Boggy hopped down from his cart, cursing his horse, cursing the rain, and sparing a final curse for the gods that had afflicted him with both. The clouds had been threatening when he left Graywell with Marvus Brool and Jorn Wilmurth, but they’d reckoned that they could cover the five leagues to the dock at Kutter’s Landing before the storm resumed. They’d reckoned wrong, and now he found himself rain-soaked and bone-chilled, stuck with a cart-horse that had abruptly refused to travel a single step further.
“Maybe we should turn back,” Marvus called, barely making himself heard over the din of the falling rain. His own steed was being no more cooperative than the cart-horse.
“Maybe you should, and you can explain to Wei why we come back without so much as a fond memory of the goods we oathed to be fetchin’ for her,” Boggy shouted back. “That woman’s coin is ridin’ heavy in my pocket, and my good name says that worse’n rain’ll land on my head ‘fore I go back tellin’ her she paid me for naught.” He left unspoken that the disruption in trade that the winter snows and spring rains had brought about had left Wei in a mood that portended a dark result for anyone busting a deal with the venerable general store owner.
With Marvus quieted and making no move to head back to town, Boggy let the heavy oak club in his hand swing softly back and forth as he turned his attention back to his horse. He briefly considered giving the beast a swift rap on the haunches to try getting it moving, but the obstinate creature was already in a temper, and Boggy envisioned that any attempt to mete out a physical incentive would likely earn him a kick from the horse’s iron-shod hooves. Jorn, who had spent the journey up to that point on lookout from the back of the cart, walked up alongside Boggy, crossbow in hand.
“I can run ahead to Kutter’s Landing, keep an eye on Wei’s shipment ‘til you get these horses cooperative,” he offered. Boggy suspected that Jorn was more interested in drying and warming himself in the shack on the docks than he was in guarding Wei’s delivery, but it wasn’t the worst idea that he’d ever heard. Bandits and scavengers were common enough in the Stolen Lands, and the sight of Jorn and his crossbow might be enough to put off any that weren’t already dissuaded by the rain.
Jorn, to his misfortune, never learned what Boggy’s answer was to have been. Boggy spotted the brush-cats out of the corner of his eye the moment before one of the striped marsupials sank its fangs into the back of Jorn’s left leg just below the knee. The big man went down with a scream, dropping his crossbow in the process, and a heartbeat later the second brush-cat’s teeth closed on Jorn’s throat and ended the scream in a wet gurgle.
Boggy spent a moment in stunned inaction before shouting and raising his club, but when the brush-cats raised their hissing, dripping maws from his friend’s ruined corpse, his courage instantly fled. He spared a moment to look hopefully in the direction where Marvus had been a moment earlier, but the man’s saddle was now empty; Marvus had vanished. Both of the horses were in a wild panic now, and Boggy saw no reason not to follow suit.
Boggy turned and ran, not bothering to look back. He was half-blind from the rain, anyway, and half-deaf from the pounding of his own heart. This was insufficient, however, to drown out two sounds that sent a chill down his spine more terrible than any that had ever been brought on by the winter’s cold: Marvus Brool’s voice, halfway between a wail and a whimper, and a second voice, deep and raspy, calling out in a tongue that Boggy could neither comprehend nor identify.
Wei Te-Hao frowned across her desk at Behrtio Cups. He had been enthusiastic enough about following her instructions when she gave the order for him to begin administering a beating to Boggy Carter, but he’d been irritatingly slow in complying when she decided that the unfortunate driver had had enough. Boggy, for his part, was now sitting very quietly in the hopes of not drawing any further attention to himself. There were occasions, and this was one of them, when Wei suspected that Behrtio was entirely too fond of his job. She momentarily considered whether or not to say something to the man after the day’s business was settled, but her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of feet coming up the stairs towards her office door.
“Come in,” Wei called, and the door was gently pushed open by Kazzik the half-orc. As relatively tolerant as the people of Graywell were, Kazzik’s racial heritage combined with his passion for alchemical high explosives caused many in town to take a dim view of the young man. Accompanying Kazzik into the room were the elf Evin’Golis and Keleshite Tali Khayyam. There wasn’t much locally known about Tali, save that the quiet woman was skilled with a scimitar, a blade not often seen in the Stolen Lands. Evin’Golis claimed membership in the clergy of Desna, and Wei had heard that he was blessed with the healing power of the divine, which was the primary reason she had called him here along with his companions.
“Please, sit.” Wei motioned for Boggy to pull up chairs for the recently arrived adventurers. As the battered cart-driver began pulling seats from the room’s mismatched collection, Evin’Golis made note of his split lip and swollen eye.
“As you have noticed,” Wei said with a smile, “This poor workman has met with some misfortune.” Placing a small stack of shining gold coins on the desk in front of her. “If I recall correctly, at least one of your number was skilled in the art of healing those whom men have harmed…”
“It would be my pleasure,” Evin’Golis replied. He took Boggy‘s head gently in his hands and studied it for a moment, appraising the damage before channeling the healing power of Desna. Astonishment dawned on the cart-driver’s face as his wounds closed and mended.
“Many thanks, sir!” he exclaimed, mouth agape as his fingers probed his own face for signs of the recent trauma it had suffered. Satisfied with what he found, he grabbed the hand of Evin’Golis and shook it vigorously.
“A most impressive display,” Wei chimed in, “but only a small part of the reason why I have called the three of you here today. My business is reliant upon regular deliveries of goods from abroad. I sent this unfortunate man here, along with two other experienced cart-loaders, to meet the incoming boat at Kutter’s Landing, but it seems that they were waylaid on their journey. He alone returned. I have set aside five hundred pieces of gold, which is yours to be split however the three of you see fit on the condition that you make the trip to Kutter’s Landing and return with my merchandise. Should you happen to encounter and make an end of the interlopers along the way, all the better.”
“Very well,” Wei Te-Hao smiled, “I believe that we can provide you with all the details that might be of interest.” She motioned with one of her wrinkled hands in Boggy’s direction, and he sighed and began recounting the horror that he had encountered on the road.
The trio had been on the road to Kutter’s Landing for just shy of three hours when they spotted the abandoned cart, with no sign of either the men that had driven it or the horse that had pulled it. Tali was astride her charger, Kazzik had his mule, and Evin’Golis was somehow keeping pace with them both while remaining on foot. They had gathered what supplies they thought might be needed from Wei’s general store, and were now making haste with Graywell behind them.
Approaching with caution, Kazzik noted that the cart’s traces had been cleanly cut, releasing the horse. Scattered at the base of the cart, the muddy ground revealed a mishmash of tracks, those of men and horses, but also those of a pair of catlike creatures, and a set of cloven hooves.
In the distance, Kazzik could hear the sounds of the rushing East Sellen River. They were close now, and it came as no surprise to the half-orc when, as the wagon crested a hill sloping downward towards the water, the idyllic view was roughly invaded. A hideous creature that was as much goat as man, armored in crude leather and equipped for battle with bow and blade, was making his way purposefully up towards the wagon. Accompanying him, a pair of snarling brush-cats sped rapidly towards the newly arrived group, intent on death.
As the first of the slavering brush-cats rushed into the midst of the party, the beastling stowed his bow and pulled from his belt a carved sounding horn, which he raised to his lips, blowing a resounding trumpet. Tali was shocked at the speed of the brush-cat, and one of the wicked creatures bit down hard on her leg, getting past her armor. The bite was fortunately shallow, and Tali answered by whipping her scimitar in a downward motion, opening the brush-cats’s back with a spray of viscera.
There was a twang from Kazzik’s crossbow as he loosed a bolt at the remaining brush-cat. The creature yelped in alarm and jumped quickly away, the bolt flying wide. A moment later a net, thrown by Evin’Golis, entangled the struggling brush-cat.
At that, the beastling drew his bow, notched an arrow and fired at Kazzik. The arrow came nowhere close to hitting, drawing a curse from the archer. The netted brush-cat struggled its way to Evin’Golis, somehow managing to solidly bite the arm of the elf. Evin’Golis pulled back, opening the way for Kazzik to fire his crossbow into the brush-cat’s side. With a howl, the four-legged assailant fell down dead.
Another arrow flew from the beastling’s direction, again proving poorly aimed. Kazzik glared towards the beastling, drew a vial from his coat, shaking and throwing it towards the horrible goatman. With a blinding flash, the vial exploded, leaving a charred corpse where the beastling once had stood.
Realizing that the horn blast had undoubtedly called attention to the battle, the trio rushed onward towards the dock. Soon the buildings came into sight, surrounded by a group of five beastlings ready for combat. As two of the beastlings loosed arrows towards the party, a third raised above his head a bone fetish, releasing a profane wave of magical energy. The arrows failed to find purchase, but as the magic flowed over the group Kazzik succumbed to its effect, losing consciousness.
As Kazzik came to, he became rapidly aware of Tali in desperate struggle against a beastling wielding a great flail. The goatman slammed his flail into Tali’s ribs, doubling her over. Shaking the murk from his mind, Kazzik threw another of his explosives, but his throw was still off, exploding harmlessly some distance away.
The combat descended into a confusing din of chaos, arrows flying and explosions reducing beastlings to smoldering corpses. One by one, the monsters fell, leaving only Evin’Golis, Kazzik and Tali standing. Of the beastling‘s, only the unholy spellcaster remained alive, rendered unconscious by a blow from "Evin’Golis":http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/lost-omens/characters/evin-golis.
Binding the still-living beastling, the party carefully scouted the docks, finding them secure.