The Pictish Wilderness
Dhak, Cuana, Tullweim, and Xacksmith dodged arrows as they carried the settler women off the breaking-apart raft onto the shore of Pictland. On the opposite bank a group of 13 savages fired as the adventurers fled behind the cover of trees. The Stygian stopped a moment to pull an arrow out of the young settler woman who cried out in agony. The matronly settler broke the daze she’d been in for days past and doted over the hurt woman as Dhak wrapped scraps of cloth around the wound. Cuana lifted up the young woman and all but Tullweim pushed further into the Pictish wilderness. The Aesir followed behind, pausing every few minutes of travel. Trying, desperately to conceal their trail as much as possible. At one of these stops Tullweim saw what looked like deliberate puffs of smoke from the opposite shore. The Aesir was certain the smoke was some sort of signal meant to alert the Picts on the same side of Thunder River the adventurers were on.
As the party moved through the wilderness Xacksmith stopped mid-step. The paths of trees seemed oddly familiar to the Hyrkanian and he realized he had been to this place before. Xacksmith informed the others that he knew where a Pictish village was. The Hyrkanian led the travelers to a barely noticeable path used by the Picts. The borderer and 2 barbarians determined that a massive group of savages had walked the trail towards the river a few days past. The adventurers surmised these were some of the same Picts who had attacked Schondara. Xacksmith blazed a trail, no civilized man could see, for several miles through the winding forest and whispered of the Picts village in his dreams.
Near a bend in the path Xacksmith was taken by surprise by a lone Pict who bull rushed into him. The Pict slammed into the Hyrkanian who planted his feet firmly in the ground and resisted the savages effort to push him into the bushes behind. Xacksmith plunged the point of the strange staff he carried through the savages gut as arrows flew from the trees. Tullweim shielded the women as best he could as Cuana and Dhak searched for targets. The Picts were too well concealed in the forest and the adventurers had to leave the trail to meet the savages in melee. A quick battle was had as Dhak sent sorcerous torment to the Picts pack chief while Cuana cleaved into the savages. After the skirmish the adventurers noted the Picts had different feathers on their head and ornamentation around their necks then the ones they’d encountered in Schondara and in the Little Wilderness.
As the daylight hours faded the adventurers came to an opening in the forest where they saw a large, labyrinthine, fortified Pict village comprised of many daub and- wattle huts with thatched roofs. The village was surrounded by a palisade and a ditch. Outside the palisade was a small hut on columns over-looking the nearby fields and graveyard. The adventurers could see smoke coming from several fires in the middle of the village. When Dhak asked of Xacksmith if this was the village from his dreams, the Hyrkanian nodded in assent. The Stygian suggested he and Xacksmith move through the fields stealthily to take out the likely guard in the hut on columns. The Hyrkanian acted odd at the Stygian’s plan of action, stating he would not leave the staff he’d been carrying behind. Tullweim then said, “If it’s the staff they want, why do we not just give it to them…or at least appear as if we are trading it for their captives?” Dhak thought the idea ludicrous. The Stygian argued the Picts would likely attack the adventurers on sight as the Aesir tore branches to make a hiding spot for the 3 settler women to hide. Tullweim stressed his concern for Lady Coelia as the wind carried the sound of a man’s tortured scream. The Aesir sprang forward and with him the Cimmerian and Hyrkanian. Dhak cursed and moved into the nearby fields with his Bossonian longbow.
It was not long before the Pict in the raised hut summoned the guard to the bridge. The smoke signs the savages had seen from their brothers across Thunder River told of these adventurers. And the Picts sent to meet them had not come back. Wanenaka of the Wolves led his pack to the lone entrance into Niyohontehsha to greet the invaders while the Wildcats strange drums continued to pound. Wanenaka faced off with Cuana, Tullweim and Xacksmith who held the staff with the leaf growing out of it. The Cimmerian spoke Pictish to Wanenaka saying, “Hey assholes, we want to see Machk.”Angered and about to attack, the war chief was stopped by Baraccus who had gone renegade. The ranger asked why he shouldn’t tell Wanenaka and his 20 men to scalp the adventurers and tie them up to the columns inside the village. Tullweim nudged Cuana to speak of the staff Lady Coelia wished to give to Sagoyaga and the parties’ willingness to exchange it for the Picts’ captives. Baraccus laughed and said Lady Coelia was to wed Wanenaka but that the adventurers would be seeing the other captives soon. The renegade then asked where the Stygian who sapped him of his wits in Schondara was. Baraccus would have been scalped if the Picts who found him hadn’t seen his tattoo and brought him to the Wildcats. Dhak responded by rising from his hiding spot in the nearby field and loosed an arrow at the renegade. All hell broke loose as Wanenaka called for his pack to attack and covered an incredible amount of distance as he charged Xacksmith. The Hyrkanian dodged the first vicious swing of Wanenaka’s club but the second caught Xacksmith across the chin. 7 of the picts fired arrows at the barbarians though Cuana dodged most and Tullweim’s armor and incredible fortitude blocked all pain from the stone-tipped arrows.
The Cimmerian went into a fighting madness and delivered two vicious blows to Wanenaka. 2 Picts, pack chiefs by their feathered adornments, whooped and charged Cuana and Tullweim. Both overran the Cimmerian and Nordheimer and knocked them to the ground. Many more Picts surrounded the prone barbarians, their hatchets and clubs ready to draw blood and hack bone. Dhak fired into the melee, wounding the Picts war chief. The Hyrkanian took a step back and swung his staff at Wanenaka. The heavily wounded Pict leader attempted to withdraw but the battle enraged Aesir slashed out with his greatsword and lopped the war chiefs legs out from under him. The Picts armed with bows sent another volley of arrows aimed at Xacksmith who dodged most of the bolts. Baraccus then engaged the Hyrkanian with his axe, slashing through Xacksmith’s jerkin. The culmination of the Hyrkanian’s wounds drove him to unconsciousness. The savages surrounding Cuana and Tullweim brought their weapons down with powerful blows, bashing and bruising the barbarians. The Cimmerian fought to stand up, which opened him to more attacks from the 5 Picts around him. Though he was bloodied, the enraged barbarian had strength enough to slice a Pict in twain. Cuana followed the attack by cleaving through the 4 others surrounding him.
Tullweim struggled to fight from his prone position, but managed to drop another Pict. Dhak sent more arrows into the melee as Baraccus engaged the Cimmerian. The ranger attempted to trip Cuana but the barbarian’s mighty thews proved immovable and the renegade was forced to drop his axe and flee. Cuana quickly ran after the renegade but was met by a group of 6 Picts who rapidly fired 12 arrows at the barbarian. Though much of the lethality of the bolts was avoided by the Cimmerian’s armor, the accumulated bruises dropped Cuana mercilessly to the ground, alive but unconscious. The Aesir finished the last of the Picts in melee with him and rushed forward to those who’d felled the Cimmerian with a leaping charge. The Picts did not long stand against the Aesir barbarian’s fighting madness and rapidly fired missiles from the Stygian’s Bossonian longbow. 4 Picts fell, 2 fled into the village, and only the lone savage in the watcher’s hut remained. The Aesir quickly scaled the side of the hut and stared down the Pict within, noting the 3 eagle feathers, 2 upright and the third tilted downward that adorned the Pict. Knowing full well how badly out-matched he was the savage leapt out the hut’s window and made for the village. Tullweim grabbed a hatchet from the hut’s floor and with a roar sent the hatchet hurtling at the fleeing Pict. Though the hatchet caught the savage in the back and was followed by an arrow from the Stygian, the Pict was able to reach the village.
Dhak and Tullweim quickly roused their companions. All knew they would face further obstacles from within the Picts walls and half the party could not suffer another hit. The Hyrkanian and Stygian moved silently as shadows past the bridge. Xacksmith was again struck with a feeling of familiarity at the daub and wattle huts. The borderer bade the Stygian follow him along the wall, where the Hyrkanian hoped they would evade the sight from whatever pagan ceremony was being performed at the heart of the village. The Aesir and Cimmerian walked into the village with no attempt at stealth. Tulleim was beset upon by a beast which sprang from the shadows. Human-like in height, the creature had teeth and claws which could rend metal, and a coarse coat of fur like that of a panther. The beast-man’s teeth ripped into the Aesir’s mail and flesh. Tullweim pushed the creature off of him and his eyes glowered furiously as he swung his greatsword with murderous intent. Though the creatures hide soaked some of the damage it was quickly felled under the crimson mist of the Aesir’s rage and the Cimmerian’s powerful greatsword attacks. The 2 companions rushed forward to the source of the pounding drums at the center of the village.
Tied to two ceremonial posts carved to resemble hooded women were two living Aquilonian males. Three dead captives were also tied to similar posts. Many Picts, mainly women and children, were gathered around the central ceremonial area where they sung and danced wildly. The captives had seen better days, having spent much of the day already being tortured, they were missing fingers, had smashed teeth, severe lacerations and both were missing eyes. The Picts wore paint on their back and feathered adornments which indicated they were from a different tribe than Wanenaka’s Wolves. Around the ceremonial posts the Picts danced and sang in a primal, unnerving manner. A trio of male drummers pounded away on gorgeously crafted drums. The shaman, replete with feathers from many birds and a gruesome forest devil mask, danced in front of the captives, making the strangest movements the adventurers ever had seen. Suddenly one of the Aquilonian prisoners bones seemed to snap as his body contorted into a bestial shape, his face elongated to form a snout, and his hands painfully grew into claws. With a roar the beast broke free of its restraints as the Pict shaman pointed at the adventurers and screamed for their scalps.