Savage Land of Oz Part 5. The Iron MaidenPosted: August 27, 2012
The Wicked Witch of the West has returned and the Land of Oz has fallen under her spell. Only Oz’ champions dare stand against the Witch’s supernatural forces. In the last part of our story, Hicks in the Sticks, our heroes overcame a genocidal plant elemental intent on conquering Oz’ hinterland. As the Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow and Prince Ozra approach the Emerald City, danger still lurks everywhere.
“I get the feeling danger lurks everywhere,” Prince Ozra said, while gorging himself on sticks of meat and little jars of various marmalades he’d packed before they left the Emerald City for the Wicked Witch’s castle. The group had somehow managed to avoid contact with any patrols. It seemed the Witch’s Puppet-like guardsmen had lost some of their capacity to notice threats along with their free will. The trade had worked out in the heroes’ favor, at least so far.
“You’ve got a knack for pointing out the obvious,” Scarecrow said, his voice dripping with contempt. He winced with disgust as Prince Ozra quaffed a can of baked beans in a single gulp. “Prince, if you keep eating like that, you’re going to choke.”
“What’s wrong with the way I eat?” Prince Ozra asked. “I always eat like this.”
“That explains a lot,” Scarecrow said, thinking over recent events in which the Prince had displayed the potency of his magic — which bizarrely appeared to be based upon a hitherto unknown gastric line of Arcane Knowledge. “Alright, Prince. Where is this secret tunnel?”
“Over there,” the Prince replied, in between gulps of smelly cheese that made those nearest him want to gag. He’d pointed to a hovel on the edge of a nearby Winkie village, whose back faced on to a low, bunker-like hill.
“Where exactly?” the Tin Man asked. “In the house or in the hill?”
Prince Ozra shrugged. “I just know the general vicinity. I was shown the tunnel over 600 years ago. We’ve never had a use for it.”
“That’s fair enough,” the Tin Man grudgingly acknowledged. “Sometimes I forget where I put my oil can and I have to use this thing every day. Speaking of which, I think it’s time for a little grease in my gears. Ah, that hits the spot.”
The heroes soon encountered the owner of the little shack nearest the hill. He recognized them all immediately, save Prince Ozra. He gave the doughy hero a look of suspicion before becoming friendly with the others. The Witch’s soldiers had indeed been here already to bring news of the Emerald City’s new owners. Some soldiers were billeted in a house barely 200 yards from where they were. The local villagers were frightened, but it was apparent that the heroes’ arrival had boosted their spirits.
“It is a tunnel you seek?” the man asked. “Aye, you have come to the right house. My great-grandfather discovered the thing many years back at the bottom of an old well that he was intending to cover up, for no water could ever be drawn from the dry old hole. He went down and discovered it, but never investigated too deeply. He was a careful man, you see, not given to adventure. I’m afraid his descendants have inherited his fearful nature. We have let it alone all these years, choosing not to disturb what seemed best to remain hidden.”
Without delay, the heroes made their way down the well with a rope supplied by the nervous hovel owner. The Tin Man clanked loudly against the stone as he went down — indeed, as loudly as he had traveled the rest of the time. Scarecrow remarked what a miracle it had been that none of the enemy soldiers had closed upon them. At that, the Lion grew pensive; perhaps this last part of their journey was turning out to be too easy? His old nerves began to set in as the group made their way through the dark tunnel, guided only by a small lantern given them by the humble villager.
The tunnel was remarkably straight and smooth. They doubted anyone had been down here in centuries, yet the walls were devoid of cobwebs or dust. “The Emerald City’s magic extends all the way out here,” the Prince explained. After two hours in the tunnel, they finally came upon an opening. It was a spot of light perhaps fifty meters distant.
“Everyone quiet!” the Tin Man whispered. “Prince, put out that lantern.” But they all noticed a slight disturbance in the light, as though someone or something had moved in front of the tunnel.
“Where exactly will this tunnel put us?” Scarecrow asked.
“There are catacombs underneath the palace,” Prince Ozra explained.
Soon, they emerged into a large cavern with walls of heavy stacked stone. They were not alone and they certainly had caught no one by surprise. No doubt, the enemy had surreptitiously heard the Tin Man coming even before the heroes had got into the tunnel that led to this place. Twenty Winkie soldiers were waiting for them, with strangely glowing eyes and unfriendly faces.
Among them was one that at first seemed to be an armored soldier. They soon realized it was the metal warrior they’d seen in the Wicked Witch’s old crystal ball at the old castle. Her form was that of an Eastern warrior; Scarecrow knew the term, Samurai. But it was definitely female. If you could ignore the metal skin, her face was beautiful, her body alluring, far more carefully manufactured than the Tin Man. Instead of a rustic axe, she held two long katana blades.
“Take it easy,” Scarecrow whispered to the others. “We don’t know what we’ve walked into.”
The Tin Man held his axe up, ready to strike any of their adversaries who got too close. “The Witch killed Dorothy,” he said. “She attacked our city. If these ones stand with her, they can die with her.”
“So cruel, brother,” the metal woman said. “Our father made you without a heart, but I had heard you had found something to fill that hole in your chest.”
The Tin Man cocked his head. Brother? Father? What was her game? “You work for the Witch,” the Tin Man said in a harsh, cold voice that few had ever heard. “Yes or no.”
“I am her servant,” she replied, without matching his coldness. “As are we all. You may call me the Iron Maiden. Though our father…”
“We don’t need to know any more,” the Tin Man said. “You work for the Witch, you die. Now.”
The Tin Man’s attitude seemed to have taken her by surprise. She hesitated. The soldiers beside her remained motionless, waiting for her to orders.
“If I may interject, she seems to know something,” Scarecrow whispered. “We should hear what she has to say. Maybe we could learn something from…”
“No,” the Tin Man said. “She’s just trying to confuse us. Delay us. How do I know this one didn’t murder Dorothy?”
“You don’t know what…” the Iron Maiden began.
“Liar!” the Tin Man shouted with fury in his eyes. “You killed her. Or you were there when she died. Lion, are with me?”
“I have no fear,” the Lion growled back. “No fear.” The Tin Man and Lion began to advance on their enemies. There was murder in their eyes. Scarecrow and Prince Ozra walked forward, just behind their enraged companions; neither was sure they were making the right move, but to split their forces now would be suicide.
“As you wish, brother,” the Iron Maiden said. “Soldiers, advance!”
The opposing forces engaged in a brutal combat. The Lion leapt into a group of soldiers, slashing at them with his claws and tearing into one with a vicious bite. The soldiers did not back down, trying to overwhelm the feral beast with their numbers. Meanwhile, Prince Ozra was knocked to the ground by a heavy mace that cracked his temple. He crumpled.
Scarecrow searched in vain with his magical senses for the presence of any plant matter he could turn into vines to hold back the soldiers; this basement level was picked clean of anything that might serve his purpose. Helpless, he dodged and parried for his life.
The Tin Man’s axe came down on the Iron Maiden’s metallic form with incredible force, but she was only knocked off balance. She leapt back, regaining her warlike posture, charging back at the Tin Man with her swords whirling like fans. Sparks flew off the Tin Man as the blades struck true, with a terrible sound of grinding metal. The weapons could not penetrate his thick armor, but the force of the blows was enough to keep the Lord Protector on his back foot. With incredible speed, she landed a high kick to his head that sent him crashing against the nearest wall, stunned and helpless.
Prince Ozra had got back up in the meantime, but he was unsteady on his feet. The soldier who had bashed him in the first place now threw all of his force into a brutal strike against the biggest part of Prince Ozra’s body: his glutinous belly.
Prince Ozra stood and took it. He staggered back, but remained standing. Looking the soldier firmly in the eye, he just barely managed to squeak out, “Now, you’ve done it.”
In the midst of combat, his comrades could sense what was about to happen. Their nostrils were filled with a monstrous stench even before the Prince could release his lethal package. The Lion dove through a pair of one soldier’s legs to get away. Scarecrow jumped over another. The Tin Man could only watch in dazed horror as Prince Ozra released his power.
“BLEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!” Prince Ozra spewed forth. A stream of projectile vomit two feet wide came out like sewer sludge from a burst pipe. The magical vomitus knocked over half of the Winkie soldiers. The rest fell on their own, overcome by the sickly smell.
Even the Iron Maiden seemed paralyzed; a splash of the awful stuff had stained her metallic form from neck to knee. She began wobbling, seemed to try to recover her erect stance, then finally crashed to the floor, sprockets and bolts spilling out from her head. She would not rise again.
Prince Ozra was doubled over, trying to prop himself up from falling into the after-effect of his magic. “Oh my. I think that was it. I think that was all. Oh my. Oh, my insides are on fire.”
Scarecrow got to the Prince first, helping him up with one hand while the other covered his nose. “It’s a good thing my nose is made of straw,” he said.
“Mine isn’t,” the Lion complained, retching in a corner furthest away from the source of the spill. “I should have been scared after all. Very scared.”
The Tin Man got to his feet and looked on the remains of the Iron Maiden. “It’s not pretty,” he said. “But it’s effective. Prince, I think you just saved our skins. As Lord Protector, I should not have led us into combat so recklessly. I let my emotions get hold of me.”
“Smarts is my department,” Scarecrow said. “Don’t knock yourself out, Tin Man. We already know you’re an emotional train wreck. Besides, I don’t think this reject from the Manga factory was going to let us past her peacefully.”
“What’s… Manga?” Prince Ozra croaked, leaning against a wall.
“Ah, forget it,” Scarecrow said. “Prince, I owe you an apology. Like our own bucket of bolts said, your powers aren’t pretty, but you’re a genuine hero. You ought to walk taller than you do.”
“Thanks,” Prince Ozra said. “That means a lot.”
“If we’re heroes, then let’s do what we came here to do,” the Tin Man said, recovering his resoluteness. “We’re somewhere under the palace. The Witch has got to be near. Are we ready to go?”
“Just about,” Scarecrow said. “I can’t detect so much as a stray weed within a mile of here. The Witch must have cleared out any kind of plant from the palace to negate my powers. But thanks to iron cheeks here, I don’t have to be completely useless.”
He took a katana blade from where the Iron Maiden was lying and tested its heft. “Not bad,” he said. “Prince, there’s one for you, too.” He tossed the other weapon to Prince Ozra, who didn’t quite make the catch. It clattered on the ground. Scarecrow frowned. Embarrassed, Prince Ozra knelt to pick it up.
“Quit fooling around over there,” the Lion growled. “We’ve got a Witch waiting for us. And I smell flying monkeys. I don’t think they’re very far.”
“If you can track them by scent, lead the way,” the Tin Man commanded. The heroes ventured further into the catacombs beneath the Emerald City.
The adventure continues in Savage Land of Oz Part 6. The Wicked Witch