed the same mark of the Archivists that the wandering stranger on the road did, and all seemed to have the same mindless demeanor. Ricky determined that the poor people had been fuel for the Ancient machine for a long enough time that it had destroyed their minds. Perhaps with professional help and lots of patience time, they could be saved but for now, they were gone.
Neeford and Oscar adopted one of the former Archivists, naming him “Dave” and brought the man with them as they explored the chamber. They found that the badders were in the process of expanding the subterranean steading, as a wide, twisting tunnel led out the back of the room. The tunnel was rough but showed signs of stabilization and construction as recent as a few months ago. While traveling the tunnels, the mutants encountered another of the shambling, poorly constructed robots trundling up the tunnels toward the steading. Wary of explosions this time, the mutants pressed themselves up against the walls and allowed the robot to continue past.
Soon the mutants came to a chamber lit by patches of faintly glowing blue moss. The small chamber had a passage leading into a larger chamber. An earthen spiral ramp curled downward into a dark pit, and more carpets of the luxuriant blue moss covered the room. A number of skeletons, probably the remains of previous explorers, lay on the moss, glowing with a sickly green light. A pair of moths the size of dogs fluttered at the rear of the chamber, and a number of blood red birds lifted off from perches in the stone walls.
Oscar and Neeford sent “Dave” ahead first and the mindless Archivist drew the attention of one of the moths. The creature blasted “Dave” with bursts of radiation from its eye, vaporizing the hapless minesweeper. The blood birds swooped in to pounce on Oscar and George, latching onto the mutants and pecking them viciously. When a swarm of smaller birds emerged from the back of the room, Crash utilized a psychic illusion, creating an image of “Dave” that the blood bird swarm attacked…only to be badly wounded by the mental backlash.
Ricky rushed forward, using his mutant speed to kill the blood bird latched on to George and wound the second gamma moth. Neeford, worried about the pit and perilous ramp, created a mental force field over the whole area, allowing his teammates to proceed forward without fear of slipping or falling. Woodrow was able to wound Oscar’s blood bird enough for the engineered fungoid to pull free and kill the avian. Oscar and George wielded their strongest Omega Tech to finish off the blood bird swarm. Ricky discovered to his chagrin that dying gamma moths explode in a deadly cascade of radiation…but in the end of the party was able to defeat the monsters.
The only way out of the chamber seemed to be the spiraling pit, and Ricky was able to confirm that the robot tracks emerged from the pit. Proceeding carefully, the party eased themselves down into the pit, which emptied into a worn permacrete tunnel with numerous small niches. Then corridor seemed to lead straight to the north.