Onyx, the Neikee war leader, had come to respect the Oths for their courage and prowess, if not their judgment. So far, Operation Jackhammer had been an unqualified success. Rather than divide her troops in the face of an unknown enemy, she had moved for the equipment drop zone with her entire force. The Oths in her platoon had complained loudly, wanting instead to storm the machine base immediately. Strangely, the Oth shaman known as Masada had agreed with Onyx's decision.
A nearby boulder spoke. "Masada, most favored of my sons, be not troubled. The Neikee woman speaks true. Go with her and retrieve the supplies. Then shall you attack the base together."
Masada hesitated. "But me want glory. We Oths attack now, take base without silly Neikee!"
The boulder persisted. "Masada, the gods themselves honor your courage. But is it not written that, 'when thou attackest thine enemy, thou shalt not neglect thine artillery?' Get the ammo drop first. There will be glory for all in good time."
"Bah. Very well, we go get ammo first." Grumbling, Masada went back to the troops to announce his decision. Reluctantly, the Oths agreed.
But now she had a real problem. Having wiped out the Machine patrol, her force was now fully equipped and prepared for battle, but so would be the Machines by now. The approach to the Machine base would not be easy. She had traded surprise for firepower, and now she would find out if it was a fool's bargain.
"We have to use what cover we can," she told her troops, studying the enemy-occupied valley from a hilltop encampment. She pointed to a small forest near the just-visible base entrance. "There. We'll advance through those trees."
"Guh. Gunnh!" The Oth shaman was choking on something, standing up and trying to claw at his own face through his armor. "Grrahh!"
Masada flailed his arms around, spinning like a top for a moment. Then he dropped the ground and began flopping like a fish out of water. Onyx, near panic, looked around to try to find the cause of the seizure. Was this some new Machine weapon?
But the Oths did not seem alarmed at their shaman's behavior. They merely watched him closely, as if waiting for something.
The convulsions subsided into severe twitching, and a strange voice began to speak out of Masada's mouth.
"Nnnoo... forressst baaad, baaad. Daannger inn forresst, nnot go forresst. Maaanny baaad trouubble in forresst. Arrr, youu go wesst, arounnd badmanybadforest. Gooood way."
The twitching stopped. Masada opened his eyes slowly. "Uh. What me say?" He got up and dusted himself off.
Onyx shook her head. "He's insane. We'll go through the forest."
"My leader, look!" One of Onyx's Neikee was pointing at the ground where the shaman had thrashed around in his seizure. "The dirt. It looks like some kind of picture!"
Onyx studied the disturbed earth carefully. No, not a picture. Not a picture at all.
And the gods care only for success.