Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Their Fated Travels...(Chapter Seven) Through The Drakwald

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 adventure

Chapter Seven

Through the Drakwald

They quickly discovered that the barge had taken them to Untergard, a town in the eastern region of Middenland, somewhat south of Middenheim.

As they walked from the small docking area, they saw the horror, the carnage that had been wrought upon the people. A terrible devastation had visited upon the town recently. The bridge across the river had become a focal point in the chaos incursion. Khazrak, the powerful beastman warlord of the nearby forest had marched his armies to claim this critical point. If captured, it would have been a successful further entry point towards Middenheim.

The allied armies of order had assembled and turned the little town into a battlefield of epic proportions. Thousands of soldiers had fought desperately to hold the bridge at any cost.

They had won, driving Khazrak’s army north towards the main city instead.

The bodies had now been cleared away, but still people sat wounded, buildings were damaged, spirits were low, their faces were pale and their clothes were ragged and torn.

The storm of chaos had brought this place low.

Rissandrea was horrified and did not know who to help first. Before she could decide, a commotion from up ahead made the five of them walk over to find out what was going on.

A huge crowd of people had gathered to watch as one Captain Gerhard Schiller, a grey haired veteran in his fifties stood up on an upturned box and began to speak, “People of Untergard, this is a glorious day. I have received a letter from Count Todbringer of Middenheim. The old wolf still lives and the city of Middenheim also stands strong.”

The crowd cheered and the captain motioned them for silence. They obeyed, obviously respecting him as a veteran of their people.

He continued, “Count Todbringer sends his thanks to all of Untergard for the part we played in hampering the invaders. He said, and I quote, ‘The battle for the Untergard Bridge will go down as one of the most glorious battles in Middenland’s history’. Be proud, people of Untergard, for our sacrifices have not been in vain!”

When the cheers died down the man continued, “To show his gratitude for our valour, the count has sent us a token of his appreciation.”

The captain reached into a bag and pulled out a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. “We were honoured to receive thirty loaves of bread and a dozen bottles of wine, straight from Middenheim.”

The crowd cheered wildly, the sight of food was a marvellous thing for them, after all they had been through, with their food supplies running low.

Suddenly there was a loud crack and the bottle smashed, showering glass over Schiller and the rest of the bread.

“That was a…gun wasn’t it?” asked Tobias.

As the crowd panicked and rushed to escape the coming threat, Dieter’s eyes were fixed, looking out at the great stone bridge itself. The others turned to follow his gaze. They saw a group of mutants advancing on the people, assorted weaponry in hand.

As the mutants came closer, the group could see that that one had tentacles instead of arms, the second had horns and thick fur, the third had a pig-like snout and the fourth had a third eye in the middle of his forehead.

Maestro ran with all his speed towards the bridge. Even Tordrad was surprised at how quick the wizard could move if his life depended on it. Maestro took cover against the left hand side of the bridge, where the stone was thick enough to keep him out of sight.

Tordrad drew his hunting bow, notched an arrow and calmed his breathing. Tobias shouted, “Bloody mutants…pardon my Bretonnian…” as he readied his slingshot and ducked in case of another shot.

The Doberman that Dieter had rescued appeared by his side. With its master gone, it seemed to think of the would be doctor as its new owner.

Tordrad’s arrow was unusual, tipped with a bulbous end. He fired, loosing it off towards the enemy as they reached the bridge at last. It thudded directly into the chest of the first mutant and exploded on contact. The creature was set on fire and flames around the bridge spread to the next one, burning it badly. Still it came, with the others behind it. Rissandrea stood beside him and considered the situation.

The Kislevite fired again. Another direct hit, this time into the creature’s leg, felling him as the resulting explosion on contact tore the limb straight off. The others were burnt in the eruption but still they came.

One passed off of the bridge. Tordrad drew his axe with lightning speed and charged towards it. The mutant thought twice about attacking but decided it was too committed now.

As the second mutant passed off of the bridge, Maestro’s staff lashed out and struck it to the knees. His attempt to trip it was unsuccessful, but it had staggered forwards a little. The Doberman sprang forwards grabbing the mutant’s head in its jaws and shaking it about this way and that. It was left prone, bent over.

Dieter smiled at the sight commenting, “Good boy, that’s brain food” as he ran towards the mutant and hit it in the back with his staff. The dog finished him off.

Tordrad had his mutant on the ground, on top of it overbearingly. His axe handle choked the thing to death as its eyes bulged and its tongue fell out of its gaping horrified mouth.

Extract from the diaries of Dieter:

Day 20

The Doberman has chosen me as his pack leader. I am honoured to lead him. He fights well for me and he has a keen intelligence beyond that which I see in others of his kind. We have an understanding.

I did not know his name so I have named him. From now on, he shall answer to the name of Ulger.

Extract from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 20

We were fortunate enough to not be harmed by the mutant attack. Captain Schiller was pleased that we were present, thanking us personally.

Another person appeared who was intriguing to me. She called herself ‘Granny Moescher’. I could tell that there was something unusual about her. The way she skilfully helped to heal some of the wounded citizens, I considered that perhaps she was gifted as my own mother had been.

After that, a woodsman named Hans Baumer had entered the town, with a sorrowful group of people in tow. People who had fearful eyes. They carried their possessions upon their backs. Refugees and survivors.

Extract for the diary of Tordrad:

Day 20

Hans Baumer, the woodsman. He is brave man. Saving those who wandered the forest without home.

Then he told of beastmen army, over two hundred strong, coming for Untergard. Someone in the town had translated for me.

I want to fight, though the seventy five or so people left would perhaps be killed if they try to hold the town. No army in sight to save us. I hate to run, but I agree with the woodsman that we should.

Extract from the diary of Maestro:

Day 20

By all accounts Grimminhagen just up the road has had it bad as well and would offer no aid. In fact, when I suggested it, everyone shifted uncomfortably and looked at me like I was a beastman.

I am not yet skilled enough in the ways of magic to read the future of this town, but I do know that if two hundred beastmen assault, there will be no way to hold them off.

We all agree that we should leave.

When captain Schiller agreed too I felt my worries evaporate away…for a little while at least.

Dieter’s diary:

Day 21

I am loathe to turn my back to any enemy, but I do not feel that we should die just to save a town that has nothing to do with us. It was agreed that we would leave this morning. I mean to see it happen. I will not allow foolish heroics to get in the way…

From the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 21

Everyone took what they could carry. Every worldly possession that means anything to them as we accompanied them on their journey north.

Perhaps the skilled fighters of my group will offer some protection were they to be attacked.

Granny Moescher walks with her band of orphans, those children she looks after personally. Her heart is filled with good intention yet the others seem concerned about her. Maestro told me that he tried to feel for power emanations. He said he felt nothing. I told him that this was surely a good thing. He disagreed, stating that there was a difference between feeling no power and feeling absolutely nothing. He suggested that it was if she was putting up a block, very unusual in a person and a suggestion of power in itself. He went very quiet at this and spoke to Tobias at great length.

It seems the halfling collegiate scribe is quietly satisfied with Maestro’s progress. He isn’t telling him that though, I can tell. He doesn’t want Maestro to begin resting on his laurels. He feels he is lazy and unmotivated after all.

Tobias’s diary:

Day 22

Herr Schiller has organized the citizenship into impressive marching columns, with a front point, rearguard and flanking units on our march through the forest.

It was an obvious choice that we would not be able to take the most direct route to Middenheim, through the Drakwald Forest itself. That would be akin to suicide, with the beastmen being strongest there.

Day 23

It is slow going. We must keep pace with carts and the children of course are sometimes unruly. I’m not particularly keen on children. I am happy to leave them being someone else’s dirty faced problem.

I have been marching with the front columns. I was picked as one of the first watch lookouts last night. It’s the strangest thing: Come morning my coin purse was stuffed fuller than it had been. I also had a lot of jewellery nearby, as if someone dumped it next to my bed. I asked if any had belonged to the people and they stepped forward to claim their items. I am not sure what happened. Perhaps some weak attempt at framing me.

The area is war torn. All over I can see evidence of battles and blood stains. This war is truly more terrible, epic in size than anyone had realised. Even I had not been notified about the severity of things in northern Middenland.

It is said that if Archaon breaches the city of Middenheim, he means to step into the flame of Ulric. I have heard it suggested that such an action might bring about godhood in him.

These are dark times indeed.

When we get there, if we get there, I hope that buffoon Maestro stays away from it. I don’t want him accidentally falling backwards into the flame. I don’t think I could live in a world where people worship him as a deity.

…The news is at least confirmed, the battle for Middenheim is over. Archaon’s forces by all accounts are retreating. Hopefully they are not retreating straight for our path. Theoretically they will retreat eastwards.

The way to Middenheim should be improving with every day. Wonderful timing.

Dieter’s diary

Day 23

Later today we arrived at Grimminhagen. The captain led us around the ruins. This place has been struck even harder by the touch of chaos. Who knows what other atrocities we will see as we journey ever further northwards.

Extracts from Maestro’s diary:

Day 23

The people of Grimminhagen would not relent and allow the refugees entry into the remains of their town. When war has been upon them, still people find a way to hate each other. How fitting it is indeed that chaos should be the threat to humanity; chaos is in itself the product of man’s darkest desires manifested against his fellow man.

I began to have my suspicions about Granny Moescher. They were heightened still when it was discovered that she had disappeared from the camp. Schiller wanted her found, as she was their best healer…

Hans Baumer had helped the group find the old woman’s trail. As Maestro stared at the indented footprint, a strange thing began to happen. The entirety of it, the space where the old woman had placed her foot glowed with a faint dark amber colour.

When he explained this, Tobias replied, “Your magical senses are improving at last Maestro. Amber or brown is the colour of beasts, of the arcane winds of Ghur. Now you can see them, follow it Maestro.”

The wizard stared ahead of him and saw more footprints begin to light up faintly. It was enough of a trail in the dark for him to lead the way.

Dieter watched the wizard go about his tracking, mental discomfort clearly on his face. He secretly worried about the wizard’s potential power and how it could interfere with his way of doing things.

It only took ten minutes for Maestro to find the way to her. What they saw upon arrival made them tense up.

Granny Moescher was standing in a forest clearing, a bundle of medicinal herbs in her hand, noticed Rissandrea.

The old woman stared in surprise at three wood elf warriors, with bows trained upon her.

The leader spoke, “Explain yourself witch, or my arrow flies true.”

The old woman replied, “Don’t be so foolish, the elder races are supposed to be wise. I am simply gathering herbs for the people of Untergard”.

Dieter recognised the herbs too, but decided to remain silent. He was also aware of a darker use for this particular herb.

Rissandrea spoke up, “I am an initiate of the Shallyan order. Hear my words. I have used such herbs as these in curative treatments of the sick. The woman is telling the truth.”

Gilmir, the leader of the squad allowed his hard expression to soften, but still his bow remained sighted on its target.

He began, “She has the smell of magic upon her.”

Maestro couldn’t bear being in the company of elves. He truly disliked them. There had been some unfortunate incidents in the past that had led to this. Though his strife had actually been with their Ulthuan cousins, all elves were now a problem.

The others of his party could sense it. They had never seen him like this. Anxious yes, worried indeed, serious and contemplative sometimes, but never agitated. They didn’t know what to make of it. The elves noticed it but perhaps thought it was just the usual rantings and bizarre ways of a wizard.

Maestro had begun, “Excuse me, yes elves, hello? Yes here.”

One elf’s bow pointed towards Maestro. He was a little taken aback but continued, “Yes, well you see I am a wizard of the Celestial College.” Maestro looked them in the eyes, authority and self importance beaming.

He continued, “That woman has the wind.”

The elves looked at each other then back at Maestro. Even Granny Moescher turned to look at the wizard. Maestro saw the confounded expressions on their faces and quickly continued, “No, she has the brown wind…no that doesn’t help, I see in her aura the lore of Beasts, not dhar.”

The elves recognized this. Their own casters harnessed the lore of beasts as well. They lowered their weapons upon hearing this.

The leader of the warriors spoke, “I have been leading my kithband in hit and run attacks against the invaders for many weeks. Now we are only encountering small bands and stragglers. She could have easily been one of them.”

“Perhaps you should be more concerned then” started Maestro, “about the ten score beastmen roaming the southern townships…”

With that, the elves looked at each other and set off immediately to the south.

Maestro looked at the three of them and considered their numbers before adding, “That means a solid two hundred of them…” and shrugged his shoulders.

Extract from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 24

We came upon a terrible sight. Bodies everywhere, on the road. A massacre along with two wrecked wagons. That could easily have been our group. The woodsman tells us that the arrow hafts are goblin made. Truly this war has turned the powers of disruption onto our heads. Anything could happen now.

Extract from Dieter’s diary:

Day 24

I don’t like this Granny Moescher. Maestro and Tobias feel the same. I overheard them talking about it. If I see one false move from her…

I wish I could do something pre-emptively. No, they would never accept any explanation if I did. I have to stay with this group…

Extract from the diary of Maestro:

Day 24

Granny nodded at a nearby bird. It was as if she were communicating with it. I believe she was. But what message or plan might she have? I am nervous, I must admit. The surge of her power is now revealed to me. She is powerful. More powerful than I. She kept repeating a name to herself when she viewed it at a signpost: Fahndorf.

She mumbled something about her family dying there.

Extract from the diary of Tobias:

Day 24

I have been watching this woman. Through information she has given away, I have determined that she is over a century old. Of that which she refers to, it is beyond the time of the others…but I know of it…Any power that can prolong a person’s life like so cannot be a good thing. Once we arrive at the city, I will report her to the watch.

From Tordrad’s diary:

Day 24

The priest sigmarite had been blessing the dead when he too joined them. I heard scream and he fell down out of sight. Impaled on spikes. Must have been hidden goblin trap. He did not take long to die. Said something in his language to the others. It is our new mission now I think. I climbed down to retrieve item he held up.

From Rissandrea’s diary:

Day 24

Poor Father Dietrich! I have prayed for his soul as it left this realm. With his dying words, he made us swear to deliver a holy relic to Middenheim. The Temple of Sigmar. We of course agreed and he died in peace at least. I am not yet powerful enough to save a man from such wounds. Perhaps I will never be.

Dietrich’s last words were, “Praise the Heldenhammer” and with that, he was gone.

The holy icon we now carry is a small painting of Sigmar. It looks old. Very old.

From Tobias’s diary:

Day 24

As we pressed on, our escort’s scouts came upon Immelscheld. The town was sacked, with survivors in a terrible state. We made temporary camp in the ruins just outside of the town. We are almost there.

Maestro’s diary:

Day 24

We made camp while supplies were fetched. I saw what I had feared I would see. A black raven flew from the back of old lady Moescher’s caravan.

The raven is a sign of ill omen. ‘Tis a mark of grim deathly purpose. ‘Tis the grim poise that emerges to take a life.

Tordrad’s diary:

Day 24

I thought I would get rest. No chance of that, with the wizard idiot shouting, that we leave with him now.

Tobias’s diary:

Day 24

Maestro alerted us to the old woman’s leaving. We set out in the direction the bird was seen flying. It meant retracing our steps for two hours, back to what is left of Fahndorf, on its outskirts.

We soon discovered that the old woman was about a terrible business. Revenge! For her family lost. Her ritual, a summoning, meant to kill those she sees responsible in the town.

Maybe we will have to kill her. She will perhaps have some expensive amulets or the like to claim as my own.

When the group finally caught up with her, having followed the smell of “arcane burning” as Tobias had put it, they saw a terrible sight. In the middle of a clearing stood Granny Moescher, completely focused on an incantation, a ritual, Tobias pointed out.

A massive bonfire was before them. Some strange shadowy essence interacted with it. It became clear that it itself was the focus point for the ritual, as the old woman spoke words, the flames licked from one colour to the next. Some terrible daemonic visage could be seen inside the fire, getting clearer by the moment.

“A portal to the daemonic realm” said Rissandrea, discomfort clear on her face. She had grown used to the feeling of exposure between the physical world and the chaos realm. As the two interwove and blended their synergies into one space in time, her skin felt as if it was bleeding, as if something good in her power was being challenged and torn from her. It was as if her holy spiritual defences were being flayed sadistically by some invisible hand. She ignored the pain, it was part of her duty; she just instinctively knew that somehow.

They stared at the flickering flames that cast reflecting hues across their faces and then their eyes adjusted to the brightness of the fire to focus enough on the pack of wolves that circled the old woman, defensively it seemed.

Tobias spoke aloud, “She cannot be allowed to complete that ceremony. It is a portal to the daemonic planes, something terrible is forming inside it!”

Tordrad drew his axe. Maestro looked around worriedly at the many wolves before them. No, Tordrad would be mauled, he thought.

Dieter’s dog snarled, showing its teeth and Dieter said a few words to calm it, then patted it and said, “Good boy, Ulger”.

Granny Moescher did not seem to know they were even there. Maestro realised that it took the old woman’s full concentration to maintain the portal and he picked up a stone ready to throw it at her. He stopped suddenly and handed it to Tobias. “Tobias, fire at her.”

“Yes, good idea” said the halfling. He popped the sharp angular stone into his slingshot and hurled it forwards without hesitation.

The image inside the flames was now so clear, that its ferocious snarling teeth could be seen. Maestro fancied that he could smell the thing’s breath even from where they stood!

The stone hit the old woman directly in the cheekbone and temple.

With the ritual interrupted, the old woman fell to her knees, surprise was clear on her face. At that moment the fire spluttered as the creature inside the flames shouted something in anger. Suddenly the bonfire exploded, in a myriad of colours and aethyric energy.

The blast took in the prone body of the old woman and the wolves around her, scarring the earth. Her last words were, “I am sorry father, I failed you”.

A huge draft of energy wafted against the group as the magical trails that only Maestro could see spun around and whisped eventually into nothingness, like the embers of the fire itself. Soon even the bonfire was out.

Maestro picked up the grimoire that the old lady had carried. It was quickly clear that it contained the commands of dark ritual magic she had been using. The wizard put the book away in his backpack. Tobias stared at him sternly, “You are making a mistake Maestro.”

Maestro talked back to him, “I know what I’m doing”.

On the twenty seventh day of their journey, they did at last see the Ulricsberg looming up ahead of them. Atop the huge imposing rock sat the impressive sight, the famed great city of Middenheim, still standing strong.

The flags of the Emperor and Count Todbringer flew from the battlements.

The damage from the invasion was clear, most striking from the mass graves everywhere. The walls were damaged on the surface only. Some of the city seemed to be ruins, even from this distance. The enemy’s war machines had taken their toll.

The war was clearly over though. Perhaps they were looking at a brighter future, wondered Maestro. Then he remembered that such an idea didn’t fit the course his fate had taken so far. Yes, he thought, it will probably only get worse in fact.

They hurried on, through the gates into the now pock marked city of the white wolf.