Campaign of the Month: March 2008
The Nemedian Chronicles
Cuana Chapter 10 Entry 10
Now that the staff that the Stygian bore had been sufficiently infused with magic by that demonic lord of worms, we were to take it and use its power to take down the shaman that had been welding a unified force among the normally independent Pict tribes, a shaman by the name of Sagoyaga. The idea was that if he was removed, the various Pict tribes would again fall to fighting each other, their coordinated assault upon the Westermarck would crumble. We had been traveling through the wilderness for some time, headed to a village called Osekowa where it was said that Sagoyaga lived as a member of the Wolf tribe. No nobility , no military came with us this time – all available bodies were needed in trying to prepare for what many expected to be one last, major assault by the savages. That we went alone is well, for I would have had little trust of any such joining us this time, not to mention less tolerance of their civilized double-dealings.
We came upon the village early, in the gray light of pre-dawn, only the cries of an occasional waking bird breaking the silence of the forest. As with previous Pictish villages we had seen, Osekowa had a palisade around its perimeter, but instead of completely surrounding the village, it came to an end where the village was bordered by a swamp. Seeing a lone sentry sat in the watch – hut guarding the gate in the palisade, we momentarily considered trying to take him out silently by bowshot, but decided the distance and number of shots that might be required to kill him would likely be such that he would have ample opportunity to raise an alarm before we could silence him. Knowing full well that there would be some type of horror lurking within, we chose to approach the village through the swamp, hoping that we could deal with whatever we encountered with enough stealth to not wake the entire village in the process. We had also noticed several features about the village, in particular was a hut upon which were fastened skulls and scalps, what the savages refer to as an altar-hut. Since our quarry was supposed to be a witch-doctor in this village, the altar-hut looked like a reasonable place to start looking for him. We crept toward the swamp, slid down into the murky water, and swam alligator-style toward the village, only the tops of our heard breaking the surface to allow our eyes a clear view ahead.
Just because you set out knowing that you will encounter something terrible does not mean that when you see it, it will not scare the crap out of you. We were all tense, making our way slowly in expectation of surprise when some of the most hideous things I have ever seen burst forth from the stagnant water and attacked us all at once. These creatures appeared to have once been human, some bearing individual human-like features like whiskers or balding pates, but they looked to have been transformed – possibly merged with aquatic creatures of some sort. They had short, bandy legs, unusually long necks, long, lanky arms with webbing between clawed fingers, scales, pointed teeth, and the putrescent stench of the swamp was heavy upon them. I fought back the wave of primal fear that began to rise in my belly in an attempt to keep a clear head in the face of these horrors, – I knew that these were no creatures of nature, but the work of dark magic or of an even darker god. They came up biting, slashing, attempting to grab at us and pull us down into the swamp. It would be too difficult to slash at them with my sword – my feet did not reach the bottom of the swamp at this point so I had no way to get effective footing, plus the fact that the size of my sword would make it almost impossible to get a powerful enough swing against the resistance of the murky water. Their scaly skin looked too slick with slime to risk trying to get any kind of a hold on them, so I opted to draw my sword and use it with a forward stabbing motion in an effort to skewer them like rabbits bound on a spit.
I felt my blade sink deeply into the belly of one creature when suddenly the jaws of an alligator clamped down upon my forearm. I twisted out of its grasp, finished off the creature that was still impaled on my sword, slew a second, and drove my blade deep into a third. I barely avoided the alligator as it rushed in to take another chunk out of my hide, but my movement took me straight in range of two other alligators that had moved in from the other direction. Each one managed to sink their teeth into me, but my armor deflected the worst of the damage. Another one of the blasphemous swamp creatures came at me from my left and tried to bite into my shoulder through my armor. I had to get out of the water before I was overwhelmed – it was difficult to keep my head above water encumbered as I was while fighting off attacks from every angle, and I needed to get my feet on solid ground in order to properly heft my weapon. Stygian magic bought me the time I needed to get clear as a number of the creatures and alligators went still at Dhak’s command, giving me the opportunity to try to scramble up onto a small grassy island about twenty feet or so from where the others had climbed out. As I was hauling myself up out of the water, an alligator surfaced directly behind me and took a piece out of my leg, but I was able to pull free just before two more arrived. Finally on solid ground, I was able to get a full swing of my sword onto each of the newcomers, killing both. I then jumped across roughly fifteen feet of water to another small island, got a running start, and jumped again to a similar island next to the one where my companions were. Another alligator came after me, but I was able to kill it before it could do me any harm. The others had managed to dispose of the creatures and alligators that had been attacking them, so we turned our attention back toward getting into the village and finding the shaman Sagoyaga.
Although our battle in the swamp hadn’t lasted long, we had apparently made quite enough noise to attract attention to ourselves. Standing near the edge of the village was a gaggle of Pictish women, all looking our way. All chance of stealth now lost, we charged the village, running and splashing our way through the reeking swamp directly toward the cluster of savages, who broke and fled deeper into the village and out of sight. As we closed on the village we slowed our pace, so as to avoid dashing headlong into an ambush. We were coming up to where the altar hut was located when we came upon a group of eight Picts standing in the open, a large wolf among them. The voice of someone unseen within the altar hut could be heard groaning in pain, but before I could make out any of the victim’s words, the shaman stepped forward to question us. Being the only one among our group that can speak or understand Pictish gruntspeak, I assumed the role of ambassador and parleyed with the witch doctor. Yapping like a concubine’s lap dog, he asked us why we dare come to his village. Thinking that this was Sagoyaga with whom I spoke, I replied that we had heard rumor that the great and powerful Sagoyaga had no dick, and we had traveled long and far in order to laugh at him if this was true. Not surprisingly, this angered the savages, their displeasure at my taunt quite plain in the way that they murmured among themselves. The shaman spoke up at that point, saying that Sagoyaga was on is way in force to Villitrium to wipe out the last of the settlers. I pressed the shaman, asking him ‘if you are not that dickless cur named Sagoyaga, then who in the hells are you and why should we care what you have to say?’ He named himself as Machk of the Wolf tribe – one we had heard of before. I replied that he should have gone with Sagoyaga, that his name was now ‘worm – fodder’, and that it was time for him to die. With that, I charged into their ranks, my greatsword cutting a wide arc as I slammed into them. The first one I hit fell in a bloody heap at my feet, the second twisting just enough to avoid dying as he too was struck. Arrows flew at me from all directions, several of them striking me but none doing any serious damage. One of the savages came at me swinging a greatsword, but he did little damage to me considering what one of those blades can do when in the right hands. I dropped another in his tracks as he tried to attack me and nearly killed a second with my backswing. Another volley of arrows hammered into me, most of them bouncing off of my armor and falling harmlessly to the ground. A second one armed with a greatsword came alongside the first, and they tried catching me between the arc of both blades at once. This time I dropped the first one who had hit me, and my backswing spilled the guts of the second out onto the trampled swamp grass. Another hail of arrows fell upon me, this time several finding their marks in my forearms and legs. I quickly looked around while pulling a few of the arrows out of my hide – many of the Pictish dogs were down and bloodied, at least five were still loading arrows into their bows, and one was on his feet and facing Tullweim. The wolf circled the bloodied northman, striking with its bloodied fangs wherever it found a sufficient enough gap in his armor. The Aesir looked to have taken quite a bit of damage, while the others appeared to still be holding their own, so I moved in to help Tullweim as he battled against both warrior and beast.
The Pictish warrior did not appear to see me coming until I was upon him, catching him unaware and unprepared for my strike. His cloven carcass dropped to the ground, but my backhanded follow-up missed the wolf, which quickly changed the direction in which it had been circling and regarded me with surprisingly malignant eyes. The archers were obviously still focused on me as well, for yet another rain of arrows fell about me, a handful of them finding marks in my flesh. The wolf drove inside the sweep of my sword and clamped its jaws down upon my leg, but I was able to pull free, take a small step backward and hit it, though the damage I dealt it was minor. The Nordheimer, grim in appearance from the many wounds he had taken, moved in behind the wolf and swung his pole-arm, but failed to strike the beast as it dodged the blow at the last second and lunged forward toward me, catching my leg once again in its jaws. Again, I twisted free and brought my sword down upon it, this time dealing it a tremendous blow. I thought certain the beast would crumble under the force of my sword stroke, but the thing fixed me with that uncanny gaze and growled pure hatred at me. Tullweim managed to bring his bardiche down squarely upon the beast’s back, hitting it so hard that I thought surely it would drop dead to the ground, but to both our surprise it spun in its tracks, clamped its teeth down upon the Tullweim’s leg, and pulled his feet right out from underneath where he stood, dropping the startled northman arse-first upon the ground. As it moved in to try to finish off the Aesir, I swung at the beast twice but hit nothing but empty air with each swing. Two arrows flew past, and at first I thought that the Pictish bowmen still stood and sought to slay me yet, but I realized that the bolts had come from the Stygian, who was already in the act of drawing more missiles to fire. Glancing quickly to my right I saw at least two of the savages still stood unopposed, but I chose to ignore them for the moment in order to stay and help get the beast off of Tullweim, who was looking dangerously bloodied by now. As I stepped forward to try to bury my sword in the creature’s spine, I was struck quite painfully by an arrow that sank particularly deep into the flesh of my upper arm, just below my shoulder. While momentarily distracted by the pain, I heard a sharp, abrupt whine and saw the Aesir shove the limp form of the wolf away from him, a jagged gash in its side showing where the northman had delivered the killing blow. He then turned toward one of the remaining Picts while I advanced on the other, intent on bringing the last of these loathsome savages down for good. The one that faced me took a couple of quick steps backward and fired two arrows, each of which struck me, but before he could reload or switch to another weapon, my sword was through his belly and his life was spilling down the length of my blade. His fellow toppled several feet away, Tullweim’s bardiche cleaving a gully straight down the center of his chest.
Still feeling sharp pains from where the arrow was embedded in the flesh of my shoulder, I reached back and yanked the thing out, noticing that the fletchings on the shaft were exactly like those carried by the Hykanian. Under other circumstances I might have made a point of expressing my displeasure with him at being the recipient of one of his missiles, but it was only a few days ago that I was crediting him as one to whom I owe my life, so I swallowed my ire and let the matter drop without saying anything about it to him. All our opponents lay dead, the women having fled or hiding among the huts. Groans still issued from within the altar hut, rekindling my curiosity as to who was inside.