Jan 242014
 

As the news sunk in, I remember thinking that insisting Vitus keep the bottle of wine to himself may have been a mistake. It was far from anyone’s idea of a fine vintage, but when it came to getting a man pissed, it managed the job admirably. And what more could one ask of a bottle of cheap wine?

We needed a plan, but not everyone had the same priorities as I. I knew already that Caderyn and Drazar were only working for Skuza as a means to an end – not that said end was particularly clear to me – and weren’t overly concerned with his welfare as long they were going to make some money on the job. I could have really done with Valerius right then to bolster their spirit, but he had gone after Skuza, taking Catranasia with him, presumably to take advantage of her abilities as a merchant.

Vitus seemed to be the only other one who was overly concerned with getting the boss out of the city in one piece, and he was spending most of time lamenting his poor lot in life. Fjorlief was doing what she could to get him to talk sense, but he seemed to be happy with his face in his hands, grunting and questioning what he may have done in his life to be so badly mistreated by the fates. All very entertaining, but we had other concerns. If we were to formulate a plan to get out of the Profinarium to rescue Skuza, we needed everyone together.

Brand had expressed his desire to sleep away from the hostel, preferring the underside of a wagon to a roof over his head, and Drazar had likewise wanted to steer clear of the crowds, but for different reasons. While Caffees was purchased for our wagon master, I walked into the night to find them, doing my best to remember under which animal totem our wagons were secured.

Skuza had reluctantly parted with some coin in regards to our evening off the road, paying a few paltry coins to keep a watchman stationed through the night with his precious cargo; a light burning through the night. Sadly, he wasn’t the only merchant to take such precautions, and several scrawny looking types were posted around the open patch of land used for corralling the vehicles. Each looked like they would be unable to hold even one vagrant with a will, but undoubtedly offered some piece of mind to fools who new little of the world.

Eventually I spotted the carved wooden Ablec that was perched atop the pole that our wagons were secured to, and another rodent looking excuse for a man was indeed present, lantern held high. At no point did he even try to stop me as I walked between the wagons, even though I had no recollection of him having been retained while I was present. In the middle of the wagons sat Brand and Drazar, neither talking to the other. “I have news, bad news”, says I, “and I think it best discussed while we walk, keeping us away from prying ears”.

They both nodded, gathering their things and not pressing me for answers until we were clear of our no doubt dauntless protector’s hearing. It seemed that no matter what the weather, dozens of caravans and their beasts of burden could change any surface into rutted wet mud. The smell was particularly noteworthy, but I’m sure your imagination will do a far better job of conjuring up just how unpleasant it was than my words ever will.

So as we trudged through ankle deep filth I filled the two of them in on the basics of the meeting I had just come from, and was unsurprised to find Drazar wanting in his desire to see Skuza safely from the garrison town. Brand was quick to come up with suggestions though, including that we concentrate on getting the wagons free. Although I had instantly thought of getting Skuza to safety, he was right. Fulfilling my contract was a goal with its own reward, but having some coin in my pocket would allow me to be a little more discerning in my next choice of patron.

I wondered aloud if that would mean we would be better off bringing the boss with us here first, but Brand shook his head, “It was Vitus that dealt with the livery staff over there. I’m sure he could get the animals without needing Skuza around”. We still had to deal with the fact that the doors wouldn’t be opened again until dawn, and just how inebriated our wagon master was. As I was breaking that particular news to them, we were close enough to the covered drinking area for the two of them to see Vitus engaged in a heated discussion with Fjorlief.

From this distance we couldn’t hear the details, but by the time we were close enough to make out the words, it seemed he was still stuck in the same self pitying rut in which I had left him. Fjorlief, a woman growing more and more interesting to me by the minute, stood close to him, towering a good foot above his head, was looking him in the eye. When he finally seemed to have run to the end of his current lamentations she swung her hand round with lightening speed and slapped him across the face so hard, I almost felt it.

By the gods it did the job though, and he was soon looking considerably more sober and ready to act. With excellent timing, Catranasia made an appearance meaning I got to tell the whole sorry tale one last time. Apparently she had been off selling some goods to ensure that we had some pay in our pockets. A nice plan, thought up by Valerius if I was any judge. I didn’t doubt that Skuza wished us well, but I was less sure that he would have given us a second thought once away from the Profinarium and in close proximity to a hot bath.

Still, we would almost certainly need to bribe a gate guard or two if we were to get out of here under the cover of darkness, and having coin in pocket would make that possible. The young lady also seemed aware of guards who would be more likely to take said bribe, and how much it would cost. While talking on such things – including a man of the underworld whose help would almost certainly be needed – Vitus made his decision and stood up, slightly unsteadily. “Right, that’s it. I can get through the gates to the Piamarium, and if I need to, I’ll drag back Ser bloody Skuza. You lot, get everythin’ else sorted”.

He lurched through the crowd and was making his way to said gates looking as steady as a new born toma walking on ice. Brand was close by and within earshot for a hushed word or tow, “Follow him a way will you? Just make sure he gets to the gates of the Piamarium in one piece”. He nodded shortly and was up and on his feet instantly, but within seconds I had lost sight of his darkened form as it walked away through the bustle.

Vitus had asked for a full turning to see to our employer’s safety, but there was little we could do in that time. None of us fancied drinking anything more, and had already eaten our fills. We had company though, so we asked around some of the less reputable looking types to confirm the stories we had heard about Shepard – a man in the know it seemed – and his base of operations in a place lovingly titled the Crafty Bastard.

Although I still had many years left to me to learn valuable life lessons, even then I knew that the more comically entertaining the name of the drinking establishment, the more likely it was to be  full of cut-throat bastards and thieves. Time would prove me amply right on this, but for the moment, I only had Drazar to contend with.

He was clearly ill at ease. His eyes flickering constantly behind the slits in his mask, his fingers tapping out badly timed rhythms on the beer slicked table and his head never still for longer than a second. Imagine a child really wishing to be excused from a dinner table to take a massive shit and I think you might have an idea about how much he was fidgeting. “What the hell is wrong with you man”, I asked, trying to keep the anxiety out of my voice.

“I just, don’t feel comfortable here. Not around so many of… these people”. Well shit, thinks I, working for a Pelosian was one thing, but being surrounded by them, and many of them decked out in legion clobber, was really getting to him. We didn’t have the time for any such foolishness though, especially if we were about to do something very foolish to try and rescue a possibly wanted man.

“Listen, I can see you look like crap right now, and that means other people can too. You square that shit away or we’ll get some very unwanted attention. There’s nothing to be done right now but sit and wait, so just accept that instead of worrying about bad things that most likely won’t even happen.

“Look around you. this place is full of stranger people than you, and a hell of a lot of them have moles with them. So, calm down, and we’ll have a much better chance of getting out of here together, and with our wages.”

That seemed to calm him down somewhat, but if you paid enough attention it was clear he was still on edge, just trying his damnedest to keep it hidden. Silence again settled upon our table, as we had exhausted all topics of conversation related to the evening’s events. Those around us were less silent, but I was still able to hear something out of the ordinary, and looked once more towards the Hutzlunr woman I found so enchanting. Something was different about her, and it goes to show just how blinkered I had been that I hadn’t noticed it before.

Sat on the table in front of her, a small collar around its neck, nibbling away at a discarded lime rind, one end of its lead held in Fjorlief’s hand was a small and desperately ugly creature. As I stared, perplexed by what I was seeing, she must have noticed where my attention was directed. “What?”, she asked, “This is Sally the Pelosian Fighting Mole. I bought her.” There was a hint of defiance in her voice, as if she expected to be chided for making such a purchase, but I could think of no reason to care about what she did with her own coin.

“Very well”, I replied, “but isn’t Sally an odd name for such a creature”?

“Her full name is Sally the Pelosian Fighting Mole. How is that not a good name for a fighting mole?” I had no easy answer to the logic of that question, so returned to sitting in silence, awaiting Vitus’s return.

*     *     *

Within a turning, but with little to spare the Pelosian was seen striding towards us once more. He had clearly sobered up some in the intervening time, his gait much more steady and deliberate. What was even more obvious though, was that he was alone. My heart sank, and the hardened expression on his face seemed to drain the life out of all of us.

He sank back into his seat before saying a word, “the daft old bastard seems to think that because he’s a Numare he will be tried as such and can easily argue that he is not to be detained. Valerius did his best to convince him otherwise, but he’s a stubborn sod when the mood takes him. Luckily, Valerius also volunteered to stay with him, and make nothing else can go wrong”. He looked about him as he finished, possibly hoping for some more wine, but coming to his senses before ordering any.

“So, we have another plan then?” I asked. And over the next few minutes we managed to come up with something. Catranasia knew this Shepard fellow, and had contacts within the garrison’s underworld. With Brand, Vitus, and Caderyn keeping her company we made our way to the Crafty Bastard. Fjorlief, Drazar, and myself made sure to keep some distance though, watching out for any agents of the banking house that was attempting to call in Skuza’s debt that might be following to try and stop us from interfering.

As we began our journey to the even worse parts of the city, its inhabitants were starting to call it a night, meaning the streets were busy with folk staggering to a bed, or other location they could lie undisturbed for a few hours. Although this meant it was hard to keep track of any potential threats, it also gave us the same advantage. With Fjorlief and myself towering over the crowds we were a much more obvious target than the darkly dressed group who we needed alive and able to deal with Shepard.

The further we got into the slums of the Profinarium the more dregs we saw. The less attractive the hookers became, and the more they must have grateful for the lack of municipal lighting. Any person we bumped into could have been a thief, and I was constantly aware that all I wanted to do was to pat my purse to make sure it was there, but absolutely certain that all it would accomplish would be top signal a thief as to exactly where it was about my person.

Still, we made it there in one place, and by the Gods it was a hole that I would be unhappy even pissing into. there was no doubting which of the scumbags that festooned this place was Shepard though. he held court like the syphilitic head of a decaying once noble family. On the table in front of him was a scavling, and he was maliciously toying with it as he engaged with his lackeys. I was glad to be free to stand away from this contemptible bastard and let others speak to him, but if the negotiation I witnessed was anything to go by, I wasn’t surprised that Catranasia had to throw her lot in with Skuza.

I ordered a round of horrendous Gennova for the three of us overseeing the conversation, and did my best to let as little of it as possible pass my lips as I pretended to sip on it. Some advice dear reader if you ever find yourself having to deal with the likes of Shepard. Firstly, never admit to desperation.

This put us instantly on the back foot and gave him the opportunity to negotiate from a position of strength. Secondly, don’t tell someone like that what you’re willing to pay; let them ask and negotiate them down. Luckily it seemed that Shepard had a thing for our young trader, and was willing to help, for a price. It seemed to be understood that he would take his payment by claiming what he wanted from the back of one of the wagons, but Catranasia was quick to counter here, instead suggesting some of teh treated moss we had all taken from the cave of the dead.

Its narcotic properties were obviously of interest to Shepard, and he nodded in agreement, telling us where we were to meet our wagons that his men would ensure were taken from the enclosure. The fact that he was so sure that his men would have no problem doing this, and in fact already seemed to know which wagons were ours, granted him a smattering of my respect. Mind you, it’s also a bit worrying to know that an organised criminal could have such easy access to your possessions whenever he wanted.

The others were soon up and out, but I held our little troop back before following, just in case Shepard had dispatched a man or two of his own to keep an eye on them. Once more though, we were lefty alone and made our back to the hostel to gather what little of our gear we had left in the rooms that I had paid for. Not exactly money well spent, looking back on it, but then the purchase of the wine didn’t do us any favours either. Some of Skuza’s poor fortune must have ribbed off on me that night.

With little time to spare before our meeting, we walked towards the West Gate. We once again split into two groups the better to keep an eye out for potential danger, but were not accosted. The West Gate led out to the legion encampment, and I could practically hear Drazar’s rapid heartbeat as we closed in. On several occasions we walked past groups of soldiers, marching in unison even when in tunics rather than  armour, but thankfully they seemed more interested in drinking and women than giving us any trouble.

We had with us the young girl from the ranch, who had been unsure as to what she should do with her new found freedom, but had weighed up the odds and decided to stay with us for now, rather than risk being once again returned to servitude. She attracted some attention, but after her treatment was skinny and pale enough for it to be cursory at best, and before long we were greeted by the sight of our home on wheels with accompanying beasts.

So far, so good, with only an army to get through before we were free. Thankfully, Shepard had kept up his end of the bargain, and we were soon at the exit to the encampment, with only a couple of armed men in our way, and they were already moving back the large doors to allow us to leave.

A breathed easier as we put the city behind us, but knew that my work wasn’t over yet. “Vitus”, I called, getting his attention, “Do you know what Valerius’ half of the plan is?”

He nodded, “There is a pair of statues at the side of the road, a few miles in our direction. We are to wait there for them, giving them until twelve turnings before we move on without them”.

“Well, in that case my friends, I will see you in a few hours. My job is to protect Skuza as well as his property, and I think you lot should have no problem with a few wagons.” With that I stepped off the slow moving wagon and let them pass in the direction of the statues. No one tried to stop me, but I can only imagine that Fjorlief let me go with a heavy heart and a keen desire to me safely returned to her side. As I have said, I was a cocksure young man back in those heady days.

I had a few hours left until dawn, and then the Gods knew how long it would take Valerius to see Skuza safely from the city. I would be waiting for them though, making sure that Ser Eduardo knew that I could be trusted.

Jan 202014
 

I stood in the failing light with my hand pressing against my most recent of wounds. The pain was sharp but not unbearable, and I was thankful once more for the simplest of runes I had at my disposal. We still had some light to see by, did the three of us, and details that had faded from attention as the fight remained in sharp focus were starting to become clear. Broken bottles and damaged household ornamentation littered the ground along with more corpses. Dead bodies seemed to be an almost permanent part of my life back then, and I set about dragging them away from the open ground inside the ranch.

Every step I took sent another spike of pain from my leg up my spine and set off a flash behind my eyes, but the work needed doing. Brand seemed to have vanished once more, scouting the area for other threats no doubt, and Valerius was rushing to the aid of his countryman, dressed in the raiment of the priesthood. And a toma it seemed. The partisans and their servile lackeys looked to have had their fun by torturing the poor dumb creature as well as the priest. The animal was swiftly put beyond pain, with a dozen or so arrows still buried in its flesh.

The priest was doing much better, but I left Valerius to the God botherer. I’d had enough of such things from Skuza, and could only imagine how much more intense the priest would be in his desire to see us all on the true path.

As I was stacking the bodies away from where we would be sleeping, the others made their way into the ranch, looking about them, checking for dangers not yet neutralised. I nodded and smiled as they led the wagons in, overhearing Skuza admonishing his faithful caravan master for not rushing sooner to our aid. I can’t blame Vitus for keeping the Numare as far away from danger as possible, but it was heartening to see Skuza willing to lend a hand to his traveling companions. I didn’t fear so much for our employer – Vitus would have done everything in his power to keep him safe from harm – but well meaning amateurism can be downright lethal to everyone when employed in sword play, no matter whose side one was on.

Drazar was amongst them and he made eye contact, his deep blue eyes flickering in the reflected light of the fires even behind his damnable mask. In a few moments he was beside me, “You’re hurt my friend. There is little I can do today, not after the previous excitement, but I can at least reduce the severity of your wound”. With that he stepped closer and put a hand on my arm, his fingers cold enough for me to notice through thick leather, but a strange and comforting warmth spread from these digits and through my body.

It seemed to do enough to restore my humours to something close to where they belonged, but physically I can’t see that anyone looking would have noticed much of a difference. Caderyn in fact was looking me over as I stood, feeling the strangest tingle from the half Daemon’s grasp, and he didn’t seem impressed. I can only imagine how pale I must have looked after loosing a fair bit of blood and having no chance for a rest all day. “Kantrel”, says he, “I can take care of this, sit yourself down”.

Ever the proud one I tried to argue my case, after everything that we’d been through I didn’t want anyone to think that I wasn’t willing to put in with everyone else on the unpleasant task of cleaning up, especially considering the kicking that he’d taken at the hands of the Corbie and not asked for a rest. I had barely gotten the first three words clear before I was interrupted, “You look fuckin’ terrible, There’s not much left to be done, and we can get it done without you. We’ll need you in good shape for the night and for tomorrow, so get yourself sat the fuck down. Now.”

Stubborn and willful I may have been, but he was right, and letting my pride get in the way of what was the best for everyone would be the action of a fool. I nodded my head and walked towards one of the larger fires, picking up anything that would burn as I went, adding it as fuel before I sat down.

Everyone was inside by now and busying themselves while the light remained. Brand had returned, and with the aid of Catranasia and Caderyn were sorting and loading anything of value into the wagons, increasing our pay off with every scavenged item. Valerius had lowered the priest down from the wall he had been tied to, and had given him something to help him sleep while others had done the decent thing and taken down the hanging corpses of the family that had once lived here. There’s no reason to believe they were nice people who had spent their lives working towards the betterment of their fellow man, but even if they were bastards to a man of them, getting hanged for living where others would rather you didn’t, just wasn’t fair.

With the bodies taken care of, and a nice pot of tea on the go thanks to yours truly, the buildings that made up the ranch and family home were scoured too. As hard as it was to imagine anything left of value, a few more items were loaded into the almost overflowing wagons. It also seemed that we were not the only living people still dwelling within the ranch. Brand and Valerius returned from the main house with an old and swarthy looking fellow in tow.

He was dressed in latest fashion of the Margomarissi; that being a strange mix of Pelosian clothing and more functional garb more likely to be seen on farmers and frontiersmen. He spoke the language well, and seemed to take the fresh crop of corpses in his stride as he surveyed us. Over his shoulders was a leather strap that at first I took to be part of a weapon sling, but as he stepped out of the shadows, he was revealed to be carrying a fiddle over his back. “No no, I don’t call this place my home”, he says, in answer to a question from either Brand or Valerius that I had not heard, “I was just passing through and was called upon to entertain, as is my calling in fact. The gentlemen I found here were already in their cups, drinking some hateful concoction that seemed to get them drunker and more angry than it had any right to. Damned near blind too! Appeasing them seemed to be the order of the day”.

“Safe to say they weren’t friends of yours then?”, asked Valerius, hand never too far from the hilt of his weapon.

“Friendship is very much a matter of opinion that changes quickly depending on the situation. For instance, as of this moment, you all look very friendly to me, but the fact that you came here and killed all of these men, means you wouldn’t have always looked as such”. He smiled as he spoke, but kept his distance from us, obviously still sizing us all up.

As old as he was, I was fairly sure he was of no threat to us, even if he had his suspicions about our party, so I offered him a drink of warm tea and a spot by the fire that was slowly cooking the toma that Brand had earlier butchered. “Take a seat friend, we mean you no harm”.

“Ah”, he replies, moving closer at last, “that’s just what the last fellows said, and it didn’t end too well for them it seems”. But he took the cup, and lowered himself to the ground with the aid of a stick. Closer up, he looked even older, but who’s to say what was age, and what was caused by a life hard lived. He seemed friendly enough, but I remembered his earlier comment, and just how friendly the negotiator from Thorgrim was while threatening to kill us all. Still, he had my curiosity, and while injured I was happy to sit and talk.

“The Names Kantrel”, I began, “and like yourself, we’re just passing through. If you’re heading in the same direction, you’re more than welcome to tag along”.

“Well now lad, the road is indeed a dangerous place, and based on the day’s adventure, I think I could do worse than keep you lot company for a spell. For all the violence carried out here, it’s nice to see you taking the time to look after them that survived. Do you know if the girl’s still down the well by the way”? He asked it in such a throw away manner, at first I took it to be the set up for a joke, but his eyes stayed cold and focused as he asked, no hint of a smile on his face. Valerius and Vitus were on their feet faster than I could even form a word, rushing towards the well as I tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

The entertainer, called Silver Piece – presumably something to do with the money he has earned in his vocation – managed to work out what I was trying to ask, and filled in the details while a rope was prepared. The partisans had soon tired of their most basic of sports and were convinced that the masters of the house had more treasure hidden away. After raping, torturing and eventually killing most of the remaining family without finding out anything of use, they had come to their own conclusions. With the buildings ransacked, there would have been few hiding places left, and one of the swine – drunk, high, or stupidly – had thought of the well.

With no easy way to search it though, they had resorted to simply throwing young women down it and hoping for the best. After the first two had perished from the fall, the third had survived, but when she claimed not to have found anything, they had simply left her down there to die. This was hours past, and she had long since stopped crying for help. I turned towards the well in time to see my companions pulling a near naked and soaking wet slip of a girl up from the darkness. She fell to the ground the moment she released the rope, and her skin was blue below the waist.

Catranasia and Fjorlief were soon at her side, the Hutzlunr Vytch well versed in treating those exposed to freezing conditions. Although almost completely silent, the poor thing seemed happier to be around the women, shying away from anyone else who even came close to her. Around her neck was a metal collar, marking her out as another of the ranch’s serviles. It seemed that the partisans were just as happy to torture those who lived under the rule of the Pelosians too.

Once she was able to walk, stiffly and with help, Brand and Valerius went with her and her minders to the smithy, and between them removed the mark of her servitude. Slavery is far from the most noble of ways to make a living, but I am not so naive as to expect anyone reading this to think my family’s fortunes weren’t built in some way on such trading. The Pelosians seem much more at ease with it though, with even their own citizens being forced into servitude when unable to pay a debt or convicted of a crime.

These periods of forced labour are supposed to be limited, until the debt has been paid or the crime worked off, but clever masters keep their workers in chains for a very long time. Not only must the debt be worked off, but the master may also add on charges for the food the servile eats, the roof over their head, and the rags they wear while working, adding more and more the longer the wretches are detained. It looked like the girl’s time was at an end though, and all I could do was hope that she would forget all of this as soon as possible, and start a new life for herself.

*     *     *

As everyone settled down for a slightly early night, I took the time to discuss my injury with Valerius. Although the pain was still present, flaring up at the slightest damned provocation, it seemed like I was over the worst of it. So much so that I wasn’t even allotted anything from his supply of medicines. I choose to think that this was down to his respect for me, and belief in my fortitude, but it might just have been because he was a miserable bastard who didn’t like me much. Either way, he checked my injuries and made sure they wouldn’t get any worse.

He also took the time to bring up a slightly more delicate matter. Since we were on a Pelosian road, by the end of the next day we would have been past a check point. A military one at that, and as such it would likely be a bit more thorough than a civilian one. In the back of one of the wagons there still laid an expensive and flamboyant weapon that would be sure to attract some unwanted attention. “It’ll get us all hanged”, he says, “and what good will its value do us then. Get rid of it before we set off, as I won’t swing for you”. Fair point, thinks I, and agree that come the morning, the problem will be solved.

Watches were set as normal, and knowing that I would be stiff and sore come the morning, I unrolled my blanket and did what I could to get comfortable. We all slept under that stars that night – with Skuza giving up his wagon for the still unconscious priest – as no one looked keen to spend the night under a roof that had seen such horrors. As the rooms were being cleared, a store room was discovered – everything of value removed or destroyed of course – containing the corpses of four young serving girls. Each had been beaten and used in the most despicable of ways. Three looked to have died from the severity of the beatings they had taken, but the last stared out of one dead eye, the other socket a home for a small knife, the handle slick with blood.

As Silver Piece had pointed out when asked earlier what kind of songs he sang, and he replied, “At this time, it seems to be naught but dirges, there’s nothing but death hereabouts”. A maudlin thought, but none of us could deny the truth of it.

Some hours later I was roused by Caderyn, who told us of an overseer’s cottage on a rise above the ranch that looked to be lit from within. It was so far away, with too much open ground to worry me much, and since I had other plans that morning, I trusted Brand to investigate and he up and vanished into the predawn grey.

With a length of rope in hand, I carried the mace to the edge of the well and set about lowering it down slowly, so as not to make too much of a noise and awaken the others. Once I felt it touch bottom, I sliced the rope and let it fall in after the weapon. Vitus walked past as I was working, giving me a respectful nod as he did so. I’m not sure if he knew of my reasoning, but regardless, I had mended a bridge in sore need of maintenance by leaving it behind. For now.

I wasn’t quite ready to give up the thing entirely though. Like the armour that Caderyn had hidden earlier, I knew that we could get a pretty penny for it indeed when placed in front of the correct buyer. I took my knife and carved into a brick on the side of the well a simple representation of the rune I had been working on. I would give Caderyn a simple copy of it in the morning, should he make his way back without me, but no else would know what it meant. Not for many a year at least.

With plenty of time left, I set about memorising more runes for the day. Some had proven very useful indeed, others hadn’t even been used, but at the time, what I really wanted was to try out the rune of my own design as soon as possible. It was considerably more complicated than anything else that I had been taught, and would take longer to learn and master. With time being short, I made some tough decisions that morning, but when the customary screaming and hollering started, I felt surprisingly confident.

The morning ruckus, courtesy of the New Raphelian who was far more than he seemed, was muted that day. In deference to the traumatised young girl, he had left the ranch and took of his Daemon bothering a fair distance away. I was still ready with warm drinks and the fire coaxed back to life to reheat last night’s toma though, and took the time to thank Brand for his consideration as we packed and readied for the day’s travel.

It should have been a good start to a very positive day. True, we had pissed off one of the most powerful warlords in the region, but we were alive and had rescued a couple of people, and would likely make a pretty profit on the goods we’d snagged in the process. Sadly, the Pelo worshiping priest was up and about, and seemed less than pleased with his potential new traveling companions. Not only was he pushing for more work to be done for our universal conversion to Pelo’s way, he was decidedly unhappy about embarking on journey with a New Raphelian savage, a partisan looking Dummonii, and the man in the mask, Drazar.

I did my best to defend our employer’s efforts in turning us all from the heathen pass, but Skuza seemed determined to get himself into trouble. I understand that he was looking forward to returning home and filling the ears of all who would listen of his brave and daring exploits, but informing the priest of our little trip through the caves of the dead was not exactly a smart move. I was swearing under my breath – and in Dummonii – while the priest tried even harder to be an insufferable little bastard, having spied the slip of a girl whom we had rescued the evening before. “That servile has been released! She has much more to work off before she can be judged free by a council of Numare”!

Caderyn looked to me to translate this gushing torrent of self important bullshit, and I was glad for the distraction. I would have been more than happy to punch the pious little prick and be done with it, but didn’t fancy pushing my luck. It was one thing to kill a warrior of God when he was hell-bent on murdering one of our party, but quite another to just punch a sickly and injured man because he was being an arse. Luckily, both Valerius and Skuza were able to reason with him before my patience ran out and was replaced with anger and violence.

They convinced him that after all she had endured at the hands of the partisans, her debt should be considered repaid. Two Numare seemed able to outbid one priest, but if we were in a major Pelosian city, I imagine things could have gone very differently indeed. Cowed by their words, and very lucky not to have a broken nose, he shut his trap on the matter and accompanied the boss into his carriage, leaving the rest of us to make our way out of the ranch.

Drazar had done more for my injuries that morning, and the ministrations of Valerius had done wonders, allowing me almost full freedom of movement again. I took advantage of this to drop behind from my usual position at the head of our convoy and walked at the rear, keeping pace with Daemon blooded masked man, honouring a promise to teach him my language. I had already gone through the basics, and decided to make it fun that morning, teaching him instead a bawdy dockside song. Along with what it all meant of course.

There’s little point learning how to speak to a Raphelian unless you’re going to pick up a fair few curses and expletives. Luckily our new traveling companion Silver Piece knew the tune of this one, and with a fiddle helping out I had everyone in the rear wagon joining in as we walked.

I bang on the door but you won’t let me in, ’cause you’re sick and tired of me reeking of gin. Locked all the doors from the front to the back, And left me a note telling me I should pack.

I walk in the bar and the fella’s all cheer, They order me up a whiskey and beer. You ask me why I’m writing this poem, Some call it a tavern but I call it home.

Fuck you, I’m drunk Fuck you, I’m drunk Pour my beer down the sink I’ve got more in the trunk.

Fuck you, I’m drunk Fuck you, I’m drunk And I’m going to be drunk till the next time I’m drunk!

You’ve given me an option, you say I must choose, ‘tween you and the liqour, then I’ll take the booze! Jumpin’ on Western down to the south side, Where I’ll sit down and exercise my Bajo’s pride.

Fuck you, I’m drunk Fuck you, I’m drunk Pour my beer down the sink I’ve got more in the trunk.

Fuck you, I’m drunk Fuck you, I’m drunk And I’m going to be drunk till the next time I’m drunk!*

*     *     *

A good bit of fun of course, but we still had places to be, and were on a Pelosian road. I left Drazar working on his words and wandered back to front to exchange words with Caderyn, “We’re soon going to be coming across some men of both military and Pelosian persuasions. I hate to tell you this my friend, but they won’t be too keen on seeing you at the head of this caravan”.

“Bugger it”, he swore, “You’re right, there’s no point starting trouble, but if it comes looking for us, just give me a shout and I’ll come and cut some fuckers in half for you”. An offer I would happily accept if needed, but until then, he did the sensible thing and took a position closer to out rear.

Within minutes I was sure that I had timed the move damned near to perfection as we saw some Pelosian troops lamenting a wailing at the side of the road. At first I took them for a lancer unit that had been all but destroyed, but Vitus was quickly to the front to investigate the noise and looked down his nose at them. I raised a quizzical eyebrow at him as he turned his back on them, “Numare cavalry”, he answered, spitting onto the ground. “Gentleman soldiers with almost as little training as Skuza, come out here to the badlands and then go and get all poetical and weepy when then quite rightly get slaughtered or end up having to eat their mounts. Not worth the time it’d take to piss on them”.

I couldn’t help but notice he had kept his voice low throughout that summary, but could hardly blame him. He had the freedom to talk to me as he saw fit, but would risk his that – and maybe even his life – if he was overheard badmouthing a Numare. As we continued on our way, the reason for the lamentations was soon obvious; ahead of us at the side of the road was a large pile of dismembered tether, some still wearing the barding and colours of  a Pelosian unit. With no clue what had happened to them, we carried on our way, but the sight of Pelosian soldiers mourning their dead was something we would have to get used to due to its frequency.

Silver Piece didn’t seem to concerned with all of this though, and when he spied a gathering of legionnaires, he nodded to us and smiled before peeling off to join them. As the distance between us increased the sounds of a melancholy tune being played on a fiddle drifted past us on the wind.

I can’t say I was sad to see him go, having known him for less than a day, but the manner of our meeting was enough for him to come to my mind on occasion even now.

The morning turned into afternoon as the sight of bodies and troops grew with each passing hour. It was an unusual feeling to be all but surrounded by armed troops and dead bodies, but to feel somehow safe. Vitus and Valerius soon joined me at the front with a friendly nod. “I think it might be best if we took point from here”, said the physician, with Vitus dipping his head in agreement, “We’re not far now from the check point, and with a Numare at our front, we’ll get through a damned sight quicker. Vitus here looks the part too, but it’d best if the Legions built up slowly to the rest of you”.

A good point, condescendingly made, so I bowed and dropped back. Caderyn was still at our rear, so I kept pace with Skuza’s carriage and whistled along to other shanties that I had in mind to teach Drazar. Ahead of us, the crowds of people began to thicken until we were nothing more than the back end of a long queue of humanity and beasts. With Valerius bullying and cajoling the lower born we quickly made our way to the special area for Numare only.

Skuza was soon in his element, and when the book-keepers at the gate demanded paperwork, he swiftly presented his travel papers. The doctor did most of the talking from I gathered after the fact, and with good cause. It seemed that honourable Ser Skuza was unwilling to allow any conversational opportunity to pass with recounting the tale of the Caves of the Dead. This kind of thing was guaranteed to put the wind up any officious bean counter, so Valerius was forced to interject, giving viable and believable reasons for us stepping off the approved path.

Meanwhile, we were all getting eyeballed by a mixture of legionaries and hired mercenary guards making sure we were all law abiding and respectable citizens. Of course, we weren’t but most of us at least managed to put up a pretty good pretense. The Pelosians know how much my countrymen admire their civilisation  - so much so that they often copy indiscriminately anything of Pelo that looks interesting, without bothering to find out anything about its cultural significance – and all I got was a friendly bow. I returned with a deeper bow, showing humility and respect, and was promptly ignored.

As all this was going on, in the damnable heat of the day, we were unlucky enough to have a most singular fellow in front of us, trying his best to get through the checkpoint to deliver his goods to the city. Dressed in clothing similar to a monk’s habit, he was shouting some nonsense about interring all of his countryman’s remains within a crypt. This explained the smell at least. His barrow was filled with limbs in a heaped pile. Flies surrounded him and were soon seeking sustenance on us all. Thankfully for us, the border guards eventually tired of his shouting – and the smell – and heaved the barrow down the slope and away from the road. sadly, many other people were below us seeking a way into the city, and one unfortunate family had their afternoon rudely interrupted by the unexpected arrival of dozens of rotting limbs.

There were still plenty of guards to keep an eye on us though, and Brand got a bit more attention. Vitus had the good sense to indicate towards me, as if we were together, to which I nodded a reply. A smart move when dealing with a society that actively embraces slavery. The women were largely ignored, apart from an occasional leering look that I recognised well having used it several times myself. And then there was Drazar.

I didn’t know what had put him in such an odd mood, but he looked ready to challenge them for his right to exist in the Pelosian heartlands. Thankfully he seemed to have the good sense to give in to their questioning before they tried to drag him away and throw after the limbs, but the answers he gave seemed to perplex them at first. Knowing him as I did, I could see how much untruth he was spinning, but they should have been able to see through his poorly fabricated lies regardless. I have known many watchmen, and no matter how stupid they appear to be, one should never underestimate their ability to see through fabrications and lies.

A minute later though, and they were walking away to investigate the next caravan. Insofar as it’s possible whilst wearing a full face mask, the dowser looked pretty smug, and I can’t say I blame him. Ideally I would have preferred him to be able too talk round a couple of guards without resorting to mind manipulation – as I’m sure I had just seen – but since it worked, I wasn’t about to complain.

Even a Numare still waits at the whim of bureaucracy it seemed, as the long minutes dragged by. Glancing about the other travelers, I spied a few selling meats and drinks for those waiting, and made sure we were all taken care off. I had partaken of finer repasts by that point in my life, but since I had a hell of a lot worse to come, I should have been more grateful. Still, the warm herb tea was pleasant enough.

Before we all succumbed to starvation and boredom, the high born returned with their paperwork correctly notarised and stamped, allowing us to continue into the city. Like most settlements on this side of the border it was split into districts, with the citizens allowed into the higher areas, and the rest of us scum relegated to the lower districts, with the whores and the skrites. Such is life.

It was easy going once we were inside, with Skuza staying with the wagons until we set up in a hostel. With a short backwards glance him and Valerius made their way to the Piamarium, leaving us in the Axe & Lamp, possibly the finest tavern in the Profanarium. We had a few choices on our rooms, with the cheapest being bedding down in some large communal area. Slumming it though I was back then, I fancied better than that after our journey that far. After making a few inquiries, there were more private rooms available for a few extra coin.

I was very glad I asked, as poor Vitus informed me that his masters purse didn’t stretch to even the simplest of flop house floors. I could have slept with the wagons once more, but remembered that I had a spare purse about my person, and offered up the spoils of my victory against Haaken Chains to pay for everyone to get a night’s sleep on something marginally softer than dirt. For Vitus I went one further.

He was a man that inspired trust, and I wanted him to trust me. I knew that I had risked that trust by dealing with the warrior priest, and although some well placed words had put me past the worst of his ire – and disposing of the mace went even further to repairing that smoldering bridge – he was still keeping half an eye on me. Well, after the last few days we’d had, nothing mends some wounds better than a bottle of nice wine. The innkeeper was quick to help me, thinking me wealthy for paying for all the rooms and seeking his advice on which wine to purchase as a gift. When I presented it to Vitus, his face split in a wide grin and he quickly ripped the cork free with his teeth, pouring some into a goblet.

Before he had the chance to offer it around – and I’m certain he would have done, generous fellow that he was – I stopped him, “This is just for you my friend. On this long and dangerous road you have dealt with us fairly and kept us safe. Your master is a good man, but at present he isn’t able to reward you as much as you so clearly deserve. Drink this bottle yourself. Thank you.” This got a smile, which is about as good as I could have hoped, but more was to come.

He stood back from the table, and with raised drink, exclaimed, “To Ser Eduardo Skuza, my noble employer. May he spend the night far away from us for a fuckin’ change!” I couldn’t help but agree and raised my own goblet of small beer in toast with everyone else.

*     *     *

The Axe and Lamp knew their clientele well, and after days out on the road surviving on game meat and what roots and tubers we could scrounge for a stew, I was happy to partake of some tangy fruits and peppery vegetables while we drank and spoke of past adventures and future concerns. One topic very much on the minds of those with coin in pocket and a Daemon-may-care attitude to the future was the evening’s attraction; Pelosian fighting moles! Small creatures with sharp claws and teeth, and a nose that resembled tentacles, they were apparently highly prized. Asking around it seemed that you could buy one as a pet for a few bits of tin, but laying your hands on a trained fighting sod came it a handful of Gold Jacks.

The frenzy that surrounded the gambling on them fighting seemed to justify the prices, even if the individual bets weren’t that high. You have to remember of course that this was a down and dirty road side hostel, and I imagined a small fortune would have changed hands that evening alone.

An old itch began to make itself known as my eyes drifted over the chalk boards with names and numbers scrawled all over them. Those days I struggled with the written form, but I could still make sense of a book keepers board, no matter what language it was in. The crowds were already baying even though the sun was still in the sky and I’d had no more than two small beers, and I started to think about ways to make money.

We could get Fjorlief to work her will on the champion of our choice. Drazar seemed like he could tell a bluff from the truth, and in dire circumstances Caderyn’s and prowess in a fight could be used as a distraction. As this thought briefly crossed my mind I saw that the Dummonii was already engaged thusly, slamming the face of some poor unfortunate into a table with alarming speed.

The disagreement seemed to be over almost as swiftly as it begun though, with both parties moving away to rejoin their respective groups with no recriminations. Looking about the room, it was obvious that such activities were normal, and engaging in any tricky would surely result in a large brawl. I shook my head, remembering just how often I would lose everything but my trousers in the chance houses, and drunk as a monk would demand honour be satisfied. People got hurt when that happened; occasionally people died. I looked down at the dregs of my second drink and pushed it to one side.

I had left my home to stay off that path, to become something more. My new friends seemed happy to gamble and fight and drink, but I was happy just being in their company. With a few coins left in Haaken’s purse I offered one last round for them and returned to the bar. While there I bent the innkeeper’s ear once more, trying to ascertain anything of use for the last leg of our voyage. Most rumour seemed to indicate that with the war wrapping up for the year, attention would be placed elsewhere. The reason for hostilities ceasing was also being discussed.

When the head of any mercenary company dies, it has ripple effects, but it seems that a power vacuum had formed when a rather important one was murdered. Not only that, but another was looking to compete for the positions of People’s Champion in the very city we were heading towards. This would put them in effective control of a large body of fighting men, even if not able to give them direct orders, but by manipulating their various animosities. I had sense of foreshadowing at this news, but returned with the drinks rather than pick at scab of an idea only half formed.

Fjorlief had decided to take the  chance on a fighting mole that had caught her eye, and staked near to her last coin on its victory. I wasn’t sure, and still aren’t, if she engaged in trickery to see it to victory, but she managed to walk away with a bit more money than she started. With luck being on our side, I thought it would be a good time to call it a night. Although the sun had only just set, I wasn’t sure how long it would be before I could once again sleep under a roof, and wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity.

Saying my good nights, noting that Vitus had already done considerable damage to his bottle, I made my way towards the stairs when something gave me pause. Looking back over my shoulder I saw what looked to be another of Thorgrim’s men. My breathe stopped in my throat as it was clear that he was heading towards the table I had recently departed. With my hand on the hilt of my Baseado, I stepped down once and took the time to size up this potential threat.

He was a big fellow, no doubt, and carried himself with easy confidence, but something wasn’t quite right. At his waist was a naught but a knife. I felt sure he could kill with it as easy I could with my own weapon, but since I was far from the most well equipped warrior in the room, it didn’t make sense that he would try to take us all on with nothing but a knife. His eyes gave something else away; he wasn’t looking around the room for other threats, or at least not to himself. Following in his wake was the final clue though.

He was a smaller, older man, wearing a slightly faded red cloak and toga. His hair was rapidly calling the retreat away from a highly aggressive forehead, and the only thing he carried was a stick to help him walk. But, he walked with just as much confidence as his taller friend, and was smiling to himself as sighted our group sat around the table, recounting the highlights of the mole fight.

I knew I could beat them both to the table, and maybe even slide the Baseado deep into the big lad’s ribs while I did it, but even with Drazar’s help I was still far from fighting fit. Discretion seemed the better part of valour at the time, so I simply stood at the table’s edge as they approached. The big one just stood, towering over all of us by Fjorlief and myself; the elder took a seat and began to talk. His voice carried just far enough without him needing to raise it at all, making it clear that he was used to talking to large groups of people, and even more used to having his word heeded.

“Good evening. Your master will soon be arrested for being unable to pay his debts”. Understandably this caused something of a commotion amongst us, but since I was one of the few sober heads still sat at the table, I motioned for him to continue. “There are those of us who would rather not see this take place. For all of his faults, and he is in possession of a multitude of them, he still has friends. Those searching for him now are not amongst this number.

“This is just a friendly warning, if you wish to continue your journey – remain in possession of your goods and chattels – I advise you to waste no time.” The smile was gone. This was a real thing. We had all worked hard to make it this far with no reward – hell, Caderyn and I had ditched a fortunes worth of armour and weaponry just to get through this alive. Many of us had bled for our employer, either through loyalty, greed, or – in my case – the promise of fulfilling a contract with a man of influence. We had to act, and act quickly.

*Lyrics reproduced and altered without permission of Flogging Molly. Go and check out their stuff!

Jan 092014
 

As the man’s body lay slowly cooling on the ground before me all I was thinking about was getting back to my companions. I had no idea that the death of Chains was to be the start of my own storied life, or just how much more blood would be spilled by day’s end.

I was in pain, but my wits weren’t dulled, and knowing that trouble was surely following I went quickly about my business. He was a big fellow, and the fine brass arm rings he had worn could each be sported as a crown by yours truly, such was the girth of his forearms. I took them quickly, along with his iron collar and the chain that had so very nearly shattered my thigh bone. With his coin pouch tied to my belt I took to my heels, hoping to close some distance with the others before trouble closed on me.

They would surely make it to the river crossing before I did, but would have to slow down while attempting to make their way safely to the other bank. Moving at a jog I came first across Catranasia though, looking to be in deep conservation with the one named Vraag Man. This was another storied man from Thorgrim’s mob, and by the extent of his injuries, I was sure the others had given him a hell of a thrashing. His skin was waxen and pale, with the shafts of arrows protruding from an arm that looked shattered by a mighty blow. In all honesty, I was amazed he was on his feet, but it seemed to be anger keeping him upright.

As I was moving quickly I had no chance to hide my approach, and he made certain that the lady was between us. It looked like he was in the mood to avoid another confrontation, and although I was in much better shape, I was happy to pass by without combat. He wasn’t going to just let me stroll on by though, “What’s the name of your fuckin’ tree-hugger?”, he asked, growling at me in Pelo-Margo.

Seeing the arrows that had yet to be removed from his left arm, I had assumed that Valerius had shot him once or twice, but it was a pleasant surprise to know that the Dummoni had finally had some success with his own bow. For half a second I was ready to give up a different name, but in the heat of the moment that only others that came to mind were Pelosian, and I’m certain he would have seen right through that. “Caderyn”, I answered, feeling bad for surrendering a friend’s name, but my options were limited.

“Well, I want me fuckin’ hatchet back off of him. It’s mine, and I mean to have it returned to me”, he spat with the same growl in his voice. He didn’t exactly look in the best of shape to be making demands, but I was far from my best and thought it best not to challenge him. His anger was constantly bubbling up, and although I was fairly certain which of us would fall first, I was almost as certain that I would suffer another major injury before he dropped.

“And just how the hell do you expect him to get it to you? Your mad bastard of a boss is rolling his ship in the other direction to us, and I can’t imagine my man will make the long walk to give back an axe that was lobbed at him”. All fair points, I think you’ll agree, but it seems that almost all of Thorgrim’s story men were a wee bit touched in the head, and Vraag man was no exception.

“I don’t give a fuck how, but if he don’t get it back, I’ll find ‘im and rip his fuckin’ face off with me teeth”! A charming fellow and no mistake. But I didn’t doubt him, and the Margomarissi was a dangerous enough place to travel without a blood thirsty savage looking for you with revenge in mind. Especially if he was hungry.

“You know of Maidens Play”, I asked, getting a swift nod in answer, “Go there tomorrow, and your axe will be stuck in a riverside tree, that’s the best I can do. Now, what’s your play with regards to me and the lady”?

“You’re gonna walk past us first, and when I feel like you’re not gonna pull any sneaky shit, the young lady can follow”, I nodded my agreement and began walking around him and Catranasia in a wide arc, not wanting to antagonise him if I could help it.  He stalked his way around her as I moved, keeping her between us at all times until he felt comfortable. Then spoke something softly to her that I never caught, and she turned away and made to follow me. Knowing she was putting some distance between herself and the crazy sod I again broke into a jog, hearing her footsteps match my speed as we made our way onward.

*     *     *

We made good time back to the caravans, and got there as Caderyn was wading out into the deep and rapid water. Praying to some god of water swells or something, he seemed always an inch from being dragged away from us forever. His Gods obviously favoured him though, and he shouted back that he had found a secure crossing. I was happy to catch my breath as the first wagon made its way into the river, knowing that there’d be little I could offer in the way of help.

The first two passed through the swollen river without a problem, and when it came to the third, I tried to help keep the hormorn in line, but only succeeded in not making the crossing actually any harder. We were safe for a while though, and got everyone loaded into a wagon and began planning for the attack that was almost certain to fall on us. Drazar has spooked a few of the tethers earlier, and no mistake, but none of us were foolish enough to think that Thorgrim wouldn’t have plenty more cavalry at his disposal.

With that in mind, I headed towards Caderyn before we set off again. He was clearly injured and I wouldn’t like to say who had come off worse in the last confrontation, so did what I could before speaking, tracing a rune in the air in front of him, closing his wounds and cleaning the dirt from them. In his belt was a hatchet that matched one that Vraag Man still had about his person when we spoke. “There’s man that wants that back”, says I, pointing to his belt, “I’m not telling you that you need to give it back to him, but he warned he would hunt you down to get it, and I believe him. If you’d rather not worry about keeping an eye over your shoulder for the rest of your life, I’d embed it in the tree over there, and he can pick it up himself later”.

He looked thoughtful for a second, before nodding and looking towards the tree. In a swift move he slid the axe free and flung it with a grunt, forcing the blade to bite deep of the wood. It didn’t stay there long though; as we were preparing to move off, discussing our route, the Dummonii was once more praying to one or more Gods, and looked ready to offer up a sacrifice to the river. The hatchet must have caught his eye, still stained with his own blood as it was, and he made his decision quickly. It never even occurred to me to stop him as he wrenched it free, and with a final benediction, hurled it into the white frothing water.

Although Vraag man was still a threat, mounted troops were the only ones that would have a chance of catching us up in large numbers. And although the crossing might be enough to dissuade them, we weren’t going to stake even a tin coin on those odds. So we set about making caltrops from bent and fastened nails, with Brand even showing me how to make an actual bola, as I only had one more shot at bringing a beast down with a rune.

Maybe an hour had passed on the road when we found somewhere with terrain that might possibly be in our favour. We had for once decided on taking a Pelosian road for the current leg of our journey, knowing that the smoother surface and more direct route would see us quicker to our destination. Sadly it offered very poor cover, with only an occasional copse of trees and broken down viaducts to stop us from being surrounded by quicker mounted soldiers.

The weather was in our favour at least though, as a mist had descended as we worked, and had made it harder for the tether-men to spot our hastily constructed traps. As we set the wagons up to keep Skuza safe and to the rear, they rode forth from the mist. A dozen regular riders, and another man who had a very different bearing than the others. The regular cavalry held a distant position, keeping them from even a long shot with a bow, but the leader moved closer, being careful not to make himself too obvious a target. The mist failed to hide that the back four were struggling to keep their tethers under control though; it looked like a few of our caltrops had found their mark!

“Good day gentlemen, I pleasure to meet you all! I am an emissary of Thorgrim the Difficult, and I’m here to negotiate your safe passage through these lands. He has heard of your journey thus far; an inconsequential group of vagabonds transporting a paltry amount of cargo, yet today he has lost two of his story men! Whom here was responsible for the death of Haaken Chains?” I raised my arm, Baseado held aloft to answer him, smiling as I did so. We held eye contact for a moment, and to his credit he he showed no fear or intimidation. “And what about Vraag Man”?

Caderyn raised his own arm at the question, but I knew that when last I had seen Vraag Man, he was alive and about as well as could be expected. Thorgrim was certainly a bastard of the highest order, but I hadn’t expected him to have killed one of his own men just for losing a fight. Still, I would eventually learn that it does you no good at all to expect anything of that contrary sod.

“Very well done gentlemen, but I think your luck has run out, and now your only option is to try and placate my employer with an offering”. Valerius perked up at this, but he had been the least optimistic of us all when considering our chances of outrunning or out fighting whoever was at our heels. It was the only the realisation that they could circle the wagons whether we were moving or stationary – and he would be much more likely to land an arrow when not perched on the back of a rocking vehicle – that had him in agreement that we should stop to stand and fight.

“And just how much would Thorgrim want from us in exchange for free passage”, he asked, while the rest of us began sizing up our enemies, preparing for a charge.

“Very little really, when compared to your lives. Your wagons and the women should just about do it I think.”, he replied with a smirk that made me surprised he hadn’t spent a more significant proportion of his life getting punched in the face.

At the mention of women, Fjorlief was quick to retort, as she stood to her not inconsiderable height and bellowed across to him, “No man’s going to stick anything in me that won’t get cut off as he tries”!

After my fight against Haaken I was feeling pretty damned invincible, and that’s the only I excuse I have for what slipped from lip in reply, while the fancy horseman backed away from his insistence on taking the women. I looked over and made brief eye contact with the formidable woman and smiled, “I don’t know, give me a couple of drinks and I might be able to convince you otherwise”. Ah, the confidence of youth.

“I might be convinced to take just one wagon back with me, and for that you have my word that Thorgrim will not pursue you. He admires men of courage, and that might just be enough for him to forgive you the loss of two story men in one day. This is a good deal for you, and I advise you to take it.” Throughout his little speech, the cool demeanour dropped somewhat, but he still seemed confident that he was the one in control of the situation, “If you don’t give me a tribute, Thorgrim will hunt you down to the ends of Uma”!

“And doesn’t that sound like a hell of story to tell”, I shout, refusing to be bullied by him, just because he had us outnumbered with superior troops, and two of our front line fighters were badly injured.

He smiled at this, “It is that kind of bravery my Lord approves of, what are your names so that I might speak of you after you die here today”? We all gave our names, and were told his; Hetgar if I remember correctly.

Valerius seemed happy to continue the negotiations from there, while the rest of us spoke quietly amongst ourselves, planning an attack before he would have the chance to either take what was ours or organise his men to charge us down. Fjorlief and Drazar were talking animatedly about ley lines or some such, and assured me that they could scatter the horses, or just remove Hetgar as an obstacle.

He was surely another storied man was Hetgar, but after the day I’d had, I felt up to the fight, especially as this time I wouldn’t be going it alone. The tether-men would be a real problem though, so I asked them to do what they could to scatter them to the six winds. As I waited for them to work their will, I watched as Valerius drew from a wagon the mace I had taken as a trophy, and did my best to catch up on the conversation. He had talked the Hutzlunr down to half a wagon’s worth of quality goods, and the mace had helped.

Apparently Thorgrim had a soft spot for the nuns of the Grey Hospice who had been slain by Fedenzo, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the weapon without a fight. Keeping my gaze fixed on Hetgar I reached down and hefted up the mace in one hand, and smiled as I pushed it back into the wagon. Valerius looked ready to shout me down for a moment, but he must have seen something in my eyes and relented.

A second later, the tethers in the distance erupted in noise and panic, scattering about and unseating a rider or two in the confusion. Hetgar looked behind him at the disturbance, but seemed unsure of what to do at first. He had held his position at range to keep him from becoming a pin cushion, but was quickly losing the backing of his cavalry. If he still had them under his control, I imagine what follows would have turned very differently for your humble narrator.

We all stood ready to receive a charge though, and he was happy to oblige mere seconds later, going it alone. Confident as I was, I was also happy to take any extra edge available to me, and as he closed on us, I opened up another Sudden Squall. With any luck, it would unseat him, removing his advantage, and giving the rest of us a much better chance of finishing him off quickly. I needn’t have worried though.

As the wind blew away from me, the tether he was charging in on simply ceased to be. It didn’t vanish as such, just stopped being a tether, and instead became a red mist with a few thick clumps of offal floating away from it. This crimson vapour was blown backwards by the gust of wing thrown up by my rune, and left a ten yard long stain on the landscape. A few of his compatriots who had managed to keep control of their chargers saw this horrendous sight and quickly turned tail and ran.

Hetgar had carried on towards us though, his momentum unimpeded by the exploding tether – a neat little trick from the Earth Power users who were very thankful indeed that we had chosen a ley line to fight on – and he landed with a thud only yards from where I stood. With my sword point angled down like a lance I rushed towards him, Valerius shouting behind me that I shouldn’t kill him. By then there was nothing to be done to arrest my charge though, and as he looked up at me I screamed, “And that’s three, mother fucker!”, as the point of my Baseado pushed easily through the soft material of his trews and tore apart his ankle.

I’d like to think it was the last thing he heard as he passed out from the pain. He would wake some time later, stripped naked, courtesy of Valerius who had a wicked streak it seemed, knowing that on that day, three of Thorgrim’s storied men had fallen beneath the blows of our group. Hell, my face was the final thing one of them would ever see, and Hetgar would have my words ringing in his ears for just as long as he was hobbled by the injury I did him.

*     *     *

The tether-men were still a problem though, so as Valerius relieved Hetgar of his clothing, anyone with a ranged weapon loosed arrows or bolts towards those that remained. Even I joined in, making use a stockbow that we had acquired early in our journey, but hit nothing at all. Still, we kept them from regrouping, and were soon on our way. A note was left was left on Hetgar’s unconscious form, but at the time I was unable to see what was written, hopefully Valerius had a sense of humour that wouldn’t anger Thorgim too much.

With that we were away, moving the hormorn as fast as we dared after a very eventful day, and as the evening drew in, it seemed we had left our enemies behind us. Since we had stuck to more civilised roads, we were moving through worked fields, with burnt and abandoned villas dotted around. Workers and civilians were in scant supply though, as it seemed teh partisans had done their work well hereabouts.

Ahead of us was a large secured villa with enclosed grounds. It was open, and looked abandoned like so many other Pelosian structures we had come across, and would be a great place to spend the night. True enough, as was rightly pointed out, anyone who was looking for us through the night was sure to search there. But if any of Thorgrim’s people were still hunting us down, I was a lot happier to be behind some big walls, rather than huddled under a wagon.

Even from a safe distance, Drazar was able to work his magic, and it seemed the place wasn’t quite as empty as we had thought. There were a dozen or so people in there, but none of them seemed to be in great shape. Based on what we had seen so far, I was expecting to find a family of Pelosians huddled together after a partisan raid. Valerius looked to share this suspicion, so we left everyone else with the wagons and made our way there through the darkening evening.

Although he was a Doctor by trade, his skill with a bow and ability to blend into shadows meant I was sure he had also spent some time working as a scout. What I was less sure about was which side he had been paid by, but for now such concerns were easily dismissed.

As we closed on our destination, I held back. If the place was a Pelosian refuge, they would be more comfortable with one of their own walking in first. Sadly, this was not what we were faced with. Once more the Dummonii had been here, but this time some had stayed behind to get drunk on the spoils. Five or so of the bastards were getting merrily pissed on rotgut that would make a hormorn blind, and another half dozen house servants that looked happy that their masters were no longer in charge were guzzling the poison like it was going out of fashion.

They were pissed, and although there was only two of us, Valerius was happy to get into a fight this time. Maybe after seeing everyone else spending the day kicking arse and taking names he just wanted in on the action. With so much combustible liquid knocking around, he had a plan to thin their numbers and sow some discord too.

With a bit of help from some flint and steel, a fire arrow was soon arcing into the building. Rather than just going for one of several puddles made by broken bottles, it struck and shattered one held by a drunken reveler. Suffice to say, all bloody hell broke lose in short order. The serviles were quick to gather what grog they could and disappear out a back door, but the partisans were drunk and stupid enough to charge towards us.

There was only the two of us though, so I needed to slow them down somewhat. Putting on my best Pelosian accent I shouted loudly, “There’s hardly any of them! We have this door covered, come in from the back”! Three of them ran in that direction, the others shouting out how stupid they were, but another arrow shut one of them up quite fatally.

By this time Brand was making his own way towards us, having been alerted by the fire, but Caderyn was staying put. Maybe a little bit of sympathy for his country men, or he was unwilling to again risk further injury, but luckily he wasn’t needed. By later accounts it seemed that Skuza was quite keen to rush to the fore, with only Vitus’ calming voice able to keep him alive.

As the remaining Dummonii pulled themselves together and ran towards us I was once more able to use a rune to take one down, the magical cords tightening around his legs as he fell. Admittedly, he was so pissed a stiff breeze could have done the same, but any little helps.

Brand was already amongst them as they spilled out of the door. I hadn’t seen him arrive, but a second later, there he was, in the midst of the action, sword – not aflame at present – swinging with gusto, dropping partisans with ease. It was almost too easy, and it looked like fortune would favour us all that day. She is a fickle bitch though, and just as I was ready to declare this fight over and offer terms, a brute of a Dummonii exited a side door, looking more pissed off than pissed.

Brand was engaged elsewhere and Valerius with his bow had kept some distance, so it was down to me again. I didn’t want to give him time to think so hurried towards him, swinging the point of my sword round and opening up a wound on his chest before he knew what has happening. It must have hurt, but close by it was obvious he was stone cold sober and out for blood.

He drew himself close to me, hoping to reduce the effectiveness of my long sword, and thrust a curved dagger toward my already injured legs. I felt the blade bite deep, and the white hot agony as he twisted it. A simple little trick to make it easier to pull the blade free, with the added bonus of opening a bigger wound for your opponent to bleed out of.

After taking out two better men already that day, I wasn’t about to die to some piece of shit partisan though. I pulled back and pushed the point of my Baseado under his chin and with a guttural scream pressed up and back with all my strength. With hot blood on my hands he fell backwards and a went down onto one knee. With so much action that day I had one piece of luck left, and with my final healing rune closed the wound to stop any further  blood loss and looked about me.

He was the last of them. We had taken the villa.

Jan 022014
 

The title of this blog – welcome back after the holidays by the way – is a small bit of an introductory paragraph to a game idea I’ve had rattling around in the old noggin for the past couple of weeks. I’ll go into detail about it a bit further down, but for now there’s going to be a bit of a catch up, and some ideas about where the blog’s going.

This was originally going to be a New Year’s Revolutions style of post, as I have a few ideas about things I want to do over the next few months. Sadly though, even though for the next month or so I’m expecting life to return to normal, there’s still a whole lot going on that’s outside of my control. After that I will hopefully be busier than I’ve ever been, and will be playing the whole writing thing by ear.

There’s a couple of things I won’t be doing though. Firstly, I won’t making any promises on when I’ll be posting on here. I’ll be continuing my Orbis RPG game write ups as my weekly post – the game starts again next Tuesday, and I can’t wait – but other than that, I have other things to concentrate on. Because of more important things, I’m also not going be able to review games. It’s not as if I get sent a butt-load of them to begin with, but the time it takes to read the entire rule book, and the struggle to get people together to play it, just makes it unfeasible at present.

One of the things that I will be working on though is my Steampunk robot RPG, Rise of the Automata. It got put on the back burner a few months before the holidays as work was getting crazy and I had other things on my plate too. I never stopped thinking about the game though, and have a few ideas about setting and narration that I want to get down, plus some fun new bits that should allow players to have more of a say in character development and making shiny gadgets.

This is obviously going to be a big project, writing wise, and means that my other cool idea may have to sit gestating a while longer before I get round to fleshing it out. What’s odd is that when I started the blog, I found myself worrying that I would run out of ideas and things to talk about, and was amazed when I would read other people’s blogs and see how they struggled to find the time and mental energy to keep up with everything that they wanted to concentrate on.

And here I find myself without the time to get going on a pretty cool idea. Actually, it’s not so much the lack of time, it’s the fact that I really want to see the Steampunk game finished. I had to put a fairly long term hold on the card game I was working on, simply because of the problems that come along with producing and play testing  game that requires so many physical components. I still lack the finds to create a working prototype and take myself along with it to gaming and Steampunk conventions.

I have a dear friend who has lamented that I have never finished the game as he’s a keen Steampunk creator and really liked it, but life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. An RPG has far fewer necessary components that are required to enjoy it. That’s kind of the reason why I decided to to try and create one, along with having a pretty nifty idea for a base system mechanic, that works really well with a Steampunk setting.

The new game though, I have approached slightly differently. I have no system in mind at all, and only a very vague idea about how the game would work. Depending on how much I want to get it done, it could very well end up being a setting for a modular system like Savage Worlds. I hope not, as designing the system for Rise… has been a damned fine experience.

This game – so far without a name – came about because I have been thinking about running a horror game again. Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of fan of the genre, and I always like to inject a little horror into games I run; so long as it doesn’t detract from the base theme and genre. What I have never done though, although I’m a huge fan, is run something Lovecraftian.

I love the Mythos, but have never been a huge fan of any of the systems. Call of Cthulhu does a good job of handling investigations, but I would prefer a more involved combat system, and Trail of Cthulhu doesn’t appeal at all I’m afraid. Not only that, but I’ve had it my mind for a while now that there’s scope out there for role playing in a world that has seen the investigators to have already lost to the cultists.

In the final month of the year 2013, the rituals were performed, at the right time in the right places. There was nothing that those who worked against the Elder Ones and their minions could do. Strange lights were seen in the skies, and the world awoke to find harbingers of the ancient and unspeakable evils that had lain dormant for so very long.

That was two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, and still the evil has not fully returned to our world. After all, what are mere centuries to beings from beyond time and space? Their cultists stalk to halls of power, sacrifices are made in their honour, fed to the other-worldly  creatures that are said to herald their arrival.

The world hasn’t stood still though, and for most people, their lives continued much as before, but with all permeating dread and fear as constant companions. Technology has marched on, both in the hands of those praying daily for the arrival of the Gods, and also those who use to try and thwart the will of these deluded fools.

The Gods are coming. Can they be stopped?