Walking downstairs to the common room of the Red Moon Inn, Theda struggled to shake the vivid dream from her thoughts. She was still pondering how it could seem so real when she noticed a commotion near the door to the inn. A group of around a dozen or so customers were clustered around a young female who was harranging them.
“Bah, are none of you willing to help us? Sigmar’s Strength! The Marienburg coach is now a full day late. In fact nothing has arrived from that direction since early afternoon yesterday. At the least I should have heard by now from my fellow Roadwarden, Rutger Abend, who was escorting the coach. I need to find out what the cause of the delay is, and the elf and I will investigate on our own if needs be, but I would have expected a few of you to help us keep the Empire’s roads safe.” Gesturing towards a tall soldier she asked ” What about you Tomas Webber? Will you lend your sword?”
The solider avoided the woman’s gaze as he replied. “You know I would Birgitta, but I’ve been granted but a short leave from barracks and there are many preparations to be made before the wedding to Inge. I just can’t help you this time.”
Birgitta spat, then turned away. “Come Vaerun”, she called to the expensively garbed elf in the gathering, “Seems it’s left to the two of us to see what the hold up is.”
Theda pushed to the front of the crowd and spoke up. “Stop there Roadwarden. You have one servant of Sigmar here who is willing to assist.”
As Theda moved to join Birgitta and Vaerun another man stepped out from the onlookers. A gruff but well dressed fighter, clearly a mercenary by the look of his garb and equipment. “Aye”, he muttered in reply to the stare of the Roadwarden, “I’ll be joining your merry band too. For want of a contract hereabouts I was planning on heading towards Marienburg today myself, and it seems well-armed company may be prudent”.
Birgitta’s voice was more gentle. “My thanks to each of you. A mercenary and a Sigmar initiate eh? I fear I’ll need the skills of both of you before the day is out. Come, we must make haste.” With that the four of them left the safety and comfort of the Red Moon’s compound and set off in the direction of Marienburg.
As they walked away from the inn Birgitta suggested they get to know each other a little better. Theda’s suspicion was that this was more because Birgitta wanted to vet her and the mercenary than through any desire for idle conversation. That said, Theda was also keen to find out more about the elf. Although a few had passed through her village she’d never previously spoken with or had dealings of any kind with one. It emerged through the conversation that took place as they walked that his full name was Vaerun Waveracer, an envoy to Reikland from Ulthuan. Courteous but somewhat remote, he explained that he’d been expecting an important package on the Marienburg stage which had not arrived yet, hence his involvement. Birgitta added that in addition to investigating the delay as a matter of course in her profession as Roadwarden, she had been tasked by her superior in Ubersreik to assist the elf.
The mercenary was much more forthcoming though. Hans Drechler by name, he was a straightforward, affable character, around 20 years old. He’d led a comparatively uneventful life guarding merchants up and down the lanes and byways of southern Reikland, and his weaponry, armour and the number of small scars on his arms and face said as much. He was keen to get to Marienburg in order to take advantage of the many employment opportunities open to him there. In relation to the stage, he surmised trouble was likely – in recent weeks he’d heard rumours of travellers disappearing hereabouts, and tales of strange calls in the forests at night.
For almost three hours the party scouted down the road, seeing no sight of the coach or any other travellers. This was indeed very strange. Although far from being one of the busiest roads in Reikland, there would normally have been at least a merchant caravan or two. Just as in Theda’s dream the trees had closed in on either side until they were so thick that visibility into them was limited to perhaps twenty paces. The cold day was also turning for the worse. The sky was growing very dark despite it being late morning, and in the distance occassional peals of far off thunder seemed to be gradually moving closer. Theda thought back to her dream, her hand grasping the pommel of her hammer tightly. Had Sigmar really blessed her with a vision of what was to come?
Turning a bend in the road the reason for the non-arrival of the Marienburg stagecoach was suddenly revealed. Around fifty yards ahead the vehicle lay to one side of the road, it’s axle smashed. The horses were dead in their traces, lanced with spears, their driver dead on the ground next to them, his blunderbuss to one side.
Four foul creatures cavorted around the coach, cruel paradies of men, with furred misshapen bodies and horns jutting from their heads – Beastmen! Three were engaged with trying to enter the coach or pulling items from it. The last, a Gor and much larger than the others, was battling a lone human. The man appeared to be badly wounded and it was clear he would not last for long without assistance.
“By Sigmar, it’s Rutger” murmured Birgitta. Quickly drawing his longbow the elf acted first, letting fly and striking the Gor in the upper thigh, making it howl in pain. Leaving the now prone Rutger the Gor started towards the party, quickly followed by all three of it’s Ungor followers. The humans advanced to meet them, Theda asking Sigmar for his aid as she walked forward.
Vaerun stopped to let fly with another arrow, this time causing a glancing bow as the arrow caught the top of the Gor’s thick skull. Howling again it charged, and Birgitta ran forward to meet it, raising her pistol. With an ear splitting boom the ancient weapon went off just as the Gor moved to strike. The creature was knocked to the ground by the blast and lay there, blood bubbling up from a large cavity opened up by the shot in it’s chest. Birgitta continued moving forward towards the remaining Beastmen, drawing her longsword. Meanwhile Hans had prepared his crossbow and fired at an Ungor who’d picked up a warhorn hanging from the dying Gor’s belt. He missed his target and cursed loudly as the beast held the horn to his lips and blew. The harsh and braying note resounded through the surrounding forest. As it did so, Theda invoked Sigmar and drew her hammer, which now seemed to shimmer in the increasing gloom.
The strange light around Theda seemed to distract and draw the three remaining beastmen to her, and they charged forward, howling. Throwing themselves at her they bit and clawed causing a number of wounds to the initiate, but shaking them off she battered again and again with her hammer, each blow leaving a glowing blue trail in the air as it hit home. Two Ungor fell under Theda’s assault, their ugly and deformed heads stoved in, before Birgitta swung her sword and cut through the spine of the last creature.
Quickly taking stock the four humans moved to the coach where Rutger was lying badly wounded. As they did so they heard the click of the coach doors being unlocked from the inside, and out stepped a rather rotund, ruddy faced middle-aged man. Shouting and cursing he berated the group for not arriving sooner until chastised by Birgitta, who pointed out that they’d just saved his skin. Whereupon he fell to the ground, begging for the party to get him to the safety of Ubersreik as quickly as possible.
Ignoring the man, Birgitta and Vaerun went to help Rutger, learning that the coach had been disabled late the previous day. Whilst trying to fix the axle this morning they’d been attacked by the Beastmen. The character in the coach was a merchant from Marienburg, Klaus von Rothstein, who as they spoke was rushing around the vehicle trying to gather his goods which were being ransacked by the Ungor as the party’s arrived. As they were talking Hans tried to assist Theda, who had taken some balm and ointments from her backpack and was trying to staunch some of the worse bits and cuts she’d suffered. Although successful in her task, she looked very pale and drawn.
Theda and Hans walked across to the other travellers, and a clap over thunder sounded overhead. As it did so, the sound of another warhorn echoed through the dense forest around them. The companions looked to each other, startled, while the merchant broke down in anguish, wailing.
To be continued…