Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Their Fated Travels...(Chapter Nine) - The Shrine In The Forest Part 1

Chapter nine is up now. Including a cool Tordrad flashback, as we show you more about the history of these characters.


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 Nine

The Shrine in the Forest Part 1

Extract from Rissandrea’s diary:

Day 31

We have rested for four days now in the great city, doing our own thing in the days and coming together again for the evening meal.

We are staying at a reasonable inn. We at least have our own rooms. The money made from the last few weeks of adventure have allowed for that. It seems that a good coin will be made if we continue this path.

Money is ultimately of no good of course, but perhaps I can refurbish my church. It could pay for more travel costs so that our priests may spread the word of compassion and healing even further abroad, more often.

I have taken these days to concentrate on self improvement. I have practiced the focusing techniques the holy mother showed me.

I am like a container. With each lesson I learn, I grew that bit larger. Though I am empty for now, once I am filled, I shall hold more knowledge than if I had not trained.

I must stay on this path, for I feel that much more suffering is before this group.

There I shall be.

Extracts from the diary of Tobias:

Day 31

We have been summoned to the great Temple of Ulric. Our deeds against the skaven, our mission to recover the artefact have not gone unseen.

Maestro’s diary:

Day 31

Not another temple!

Now then, this is what I was talking about previously. How ridiculous religion is. For example, Sigmar means very little to the temple of Ulric, for the devotees of this city mainly see the white wolf. Yet Sigmar when he lived also worshipped Ulric…

Extracts from the diary of Dieter:

Day 31

I am unsatisfied.

We have done much as a group, yes. Seen much. Killed many. I feel so empty inside.

I am incomplete.

I need it my way.

Prepared just right, to satisfy.

They want to spend the evenings with me. My legs are as good as tied at the ankle right now.

Still there is much I don’t remember. What have I unlearnt I wonder?

Who am I? Who am I truly?

Extract from the diary of Tordrad:

Day 31

I have no idea what they are all saying, but it sounds like we are going out on a mission again!

Extract from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 31

I greeted a senior priest at the temple, a Father Ranulf in my official capacity as a representative of the Shallyan order.

The rest of the group were happy to let me represent them.

There we also met a blind priest, Father Odo.

It was explained that Father Odo has had a terrible vision…

Maestro began laughing at that…

He described a huge stone standing on some grass, covered in bones and skulls, like trophies adorning it. He says that blood began to drip down the stone and there was an earthquake like effect. He saw the ground crack open and a black armoured warrior was suddenly there. The warrior bore the crest of the blood God. He said that around the great warrior’s neck was a horned skull, made of brass. He saw red light pour from its eyes and he swears it spoke to him, saying, “I shall be free.”

Perhaps a terrible omen of something to come. It seems that the temple wishes to hire us to accompany Father Odo so that he may attempt to find the place he saw in his vision. Perhaps the Gods have given him warning to prevent a powerful artefact of chaos from emerging into the wrong hands.

I have agreed to aid him, on our group’s behalf. When I told them, only disappointment did I see in their eyes. I told them to have faith, that the Gods are showing us the way to root out evil on their behalf.

Extract from the diary of Tobias:

Day 31

It seems that the priest believes this huge stone to exist somewhere in the Drakwald Forest.

It looks like there is no getting away from it. We are to go back in. I have a very bad feeling about this. I cannot shake the feeling that someone somewhere is lying to us. Only by being the willing pawns it seems will we find out. Let us hope that when or if we do, we are not at too much of a disadvantage to do anything about it.

Extract from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 32

Father Odo is a nice enough man, but something troubles him in his sleep. He is restless, at odds with something. From seeing this, I do not believe he is lying to us.

Tobias is different too, not just tonight though – every night. Something changes about him. It is concerning. The way he stands, the way he walks, even the way he talks. He has taken to wearing strapped leather armour under his robes. At night, he sheds the robes and wears only the armour. Only when the moons are out in the night sky. Something about his manner is more abrasive, aggressive and intolerant at these times.

On the thirty-fourth day of their travels (the third day of this particular trip) they came across broken trees and bushes. In the distance they could hear canine snarling and growling accompanied by the distinctive whinnying of a horse. They quickly made their way to the origin of the noise.

There they saw a pack of wolves circling and snapping at a beautiful but strong horse, doing its best to defend itself against the attackers.

The horse was barded but had no saddle. Red war paint that had decorated its entire underside had been smudged and nearly completely rubbed away. Some traces of it remained though, as crimson patches on its skin. It was almost completely white in colour save for the few solid marks and speckles of black on its lower legs and a black marking across half of its face, like a mask. Upon its garb was the sigil of the bear, the same Kislevite symbol worn on Tordrad’s full plated armour.

Tordrad saw this and charged headlong forwards with a roar of bloodlust that the others had never heard before.

His axe lashed out and began cutting wolves that turned their attention to him. Quickly the others moved forwards to support his attack. Ulger set upon one wolf and quickly got the better of it.

Rissandrea did not fire her gun. Such opponents were not evil enough to warrant its use. She instead stood her ground and prayed.

Maestro fired magical dart shots to keep wolves at bay. They were not greatly effective but they stopped him getting surrounded.

Dieter smiled, a maddened blood lust took him and something the others had never seen in him before. Another strange thing Tobias noticed was Dieter’s shadow. It seemed almost too angular, like branches extending from an evil tree.

Dieter charged forwards swiping skilfully with his stave. It struck the beast to the face breaking teeth. He grinned at it with satisfaction. A machete was suddenly in his other hand. He dual wielded both weapons at once as skilfully as someone could wield just one.

The others didn’t have time to take in the intricacies of his combat. They had their own lives to safeguard. If they had been watching however, they would have seen a most strange thing happen. He impacted his machete into the creature’s flesh, deep into the shoulder. Then he reached down with his other hand and put his palm across the wound. A terrible smile on his face widened as the animal’s flesh seared suddenly where his palm touched it. The wolf howled in distress and Dieter cackled at this. Somehow the skin of the creature had melted, cauterized shut around the weapon with the machete still inside it!

With a yank, Dieter pulled the weapon free from the wolf’s skin. The damage was horrendous, matched only by Ulger who had torn the face from a wolf.

Dieter commented, “Okay, who’s my next patient?”

Tordrad was skilfully slicing wolves down, this way and that. Nearly every stroke was a kill. He fought in a way that the others had never seen before. Though outnumbered, he used his great axe relying on his agility to keep him from harm. It worked, for he had succumbed to no wounds.

The rest of the pack retreated, now outnumbered as they were. The horse had smashed one wolf’s head with its hooves, caving the thing’s skull against a nearby tree stump. Ulger was over there, licking at the exposed brain.

Tordrad carefully approached the horse from the front then moved to the side and ran his hand along its body. He patted it, nodded his head with a huge joyous smile across his face as he saddled it with the saddle he had bought earlier. He had been planning on buying a horse…

With one move he was on its back, rested neatly in the saddle. He said a word in Kislevite. Tobias smiled, “That is one word I do know my friends.”

Dieter looked menacingly at the halfling, “I’m no friend of yours halfling.”

Tobias ignored this and continued, “He said the word ‘Avalanche’. I believe it is the beast’s name.

Rissandrea looked confused, “You mean to say he perhaps already knows this horse?”

Tordrad understood her question by the tone of her voice and he pointed at the horse then at himself.

Maestro commented, “I do believe you are right Rissandrea, I think that is his horse…somehow.”

Tordrad seemed to understand that too and nodded his head enthusiastically and grinned. He patted Avalanche’s side and brought it to a marching trot, “Come” he said, in an incredibly strained Reikspiel. The others moved on too.

Extract from the diary of Tordrad:

Day 34

Today was best day for long time. Avalanche has returned to me. Like a brother to me, and now he found me. Must have wandered a long way. Perhaps it is our blood bond that tells him where I am. I am gladdened, whatever it may be. I did not want to have to buy another horse, not when one had chosen me all those years ago…

Seven years ago…

Tordrad rode ahead of a column of winged lancers; this was a normal patrol for his unit. They had spent several days on the lookout for signs of any chaos incursions, activity on the borders had increased. Clearly something had been stirring the tribes up.

The night had set in and Morrslieb crudely shone with a dark green light, as if mocking them as the riders made their way towards the nearest stanitsa to take shelter.

At that moment the normally cold weather changed in an instant, to that of something even colder. The suddenness of it was clear as Tordrad’s horse, Avalanche breathed a great gout of steam suddenly, looking every bit like a dragon in miniature.

The blaring of a horn caught the rota’s attention and they turned to face the sound.

On a great snow dune some distance away was a score of chaos marauder horsemen.

As these men of primitive battle urges charged down towards Tordrad’s cavalry unit from all around, the eyes of man and beast glowed the same green colour as the moon.

In retaliation Tordrad let out a cry to his men in their native tongue, “Fall back together, don’t let them flank us, then we crush them.”

As he said this, one of the lancers was hit in the chest with a throwing axe and a wall of flame erupted from the ground behind the rest before they could turn their horses round to find better positioning.

Realising there was no way out, Tordrad swore under his breath and brought his lance to bare as his men formed up behind him for a counter charge that met the marauders head on.

His lance struck true against the metal shoulder plate of the chieftain as it sent a spark on contact, the force of the blow dismounting the foe from the horse. Tordrad was forced to quickly raise his shield to block a flail that had been aimed perfectly to crush his skull, quickly turning the weapon’s directional velocity aside before dropping his lance onto the firm ground below them as he lashed out at the marauder with his scimitar, taking off one of the man’s arms.

He lost concentration on the man’s screaming as a loud roaring distracted him. He turned to look in the direction of the sound to find a sight that made his heart beat ever faster in sensation in his ears and throat.

The marauder chieftain had almost fully finished a transformation process. His body had torn and contorted out of all human recognition until the creature he stared at looked like a cross between man and beast. He recognised the signs of a “were” mutation, the creature before him now being half human, half sabretusk. The terrible fusion of dangerous foes tore the Kislevite’s mounts apart with their riders still upon them falling from their steeds, littering the ground in confusion, fear in their eyes. These men were prone to the attacks of the mounted horsemen who unrelentingly continued their attacks from the saddle.

Tordrad’s mind raced. He started to consider whether or not now would be the time to unleash that which he kept inside, that which he feared to let out. He feared that were he to let it loose, it may keep him on the outside forever, changing him irrevocably, terribly.

Before he could decide a sudden flail blow struck him in the back of the head. His helm absorbed the brunt of it, but he was rendered from consciousness as the sound of his men screaming from the ring of fire closing in rang in his ears for mere moments.

Eight minutes later, Avalanche’s mind calmed a little more as he sensed the enemies had lost his trail.

His wounds were deep but were not serious enough to threaten his life, for his body was powerful. He was a horse of great size. His rider Tordrad was still unconscious, lain forward in the saddle across Avalanche’s thick mane.

The horse had bolted past the marauders, who had attacked its side viciously. The blood from Tordrad’s head wound mingled with that of the horse’s cut on its neck.

Avalanche had jumped the narrowing ring of fire before it was too late, evading the dark sorcerer’s incantation by a small miracle. His hooves were burned though, but survival had been more important than the pain.

For the rest of the night he bore Tordrad upon his own wounded body, making sure to keep moving but decreasing in pace as the bleeding wounds took their toll on his stamina. Eventually he had brought them to safety, as the first rays of the morning sun began to protrude across the flat horizon here, the stanitsa came into sight. Guards spotted them and ran out to help.

Seven years forwards once more.

On day thirty-five, the group came upon a clearing. Already Dieter’s senses were alert, the others noticed. He went as far as to raise a hand for the others to remain where they were.

Tordrad placed a reassuring hand on his horse, which remained quiet too.

All eyes followed Dieter’s gaze. In between the green of the protruding bushes, they could make out the huge crude stone atop a massive grassy mound covered in skulls and other items that looked like offerings.

Maestro and Tobias recognised it as a herdstone. Beside it, standing on guard duty but facing away from the group’s position stood a great hulking brute of a creature, humanoid in shape but far more terrible than even a beastman.

A minotaur stood on guard. Its garb was red and it wore the symbol of Khorne on its loin cloth, front and rear. It held a massive brass great axe, far heavier than anything a human could wield. The creature’s horns were blood soaked, left stained from whatever battle had bloodied them last.

Dieter crept forwards slowly. The others waited. While he was turned away from them, he incanted something quietly under his breath. Suddenly it was clear to at least him that with each careful tread on the ground, he made absolutely no sound whatsoever.

Silently Dieter approached the monstrous beast from behind. He made good time, coming up to it. The others looked on in wonder at why it hadn’t noticed his presence for his was now directly behind the minotaur. He brought his machete low and under his body. He spoke a spell as quietly as he could and electricity crackled through the weapon. The creature had heard that though and turned its head sideways to see where the sound was coming from. It was too late though. Dieter reacted immediately, jumping with a stab manoeuvre, the machete blade dug through the creature’s neck, partially damaging the nerves in its body. The electricity pumping through the blade singed its skin. It was dug in so deep that the machete was unrecoverable for the moment. It spun around and Dieter used the opportunity to strike it about the face with his stave. He pulled back at once and Ulger charged in with a leap, just missing the creature’s throat, it tore a chunk of flesh from its chest instead before being thrown off by the maddening beast. The beat of hooves coming at it told the minotaur that it was going to be in trouble without help. It grasped the great horn it wore round its neck and made ready to blow it. Before it could though, Tordrad’s mount had drawn him level with the creature, and his sword lashed out, striking two fingers from the minotaur’s hand and cutting through the black chain that held it in place. The horn fell to the ground.

It roared in defiance and struck out at Tordrad who was no longer there. He had circled around it to the other side, lashing out with his blade as he went. Vicious cuts littered the creature’s upper body all the way around but still it did not fall. Tobias was wearing the leather outfit. The sun was no longer in the sky. Like a shadow of the night itself, the halfling bounded into the back of the creature’s legs stabbing it with a small blade as he made contact. It knocked the thing forwards, making it lean over to not lose its balance. Dieter snarled and jump kicked, launching himself from the stave. His foot met the embedded machete and drove it in even deeper.

With a froth of blood erupting from its mouth, the minotaur collapsed in surprise.

Tobias was all over the creature, stabbing it and dodging away deftly. Tordrad drove his axe deep through the beast from high above on horseback and it fell instantly silent.

Dieter recovered the machete and held it low while Ulger licked it, cleaning it for his master without even needing to be commanded.

The others looked at this strangely. The dog had been acting in a surprising manner during its ownership to Dieter.

Maestro took the large horn and stared through it at its larger end.

Tobias looked sternly at him, “Don’t even think of blowing that horn!”

Maestro recoiled a little defensively, noting that Tobias’s voice was a lot more edgy as well. It sounded angrier than normal.

Tobias made his way to the herdstone and inspected it, seemingly trying to figure out where the brass skull might be.

Dieter busied himself with removing the minotaur’s head with a sawing action from his machete.

The others noticed that the herdstone was adorned with some fresher heads, and these varied in race, those of humans, elves and dwarfs.

Maestro reached into a sack he held and pulled out a different pair of spectacles. He blinked affirmatively and frowned as he read the strange graffiti that was written in blood across the herdstone. After a few moments of trying to read it he started, “Ah well, it is written in dark tongue. The writing seems to be a record of beastmen who assembled here previously, with leader names and number of followers for each. They…ah yes, they seem to call this place coast hill, no wait, GHOST HILL” he corrected.

Dieter shook his head.

Rissandrea smiled bravely, “I preferred the first one, I must admit.”

Tordrad dismounted and stared at the ground about them. He noticed it was dotted with the remains of campfires, varying in size. The one closest to the herdstone he noticed, was the largest, almost ten feet across and ringed by burnt stones. He also saw bones from humanoid carcasses sticking out of the ash. He touched the area to discover it was completely cold. None had been here in a while.

Tobias began pulling stones away from one section of the hill. The others could see why. Beneath it was a picture, previously hidden from view. As they too helped to clear the debris of stones and bones they revealed a door – a large image of Khorne sitting on a throne placed high on skulls was etched into it.

Tordrad pushed at it with all his might. The others saw a slight crack appear but it simply would not open.

Even as the others helped him, still it would not budge.

Maestro spoke some words aloud, words in a terrible dark tongue. Once he had finished his recital, almost immediately the doorway slid open revealing the uninviting darkness beyond it.

The group looked at the wizard in some surprise. Maestro shrugged, “What? I tried a simple phrase of opening in the dark language. It seems my guess had been correct.”

Father Odo remained quiet in his foreboding melancholy, as did the rest of the group. The terrible vision he had seen did not bode well for what they knew they must do next. The group reluctantly went inside. If anyone had been watching from a side view, it would have seemed like they were walking and disappearing into a small hill. Soon they were out of sight from the outside as Maestro’s magic focused on his glowing staff lit the way on.