Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of
Cuana Chapter 1 Entry 2
Session date 5-27-17
Cuana's Journal - chapter 1 entry 2
The mood in the fort was still very tense after Uhthred's attack on the fort's commander. To add to the tension, the incessant Pictish war drums echoing from the forest began to grow in volume, reaching a feverish crescendo impossible to ignore. Hauk advised us that it would be best if we were to leave, to attempt to save some of the captured settlers and get away from a fort full of soldiers angry at us for attacking their leader. The wisdom of his counsel was obvious, and the scowling glares we received from the guards as they opened the gates left no doubt that they were glad to see us go.
We headed toward the Thunder River, following the trail along the front of the fort. Here, several small building lined the trail on both sides. As we passed by them, soldiers emerged – seven in front of us blocked our path, and six emerged behind us to block our retreat. One of the seven, a Bossonian smoking a pipe who Hauk later identified as Drago, confronted us, speaking in Aquilonian. His words were lost to me, but his demeanor said it all – he regarded us very suspiciously as he spoke with Hauk – after all, the Vanir had attacked their commander. who was still being tended to inside the fort. The others could feel it too, and Uhthred drew his blade in anticipation of a fight. At that, all the soldiers drew their weapons, and it appeared that we were on the verge of more trouble with the fort's soldiers.
Hauk came to our aid once again, convincing Drago that we were not spies, but were committed to rescuing settlers captured by the Picts. Reluctantly, with undisguised disdain for us, Drago assented and allowed us to continue. One of the soldiers, a giant Nordheimer who stood out among the other Aquilonians and Gundermen, joined us on our way toward the river. We continued on to where Hauk said they had canoes hidden, and as we walked on in darkness, the soldier explained that Drago believed us to be spies for the Picts, largely due to Uhthred attempting to kill their commander. I began to realize that it was going to take a lot to convince the soldiers otherwise, if we would be able to do so at all.
It took us a couple hours or so to get to the river. The canoes were hidden well before we reached the river bank, so a good amount of time was spent hauling the canoes through the benighted forest. Once at the bank of the Thunder River, we launched our canoes as silently as we could, making our way to the distant tree line on the other side.
I have always been at home in the wilderness, and have some skill in stealth when needed. Apparently I made some noise crossing in my canoe however, because I found myself under a hail of Pictish arrows before I had made it half way across the river. Several of the arrows struck flesh, and before I could cry out a second volley was raining down on me. Even more of the arrows tore into me, and I began to doubt my ability to survive long enough to wrap my hands around at least one Pictish windpipe before dying. I decided to opt for subterfuge, so I gasped loudly as if mortally wounded, and rolled off the canoe and into the river.
Taking a deep breath, I swam under the darkened water as long as I could, gently coming to the surface for air so as not to attract any notice before submerging again and continuing on toward the opposite bank. I eventually made it to the other side, emerging from the water as silently as I could and hiding among a bed of reeds and cat tails. I could hear the sounds of fighting – Pictish yelps and grunts mixed with Cicero's voice, as they exchanged arrow fire. Hauk was ashore, taunting the Picts, and was soon joined by Cicero. As the savages landed on the bank and ran after my comrades, I jumped up from my place of concealment and disemboweled one as he passed. I was upon a second before he knew it, and he followed his fellow tribesman to Pict Hell as my sword caved in his thick, pointed skull. My comrades made quick work out of the remaining savages, and we hid all the canoes before following Hauk to rescue the settlers.
Following a trail towards the Raven tribe's village, we passed a number of settlers' homes and farms, all ransacked and vacant. The terrain soon became marshy, with many tracks in the muddied trail. We noticed that there were more tracks leading away from the village than led to it, the ones leading away being the freshest. We exchanged curious glances at this, but nobody could offer anything other than a shrug of their shoulders. Cautiously, expecting an ambush with every step, we approached the village.
The village of the Raven tribe was surrounded by a wooden wall, the gate at the entrance ajar. The wall itself had a layer of soot on the outside, but closer inspection showed that the burn had only been superficial, as if there had been a great and sudden flash of fire. The Pict tribes all have shamans, but they're not known to be powerful enough to create a blast of fire such as whatever caused this. Entering the village, we saw that many of the crude huts had been burned to the ground, and a sense of unease settled over us as we began too look around.
One hut stood largely unharmed, the largest and presumably that of the tribe's chieftain. Not far from the hut's entrance a wooden post had been driven into the ground, which seemed to radiate the sense of unease we were all feeling. Ignoring it for the sorcery it obviously was, I entered the hut and looked around, but found nothing of interest. As I left the hut, I saw Cicero examining a marking on the post. As he did, his eyes suddenly flared wide and he recoiled, and as he did I could hear a whispered word in my mind, a name – Thumocris.
Finding no clues as to the whereabouts of any settlers the Picts had taken prisoner, nor anything of value, we left the village and followed the tracks that led away from the village. The trail turned to the north, the landscape still marshy, enabling us to see the tracks clearly even in the dark. Something odd though, among the tracks left by the Picts were the tracks of booted men. We only had a moment to ponder the meaning of this before I cried out in pain and anger, an arrow sprouting from my left leg. A soldier's arrow!
A hail of arrows struck us from behind a row of bushes and trees just off the trail. I charged my attacker, swinging my blade so hard that I sliced him in half at the torso. I swung too hard though, burying my sword into the trunk of a tree. Having no time to try to pry it free, I drew my zhaibar knife and continued the fight. We cut the soldiers down quickly, and looking the corpses over I saw that one of them Uhthred had killed was Drago, that pipe-smoking officer that had confronted us outside the fort. I took his pipe to offer as proof of Drago's duplicity when I confronted the commander back at the fort.
That was exactly what I wanted to do – return to the fort and get answers for this open attack on us by the soldiers we had joined. Their commander didn't give a damn about the settlers, appeared to care little for the soldiers under his command, and now one of his officers had lead an attack on us as we were closing in on the settlers. It was Hauk that convinced me to let it go for now. We had come so far, and any settlers still alive would surely meet a gruesome end soon. He was right, so I pried my sword from the tree and we continued to follow the tracks, which now showed only the passage of Picts.
The land grew less marshy as the trail continued, through a typical forest wilderness. Before long, we came upon a clearing, marked with the ruins of ancient stone buildings. Moonlight filtered through the trees, the silver beams making lambent patches in the mist that clung close to the ground. A short way into the ruins stood a stone building, largely intact, about the size of a large hut. There was an odd hum in the air, it's source indeterminable. Five of the savages stood on guard by the building, and two children lay bound and gagged by it's entrance. Moving as silently as I could, I attempted to move in close for a fast kill. My companions' skill with arrows was formidable though, and all five of them lay dead on the ground by the time I reached the ruin. Scooping up the children under each arm, I ran them back to where Hauk was waiting in the bushes, leaving them under his protection before turning back toward the ruin.
My companions were already fighting their way into the stone building. Uhthred was trying to battle his way through the doorway, while Grimner – the Aesir, managed to force his way across the threshold and into the ruin. Forcing my way in, I hacked one Pict to death and almost killed a second one before I took a club to the head. It was a solid blow, but my helmet saved me from any serious injury. I killed that swine by ripping my blade across his belly until his guts spilled onto the floor. I took a couple arrow hits from behind, and by the time I killed one of the assailants the rest had all been done for.
There had been three settlers held prisoner in the ruin upon our entry, each bound and gagged as the children outside had been. A pale complected man wearing a large, bizarre headpiece that came down to his shoulders was conducting a ritual of some sort, chanting mystical gibberish above an open sarcophagus containing mummified human remains. He had sacrificed each of the prisoners before we could fight our way through to him, and was now standing before the sarcophagus, his his chant rising to a crescendo before abruptly falling silent. He turned toward us and spoke a word, and I felt a strange sense come over me – a sort of resistance, making my movements and concentration more difficult. He then turned back toward the mummy, and exhaled a cloud of eerily glowing mist into the desiccated corpse. Rising from the sarcophagus, the mummy took the headpiece from the sorcerer's fleshly form before it fell dead to the floor. The abomination then turned it's gaze upon us.
Grimner rushed the thing, swinging his sword in a wide arc, striking it but doing little visible damage. Uhthred picked up a brazier and spilled the glowing coals down the front of the mummy, catching it on fire as I tried to wrench the headpiece from the monster. It responded by casting at the Vanir, who paused for a second before turning a vacant gaze upon me, swinging his fists at my head. Grimner continued to hack away at the mummy, which by now was really starting to burn. A violent forward thrust of his blade, and the Aesir lifted the blazing abomination off it's feet, burning bits falling off the thing in a rain of sparks. In a final gesture of defiance, it raised a burning hand and hissed it's last incantation, and with a rumble, the floor opened up beneath our feet and we plunged into darkness.
I must have lost consciousness for a moment. We had fallen far, approximately thirty feet. A few small, smoldering bits were all that was left of the creature. Everyone was alive, but we had all been badly hurt by the fall – the mummy had apparently meant to bury us with him. He might have succeeded had Hauk not been there to drop us a rope and haul us up. Once back up out of the pit, we quickly left, taking the children with us.
We were able to retrace our route back to the Raven tribe's village, eventually making it back to the Thunder River without incident. The canoes were still where we had left them, so we quickly crossed the river and were approaching the fort in good time. The children were understandably silent, traumatized by their treatment at the hands of the Picts. As we approached the fort, guards cried out and several scouts came out to meet us. Hauk asked us to remain behind, and he led the children to the gate and handed them over to one of the guards. After speaking with a few of the scouts, Hauk returned, looking grim.
The mood in the fort was not good, despite our success in saving the children, slaying The Ghost, and killing a whole lot of Picts. The commander was still recovering, and many soldiers viewed us as a threat, if not enemies. We learned that Drago was sent to slay us as spies, and it would go bad for us once Trebellius learned we had slain him and his men. As thanks, Hauk handed us some coins, a meager but sincere gesture of thanks from some of the scouts, and wished us well.
It was time to put some distance between us and the fort at Velitrium .