Operation Winter

Session 1: Arrival in Ohk
In Which We Get Underway.

Edited and Posted by Jozh

One way or another, the soldiers of Contingent 151 had earned the honor of serving under Kommander Kroskov. Kroskov was a bold and brash Khadoran military man who professed great love for The Motherland. He had served in both the Invasion of the Thornwood and The Llaelese War, both victories for Khador. He was stationed in Thornwood swamps when the Cryxian undead hoards rampaged, and he was at many battlefronts fighting to keep Thornwood from Cygnar and Cryx. He was well decorated and stern.

The Contingent was on downtime in Merywyn, the capital of Llael, where they’d been for a month since their last successful mission near the southern border of Khador. The young doctor, Specialist Alexi Repparmann played cards with his steamjack “Ivor”, taking notes on its reactions. The others lounged about the inn where they’d rented rooms.

One fine morning, First Lieutenant Mikhail Skarrov arrived on their doorstep and let himself in. “Gentlemen, lady, good morning.”

Session 2: At the Pass
In Which We Raise Questions.

Edited and Posted by Jozh

Pravo searched the room thoroughly, avoiding looking at the body. The room appeared to have been hastily gathered, and based on the snow on the floor and frost on the window, he surmised that someone had used it to exit the building recently. He discovered a train ticket under the bed and the remains of a meal on the table, but nothing else of note.

Josephine took a deep breath, crouched next to the corpse, and searched it. She found a nothing in his pockets and a simple metal band on his ring finger. She caught a glint of something from the dead man’s open belly, and a closer look revealed what appeared to be glass shards and tiny pieces of metal.

“Was this man…poisoned somehow?” she asked, turning toward Pravo.

“I don’t think poison melts one’s guts so…thoroughly,” he said. “Maybe Dok Komrade would know.”

Jo stood up and headed for the door eagerly. “I’ll go find him.”

“Da. Will kome with you.”

Session 3: Into the Keep
In Which We Breach The Fortress.

Edited and posted by Jozh

Konstantin started to gather up the Contingent’s gear and made ready to head out, while Alexi hooked Ivor to the sled. Irkuk took a final look at the Khadoran soldiers and said, “You guys, luck to ya, but I’mma get Ol’ Burt and head our way back to town. Place gives me the creeps and on my own I can make better time. Luck to you.”

“And to you,” said Josephine. She nodded to the gobber before taking to the trail.

Blegovian nodded to Irkuk as well, looking back to the trail, smirking. “Piece of cake.”

Pravo offered a casual salute in the gobber’s direction, then took a look at Konstantin’s slalom plan. “You first, komrade.”

Travel down the pass was treacherous and it became difficult for all and especially Ivor to manage. It switched back all the way down with slick stones and snow. After a time, they arrived at the foot of a treeless path.

The land ahead appeared to be frozen swamp/tundra with mosses and ice and slush in the marsh-ponds. Old crooked and gnarled short trees struggled to rise from the ground and appeared sickly. Small rat-creatures scurried among roots and fled at the soldiers’ approach. On at least one occasion, the frightened retreat caused the rat to be caught and chomped down on by other glowing-eyed creatures within the gnarls. It appeared to be a six hour trek through the briny swamp to the keep. Blegovian led the party down the trail, pointing out the best spots to walk. While the air seemed to threaten a storm, it hadn’t started yet.

“If we get any more snow, it might mask our approach,” said Josephine.

“I do not think that Ivor’s approach can really be missed,” said Alexi.

“Aktivate stealth mode,” Pravo said dryly.

They had to pull their hoods and cloaks tight against the freezing breeze. Alexi walked close behind the steamjack for warmth. They trudged through the icy mush, every once in a while having to correct their course. Ivor occasionally sank into the slush and had to be removed, but they kept on trekking.

“I hate this land,” said Pravo.

“It seems to hate us in return,” said Josephine. The operative nodded crisply.

“Has anyone seen any sign of our mysterious stranger now that we in the open?” asked Konstantin.

They could see about seventy yards through the trees. “Nyet,” said Pravo, who had continued his vigil with the spyglass.

“Good. One less distraction to deal with.”

On occasion you heard a squeal as some of the fauna caught up to other fleeing fauna or as Ivor crunched a swamp rat beneath his treaded feet. Aside from annoying rodents and tangled vegetation however, they managed to approach an area where old stumps were scattered about the “living” trees.

Blegovian relayed a story to pass the time. “So, this one time, in the Thornwood, I was trailing a group of Cryx thralls near the Temple Garrodh. I saw a pack of warpwolves stalking them and they finally decided to charge out of the underbrush and demolish the thralls in short work. Really borked that recon mission.”

“Did the warpwolves attack you, as well?” asked Josephine.

Blegovian gave her a toothy grin. “Nah, I was hiding in a tree.”

“Of kourse,” said Pravo.

Alexi interrupted the tale to point out that not only were the stumps cut with tools, but the first few they came across were cut somewhat recently. No sooner than a month ago or so, by the doktor’s estimation, and the farther they went, the older the cuts seemed to be, as though someone was working their way away from the keep in their cutting.

“So the keep is occupied, said Josephine. “Or was.”

“Klear kutting area around keep,” said Pravo. “Perhaps to limit available kover. Krap.”

“Firewood?” suggested Alexi.

Pravo nodded. “That too.”

“New construction possibly,” suggested Konstantin.

The Contingent continued on their way, and the trees thinned more and more until they saw the keep itself – an old stone structure built on the cliff over the sea. Jagged broken walls were topped with crumbling crenellations, and the ruins of a handful of moldering ruined buildings rotted outside the walls, the structures providing nothing but broken walls. A portcullis hung half-closed across a front gate, stuck in the wall tracks. It appeared as though it had dropped and caught in the stone about three feet from the ground, bending the metal and breaking the railing.

“I will skout,” Pravo asserted.

Blegovian nodded. “I will head around the side.” The two men crept toward the ruins from different angles.

“I suggest getting out of the open while we wait,” Konstantin said to the others. They took cover behind what once might have been a guard shack or stable, and Alexi pulled out a book to read.

The trollkin headed south and made his way to the edge of the keep, peering around the wall, which stretched toward the cliff and actually appeared to extend beyond the ledge. Pravo approached rotting wooden gate-doors that were just slightly ajar, wide enough for one person to get through if they squeezed under the metal gate. He peeked around the portcullis and saw that the gate and doors led into a large entryway through the old keep walls that had once served as a checkpoint for travelers and troops into the tower. It was eerily quiet and a light snow breezed into the open doors into the dark antechamber. The operative probed a little farther in.

Pravo stole through the gap into the dimly lit antechamber where a door to the north creaked on its hinges in the breeze from the open front doors. The opposite side of the room also has a closed door which had a smashed lock on it. There was a large arched double door ahead, closed along the western wall, straight across from the portcullis.

The spy inspected the open door to his right. It opened into an empty guard chamber that holds a long-cold fire-pit and a table and benches. Seeing this, he went back outside to fetch the others. “Entrance looks klear,” he reported. “Where is trollkin?”

Josephine points to the other south side of the keep, where Blegovian was just rounding the corner. They waved him over and he joined them near the front. Alexi continued scratching notes in a ledger as the Contingent approached the entrance. They all had to duck under the dropped gate to pass the doors, and it was clear that Ivor would not be able to get underneath. Seeing this, the doctor waited around the corner, trying to thaw his ink.

Blegovian frowned at the gate. “I’m not sure my chest can get through that.” He squeezed and it took some crunching, but he managed to get his massive torso through. The trollkin put his greatcoat back on, and Josephine and Konstantin stood ready, while Pravo checked the door to the south.

He heard nothing but noticed a sheaf of papers under the door. The operative pulled them out, and some of the pages crumbled under his touch. Josephine came over to see what he had found. The pages were shipping manifests but appeared to be in a language neither could read. Newer pages, found on the bottom half of the stack, were in Khadoran and appeared to be more manifests and an inventory list of supplies.

Pravo handed the pages off to Josephine, then pried open the door. “Be ready, Iron Fang,” he advised.

The door came open easily enough, revealing a room with a table and a makeshift mattress stuffed with reams of more papers. The things about the room appeared to be scattered, and dust was thinner around the bed and papers. Pravo moved in and searched for threats. Finding none, he said, “Klear.”

After a more thorough search, the Contingent found some week-old stale bread and hundreds of papers padding the mattress and the table. Under the table in the papers was a tarnished pistol and handful of rounds, appearing to have been placed haphazardly. Pravo pointed the gun out disinterestedly, and Josephine collected it and the bullets.

“This place seems abandoned so far,” said Konstantin.

The operative nodded and crossed the entry to the chamber with the open door, giving it a cursory search. On the opposite side of the chamber through a door there was another room with benches and a cold fire pit. There appeared to be more papers in an unknown language scattered everywhere, mixed with some Khadoran rosters and lists of people. Many appeared to have been used to fuel the fire. The dates were centuries old, and Pravo noted that they dated back to a few years after the Orgoth were pushed back.

“Ah. Historikal kolor,” said the spy, returning to the entryway.

“This place is older than I thought…” said Josephine. "There’s got to be a stairway or something leading up … or down.

Blegovian hung out in the entry way, examining the wooden double doors. They appeared to be heavy, but they were not locked. “Clear?” he asked Pravo.

“Da. Is klear,” said the operative.

The trollkin nodded and moved to listen at the double doors. He heard nothing but the icy wind, so he pushed on the doors. They began to creak, but he thought it would take some doing to get them open. He grunted and said, “Huh, these are blocked or rusted.”

Konstantin joined Blegovian, lending his strong shoulder to the problem. It began to open sluggishly, weighed down by snow as they pushed, the snow bunching up and making the door harder to push. Through the crack they could see a snowy courtyard and another door on the other side.

“Dok Komrade?” said Pravo.

“Uh…. Yes?” said Alexi.

“We may need ’jack power to open door.”

“Of kourse. I’ll be right there.” At Alexi’s instruction the ’jack lifted the portcullis, allowing it inside the keep. The groan of metal on stone echoed loudly.

About that time, Blegovian shouldered the doors to the inner courtyard open wide enough to squeeze through. The snow was easily calf- to knee-deep. He shrugged his shoulder to alleviate the sting. “Heh. That felt good.”

“Good work, StautTrunk.” Josephine clapped him on the shoulder, having to stand on tiptoe to manage it.

Blegovian nodded. “Welcome Sergeant.”

The Contingent readied their weapons, scanning the courtyard for threats, then followed the trollkin through the breach. The courtyard was large, bleak and open; snow flurries whipped about the calf deep snow, spinning around old lean-tos and broken training dummies. Around the top of the wall of the keep, crumbling crenellations jutted all about, lined with rotted and snow-soaked wooden walks leading to archer-nests. Other than the moan of the winter wind the place is deathly silent.

Three doors were set along the western wall, opposite the keep entrance: a single door on the left, double doors in the center, and another single on the right. The Tower seen from the distance rested above the double doors, a broken and crumbling shell. Shattered stairs and walls pointed at the sky with no true usefulness.

Konstantin moved to the center of the courtyard, while Alexi ordered Ivor through the door. It took the ’jack some doing, but it finally made it through.

Blegovian moved straight up to the double doors in the center, and when he tested them, they creaked and pushed inward a touch, as though they have been moderately kept up. The trollkin paused and listened through the crack and thought, for a second, that he heard a groan or creak from inside.

Meanwhile, Pravo advanced through the heavy snow to the single door on the left. “Première à gauche,” Josephine sighed, following the spy, who placed his ear to the door. Blegovian stumped over to join the others at the door. He nodded back toward the double door and said, “Not sure, might be trapped. Seems more used, and I heard a noise when I cracked it.”

Pravo gestured for silence. “Somethink in here, too,” he said quietly. “Make call, Llaelese.”

Josephine pointed decisively to the nearby door, backing up and gesturing to the trollkin. Pravo stood aside, and Blegovian shrugged, pushing open the door.

The door opened to an armory, broken racks and shelves littering the floor. There were broken Orgoth arms and armor scattered about, shattered from use or age. A couple of corpses sprawled on the floor, one beheaded, the other run through. The corpses wore sailor uniforms. A few daggers and other solid metal pieces can be found still intact and could be used or sold for a good price.

Pravo peeked around his companions with narrowed eyes. “I heard somethink!” he insisted. The Contingent paused quietly, listening. Then the spy pointed at a door sitting ajar in the back of the armory, beyond the wreckage. “There it is again. Somewhere farther in. I say we advance.”

“Agreed,” said Josephine.

Blegovian nodded to Pravo and snuck over to the other door, avoiding fallen debris and corpses. Through the door he found what appeared to be the old barracks. The trollkin moved in, searching around. Sundered beds and broken furniture were strewn about haphazardly. There was another door in the back that was open just enough for a single person to squeeze through if they were waif-like. There was a single sailor corpse in the room, a large chunk hewn out of its side. It appeared fresher than the two in the armory.

Konstantin joined Blegovian in the room, pike trained on the door. The others trailed in behind them, Alexi in the rear, since Ivor was stuck outside in the courtyard. The trollkin crossed the room to the other door, peeking his head through the crack. There was a long hallway beyond the door.

Pravo approached the door and held up a hand for silence. “Up ahead,” he hissed. “Same shufflink sound. Also, wood … groanink?”

“I can’t imagine what would make such noises,” said Josephine.

Blegovian shrugged and slowly opened the door to squeeze through, looking around. The hallway branched to his right and stopped ahead at a closed door. He motioned for the others to follow, moving down the hallway quietly.

They heard wood creak and stop suddenly from the room to the right, but ahead they another noise beyond the door – some kind of louder grunt and then some kind of halting language.

Pravo gestured back to Konstantin to indicate potential hostiles, then stepped out of the Iron Fang’s path. Konstantin marched into the room at a half-job pace, trailed closely by Josephine. When the Iron Fang reached the door he drove his blasting pike into the wood and detonated it. The door exploded, blown to flinders, and caught the two pirates inside by surprise. They looked pale and gaunt, and their eyes exhibited a light green glow. They raise their swords.

Konstantin moved into the room and fired his cannon shield into the enemy on his left. It blew a hole right through him. Josephine advanced next, firing twice at the other pirate and taking him out of action. Blegovian moved into the room after the guns were done firing, rubbing his ears with his fingers from the deafening noise. As the Contingent began searching the room, the corpse with two holes in him began to pick itself up from the ground, snarling something in Sulise, its eyes flaring green.

“дерьмо!” swore Pravo, throwing a pair of knives at the risen corpse. The first blade spun the creature around, and the second imbedded itself in an eye socket. Squish. Thump. The corpse remained still, the glow from the eyes faded. The keep was silent. “What the hell?!” the spy demanded.

Session 4: In the Dark
In Which We Meet The Skulker.

Edited and posted by Jozh

Looking around, the Contingent found itself in an officer’s office, the room strewn with debris but still mostly intact. Josephine produced a rag to wipe down her sword, but didn’t sheathe it yet. “Have any of you seen anything like this before?” she asked.

Pravo suppressed a shudder. “Nyet.”

Blegovian shrugged. “Could be Cryx. Seems like something those nasty bastards would do.”

“Everyone stay alert,” said Josephine.

Alexi began examination of the corpses, being very cautious. “These men have been dead for at least a month, Sergeant.”

“Oh? Quite lively for dead men,” said Pravo.

“How do dead men move, Doctor?” asked Konstantin

“There’s more of the green chemical in their blood. Just like the wolves,” said Alexi. “Dead men moving is something that I have not studied. But many things are possible with magic and alchemy.”

“Is science? Or witchkraft?” asked Pravo.

“I would guess Withckraft, Mr. Pravo. The alchemical concoction in their blood points that way.”

“Alkhemy is not science. Got it.”

“It is scientific magic, Mr. Pravo.”

“So this was intentional, then,” said Konstantin. “Someone here is causing this?”

“I think we should proceed with that assumption, Sgt. Dragov,” said Josephine.

“Then I recommend we need to keep moving and find them.”

“Agreed. We should drag these out to the courtyard and burn them, once the area is secure,” said Josephine, glancing at the trollkin. Blegovian nodded, using some cloth remnants to wrap around the legs of the corpses and preparing to pull them out.

“It is unlikely that two will move again. I would guess that we ma safely leave them for now,” said Alexi.

Josephine nodded in agreement as he handed her the keys he’d found on one of the bodies. She, in turn, handed them to Pravo. “Hold onto these, if you will, Specialist Ostavil.” He shrugged as he pocketed the keys.

Tossing the office, they found more paperwork and some foreign-language surveys that appeared to show some kind of caverns under the keep. Plenty of diary writings that could be worth something to a historian. Josephine took the map and made ready to press on. “Let’s have a look at that dining hall,” she said.

The Contingent came to a large dining hall with two tables down the center and tables along the walls. The tattered remnants of tapestries adorned with Orgoth images hung from the wall, apparently depicting war. The tables and chairs were smashed and scattered, and a single corpse lays beneath some broken furniture. A spike of lumber piercing her through her back and out her chest held her slightly upright. Unlike the previous bodies that had appeared preserved, this corpse was decayed and desiccated.

Pravo turned a shade paler at the sight, knives appearing in his hands. “Please beink dead-dead,” he muttered.

After a moment’s hesitation, Josephine trained her pistol on the corpse. Then she heard a slight shuffling sound and a very quiet grunt from an opening to the left, so she wheeled around to face it.

Alexi began to move towards the corpse. “Kareful, komrade,” Pravo warned, indicating the open door. The doctor gave a distracted nod. While examining the body, he muttered, “Defensive wounds, death by impalement, non-accidental….”

Blegovian was also more interested in the noise coming from the north after seeing the state of the corpse. He snuck over toward the opening and found a storage chamber beyond, where broken boxes and barrels were stacked or smashed. Old food items like stale bread and cheeses were stacked, they weren’t fresh, but they seemed edible. A cask of Llaelese wine sat untapped against a wall. There were also some opened sacks of grain and dried beans spilled over and it looked like someone had torn it open with their hands. The old smell of mold wafted through the air, but nothing was left of the remains.

Josephine stood by, sword and pistol ready, while Pravo circled to the eastern door. Konstantin opened the door back into the courtyard to make sure it was still empty of threats. The trollkin twisted his great-axe around in his hands, approaching the cask and listening for movement. He also kept his eyes on the ground, for any trap doors that might lead down into the cavern. There, he noticed a drag mark on the floor that led to a crate pressed against the wall covering a hole large enough for a small man or woman to crawl through unarmored.

Blegovian motioned for backup and pointed to his eyes with two fingers before pointing to the crate. Pravo and Josephine advanced to support the trollkin, who quietly sheathed his great-axe and drew his halberd. He stood to the side of the crate, ready to smash anything that came through with his halberd in one hand, lifting the crate out of the way with the other. He found only the hole in the wall and darkness beyond. Though too small for the larger members of the Contingent to fit through, the smaller ones might fit.

Pravo peered through the hole, finding that it was a literal hole in the wall leading to another room on the opposite side. It was large enough to notice a dark room with an open door on the opposite side. He reported this to the others. Blegovian kept an eye on the hole and said, “Well, perhaps we should split up. Konstantin and I can go back out into the courtyard and through the door leading to the room that should be the other side of this wall.”

“All right. I’m going to see what’s in there,” said Josephine. She shrugged out of her winter cloak and draped it over the wine cask.

Pravo shook his head. “Nyet. Am thinkink other external door leads to it. Sergeant.”

She glances at the spy. “All right, then. You and I will stay here to catch it if it comes back through.”

He gave her a look. “Push krate back in way. Havink ’jack go through outer door, perhaps.”

Meanwhile, Konstantin checked the rooms on the other side of the dining room that no one had opened yet. Through the right was a kitchen. Three stone and clay fire-pits and hearths sat along the back wall with smoke pipes leading up. The table in the center was broken in half and cobwebs floated through the dead air. The second door led to a small room containing nothing of note. The third door was closed tight and heavy. It had a set of three large iron locks set into it. They were old and tarnished but still solid and sturdy.

Konstantin headed back to the dining room. “We need either the ’jack to break open the door, or those keys.” Pravo nodded, fishing the keys out and inserting them in the locks. They fit, so he turned them, producing a pair of satisfying clicks. Then he pulled them back out and got out of the way.

Blegovian switched back to his great-axe as the first lock was opened. Once opened, the doors led to a stone hallway, solid craft with two branches to the left and right before heading straight back into darkness. The trollkin stepped in, Pravo behind him, holding the light. Alexi returned to the courtyard to check on Ivor, then they both returned to join the others.

They found the far side of the hole in the wall from the storage closet in a room with moldering scraps of cloth and furniture. “The area is clear so far, Sergeant,” said Konstantin through the hole. “You can come around now.”

Josephine rejoined the group, and they heard a scurrying, shuffling sound coming from down the hall further in the darkness. The sergeant motioned everyone forward. Cautious advance revealed a stairwell leading down into the stone flooring about two men wide, descending further into darkness.

Blegovian nodded to Pravo. “You first?” The operative quirked an eyebrow and muttered something unflattering before descending. Konstantin followed right behind, and the others trailed the two men. Down the darkened stairs a chamber opened. There was no light at all aside from the one Pravo carried. Across from the staircase was a wooden door that looks to have been used recently. It was slightly ajar, wide enough for someone small to fit through.

Josephine trained her pistol on the door and motioned for Pravo to open it. He did so without complaint, for once. The chamber opened to an extremely long hallway lined with barred cells leading south, and across from it was another closed door with a lock on it. The faint scurrying noise could be heard again, coming from down the hallway to the south. The door was locked but it was a much simpler lock. Pravo crossed the hall and opened the next door.

The door opened to an antechamber that appeared to have worn walk-ruts in the floor, a crumbling podium, and another set of large double doors at the back. “Empty room,” Pravo reported.

“Let’s move on, then,” said Josephine. She looked at the double doors to the east.

Blegovian asked, “So, are we going to check out that door or go down the hall?”

“Down the hall.”

The trollkin nodded, moving down the hall while keeping to the side of the light source. The hallway was long and lined on both sides with 12’ x 12’ cells, five on each side. Some contained the skeletal remains of long dead prisoners, and each was barred with iron and chained shut. The chains were broken or missing from a handful of cells, but on a few they were intact. Blegovian glanced into the cells briefly before moving along.

At the end of the hall a huge rusty iron door sat slightly ajar, as though something couldn’t close it all the way. Blegovian grabbed the door and made ready to open it enough for the big guys to go through.

“This thing is becoming tiresome,” said Konstantin. “It’s either mindless and fleeing a threat, or it’s leading us into a trap.”

“Either way, we can’t rest until it’s dealt with,” said Josephine.

“Okay, then,” he said, nodding to the trollkin.

“A doorway will be a good pinch point if we have to fight a lot at once,” said Blegovian before heaving on the door.

At the end of the cells was a chamber best described as a crematorium, its door sitting open. It appeared to sit beneath the kitchen and the hearthfire pits and chimneys doubled for the charnel house below. There were three grand burner cells with ash on the walls. Closer inspection revealed handprints and scratches in the walls, indicating that some of the victims weren’t exactly passed to Urcaen when they were placed within. Old busted bellows were attached to the side of each oven, the mechanisms long worn and broken over the ages of neglect. The whole room still smelled of burned meat. One could only imagine the number of bodies set ablaze here by their Orgoth captors. Another door sat ajar on the opposite side and grunts could be heard from beyond.

“Let this be the end of the chase,” said Josephine.

“Mmm, creepy,” said Blegovian, heading towards the other door with Pravo and his light close behind.

Through the door, another hall branched left and right, and a double-door rotted open directly across from the crematorium. The grunting came from the right-hand hallway, beyond a slightly ajar door. The opposite direction was another wood and metal door, rusted and closed.

To the right, three pirates with glowing green eyes appeared to be searching in the hallway for something. It was not a shambling search, but an intelligent one. They glanced up at the Contingent as soon as the trollkin set foot in the corridor.

“Ivor, attack," said Alexi. The ’jack pushed past the rest of the team, whumping his way down the hall toward the glow-eyed pirates. Pulling back its massive spear, Ivor drives the point through the animated dead-man with extreme prejudice. It crumpled to the floor, dead again.

“Charge!” cried Blegovian, before doing just that. He noticed movement on the other side of the bars, but ignored it as he plowed forward, his halberd arcing toward the farthest pirate. The blade cleaved down the creature’s shoulder and deep into its ribcage, dropping it to the floor. The trollkin grunted in satisfaction.

Konstantin moved up and thrust his blast-pike, connecting with the third pirate, obliterating it.

Pravo waited to see if these twice-dead men were going to get back up. Josephine moved up to look at the cell on the left. Within, she saw what appeared to be a dirty girl huddled and trying to hide under a linen blanket. She seemed to favor one leg and there were traces of food stuffs lying about.

Suddenly, two pirates’ eyes snapped open again, and they clawed at the Contingent from the ground. Pravo’s waiting knives pierced their skulls and they fell still once more. He spat on the ground, looking disturbed and satisfied all at once.

Blegovian chopped the head off the pirate at his feet, its glowing eyes opening briefly again before the blade crunched through its spine, killing the glow that had briefly flared. “Eh, bloody pirates. What’s that in the cell?”

They all gazed curiously at the cell, seeing the wounded child within, Konstantin moving to a forward guard position. The girl stared out at the Contingent, wide eyed and fearful. She was young, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, and covered in dirt. She might have been considered attractive if not for her obvious malnourishment. She moved back in the cell, blinking. Her eyes weren’t glowing.

“Were they looking for you?” Josephine asked the girl, trying to sound friendly. “My name is Josephine,” she said, putting her weapons away. “What’s yours?”

“A-a-a-a-Aurelia…” the girl stammered.

“Hello, Aurelia. Did you come here with the pirates?”

She pursed her lips tight as though thinking. “Y-y-y-yes…”

“But something happened to them, yes? Do you know why they’ve… changed?”

“D-d-did you kill them all? Can I go now?”

“Maybe she wants some grub?” suggested Blegovian.

Josephine nodded to the trollkin, then turned her attention back to the girl. “We aren’t sure yet, Aurelia. How many pirates came with you?” Blegovian rummaged through his bag and pulled out some jerky, waving it at the girl.

Aurelia cocked an eyebrow at the food and looks at the group, at the dead pirates, back at you all and swallows hard. “Whole crew with … Captain Iron Tooth … Sixteen? Most dead now?”

“Post up, trollkin,” said Pravo to Blegovian, indicating the empty place beside Konstantin. He held up five fingers, to indicate his estimate of the re-deaded pirates. Blegovian tossed the jerky into the cell and shrugged, heading over near the Iron Fang. Aurelia looked at the jerky and her stomach audibly growled.

Josephine nodded before continuing. “This is Blegovian, Pravo, Alexi, and Konstantin,” she said, indicating each in turn. It was the first time she had used any of her companions’ first names. Pravo frowned when his own name was said aloud, and Blegovian looked askance at the sergeant.

“I am a doctor, Miss Aurelia,” said Alexi. “Would you permit me to examine you?”

“D-d-do I h-h-have a choice?”

“I am no monster here to hurt you. I am a doctor and wish to see you well.”

“Y-y-you help me get out and home, and I’ll tell you what … tell you what I know happened.” Her eyes watered, leaving streaks in the dirt on her cheeks. “I just wanna’ go somewhere else, away from the Captain.”

“All right, then,” said Josephine. “We will help you get back to civilization. Please, tell us what you know.”

The girl slowly began to move toward Alexi, squeezing between the bars to exit the cell. She favored a bruised leg, and while Alexi examined her, she began her tale.

Her name was Aurelia Dovenkoz and her parents were taken as slaves by Razor-Tooth, a pirate captain known for cannibalism. His beard was strung with fishing hooks, his teeth sharpened to knives, and he had a scythe for a hand instead of a simple hook. Aurelia was given to the men of the ship as a plaything.

Finally, she had hidden a makeshift shiv in her hair and stabbed the first mate when he tried to have his way with her one night. Razor-Tooth liked this and took her on as a deck-swab, but threatened worse punishment than her previous life should she turn on him. Over the next year she’d had to bear witness to the rape and murder of her mother and the hanging of her father from the sailing rigging. She then carried on with Razor-Tooth’s crew, and they had found this place and set up attacking cargo ships.

She said that she wished to find her family in Khorsk and that she would tell the Contingent anything they wanted about the keep place if they could get her out of there first. She feared the creatures in the mountain and swamps. She had been living in here for months now since “the incident," but she wasn’t willing to talk about it yet.

When they had come across the Khardic ship a few months back, it had a strange haul that the captain took for his own. A strange glow emanated from the crate, and he’d kept it on himself at all time. He changed, becoming crueler, and shortly even his mates changed, transformed over a month until there were those with the glowing eyes and those without. The latter were slain by the captain and his new men.

“I stayed hidden in the dark," she concluded. “Snuck around in the quiet for a month before you came here.”

Session 5: Taking the Fortress
In Which We Secure The Keep.

As Aurelia’s tale concluded, Alexi finished bandaging the girl’s leg. “Th-th-thank you,” she told him, pulling her leg back toward herself and shying away.

“It’s too dangerous out there for you by yourself,” Josephine said. “Your best course of action is to depart with us when our relief arrives. In the meantime, we will try to find this Razor-Tooth and the source of this … infection.”

“Well, the thing is … further down in the cavern.”

“If you wish to hide until we’re done, I understand, but there is safety in numbers, Aurelia.”

Blegovian and Pravo left Josephine to her conversation with the girl for a moment, scouting ahead. Back in the hallway there were two double doors and another hallway mirroring the one in which they stood. The double door led to some sort of ceremonial chamber worshipping foreign gods of the Orgoth. An altar sat at the back, which was still caked with hardened and cracked viscera. Worn spots in the floor marked where many Orgoth had knelt to pray to their black gods.

The room had obviously been used for twisted Orgoth tortures and interrogation. The place still reeked of death and when silent they could almost hear the screams still echoing as the chains quietly slid against each other. Blegovian examined a grate on the floor more closely. He found it rusted and sealed in the ground with years of blood and mortar of which the former was likely used for the latter. The spy gave his burly companion a grim look, then returned to report their findings.

“Where is kavern?” Pravo asked Aurelia, sounding peeved.

The girl flinched at his tone and seemed almost to lapse into something. “Below… sir.”

“Below grate? Where? Where?” he insisted.

Josephine looked like she wanted to step in but waited for Aurelia’s response. Instead of answering, the girl shook her head and scrambled away from him and squeezed back through the bars.

“крыса,” he muttered.

“Damn it, Ostavil,” Josephine grumbled, moving to follow Aurelia. Her armor kept her from squeezing in after the girl, though.

“The dead rise like in trollkin’s wet dream, and you wish for Pravo to have soft touch?” He scoffed and turned away.

Josephine bit back her retort and instead addressed the girl. “Aurelia, please. None of us are safe here while the pirates are a threat. Help us.”

From her corner in the dark, Aurelia pointed back toward the hall. “Back the way you came sir. Back and down through the stairs.”

She spared an angry glance at Pravo as she said, “Come on, then.” She headed off in the direction Aurelia indicated. Alexi dropped his personal rations bag at the grate, then followed the sergeant.

“Luck,” the girl muttered under her breath. Pravo spared her one more dark look, then left with the others.

“I hate dungeons,” said Blegovian. “Especially Orgoth. They seem to have had a strong influence on the Cryx or something.”

“I quite agree, Specialist StautTrunk,” said Josephine. “I imagine the low ceilings do not agree with you either.”

“Obvious,” Pravo remarked, just loud enough to be heard.

Blegovian smirked. “Yeah, that too. Let’s get this mission over with.”

“It’s not that bad,” said Konstantin. “I’d rather be here than back in the barracks waiting for the next mission to come along.”

Pravo opened another locked door then stepped aside for the soldiers to blaze the trail. An ‘L’ shaped room ending in a stairwell had ruts dug into the floor as though thousands of feet had tread across it, pulling things of great weight to and from the stairs. The room seemed to be empty of anything of importance aside from a hatch at the stairs.

Blegovian followed Konstantin. “You want to try the hatch?”

“After you, Specialist,” said the Iron Fang.

The hatch opened to a rickety stairwell that tilted sharply, but was wide enough for Ivor. The stairs end on a catwalk that zig-zagged down toward frigid waters floating with clumped ice. Amid the water sat about four small skiffs buoyed around a half-sunken ship with the Khadoran banner attached to its crooked mast.

From their vantage, they could see a large crate that emitted a dim glow on the far side of the broken deck, away from the dock. A handful of pirates shambled about on the decks of the skiffs, eyes glowing green. Beside the glowing crate stands a hideous man, whole body a dim sickly green glow. He rasped unintelligible orders and the others pulled ropes and moved crates from the skiffs to the docks.

“We take the ship,” said Josephine.

“Stealth?” asked Blegovian.

“As far as we can.”

The “captain” barked garbled words in some unknown language, and the pirate zombies obeyed, garbling and grumbling as the Contingent reached the plank.

“For the Motherland!” Josephine cried.

“Time to put these shamblers to rest!” Blegovian crowed, standing aside to let the steamjack barge in.

“Ivor, smash those sailors!” Alexi ordered the ‘jack. Ivor’s mace drove the first sailor through the deck like a nail.

Josephine trained both pistols on the aft-most pirate and fired, the bullets took him in the shoulder, and she strode onto the deck. Pravo threw a knife at each of the two nearest living dead men. An involuntary shiver worked its way violently up his spine at the sight of the corpses twitching.

Blegovian moved to the central part of the exposed fore end of the ship, using his axe to sever the heads of the dead pirates. “Mind my blades, trollkin!” Pravo scolded, barely keeping his gorge down.

Garbling filled with rage, the zombie captain stalked toward the water and drew a worn pistol in its good hand. Its free hand a sickle. It took a shot at Konstantin but missed the Iron Fang. A fallen pirate got up, groaning loudly and clawing at Blegovian wildly. The zombie caught the trollkin off guard and cut into his leg, blood beginning to seep slowly.

With an upswing of its mace, Ivor splattered a pirate zombie against the cave ceiling. The zombie impaled on a stalactite and twitched a few times before falling still. Her path now unexpectedly clear, Josephine headed aft. Now that the captain is in range, she took aim at him. The hook-bearded, razor-toothed captain murphled as he takes a shot to the mouth, causing it to un-hinge and loll to the side. A triple tap took him in the forehead, and he fell against the crate. Then he righted himself, seemingly rejuvenated by its proximity.

Then Konstantin charged and jabbed his blasting pike into the zombie leader’s center mass. The pirate captain staggered back and looked down at the smoking cannon-crater hole in his chest. Then it looked back up at Konstantin, a muffled question-accented groan escaped its lips as it tilted backwards to the ground next to the crate. While the glowing creature slowly fell, the Iron Fang casually reloaded his pike.

“Is dead?!” Pravo called out across the water, moving up to retrieve his knives from the severed heads of the pirates.

Blegoviand moved towards the aft of the ship as the captain regained its feet, the hole slightly smaller but still smoking. He looked confused at the hole, then at Konstantin. “Grumfle?” it uttered, bringing its sickle hand down on the Iron Fang. The blade sank into Konstantin, and wisps of the green energy flowed into his wound, burning him with a sensation like cold fire.

“ебать!” Pravo swore. “Kill it better, komrade!”

“Stay down, damn you!” cried Josephine, unloading her pistols into the captain again. The bullets thunk-thunk-thunk into the body, jerking him left and right. It groaned almost disappointedly as it dropped to the deck again, falling still. “We have to get him away from the crate!”

Konstantin nodded, moving past the captain to the massive crate. He planting his hands and feet and strained against the weight, budging, lifting, and finally heaving the massive thing up and over the side of the ship into the makeshift harbor.

They could see its dim glow sink into the black below. At the crate’s moving, Razor-tooth lifted its hand feebly, uttering, “Grooooooo!” as it fell over the side of the ship. “Grawwwww…” was the last disappointed noise it made before its hand dropped to the deck, lifeless for real.

Konstantin tore off his armor and tried to deal with the poison in his wound. “Repparman! See to Dragov!” ordered Josephine. Alexi managed to tend to the worst of the Iron Fang’s wounds efficiently. With that handled, she went to the rail to see if she could see any trace of the crate’s glow. “I’d feel more comfortable if … whatever that was were destroyed, but I’ll take it.”

“Was that part of the mission?” asked Blegovian.

“Is now, trollkin,” said Pravo.

“What? It’s recovered and secured … right at the bottom of this bay,” said Konstantin.

“Dragov’s right,” said Josephine. “Besides, we have days to secure these things before the relief arrives.”

Blegovian shrugged. “How are we going to see what else is in the hold of this ship if it is filled with water?”

“I suggest we sweep and clear the keep to make sure all hostiles are dead, Sergeant,” said Konstantin.

“Let’s make sure the keep is secured,” said Josephine. “Then we can worry about the cargo.”

They found Aurelia still in her cell. “Y-y-y-you killed him? The captain?” she asked.

Josephine nodded. “Yes. We cut him off from the source of his power. He won’t be threatening you anymore.” She showed the girl some of the hooks from his beard as proof.

“Thank you, oh thank you! Can we go up? I’d like to see real sunlight again.”


Near the exit, Aurelia pushed ahead excitedly toward the door. She opened the door to the courtyard, took a few deliberate steps into the snow, and turned to look back at the building pausing. “It’s… so terrible and so beautiful…" She then looked at the others. “Thank y-” A gun report sounded and she staggered forward, a look of shock on her face as she looked at Josephine, then down at the red stain welling from the hole in her chest. She dropped to the cold snow, staining the white a deep melting crimson.

Josephine dropped to her knees. “Find the shooter!” she cried.

“What?!” said Alexi, hurrying over.

Pravo scanned the courtyard, noting a gunman on top of the wall … reloading. “Sniper!” he shouted, pointing and moving for cover at the same time.

Josephine readied her guns. “Repparmann, do what you can for her!”

“Yes. Yes, yes….” said Alexi, already working on her. Then, “No good, Sergeant She’s gone.”

In Llalese, the sergeant swore, “Then I will send him after her.

Blegovian ran towards the stairwell, pulling his axe and leading the way up to the walls. The trollkin took a shot to his chest as he made the top, blood trickling down under his great coat. The sniper took a shot at Pravo as he rushed up, the hit distressing and distracting him. Josephine took advantage of the sniper’s immobility, swearing loudly in an assortment of language as she rushed him. This close, she could see that he wore a familiar set of goggles over his eyes and the same clothing they’d seen on the gunman in Ohk.

Josephine’s blade whirled. It caught in his heavy coat, and she felt metal pates in the cloth, but it didn’t completely protect him. “Acht! Bitch!” he swore in Khadoran.

Blegovian charged the sniper, smashing the axe into his chest, felling him to the ground. The sniper looked up at the trollkin and Josephine and coughed once, spitting up some blood and a tooth. “Heh. For ze Motherlandt-” He coughed. “Eh, komrade?” Then he went completely limp.

Josephine stared down at him, tightly clutching her blades in shaking hands. Blegovian shook his head. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

It took her a moment to realize that the trollkin was talking to her. “I don’t know,” she said. Then she paused and crouched down to inspect a glint from under the sniper’s coat. She unpinned two medals from his shirt. “Khadoran medal of service,” she said. “And the Khadoran medal for foreign service. Someone does not want our mission to succeed.”

Blegovian sighed. “So should we not expect our relief to arrive?”

Konstantin approached. “We were on the same side. So the question is … who is being lied to by their superior officer? Him, or us?”

“I hate to jump to conclusions, but I have offended someone higher than me in the chain of command.”

“Surprisink … No one….” Pravo managed to say. “Thinkink I have head wound, Dok Komrade.”

“Seems like a stone, but I see no signs of the bullet,” said Alexi. “I’ll wrap that in the infirmary, but you should rest it for a day or two.”

“Da…. Da.”

“That’s the problem with Officers,” said Konstantin. “Unless they are in the line of fire, they rarely act in the interests of the Motherland over their own. Give me a group of grunts to fight with any day and you can keep you bars and stripes.”

Josephine had no answers. “M-make sure there isn’t anyone else out here we don’t know about.”

A quick visual sweep revealed that the area was clear. Alexi provided medical services to those who required them. Not knowing whether the reinforcements were going to be friend or foe, Konstantin spent the days building defenses as best he could.

Josephine took the time to bury Aurelia. But not the sniper. Blegovian burned the man’s body in his ritualistic manner, along with the bodies of the pirate zombies.

Nothing else occurred until the Contingent’s relief arrived a couple of days later. First Lieutenant Mikhail Skarrov and his men began to set up swiftly. Josephine reported the sniper attack, showing the man’s medals to the commanding officer.

“Hrmmm….” said Skarrov, considering the report. “Well, we’ll have to look into that later. Glad you are all right. As for you, you don’t have much time, your little group did well, it seems. You have new orders. You’re going north. It would seem that the Nyss are coming out of hiding and we’re at war.”

Adventure 1 Epilogue: Aurelia

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

Josephine found the frozen ground as hard as the Motherland herself, but in time, it yielded enough to her pickaxe and shovel to form a tiny grave.

She spared an occasional glance back over her shoulder at the fortress they’d secured. She still had an hour before daybreak; with any luck, she’d be done before her men awoke. Some part of her wanted to rush through this, to get back inside and curl up beside the fire. The moaning wind simply ignored her winter cloak to numb her every nerve… but she had a job to do, and she would never, could never, place her own needs before duty.

And Aurelia deserved better.

She laid her tools next to the hole and trudged back to the gate, stamping to return sensation back to her feet. A Nyss elf would think nothing of this misery, she thought for the hundredth time… but Josephine was an Iosan elf. And Llaelese. And Khadoran. Truth be told, she didn’t know what she was.

“I’m a soldier,” she muttered aloud.

She took a knee and carefully pulled the linen-wrapped bundle up, draping it over her shoulder. Josephine wasn’t very strong, but Aurelia’s months of malnutrition had left little of her to carry. The elf’s legs wobbled a bit as she stood and turned to bear the girl to her final resting place.