Jeg skrev for en del år siden en længere Iron Kingdoms historie der både var inspireret af og dannede grundlag for flere rollespilkampagner i universet. Personerne er selvfølgelig ikke helt de samme som i rollespilskampagnen. Jeg troede dog at den gik tabt da jeg mistede en bærbar, men jeg faldt over en backup og vil dele den med jer. Måske det kan få mig til at skrive videre, man kan da håbe.
Jeg deler den op med et “kapiteler” for overskuelighedens skyld.
Billedet ovenfor er et kort over det vestlige Immoren (Iron Kingdoms verdenen, som Warmachine og Hordes og finder sted i).
Historien er på engelsk, men det burde jo ikke just trække ned for folk.
Banosh – A trollkin shaman who hears the voice of the Earthmother in her breath, the wind, and the smells it carries with it. His kriel (tribe) lived in the outskirts of the great Thornwood but the recent upheaval there has made it disband and most of them have joined other kriels but he kept wandering following the voice of the wind. He is deeply loyal and believes the best of people around him, even if that best sometimes has to be encouraged a little bit.
Gregoriev Velaschni – A mechanic in Corvis. Originally he came from Umbrey (Khador) as his name implies but he travelled to Cygnar and got involved in some businesses that made him rather rich, so he stayed. Nowadays he is the local leader of the engineers union in the city.
Hannah D’Vriel – A girl with a mysterious connection to creatures of nature. Somewhat shy and a bit afraid of speaking her mind but cares deeply for people around her – even those she does not know or who have treated her badly. Younger sister of Verana. Her hair is long, brown and somewhat curly, her body slender and gaining her much more attention than she would like. Originally she and her sister came from a village in the borderlands of Llael close to Cygnar, but since an incident in her childhood after her fathers death they have been traveling, although she often tries to settle down in some village while her sister goes on trying to sell her wares in the area.
Janisz Stratislaw – A Khadoran rifleman
Kamkanunimakiuv – A gobber who prides himself as the greatest inventor Western Immoren has ever seen, the most imaginative for certain if out of the ordinary and most often useless or downright malfunctioning and dangerous machines count. His natural skin color is brownish green but most often closer to black as he has a tendency to get covered in oil and other substances, he prefers it that way and hates getting cleaned. He his delusional at times and extremely egoistical which can make him appear psychotic at times.
Karl Swansong – Cygnaran braggert extraordinaire and the biggest and most attractive womanizer in western Immoren in his own eyes. He is rather cowardly but if stuck in a brawl or fight he cannot avoid he will use the skills he has developed in both brawls and duels with rapiers or pistols over the years. His hair is short, blond and always look unkempt and his eye crystal blue, his body well build without being excessively buff.
Loris Arnson – An arrogant megalomanical sorcerer from Midlund (Cygnar) who believes that he is the only intelligent being who truly deserves to be alive, others are just tools to be used. He joined the group because he was bored and it was a chance to let his superiority show so the world would notice and worship him. It has not happened so far, but deep down he enjoys the company even though Mafalda has made it her mission to make him see the value of others.
Mafalda Strongvoice – A female trollkin songstress… Her size and warhammer might be arge and threatening but her heart is even bigger.
Mikhail Mussara – An older menite priest who first felt the call to go out and spread the holy word late in life. He might seem a bit gruff, especially around non-humans and noisy people, but he is surprisingly caring for a menite, the Word means a lot to him but so does his fellow humans. His hair is almost all gray, only few traces of his once jet black mane remains, and his bald spot is steadily growing. For an older priest he is surprisingly well built, he always took part in the training of the local monks and helped the farmers when needed as a good priest takes part in the life of his community in his eyes. When the need to wander struck him he travelled north and ended in a small Khadoran village where most of the villagers clung to a mix of Khadoran folklore and superstitions and menite teachings; Mikhail made sure the teachings became the main part of their everyday compared to the folklore, the way it should be.
Takeriwinikanigosh – A female gobber who, like many of her race, sees herself as rather an inventor. She is decent at cobbling things together and more often than not they work mostly as intended but they lack the flash and ingenuity gobber bodgers is often renowned for. Her skin is in the brownish end of the typical colors of gobbers and her hair is set up in what remotely resembles a pony-tail – when it is not all over the place. She is rather maniacal about finding new parts for her inventions, but she always try to maintain a good relationship to the people around her, both because it might give her extra parts but also because she simply likes company to show off her stuff to. Thus her main point when building is not experimenting to get new stuff but to build things that can actually be used by people, that she can earn some coin by doing so have not escaped her nose either, but deep down her main desire is to help people.
Verana D’Vriel – A young woman who runs a merchant-company out of Five Fingers although she is more often abroad and living in other more rural areas until her supply of wares run out. Beautiful with long, black curly hair and an exquisite figure that belies her somewhat uncouth nature. She has a flair for flamboyancy and always says and does what is on her mind. In most ways she is the exact opposite of her sister Hannah, about whom she cares deeply. Since their mother died giving birth to Hannah and their father drinking himself to death in sorrow over this she has been the closest thing to a parent for her younger sister.
Hannah had always been a strange child. She had run around the outskirts of the village like the boys and got herself dirty and bruised and not at all interested in the household chores that her mother and sisters seemed destined for and fully satisfied with. She was the wild child, but noone had guessed how wild…
The heat was sweltering under the harsh desert sun. Mikhail once again felt compelled to curse the Creator for putter such hardships on his people, but as always he reminded himself that it was to strenghten them, so that no heathen could stand in their way when they reclaimed the world to the true faith.
The old man did however question the wisdom in leaving his village in northern Khador on a pilgrimmage to see the true land of the Lawbringer. Truly it was magnificent what the faithful had created under the wise guidance of the Hierachs, but yet he felt it was all too harsh, too strong and comdemning compared to the belief in the countryside where he came from. There was no doubt what they did and preached was right, yet the magnifisence of it all seemed too much for a man like him to fully grasp.
Karl was a wanted man, although not as much by the ladies as he fancied and more by the authorities. He used to be a recruit in the Cygnaran military, where he was assigned as a trencher, or more like gravedigger in his own words. He disappeared under the first serious engagement, a border skirmish near ? with the Khadorans, and since then he was labelled a deserter.
That did not prevent him from frequenting various bars and boast of his time as a great man in the millitary. Usually he found a believing ear and a ready coin, and before he had to repay he always had hit the road for the next town and tavern.
Banosh smelled the air and let out a sigh. The were something going on up north, something giving the air a tinge of blood. He hefted up his spear and begang going against the wind, the elders had told him to follow the trail of anything that could endanger the new home of the tribes and he felt the burden of his brethren on his shoulders.
Takeriwinikanigosh grinned broadly, her greenishbrown face contorting to show a large row of teeth with some missing here and there. Those countryside bumpkins had no idea about how anything more complicated than a club worked, and steamwork was akin to magic to them. She could make a fortune here up north.
Chapter One – A gathering of heroes
The snow was falling heavily on the small village, covering the land in a thick white blanket.
Karl was beginning to think that it had been a very bad decision to travel so far north. His stories was beginning to lose their credibility and he had no way to get away from here with the snowstorm raging. And no telling what those harsh khadorans would do if they felt wronged. Oh well, no use in worrying. He ordered another brew, he supposed it was something akin to the beer he knew from Midlund, but it sure didn’t taste the same way and the smell…
Takeriwinikanigosh banged happily on the old boiler, she sure had not expected to find a beauty like this out here. Her clanging rang through the night as the only sound defying the silence of the snow.
Father Mikhail frowned, that gobber and her constant noise. He had finally found a sanctum for his faith in this quit village and a good community who believed in the Creator and loved his sermons. If only those outsiders with their demoralizing stories, belief in the hollow god Morrow and constant distractions would leave his parish alone.
Karl eyed the lone, young woman sitting in a corner of the inn drawing her cloak close around her. Her long, brown hair flowed over her shoulder in thick curls and her cloak didn’t conceal the curves of her body fully. He licked his teeth and began walking confidently over to her table, although to the other people in the room it looked more like swaying from side to side.
”Hey sweetie, what is a beauty like you doing in a dump like this?” that pickupline was a classic, but given noone but the locals came to a remote place maybe it was not the smartest thing to call it a dump, darn his quick tongue. ”Would you like a drink?” he could always get her drunk, that never failed.
She looked at him with cold eyes full of contempt her full mouth a straight line but said nothing.
He began moving his hand to hold around her, but midair it was grabbed by a strong hand and he was forced away from the table.
”It doesn’t look like she apreciates your company,” the large trollkin boomed in an amused voice.
”What do you know, you big piece of meat?” The troll tightened the grip on his arm and he vinced.
”I suggest you leave her alone. I came here to find quiet contemplation about a grave matter, and a bar room brawl started by drunken lust is not part of that.”
Karl squirmed to get free and was just about to reach for his trusty dagger hidden under his shirt, but a horn sounded and the inn grew silent.
A man clad in thick furs covered with snow burst in through the door. A path opened for him through the crowd and he got up to the bartender and talked with him in a stutter, it was clear he was a figure of authority in the village.
The barteneder turned to the people in the room who all managed to look incredibly sober given the amount of ale sold that evening.
”A guard was found dead out in the fields.”
People began mumbling, who would kill a guard and at this time of winter when he could not get away?
The bartender cleared his throat and people fell silent again. ”Aparantly he wasn’t ehm, shot, or killed by a man. He was shred to pieces by strong claws and his heart devoured.”
The muttering among the guests grew to new heights, and even the bartender could not calm them down. The trollkin noticed his problems and let out a loud, high tone that made all the noise in the room seem quiet in comparison.
”Thank you. The village cannot allow to have such a beast prowling so close to our homes. We need to kill it before it kills us. I offer a free drinks and food in a week to the one who can prove he has killed it.”
Most people agreed that it was a very small award for what would obviously be a hard kill.
Karl however began counting on his fingers and looked quite a bit more sober, a week, that would cover what he oved the inn and a few days more. As a master swordsman and one of the best shots in Cygnar surely it would be no match for him.
He felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. ”I see you eying the deal, pipsqueak, but you are not alone. The will of the elders brought me up here to face an unknown danger, maybe this is it.”
Karl began to get angry, but then again, maybe he could use this to his advantage and have the stupid buffoon track the beast and be in danger while he just took the credit and then made a quiet exit.
Chapter Two – The Voice of a Troll
The snow was thick outside the village, but the fall had stopped and left a thick, powdery layer covering the ground.
It almost reached the top of the leather boots worn by Mikhail, but he did not complain, the Creator had given the people such hardships as the almost unending khadoran winter to strenghten their resolve and faith.
He shrugged the loose snow left on his cloak away and sighed. One thing was the winter, another was the grisly murder left by an animal no doubt possessed by the spirit of the Devourer.
The other people wishing to kill the beast assembled, and he left out a loud sigh. Almost none of his faithfull villagers had dared show up, they knew the madness of a hunt of a dangerous prey this time of winter. So did he, but unlike them he had to participate and help removing the taint of the Devourer from the village. Instead of the villagers most of the outsiders visiting the village had shown up.
The cygnaran braggert who knew neither common sense nor shame when telling lies and definitely not refrain when it came to drinking ale or trying to womanize, an area where he failed miserably the father thought with a smirk. It would do well for the faith of the villagers if such a sinner were to be killed by the spawn of the Devourer.
Beside the braggert the trollkin stood, an odd couple if he had ever seen one. The priest tolerated the Dhunia-worshipper as he kept quiet about his heathen ways and seemed to help the villagers where needed, and such muscle as his always found a use.
The obnoxious gobber had also shown up, brandishing a strange firearm that looked like it was cobbled together from several pistols, a rifle and a lot of scrap metal and screws. It might either blow a big hole in whatever was targeted the first time it was fired or send the gobber to Urcaen. He wouldn’t miss her noisy ways, that was for sure.
He let out a loud whistle, getting the attention of the assembled group. To his mind there was no question that he was the de facto leader of the group, he was after all the eldest and definitely most experienced among them.
Before he had a chance to speak the troll stepped away from Karl and let out a cough in a such a low, sonorous tone that a cannon would have been proud of the volume. The attention shifted to the troll and he decided to let the heathen speak, no way he could compete with the voice of a troll.
We have a savage beast threatening the lives of every son and daughter of the Earthmother here in the North, the troll began. Mikhail began doubting it had been such a good idea to let the troll speak, although he knew the troll was a blasphemer he had hoped he would refrain from propaganzing his heathen ways.
We need to deal with this threat, the troll continued. We, the strongest of this makeshift tribe, need to fulfil our duty and make sure our sisters and brothers once again can huddle around the fire and feel safe. At the mention of sisters Karl got a wide grin on his face and he licked his lips, he seeemed to enjoy the thought of some of the local girls feeling thankful to him.
The assembled group split up into smaller search parties, each with a strong horn so they could contact the others if they needed help when engaging the beast.
The braggert had teamed with the troll, their former arguements seemingly forgotten, or maybe it was just easier to settle them out in the wilderness.
The remaining members of the local militia and strong villagepeople like the blacksmith teamed among themselves leaving the gobber and the priest together, and arrangement that most certainly did not please Mikhail. He definitely didn’t look forward to her gibbering and whatever usefull contraptions she might bring it would definitely be loud, which in turn would alert the beast and make his skills needed.
Chapter Three – Tracks in the Snow
Outside the village the snow formed an even thicker layer making it hard for a man to keep a decent stride. For the troll that did not prove any hindrance, his greater bulk working like a snowplough. That alone was reason enough for Karl to lessen his enmity of the nosey troll,
Mikhail did not feel the same way about the gobber though. Even when stealth was required her inane gibbering continued and her tools clankered wildly swinging from her belt.
The groups had left the city in a cross pattern, the two groups of villagepeople going north and south and the foreigners and priest east and west.
The groups going west and north headed into a tundra swept by snowstorms, but the current calm made it accessible apart from huge drifts blocking the way here and there. The troll cursed as any tracks had been swept away by the raging winds.
The southern and easterne groups went into thick pine woods, something that annoyed the gobber no end as she would not be able to get a clear line of sight with her wonderweapon to anything further away than the cone of warm air her breath produced. Secretly this pleased the priest as any way less noise would be produced the faster his headache created by the noisy creature would go away.
A couple of miles away from the city the tundra teams stopped, with the wind gaining speed again and no tracks of the assailant the horn was sounded to return to the safety of the walls and comfort of the heaths.
Just after they heard the horn Banosh began sniffing the air and headed straight in the opposite direction as the village. Karl grabbed his arm but found himself dragged along and resigned to the fate of discovering whatever had caught the attention of his big companion.
”Here,” the troll whispered in a somber bass, ”something unnatural is nearby, a blasphemy to the earthmother.”
Apart from the Earthmother thing Karl felt inclined to agree, there was an eiree silence even for the middle of a stormswept tundra and it felt as if something was watching them with cold eyes, but nothing could be seen even with the vista stretching into the hazy white horizon.
Banosh took a step forward, and suddenly the snow in front of them erupted into the air like the birth of a frozen volcano. And what terrible child it was, an almost white reptile-like creature with great spines protuding from its back. It stood almost twice as tall as the troll and had been hiding inside a small cleft, hidden by the snow.
Large muscles rippled under its scaly skin and it moved with a mix of animal cunning and deliberate action. It quickly grapped the troll in a giant hand, threatning to squeeze all life of the proud and strong warrior, now nothing more than a ragdoll in the hands of a monstrous child.
Karl grabbed his gun, a skill practised countless times on his travels and he fancied himself on par with the best duelists in Llael. Before the monster had a chance to make the troll a lot slimmer he had planted a shot in one of the eyes of the best. Although it did not look much like an eye, just a large fleshy growth on the head of the reptilian creature where the eye should be.
The monster growled and lunged for Karl but before it’s large, meaty fist could connect with his head the snow errupted a second time.
This time however the monster emerging did not seem to want to kill them, instead it’s muzzle tore deep into the neck of the draconic creature. Ths one had fur instead of scales and looked like some sort of gigantic cross between a human and a wolf, although it’s ferocity definitely owed more to the wolf.
Karl and Banosh looked at each other and tumbled away from the battling monstroseties, this chance to get away unharmed was too good to miss.
When they were several hundred meters away they looked at east other and breathed sighs of relief and thanked their respective gods. Where had the second beast come from though?
They reached the trees and saw a slim figure slip between them also trying to get away from the scene. The troll went into a surprisingly unhidred pursuit running through the snow and soon came close to the figure.
It was the young girl from the inn. She was covered in a large fur coat and seemingly had followed them, but her mind seemed absent as if something in another place was occupying it…
Chapter four – The Warmth of the Heath
Back in the village the people gathered around them, but somehow the tale of the dragonlings demise did not really help the mood. Who knew if it was the scaleborn that had killed the villagers and not the werewolf? And even though it seemed to have protected Karl and Banosh did thst really indicate anything?
The guard of the village remained intense, but at least the search parties were allowed a good nights rest.
What worried Karl was not as much the new monster as why they had found the girl out there. Did she follow them? And why did she turn up at the same time as the monster? And even more importantly, why would she not talk a word to him neither on the trek home or now? She was basically a damsel in distress that he had saved, couldn’t she at least show some gratitude and a little of her wiles?
The troll had similar speculations although with a slightly different angle. It could be no coincidence that the girl and the wolfbeast suddenly were out there, close to them and the monster. Her lack of explanation to them and outright refuse to talk further increased his suspicions, were she in reality working together with the monsters from inside the village? If so they were truly all doomed. But why would a human girl want to help monsters destroy her home?
Unsatsfied with his thoughts giving him no answers he grunted, blew out the candle in his quarter and went to bed. He defintely had deserved a good nights sleep with no interruption from drunken braggerts.
The braggert did not want to sleep yet though, he enjoyed the bar and was already spinning a heroic tale of how he singlehandedly not only killed the first monster but also the second. He was eying several of the local younger women, most of them a bit too coarse and bulky for his taste, but there were not any other options out here. His mind drifted to the wandring girl, now she was a much better piece of work, she really stuck out here, but he was not going to go begging her for attention.
After a few hours and several downed glasses of ale, he began considering if his instance on quality and acceptance was too high. He looked around the room, but even when drunk the local women did not look appealing, just pudgy and kinda woman-shaped. The only option for a good tumble seemed to be tbe young, aggressive woman after all.
Now, he did really prefer women who right away saw his attractiveness and brilliance, but it was not the first time he would have to be more persuasive. Usually an extra tale or two or an valuable trinket with an amazing origin would do the trick, but a few times he had been forced to show a lttle of his strength, then they all fell for his charms.
He got off his chair, but apparently the chair could not stand without him sitting on it. The room had begun to sway too, apparently all the people here had had a bit too much to drink. They had even changed the door while he looked away, but the cold night air sent a shudder down his back and now he most certainly was sober.
Now his idea did not seem so good, but what was a man worth if he did not stick to his plans??He had a vague idea of where the girl lived, so he hurried over there, or as much hurry as one could when there was a layer of snow and one had one too many drinks.
The house was not more than an improved hut, thick wooden walls holding the cold out and small, almost non-existant windows providing only a fraction of light to enter. That did not bother Kar much, the less he could use his eyes the more reason he had to use his hands. He grinned.?The womenfolk sure liked it when he used his hands.
He knocked the door and said his name in his most sultry voice but no response. Maybe she was asleep, so he knocked once more. She was only playing hard to get after all, secretly she had to be dying to get a nightly visit from him.
This time he got a response, but it was not exactly what he expected. She yelled that ”the drunken sod who only thinks with his pants and not his head” should leave, whoever that was he wondered. Maybe she had a bit too much to drink herself or was just a bit crazy. Oh well, craziness or not, her body certainly did not have any faults and that was what he was after, women should leave the thinking to the men anyway.
As she did not seem inclined to let him in he began to try and force the door open, and as expected of such a cheap house – she should be honored to be visited by a man like him – there was no lock.
The door began to turn inwards and he caught a glimpse of the girl standing the furthest away possible looking frightened but otherwise being naked and just holding a blanket in front of her. Apparently she had been sleeping, but he was about to show her something better.
The sight of her naked tigh, that was trying to hide behind the fabric curved entrancingly in a white sheen reflected from the small window, was about to drive him mad with lust. Her shabby clothing had done their best to hide her excuisite body, but as he had expected she sure was a fine girl, he had seen none more beautiful in the southern lands, where the girls did tend to be a lot more fair than here up north.
He lunged to grab her and hold her ind his arms and let his finges do their magic to persuade her. He did not reach her though, something tore though the thick wooden side of the house and he was thrown out into the snow several metres away from the house with a bestial snarl. Just as he heard the village alarm bell he blacked out.
Chapter Five – The Bastard and the Beast
Karl woke up with a thundering headache, it felt as if a bear had duffed him over. Given how sore his head felt too and the sporadic recollection he had of what happened in the young girls house it might not be that far off from the truth.
He was rather upset though to find that his sleeping quarters had been the local brig, or rather the shed behind the village elders house that served the same purpose. What was even worse was that the door had been locked form the outside, could they not see that he was the victim?
He began banging the walls, which did make his headache even worse but it was the best way to get the attention of someone outside.
Sure enough, after a short while an elderly man drew the shutter in the door away and looked into the shed, Karl remembering him as being something of a chief or mayor in the village.
“Ah, the drunk beast have awakened”
Karl was about to protest about the beast thing, but then his throbbing head and vague recollection of the evening before made him stop; he did remember something about violating the strange girl seeming perfectly fine to him. But he had not done it, had he? His head began to hurt more, no, he had been stopped but how and by what?
“Quite a trick you played on us yesteday, making us think you were heroes while you were the monster all along,” the old man said and nodded knowingly. “Although your companion denies everything and states that you are a normal man and that he “does not sense” anything strange about you whatever nonsense that is.” He pauses and looks seriously at Karl, “You don’t deserve such loyalty, a beast like you shouldn’t get human treatment. The way you wrecked poor Hannahs house while trying to get to her in the middle of the night was abominable, what were you trying to do,” he paused, “but considering we found you naked I guess I do not want to know.”
Karl was about to protest but then had to admit to himself that the old man had got most of it right, just not the part of him being a monster. Where did that come from?
“You probably thought that a village like us wouldn’t have heard rumors about your kind,” he said, his lips contorting into what looked like a snarl. “Werewolf, eh? I always held such things to be fairy tales told to children to scare them, if they were bad an evil man-wolf would come a tear them apart.” He looked sadly at Karl, “apparently they were not. The strength with which you demolished that house would have amazed me but the grisliness with which you murdered and ate poor Malakvev and Bostroj defies any human traits.” His eyes filled with hate and he continued.
“You almost tricked us and got away but your animal instincts got the better of you in the end,” he smiled bitterly, “too late sadly to prevent any of the deaths or your rampage. But we got you and you will be burned at the stake this evening.”
Karl was speechless, did these country bumpkins really believe that he was the monster? Apparently so as the old man left the shed with a last look that managed to combine disappointment, anger and sadness.
Alone again Karl had time to contemplate about his situation, and no matter how he saw it it looked rather bleak. Even with his superior physique, skills and mental quickness there was no way he could overpower all the villagers together. The troll might want to help him prove his innocence, but if doing so meant killing innocent villagers he would certainly hesitate, even if such glaring stupidity would lead to the death of a fully innocent man – him. Considering this they could not really be called innocents though, could they? In fact THEY were the criminals, not he who just got a bit eager when he had the chance to explore an attractive girls honeypot – okay, he had been more than eager but everybody makes mistakes – although he did not often.
He decided to try and get some rest, no matter how much he wanted to stand up and yell and try to break down the walls of his prison he had little hope of success. Better to rest and be ready to make a break for it when they would lead him to his execution. With that sparse yet slightly reassuring plan Karl drifted off to sleep.
His sleep was troubled though, although that was expectable give the circumstances, but he had a weird dream about the beautiful girl who suddenly grew large fangs and attacked him, but when he looked down his body it was that of the reptilian creature they had encountered earlier.
When he woke there were wispy tendrils of fog crawling into the shack from every hole and an eerie silence covered the town. It was almost unnaturally quiet, not even the animals in the barns made any noise, something unhealthy was clearly afoot.
A bestial howl pierced the deadly silence, the cry of a predatory wolf on the hunt. Then silence again until a heavy blow shook the shed and several of the planks began to slide and cracks form in the walls. The noise seemed to wake the village and shouts were heard from all sides.
Whatever it was hit the small building again, it did not sound like a hammer, more like someone hammering on the wooden sides with giant fists. But what would have such force? Sure, the trollkin was strong and had a natural ferocity, but Karl much doubted that he would try to break him out. Besides, the villagers were already doubting him and their involvement, they surely would not leave the troll unguarded.
Another blow and several of the planks gave way, splinters flying into the shed. Karl instinctively lifted a hand to protect himself and thus was not prepared when the large fist came in through the hole in the wall, grapped him and pulled him through. The whole was not really big enough for a man, although still formidable considering it was from a punch, and large pieces of wood got lodged in his clothing and a rather nasty sharp piece ended up in his shoulder, his arm falling limb. Still, he was out of the shed, but was the relative safety of the shed truly worse than ending up grapped by the large wolf-creature from before?
Chapter Six – Moon-sick
He must have blacked out, even though a strong man like him never did such a thing. All around him was black, although it receded a little when he opened his eyes, all he could manage was small slits though, his whole head felt numb and swollen.
He had not been drinking yesterday, he had been in the blasted shack wrongly accused, but he did have a few the day before – that was why he had been incarcerated in the first place after all – but it was not that much, he usually could stomach far more. Or had the barkeep put something in his beer? Had he been set up? The locals did seem not to like outsiders much, that was certain.
He felt the ground under him move a bit, or rather, the planks he was lying on. Where was he, on a ship? He wagered a slight gap with one eye but he closed the eyelid fast, the light was blinding. Where was he kept? Why so bright?
He heard steps coming towards him, no doubt his captors coming to torture and gloat at his misfortune.
“Ah, the wretch have awakened I see”. A female spoke, her voice hard and sharp like the sounds of her boots on the wooden planks.
“No use in hiding it”, a sharp boot-tip poked his ribs to punctuate the words, “I know you’re awake and can hear me. My dear sister didn’t hit you that hard”.
Karl did not try to open his eyes as he replied cautiously and a bit more weak-sounding than he would like – especially in front of a woman.
“Yeah, the little one can be pretty stupid at times, especially considering how much a beast you were towards her, I wouldn’t have bothered to save you, let the mob do with you as they pleased. You could have ended with helping her as a crude atonement for your attempt to take her most sacred place”.
“Her sacred… place?” He was pretty sure where this was headed, but better to play stupid and hope his captors would not be so alert so he could escape.
“You know what I mean you rapist scum”.
She was too clever to fall for such a simple trick, he could see that now. Better wait to see what more she would divulge, he did not know nearly enough about where and how he had ended wherever he was to make a successive escape attempt.
He heard a sound of metal being drawn from a sheath, a small knife of dagger by the sound of it, and now she began cutting something with it.
He was beginning to get a bit scared, clearly this woman did not feel his charm, otherwise he would not be captured like this, and maybe she carried a grudge based on his failed attempt to seduce her sister and would use the knife on something more soft than she was currently cutting.
Karl had to open his eyes again, he had to know what could be coming. He opened his left eye very slowly so he could get accustomed to the light.
The first he saw was the wooden planks, the deck of the ship he was on based on the rocking feeling he had earlier. It seemed like it was in good condition, so at least he should not expect to drown, unless thrown over board of course.
The next thing he saw was the leather boot of his captor, sleek, black with polished buckles and long, covering her leg to about the knee. And what a leg, long, slender and very appetizing he must admit. The main course was covered by a pair of deep red and black puffy pants that, even though they bulged on the sides, accented her slender figure very nicely. The pants combined with her ruffled shirt gave her the look of a privateer, her black curled hair and full lips made her a very attractive one.
“Enough of the ogling, your treatment of my sister must have given you enough view of my family, or?” She placed the hard heel of her boot on his thigh, way too close to his most treasured place.
He gulped hard and nodded.
“I found it stupid to help you, but my sister is such a weakhearted person, she is too kind, especially to strangers like you. It has often brought her trouble, that’s why we haven’t lived the same place for long in several years. I thought the remote village would be the best place for her, far away from things that could upset her”.
“And why is that?” Karl dared to ask.
“Because of her… gift”. The black-haired woman shook her head, “it’s me who asks the questions here and who decides what to do with you, not the other way around”.
Karl gulped again and nodded.
“Because you she let it out, the beast, and so we have to move again. How can you take responsibility for that?”
He had no idea, and to be honest no wish to help two sisters of whom at least one were a lunatic, although pretty and certainly worth a good time.
Before their one-sided talk could continue the door to the cabin of the ship burst open and a large creature came onto the deck. It caught sight of the man slumped on the deck talking to the slender female and let out a deep, rolling greeting of sorts.
“So you’re awake now you lusty dog, that’s good. Glad we got you away from the crazy villagers”.
Karl winced at being called a dog, especially at the memory of what happened in the cottage.
“Are you trying to mock my sister, troll?” His captor spat out those words with almost as much malice as she had been addressing him. She most certainly seemed to have a complex about her sister.
“No Verana”, the trollkin almost chuckled, “you know I have the deepest respect for her and you. Especially after you showed how much you care about other people in the village, even saving the man who pestered your sister after he got caught up in it”.
Caught up in what? Caring about the villagers? What had happened there while he was out?
You know how much I worry about her and despise the curse of hers, especially when she gets moon-sick and cannot control herself. Still, she is such a gentle soul, often too gentle. She shot a venomous glance at Karl who, despite still having no clue at what was going on and still being threatened, felt that things might work out after all as the troll was there, somewhat on his side and seemed to be able to tame the wild valkyrie standing in front of him.
Suddenly a dark puff of smoke came from the door leading under deck, the ship began slowing as if the engine had stopped and a small soot covered face emerged from the door.
“Sorry guys, it seems like the engine and I had a small disagreement, I’ll get it running in no time again” the gobber said before returning to her work.
Chapter Seven – The Adventurers
It was a hot day in Corvis, the heat was sweltering and the workers rebuilding the last of the city after the invasion by the mad old king and his new Skorne lackeys. The large crane on the harbor had broken down under the strain of the large shipments and the unrelenting heat, and banging and clanging could be heard from it interrupted by occasional swearing.
Whoever last repaired this blasted heap of junk metal really had no idea about how to make an engine run properly, Gregoriev thought. The way the gears had been put together, the unnecessary pistons, who could even think that an engine would work like that?
Shaking his head he finished the job, stayed to see that the crane did work again and went back to his workshop.
When he got there the first thing he noticed was the chain for the doorbell. He did not have a doorbell, or at least did not until now.
The second thing he noticed, when he entered the workshop, was the pungent smell, a mix between oil, chemicals and sweat.
The third was the large steam whistle mounted on the wall. What on earth was that doing there?
“It’s great, issnit?” A high-pitched, creaky voice said from a dark corner of the shop.
“Lemme show you!” A small person streaked past Gregoriev and out the door.
There was a sound of a metal-chain getting yanked and then an ear-splinning whistling filled the room, so loud that Gregoriev feared his eardrums might burst.
He saw the gobber bouncing through the door excitedly but he could not hear the door close.?The gobber began to talk but it took a while before Gregoriev could hear what he said. That did not seem to influence the gobber though, he kept talking at a rapid pace.
After a while his hearing came back, he nodded and the gobber noticed.
“Magnificent isnnit?” He took Gregoriev’s silence as an agreement and continued.
“I’m Kamkanunimakiuv, inventor extraordinaire. I’m here about some of the money the Union understandably chose to support me with.”
Ah yes, Gregoriev remembered that a letter had been send out to the leaders of the Union that a gobber had been lend a sizable amount of gold to build a driving machine. An automotive wagon that did not require rails, rather ingenious.
“Here is the first down payment”, the gobber said clearly a bit annoyed, “I hope that you people will recognize my brilliance at some point so such inconveniences will not be necessary in the future”.
Before Gregoriev could reply it knocked hard on the door, some people still were thinking practically Gregoriev happily thought.
A large shape loomed at the open door, then edged itself into the dimly lit workshop.
Long time no see, the female trollkin cheerfully said, her voice echoing and bouncing around the room getting a metallic tone from all the different mechanical apparatuses scattered around the room.
“I see you’re doing well, far cry from when we were cleaning up the sewers, eh?”
“Yes, yes it is”. Gregoriev seemed a bit uncomfortable being reminded of this low point of his career. “Glad to see you, what brought you here other than reunion with an old companion?”
“Our old friend the captain of the guard has asked if we can help him with a job once again”.
Gregoriev hesitated for a moment, he did have a good time with Mafalda and the gang, but he finally got his business going and going well at that.
“Sorry, Mafalda, you’re a good friend – the others too – but I cannot leave my shop”.
He caught sight of Kam who seemingly was trying to disassemble the engine had in the corner of the shop.
“Would an, ehm, substitute be ok?”
Kam looked up, “I ain’ no substitute, I’m the real deal”.
Gregoriev cleared his throat, “there would be money to be made, right?”
“Sounds like something for you, right Kam?” Gregoriev asked while he tried to pry the gobber away from the engine.
The next morning a motley crew had gathered on one of the piers at the harbor getting ready to board a ship. The most striking of the group being the large blue trollkin, beside her stood a somewhat unkempt man clad in leathers polishing a big rifle, beside him was a rather sour-looking man in a light-blue robe with golden trimmings and running around their feet like an agitated child was the gobber.
“All accounted for?” The captain of the steamer looked over the railing at the gathered group.
The ship was steaming down the Black River going southwards, dusk had fallen and soon it was night. The ship got around a bend and the river widened into a broad expansthe e.
Suddenly two faint orbs of light shone from the depths of the water and began to close on the ship. Janisz, the rifleman, usually preferred to sleep on deck and this night was no different so he was the first to notice the lights.
He observed them closing on the ship for some minutes before he alarmed the captain and his companions, no need to make a fuzz about swamp gas.
“What do you think it is?” He asked the captain when they were gathered on deck. Ever seen anything like it in the river?
“No, never. What is it even?”
Before anyone had a chance to guess at what it could be the orbs began moving upwards and revealed that they were in fact glowing eyes set wide on a head that looked vaguely horselike. The head was placed on a long neck, far too long compared to the rotund body that looked like an unholy cross between a donkeys body and legs, the scales from an dracodile and general shape of a barrel. All over it’s body there were places where the skin and scales did not cover its body properly so one could see sickly colored flesh and bones jutting outwards almost as if the creature was about to fall apart from the inside. But despite its appearance it was alive and did not give of the aura of decay that the undead abominations the group had met so far had had.
“What in the name of the Mother is that”, Mafalda whispered to herself.
The creature let out what probably was it’s equivalent of a roar, a whistling noise that ended in a gurgling sound like something was drowning, and charged towards the ship. Given its size and look the speed was impressive, and soon it was so close to the ship that the crew could smell its stench that would have made a burning morgue seem like a flowerbed.
One of the deckhands was unfortunate to look directly into its eyes and fell to the deck petrified, all life seemingly gone from his body. That creature might look strange but it certainly was dangerous.
Janisz quickly got his rifle and began firing round after round into the creature, carefully avoiding to look directly into its face. The bullets did not seem to affect it much though, and it closed in on the ship.
A flash of lightning illuminated the ship and a burnt black mark on the flank of the creature combined with an even worse smell told them that the sorcerer had joined the fight. His smug smile could have told them the same if they had cared looking, but his confidence quickly fell when the creature got even closer to the ship and began ramming it with its head as if it was trying to get the ship to turn over.
Mafalda began singing, first a slow quiet tune but it soon rose, got faster and more aggressive and the creature began to show signs of pain and back away from the ship. She continued her song and the others bolstered by her voice continued to fend off the creature and soon it retreated back to the murky depths from whence it came.
“Anyone have any idea what that was?” Mafalda asked but no one answered, all shook their heads and remained silent.
“No, but it sure did not look tasty”, Kam muttered to himself.
Chapter Eight – Under deck
There was a small gathering under deck, both sisters were there – the first Karl had seen of the younger one since his departure from the village, the trollkin, the priest from the village – why he had joined them Karl had no idea and the gobber, who seemed to have left her beloved engine rather reluctantly given the look on her face and her frequent glances at the door.
The brash sister, whom Karl had learned was named Verana, coughed and the rest of them went silent.
“Some of you know why you’re here, some of you don’t”. She looked directly at Karl.
“Some of you chose to be here, some of you didn’t”. She looked even more intently at Karl.
“Thus I decided to gather you all, to make our, no your” – again she focussed on Karl, “situation clear and try to make a plan for all of us. I cannot ignore what many of you have seen or guessed but instead of doing something rash”, she coughed and her sister looked sternly at her, “I”, she looked at her sister again, “no we have decided to let you decided our course of action. The only demands I have from your is to hear me out and not leave”.
Karl considered protesting about not leaving, but then again, he took a quick appraising look at the two sisters, the look of parts of the company made it worth staying.
“You all were in the village, Verana continued, and you all saw my sister”, she cleared her throat, “use her gift or whatever it is. Some of you may not have realized it was her, other not what it was.”
“What it is is a blasphemy”, Mikhail the priest interrupted.
“And yet you helped her and is here”, Verana replied pointedly.
“May I continue?” She looked sternly at the priest as if he was a schoolboy being noisy in class.
Mikkhail reddened and clenched his right hand as if angered by her mockery but he kept quiet.
“My sister is giftes,” she began once again, “and although it sometimes might seem a curse that gift helped save that Khadoran village no matter how you think of it.”
Mikhail began to protest, “our search teams were doing well, we would have caught the dragonling even without the help of your sister’s… monstrosity.”
Before Verana could stop him again he continued, “how are we even to know that the dragonling was not another of her pets?” He spat out the last word as if it left a bad taste in his mouth.
“How often do I have to tell you? It is not pets, the wild creatures of nature just come to help my sister when needed, she certainly does not keep them as pets.”
Hannah quietly continued, “It’s not like I control them or anything, but when I’m in danger it is like a beacon to creatures of the wild, they come to protect me. It frightens even me…”
“So what did exactly happen out there in the wilderness and the village?” Karl felt he might finally get the answers to fill the blanks in the puzzle that was his memory.
“When I saw the hunting parties leave the village I knew that I had to sneak after them to help,” Hannah began.
“I wonder how you knew…” Mikhail said softly.
“Are you still implying my sister is a murdering monstrous maniac?” Verana said heatedly. “I assure you that she isn’t – but I ca be if my patience is tested too much!” She placed her hand on the holster of her pistol and Mikhail fell silent again.
Hannah looked distressed but continued her story, “I snuck after the hunters out of the village and ended up following those two,” she nodded at Karl and the troll, “always keeping good distance so they wouldn’t notice me. When they were attacked I could do nothing but watch them get hurt. I really wished to help them, but what could I do against the creature?”
She made a small pause and looked around the group focussing especially on the priest before continuing.
“When I saw that they would die and that I would probably be next I felt something inside me chime, like a small bell inside me had been struck, and a moment after another bell answered the tone, getting closer and closer, and then the second creature was there and saved those two.”
“You really want us to believe that’s all there was to it?” Mikhail said disbelievingly and noticeably steely. When none of the others said anything to support him he grew quiet again.
“What happened at our, ahem, incident at your cottage?” Karl asked cautiously when the silence seemed to last.
“Your… visit scared me. You were so forceful, so intent, I felt helpless. I mean it was a bit flattering that you were so attracted to me and wanted me so badly but you were scary, it was almost as you were trying to rape.”
Her sister coughed and looked sternly on Karl, now he understood what she meant about naïve and seeing the best in other people. He began sweating a bit a tried to send Verana a big winning smile but only managed a silly grin.
“When I felt like I was about to faint from fear,” she looked a bit guilty at Karl as if it was her fault he assaulted her, “I heard the chime again, and then the creature appeared and I fainted.”
“So you really have no idea what the creature truly was? Only that it appeared to help” Karl asked incredulously.
She nodded but before he could begin pushing to get more out of her the trollkin had placed a big hand on his shoulder, the other resting on the priests.
He did not seem to realize it though, he seemed lost in thought, “What in Urcaen was that only creature, why do you seem to test my resolve though my Lord…”
Before anyone said more they were interrupted by the door being slammed open and a black cloud of smoke began filling the room. Amid the smoke the gobber emerged, blackened and coughing.
“I could really use a hand with the engine.”
Chapter Nine – The pigs
“So you have a problem with the farmers in your area being attacked by pigs?” Loris asked incredulously. He knew that people were stupid, especially farmers, but having trouble with pigs? You killed, cooked and ate the critters – preferably well-roasted and with pickles.
“Well, not normal pigs it seems, the surviving farmers describe them as somehow being human, even using weapons – even guns,” the captain of the guard overseeing the plains area answered.
“And why don’t the army just get rid of this nuisance,” Loris said with just a hint of mockery in his voice.
“What he means is how can we help,” Mafalda quickly added trying to dampen the tension.
Loris shot an angry glance at her but kept quiet, it would earn them money after all so better try to let his superiority be a little less threatening.
The captain seemed to ignore Loris mockery and answered his question with a straight face.?“We don’t have any men to spare, the army commissions most of them to help keep our northern neighbors from advancing further, and since our evil old king and his demons from across the desert have slunk back into their hole on the far side of the desert we don’t need that much of a guard here. Save the occasional animal attack or brigands we live pretty quiet lives in these parts.”
“So you want us to find out what happened, assess and remove the threat to the farmers, is that correct?” Janisz asked.
“Yes, a small independent group like yours would also have less risk of promoting panic among the population, if I mobilized the army I would practically admit that there is a large scale problem which would cause a panic, and we need the farmers and workers, without them we would starve and get nothing done, society would grind to a halt.”
Loris mumbled something about “the rabble” so quietly that the details could not be heard but the others decided it was best to let it be.
“But is there a larger problem? It is not just isolated attacks?” Mafalda asked worried.
“I sure hope there isn’t, I sure hope…”
The sun was high in the sky and a slight breeze made the plains northeast of Bainsmarket a rather pleasant place to be. That was until the pillars of smoke became visible in the horizon though, they brought an ominous feeling of something being wrong to the otherwise idyllic day.
After a while a black spot appeared on the horizon under the smoke pillar, and as they got closer it became clear it was a burning farm. Smaller dark shadows seemed to move around the farm, was brigands the cause of the attacks?
As they got closer it became apparent that the raiders were rather squatly build: Then that they were somewhat hunched, and finally that it was not human brigands after all but a group of pig-men, the creature the scholars called farrows.
“They haven’t seen us yet, they’re prolly too occupied fattening themselves for slaughter on the spoils from the farm, let’s make them notice us,” Janisz said while loading his rifle.
“Sounds like a plan,” Loris said dryly, “if it can be called so.”
Kamkan rubbed his hands together, “time to kill some piggies! Did I ever tell you guys that I don’t like piggies? Back when I was small I….”
He was cut short by the loud bang from Janisz rifle, the fight was on.
The fire rose from the farmstead, but this time it was not form burning buildings but from two fires the group had made in the middle of the burnt out farm. The large fire was where the remains of humans and farrows were given a final rest, the sickly smell of warm, burning human flesh disturbing some of the group eating the cooked remains of the unfortunate livestock of the farm by the second, smaller fire more than others.
“I don’t understand why we had to burn them here,” Loris complained, “it makes me lose my appetite.”