Sunday, 7 March 2010

Their Fated Travels...(Chapter Six) - Barge On Through

You can read the latest chapter of our adventure here -

Their Fated Travels…

By Robert James Freemantle

Chapter Six

Barge On Through

Book 2

Extract from the diaries of Maestro:

Day 1

‘Tis a fresh new start. I’m sure that whatever the fates have in store for me, I shall find the way to keep them appeased, or the College master accompanying us at the very least. Yes I think it is him I should worry about the most. It makes me nervous, him watching me all the time. It isn’t natural. As danger has found us when I want to scream and run the other way I look at him and realise I cannot.

Taken from the diary of Tobias:

Day 1

I hope my wife understands. Who am I kidding? She is probably over the moon, to have some peace. In truth, so am I.

That Dieter fellow has joined us all of a sudden, but why? First he seemed so cold, now he says he missed us being a group. Could it be that he hides his good feelings on the inside? I don’t know, he is too hard for me to read, like no one I have ever known. Perhaps I am reading too far into it, I suppose the extra help can only be a good thing.

Dinner with everyone else tonight.

Dinner was fantastic, lobster. Perhaps we will get sick of it every night. They seem to have a lot of lobster here.

Day 2

Uneventful day.

It is a beautiful night tonight though. Not that I have a telescope to enjoy it to its fullest. Maestro should be studying the stars though, for his training.

…Lots of people on the deck tonight, looking overboard…looking the other way. Their backs are turned to us. It would be so easy. Yes it would.

Confined myself to the bedroom for the night though. I can’t think why I would have done that, but I can’t find the damned key anywhere. I need to get out. I need to roam and see all.

Day 3

When I awoke I knew where I had put the key. How very strange. It was indeed hidden though, as if…from myself. The only reason I even knew that is based on the writings in this diary which appear to be my handwriting.

Taken from the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 4

Everyone is enjoying the lobster.

Maestro still seems bothered by me somehow…

I have not seen much of Tobias in the evenings. Perhaps he likes to meditate in the quiet hours.

Extracts from the diary of Tordrad, translated from Kislevite:

Day 7

I am sick of lobster. Nearly every day, lobster.

Journey is boring.

Need to fight something. Feel better then.

Extract from the diary of Maestro:

Day 10

I felt a little queasy and threw up. I think I am perhaps sea sick.

Extract from Tobias’s diary:

Day 10

That moron Maestro has eaten too much and been sick. Who does he think he is? A halfling?

Extract from the diary of Tordrad, translated from Kislev:

Day 10

Starting to go crazy from boredom.

Maestro stuffed his face full of suckling pig and then he was sick. Weak southerners and their gentle stomachs. For all the good living and weight they carry upon them you would think they’d be used to it. They cannot hold their drink either.

The wizard gets drunk just from smelling my vodka. He is a stupid man. Worse still, I must risk my life to save his.

From the diary of Dieter:

Day 15

Maestro is on deck every night, looking up at the stars and back down to his lavish looking tome. I can tell it is filled with arcane language.

When he is not doing that, he is busy meditating. This is unlike him.

From the diary of Rissandrea:

Day 16

The war is about us, on all fronts to the north and yet we trickle towards it instead. I feel redundant. Truly I should be there to help the sick and wounded. Shallya guide me where you need me. I shall have faith in thee, dearest one.

It is good to see Maestro taking his study seriously. I see him mediating each night, concentrating his thoughts on something up there in the cosmos, something the rest of us certainly cannot see. Perhaps he may yet be a great wizard one day. I would like to see that.

Onwards their vessel took them. The barge had been forced to a halt several times, for vast armies to pass across improvised plank bridges so that they might aid in pushing back the chaos forces that besieged the land. Then there were the priority barges that required the usage of the river’s full width of several at once, to move up it with soldiers and supplies. Aid had to be brought to key places that the river could reach safest.

All of this meant that the journey up river was taking longer than they expected. However, it wasn’t all bad for them as it had allowed them to get off and walk around several habitats, towns and villages.

As they continued, on their oft broken part journeys onwards, they were pushing further north all the time, following the river deeper and deeper through Middenland.

One thing was becoming clear though, the further north they ventured – they were coming closer to the presence of the chaos armies.

Several burning buildings and fields had been spotted beyond the riverbanks as they watched from the relative safety of their barge.

They did not know how far they were going to go. Maestro had suggested that they depart when it “feels right”. Some of the others mistakenly thought that this was just a wizard being mystical, giving great insight for the others in a subtle manner, as they had heard wizards would do. They were wrong though. Maestro had no idea what he was doing.

The normal monotony was broken on the seventeenth day however…

Dieter was having a conversation with Maestro, talking about the cosmos and the true significance of the star constellations. Tobias was doing his best to pretend that he wasn’t listening in when of course he was. The topic was fascinating to him too, being studious in the celestial teachings of astronomy as he was. Maestro had studied the subject a lot during his apprenticeship. He carried with him a beautifully bound grimoire of spells, in a book that made him look like a master wizard, albeit without the years, or indeed the robes. He did not fully know any of the spells in there though and this was why he was studying when he had the chance.

The truth of the matter was that he could probably cast some of the spells to a fashion. Some of the lesser ones for sure and perhaps some of the celestial ones, but it was ill advised. He had not yet mastered the weavings of the spells, their complex patterns that one would have to traverse and manipulate with the proper tone and pronunciation of the arcane language, a language that originally hailed from the High Elves and perhaps the Old Ones. Maestro was not comfortable with that fact. He and elves didn’t…get along most of the time.

One wrong word from him though, one mispronounced vowel and the entire spell could backfire dangerously. Therefore, attempts at the full spells were strictly forbidden. They were given only passages to practice in separate pieces. To be on the safe side, they were practised out of their original spoken order, just in case an apprentice would get a little carried away and speed through his elocutionary exercises.

As they continued their conversation, Dieter began to get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach. He momentarily considered if it had been the seafood but realised otherwise. It was a feeling he could always rely on, usually indicating that something bad was going to happen. It had never been wrong. When he mentioned to the others that something was wrong, the look on his face and their own instincts of his seemingly sixth sense convinced them to take him seriously.

Maestro volunteered a suggestion, “Perhaps an octopus is assailing us.”

“I doubt it. It hasn’t happened yet. But whatever it is, it’s about to. I feel like something is coming, something with murderous intent. It’s the intent I feel, burning with hatred.”

Tobias’s mouth was open in shock and surprise at the sort of words the man was using here. The implications were serious.

Dieter’s head suddenly turned to face the front of the vessel. His eyes narrowed and he spotted them coming, pointing his finger that way, “Goblins coming on rafts, towards the bow!”

Maestro saw them too, at last. The element of their surprise had been lost. Tordrad had heard the shouting and looked to Maestro. The wizard told him, “Goblins”.

“Aaaaah” came Tordrad’s reply, his face joyous with the news that he would have the opportunity to kill greenskins again.”

Quickly they ran to the bow, where Dieter’s alarmed warning had attracted the marines aboard the barge. Specialist soldiers hired specifically for the defence of the vessel itself. Better that insurance would pay for itself in this way than a recuperation of monetary value for goods afterwards. After all, if you lost your life into the bargain, what good was it then?

The first grappling hooks clanked against the side, digging into the wood where they bit. Marines began pulling them off from the edge surface. This was only making them drop back down to the goblins that had thrown them however and more were arriving by the moment.

They were trying to think of a better plan when there was a huge jolt. The barge had hit one of the raft raiders dead on, knocking the inhabitants clean out, as they sank to a watery end and still the barge pushed forwards.

A squad of goblin had made it up on deck, having ridden alongside the barge unseen. A man attempted to fight them with his walking cane and a boot dagger, while his dog barked and jumped into the fray.

The dog had quickly mauled one of the goblins as the man and a goblin stabbed each other in unison, neither were skilled enough to avoid the other’s attack. As the goblin fell overboard, so did the man with him, unable to move from the pain of his stomach wound that had already bled heavily across the deck. There was a huge splash as together they hit the water. Several thumps confirmed that they had been sucked in under the flow of the vessel’s movement.

The dog, a Doberman of good size barked and growled as more goblins took to the deck and surrounded it with hungry murderous intent in their intelligent keen little red eyes.

Dieter was first to act, seeing that the marines already had their hands full elsewhere. He ran in best as he could and swung his stave, growling as ferociously if not more than the dog had been. Together they pounced and a goblin was sent to the deck only to be mauled as the animal tore apart his prone form. Dieter swung the stave repeatedly to keep the goblins back and backed up so as not to be overwhelmed from a joint attack if it came. “Here boy” he called to the dog, who seemed to understand the threat and move back with him. More marines appeared at last and took the fight to the goblins, pushing their lifeless bodies overboard. All eyes turned to the very front of the ship. Lots of hooks were attached. Goblins were climbing the ropes that would lead them to the deck.

Maestro spoke the words of a ‘drop’ spell. At that moment, the goblin he had targeted felt compelled to let go of the rope he was holding, falling down it instead and taking another with him as he fell.

Tordrad charged forwards and beheaded the first unopposed goblin he came to. He kicked the body overboard and turned to meet the next head on. Blood gushed outwards in a foul smelling spray as his scimitar cleaved another in two at the chest.

Tobias hurled pebble after pebble, hitting a few goblins, dazing them long enough for a marine to run them through with a sword.

Maestro spelled another goblin that attempted to climb. It too dropped the rope it was holding and fell to the raft on the other side of the rope, capsizing it from the impact. More goblins were in the water. Arguments broke out between them on the water’s surface with several strangling each other as they floated next to their rafts.

Rissandrea saw the marines about to be overrun and reached into her robes where against the inside layer she wore a leather holster. From it she pulled a gun! It was of a beautiful craftsmanship, spectacularly fashioned, ornamentally pleasing to see. She took aim, squinting one eye. Her finger squeezed the trigger. At that moment, Maestro felt a sudden energy surge in his surroundings, something powerful. His eyes were drawn to the gun Rissandrea had fired. It shot with a satisfying meaty cracking sound, as a trail of white energy, a projectile with a tail giving the effect of a tracer round flew from the barrel straight into a goblin’s face. His entire head exploded. Rissandrea took aim again as several goblins panicked, worrying that they would be next. Dieter stared at the spectacle in as much shock as the goblins, who were scattering around the deck getting behind each other.

There was suddenly a hulking slam as large green feet landed on the starboard deck. The group’s eyes took in the terrible sight of an orc. It had used the distraction caused by the goblins to climb aboard unseen.

Great green hands appeared against the port side railing as another orc was nearly up on deck.

Maestro readied his staff in case it came to having to defend himself. Tobias’s pebble shot bounced off of the left side orc’s head, with him being none the wiser. Rissandrea’s gun however was more decisive. Another great cracking boom sound erupted from the barrel as the holy imbued bullet slammed into the orc’s chest, making a smouldering hole right through him to the other side. Tobias ran and should barged into the great beast. Somehow this was enough to push backwards its already unsteady frame, as it fell overboard into the river below. Blood quickly pooled up to the surface, like an underwater volcano erupting.

Tordrad had heard Maestro’s frightened reaction and came over to face the orc brute. It struck out wildly at him. The huge Kislevite, larger than the orc parried the blow and brought his foot to bear against the orc’s belly. It doubled over in pain and shouted in frustration. With it exposed, Tordrad accepted the invitation and sliced its head clean off of its shoulders. So powerfully had he struck the creature, that the orc’s head had rolled down the deck towards the bow and halted in a position that faced the goblins.

They took the dead orc’s fearful expression seriously and began jumping overboard. It was up to the marines to mop them up now.

If Tordrad even had of been able to speak Reikspiel he still wouldn’t have listened to Dieter’s shouted suggestion of, “Perhaps we could keep this one alive to question him.”

A short while later when they were certain that no more attackers would be coming, the group were talking amongst themselves.

Tobias had been staring at Rissandrea strangely. She caught sight of this and said, “Oh not you too, what is wrong with me then?”

Tobias looked suddenly surprised. He blushed a little and spoke, “I was not aware that my expression of concern gave me away. Well perhaps I should explain. I am somewhat confused by your actions in the fight we have just been in.”

Rissandrea took him seriously and awaited what he would say with interest. It was as if she didn’t know. Tobias was taken aback by this too as he started, “Well, you are an initiate of the order of Shallya. This I understand. But don’t the scriptures say that a devotee of Shallya must wield only a quarterstaff and then only to defend herself. Therefore I do not understand why you pulled out a gun and shot it. Not that I am being unthankful…simply you have piqued my academic curiosity young lady.”

Maestro chipped in, “A magical gun at that. Those were no normal bullets, I must say. A fine piece though.”

Tobias looked at Maestro as if he too was barmy. That fact was perhaps the more sound idea but still he was more intrigued with what the holy woman would have to say.

Rissandrea drew the weapon once more and inspected it, turning it this way and that to admire the engineering of it as she spoke, “Well I am a little different to what you might be used to.”

Even Dieter was interested by this point and was listening in, pretending that he wasn’t.

Rissandrea continued, “Do remember, I am of the Vhor sub-sect of the Shallyan faith. We are taught that to carry arms is no sin against Shallya. To use them wrongly though, that would be.”

Maestro seemed genuinely confused and asked, “So, picking your nose with the barrel end would be against Shallya?”

Rissandrea stared at him and didn’t even answer. She continued, “Murder is indeed a heinous act, to steal away all a person ever was, all they are and all they ever will be.”

Dieter rolled his eyes at what he considered to be the rantings of a lunatic at that moment in time.

Rissandrea continued, “But against evil souls. Orcs and goblins who are by nature evil, a living plague upon the land, against chaos daemons or those daemonically imbued, those who are tainted beyond repair, those are souls without salvation. Those are souls beyond rescue. Shallya teaches that we should be merciful to our enemies. Ending lives such as these is itself a mercy unto them.”

Tobias stared in shock. Truly this woman was unusual. So meek a little lady, in her purest of white robes yet with a capacity for such destruction when confronted with pure evil. Everything Tobias had ever known about the churches was being challenged here. It made him uncomfortable. Nobody liked change, especially halflings.

Rissandrea smiled as she put the gun away into its holster and informed them, “It is indeed a magical weapon. Its name is Redemption. It was once owned by a legendary witch hunter: Albrecht Schuher. His life ended from disease, but still I carry a token of his faith on my person. Still the idea of his work will go on, where I see fit.”

Just before leaving Altdorf, Rissandrea had stopped into the famed curio shop ‘Zuchi & Petrillo’s’ where she had bought the weapon.

Dieter was leaning against some wood paneling and without even looking he asked, “And of the sword you carry? Perhaps Emperor Magnus once lanced a boil with it?”

Rissandrea gave Dieter a scowling look. He ignored it.

Rissandrea suddenly became overcome with sadness. She looked down to control herself, lest she start crying. Within moments she felt ready to speak again, “This sword…this sword belonged to a Breton. A questing knight who stumbled into my arms dying of a terrible wound. I…did all I could but Morr’s pull upon his soul was too strong for me. I took his sword as a reminder of the first life I lost. As a reminder to always seek to improve myself so that it may never happen again. It will always remain as I found it, in its scabbard.”

Dieter had uneasily shifted on the spot at the mention of Morr’s name. Perhaps it was just his imagination, but the sigils in his chest felt like they burned a little too.

After that, the group sat quietly and listened to the world around them as they began to journey through scenic woodland on either side.

Three days after that, they had been forced to disembark. The barge captain had been informed that it was unsafe up ahead. That the armies of chaos were not far away and the route by river to the north was greatly contested.

They had no idea where they were, but it was obvious that it was in or near the Drakwald Forest region…