Sunday, 21 March 2010

Their Fated Travels...(Chapter Eleven) - A Restless Night

Their Fated Travels…

RPG Party events as told By Robert James Freemantle

Based on the 2nd edition WHFRP game chapter of the same name

This story contains spoilers for that book’s (Ashes of Middenheim) adventure

Chapter Eleven

A Restless Night

Extract from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 38

We slept in a cave. After hearing the roars of nearby beastmen herds, we decided that gaining their attention from our campfire would not be the wisest thing to do.

Though the days are warmer right now, the nights are still cold. Some terrible draft washes through this forest, like a curse upon it.

It is said that beastmen are the true children of chaos. I can understand that.

I only wish our night of so called rest hadn’t put us more ill at ease about the brass skull we carry with us.

Extract from the diary of Dieter:

Day 38

I was on guard duty while the others slept, then it happened. Good job really as I could feel myself drifting off too. The last thing I need is to see the future according to Morr when I’m in this place. I already know the future. Lots of killing, perhaps some of us being killed, me trying to save these idiots and getting myself hurt or worse into the bargain - all just to save myself. It’s not fair. If I can find some way to get even with the Gods…

Anyway, I’m getting distracted now. As I was saying, last night the skull was suddenly out of the backpack. I woke up Tordrad, shaking him perhaps too violently as he stood up with wide open eyes and looked every bit like he was going to tear my head off. I like this side of him! You know where you stand with the man.

The commotion woke the do-gooder Rissandrea. The reason I got spooked was, well something felt wrong about the skull. Something inside it was…different somehow. This time it felt like something was within it, watching me. Though the others were quickly awoken and asking what was wrong, I was unable to mouth an answer. Something was happening to me.

Maestro’s diary:

Day 38

It was all he could do to point at it. It was at that moment that enough sleepy dust had cleared from my eyes for my magically attuned senses to switch on. I saw a witch sight apparition coming from the skull itself. It wasn’t magic exactly, but it was power, old power. A red misty hue coming up from the skull. Evidently some energy of Khorne, which could only mean one thing – daemonic influence. This was confirmed when Dieter was suddenly no longer in control of his own actions. I could tell he was fighting it but something was making him walk towards the skull. I saw a red trail leading from it to Dieter.

I quickly took the accursed object and put it back into the backpack. The red essence trail remained though, the tethers of it in the air were strong.

From the diary of Tordrad:

Day 38

I tell that Dieter he possessed. Waiting on word to strike him down if he attack wizard. He did not.

Extract from the diary of Tobias:

Day 38

Strangely though the others speak of the disturbance last night, I do not remember it properly. It was as if it was just a dream, one that they all had and think is real. All I know is that it started with that Death fellow.

Rissandrea’s diary:

Day 38

Dieter’s own willpower against the forces of corruption were immense. I’ve never seen anything like it. It actually drove the evil back out of his body. I actually felt the shift cross a different path. It made my skin crawl and my hair stand up on end wherever it moved. This too is a sign of my own increasing power.

That’s when I saw it shift across to the barely awake Father Odo. His will was a lot less guarded and his senses were dulled where he was still between wake and sleep.

Maestro tried to wake him. His shouts of warning did nothing and the priest simply kept walking towards the skull. I was closest and no one was doing anything. I had to do something!

Tordrad’s diary:

Day 38

The priestess girly, she has great arm on her when angry! She slap half asleep priest hard on kisser. Very good laugh for me. I think I not make her angry ever.

Rissandrea’s diary:

Day 38

After I had helped Father Odo wake up, I quickly explained that he was being overwhelmed by a daemonic force and together we prayed to drive the thing back into its place. I do not feel it was banished back to the daemonic realms though. I feel it retreated back into the skull.

After that, none of us felt like sleeping any longer and we got going.

As they trekked over northwards, heading back to the great city of the white wolf a sound rang out in the distance. A flock of birds flew skyward at the deep horn blowing. Faint war cries were picked up on the wind and a second horn blew somewhere off to the other side of them.

Voices that sounded like beastmen were heard off to the extreme west and east of the group’s position. An ambush had been plotted, confident in the tread of their own forest, they did not care about giving up their position now. They would enjoy the thrill of the hunt, of prey who were trying to escape.

Tobias was back in his scholarly robes and pointed out, “We’ll never get to the city in time.”

Maestro answered, “That doesn’t matter, we must try to escape their net.”

The group hurried north and their decisive evasive action had bought them a little while longer. They had almost managed to press on for an hour when the first ungor broke from the tree line to the side – more were following up behind him.

Their step was far too quick for humans to escape anyway.

Maestro had considered jumping onto the back of Avalanche and ordering Tordrad to ride them away. But then he realised that he’d only have to finish whatever terrible quests were ahead of him alone with the Kislevite. He quite enjoyed having the support of a whole team around him. It was other people who might get cut down instead of him. That suited the wizard perfectly!

The ungor bows were of little help to them, for the place where they attacked on either side was low – an embankment that led up to the road fairly high above it in this section of the woods. Moving on as they had, had at least given the group a slight positional advantage but still they were outnumbered.

Ungors engaged the group in hand to hand combat all around and more were on the way. Two full squads of ungor raiders had ascended from the undergrowth.

Tordrad had the biggest advantage, being able to ride up and down the road section, cutting down the ungors who scrabbled onto the road from the low embankment, their footing not quite stable yet.

Dieter was busy fending off two at once. He knew that he had little chance of killing any with so many potential attacks to come in, so he held them off and let Ulger play distraction while he waited for an opportunity to turn the tide of the battle somehow.

Rissandrea drew her gun and made the sign of the holy mother to her order as she opened fire with the magical pistol. Great gushes of white energy exploded out of the barrel with each shot. Each shot fired was a kill, disintegrating chaotic flesh where it connected. To her, she was putting to rest poor souls unfortunate enough to be born into the bodies of beastmen.

Tobias was firing his stone shots from the sling, expertly aimed and calling for his team mates to move aside when required.

Dieter looked at Father Odo, crouching scared, shaking, and shouted at him, “Priest, you useless cretin, do something to help us!”

He did nothing but remain prone, with his hands over his head in-case a stray axe or stone hit him. Dieter at that moment decided that he would make the man pay for that. He’d annoyed him too much on this trip, being useless baggage, not pulling his weight like he should have been, for Dieter’s liking. When all of this was over…

Maestro knew that something had to be done. The group was outnumbered and the amount of pressing attacks meant that it was all the group could do just to parry and defend.

Their circle of defence was decreasing all the time though, shrinking down. Soon they would be back to back and then they would be overwhelmed perhaps. Maestro though was confident that the abilities of the group would see them through, if he could just buy them a moment of time. He concentrated his aethyric channelling and spoke the words of a sound spell, letting it lightly tumble from his lips. He based the manifested sound off of the death throes of the minotaur they had met earlier, but increased its volume and intensity. He fancied that it perhaps sounded like one of their leaders, a doom bull he believed they were called.

The spell’s intended effect was a success. The ungors paused for a moment in startled surprise and this was enough to let the team push back and cut down a couple more of their number, however the sound had also attracted a minotaur, which had managed to pinpoint the exact position of the ambush. It joined the fray and the group moaned in downhearted acceptance. Tordrad charged at it on his horse, bringing the lance up into a kill position. The minotaur lowered its horns at seeing the challenge and charged in kind at the Kislevite.

The lance was longer, it impacted first, momentarily picking the minotaur up off of the ground as it deeply impaled the beast’s shoulder. It roared in maddened battle lust and tugged the lance out of Tordrad’s hand, throwing it aside. Tordrad quickly reached for his shield but was not in time. The minotaur’s axe was coming across, aimed directly for Tordrad’s neck. The speed and technique of the creature’s strike was perfect, the perfect killing blow. Tordrad was left exposed for those few seconds as the world seemed to slow down for him. He knew that he was dead, that he had failed to protect the wizard, that he had failed to return to his people with his head held high again. None of it would matter now. He accepted his fate, that he and the minotaur were alone in this battle and the minotaur had won.

However, he was not alone. Avalanche had perceived the threat and rose its front end upwards in a split second of timing to make the axe miss its target by very little. The cold rush of draft across the kislevite’s neck proved how close the blow had been. Quickly he came to his senses as Avalanche neighed ferociously, as if in defiance. The horse brought its front hooves down hard on the minotaur’s arm, breaking it in three places from the impact. The great creature had been put to one knee. Tordrad lashed out with his scimitar but the minotaur’s killing fury knew no bounds. It grabbed the Kislevite’s weapon arm in its great hand, taking the blow of the blade into its body just to be able to grab the man and finish him with its bare hands like it had with so many other humans over the last few weeks of the war. Before it could land a blow that would have rendered Tordrad from consciousness and perhaps his head from his shoulders, a crossbow bolt shot out from the undergrowth and struck the beast in the side of its neck. It gurgled and collapsed dead immediately. As Tordrad stood up, similar other shots came out, striking down four of the ungors. The combination of this and seeing the minotaur’s lifeblood pumping out of its corpse had been too much for the remainder of the ambushers and they fled, as another round of bolts sounded out and felled two more of them.

Within moments the roadside was clear of attackers and the group’s saviours revealed themselves.

Dieter immediately sat down on a tree stump and began sewing up a wound on his arm. He ignored the men who had revealed themselves here.

Extract from the diary of Tobias:

Day 38

Then we were saved by three witch hunters –Mathias Hoffer, Jakob Baur and Ulrich Fischer. Apparently “Ulric” and variant spellings of it are the most popular name for boys in all of Middenheim…No surprises there then. It is interesting to see that these men wear amulets about their necks, with the same symbol on that we saw at Kroen’s gravesite and on Malvanius’s ring. The sign of sword and hammer crossed in front of a twin tailed comet with the letters O and F prominently to the sides.

These men wanted to know of our mission and the others filled them in. Apparently us asking around about Kroen’s death got their attention and they followed us out here. They had been trying to find us. We were lucky they did.

Obviously these men are of the Ordo Fidelis. They aren’t even meant to exist, officially and the fact that they are involved in this simply illustrates the growing danger of the situation this group finds itself in.

I write this in the hope that when I bring this diary back safely with me, to take my leave from Maestro and the group permanently, that the contents of the book reflect the danger of my duty, beyond even the job description, that perhaps there might be a bonus waiting in my wages.

The men are to accompany us back to Middenheim anyway. They are keen for us to get the skull away from this forest, out of enemy hands.