Old World Chronicles

Kromaw makes some new friends and learns something new!
Or how to rig a fight without really trying

The journey back to Ubersreik had taken a bit longer than their journey to Gunwald lodge. The thinlings just couldn’t go anywhere fast if they weren’t riding something else. Those short little legs of theirs just couldn’t keep up with the long strong legs of an Ogre. But that wasn’t the only reason for the delay, the strange customs the thinlings had always seemed to overcomplicate matters. Particularly that Maximilien Cristobal fellow. Most thinlings tended to do an awful lot of talking and needless banter, but Max took things to another level entirely. It had taken Kromaw a little hard thinking, but he’d finally come to the conclusion that Max was one of those there “dancers” that he’d heard about and seen on occasion. Though it was most perplexing why he seemed to relish a fight, every other dancer Kromaw had seen, and eaten, were always the most timid individuals. Another odd behavior he seemed to engage in, and that he had observed other humans do, was his seeming obsession with females. At least Kromaw was pretty sure it was with females, it was difficult to tell the difference with thinlings.

By the time dusk began to approach, the group finally made their way back to the Red Moon inn where they’d all met each other and originally been hired. The inn was much the same as when they’d left, filthy, dingy, and drabby. or at least thats how Kromaw heard humans describe it. Thinlings sure had a lot of words for dirty. Kromaw wasn’t even sure why they seemed to treat the word with such disgust. Usually when talking about him in an insulting fashion, always when they thought he wasn’t listening of course. Most peculiar, especially considering how dirty so many of the humans themselves were. As if to illustrate Kromaw’s point, a rat catcher entered the inn. Followed by an immense amount of chatter from the other denizens of the common room regarding the rat catcher. Aleron in particular seemed interested in the rat catcher, and was ranting on about something he’d heard the humans in the booth next to us had said about this rat catcher’s dog getting killed by rats. He even called over the waitress and paid for the man’s beer.

The rat catcher then approached our table, and thanked the Bailiff for the beer. "fanks fer teh booze govnah. Been feelin a little down since ah lost mah dawg, ‘Squeekers’. Eeee was a gud dawg. Ya know, the rats been actin vurry strange lately. Its the moon yah know. Makes em more vicious.

I seen even stranger fings too down there in the sewers. A rat big as a man! And walking on two legs too!"

At this Aleron, Max, and a couple other humans who’d been listening in busted out into the most loud laughter. Kromaw was confused. The rat catcher hadn’t even made a joke.

“The Moon. The skaven crawl around when the Death Moon glows!” Kromaw stated very matter of factly. It wasn’t unusual to see a small army of skaven back in the mountains.

THIS FELLOW KNOWS WHATS UP!” The rat catcher exclaimed to Kromaw’s statement, while everyone around continued laughing. Kromaw still wasn’t sure what was so funny, nobody was telling jokes. But soon things were forgotten and everyone went back to eating and drinking. Kromaw was just polishing off his fifth roasted catfish, which Kromaw had watched get prepared. He just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was trying to mess with his food… It was good, but something just didn’t feel quite right…

With the last bite of catfish, a man walked up to them. Kromaw recognized him as the driver of that noble the group had met on the way into town, and whose carriage Kromaw had fixed for 10 shillings. Least he was pretty sure it was 10, he’d have to ask EEEEK! later about that. Kromaw wasn’t so good with numbers, thats why every ogre needs a Counting Gnoblar.

“Hello, I was hoping I’d find you fine chaps. My master ”/characters/graf-siegfried-von-saponatheim" class=“wiki-content-link”>Graf Siegfried von Saponatheim would like to purchase your services. He wishes to go out on the town tonight and needs some ‘protection’. He’s willing to offer you 6 silvers each, just for a few hours work!"

Everyone of course leaped at the possibility of some easy money. Kromaw included.

“Excellent, my master will be along in a half hour to meet you!”

Soon enough, the coach of Von Supponatime? Von Upona… Bah, thinlings have such odd names which mean nothing. Not like good proper Ogre names which tell you exactly who you are talking to. That must be why the important humans all have a pretty picture on their shields and wagons to tell you who they are, their names are just too confusing to keep straight. Anyway, the coach arrived bearing the man who was going to pay money for a little guard work.

“Ahh my friends. good to see you again! I’m feeling adventurous, and I hear there is a bit of sport down by the docks!” exclaimed Graf Siegfried, accompanied by another perplexing human gesture where by the human acts as if they’ve gotten a speck of dirt or something in their eye. Max of course mimicked the gesture, and began talking in a most excited fashion with Graf as we walked down to the dock area. Jorn, Durion, and Aleron were a little less noisy as we proceeded.

Soon we arrived at what seemed to be a tavern mostly serving sailors. The sign above door appeared to show a malformed human picking up barrels. More curious thinling novelties. Inside the atmosphere was loud, full of laughing, drinking, and some fighting.

Von whatshisface grinned upon hearing an even louder source of activity which appeared to be coming from the basement. Kromaw also grinned, that was a familiar sound.

Stepping down into the downstairs warehouse, we beheld a massive ring containing 2 humans fighting each other, surrounded by a massive crowd placing bets and watching the spectacle. A fighting pit! Just like back home! Kromaw was a decent pit fighter back in the mountains, he just had to get in on the action!

In the pit, a huge mountain of a man, he came almost to the top of Kromaw’s gutplate, was squaring off against a small wiry man who pranced around him in quick hops. Maybe that guy was a dancer like Max.

The larger man traded jabs with the dancer. He missed a few, and the dancer got in a few decent hits. Then suddenly the man threw a strong upper cut which caught the dancer square in the jaw, and he crumpled like that robber Kromaw had clobbered on the road. The ringmaster held up the winner’s hand in a sign of victory.

Then a hush fell over the crowd as the next challenger entered the ring. A woman, at least Kromaw was fairly sure it was a woman, entered the ring. She was quite muscular and well fit, much like her opponent. Her face seemed to be in a permanent scowl as she glared at her opponent.

Graf Siegfried von Saponatheim immediately placed a large bet on the huge man to win the fight.

The referee rang a bell to begin the match. The large man advanced and threw a mighty punch. The woman casually deflected the blow, and followed up with a right hook that sent the man flying into the side of the ring. And as he struggled to get up she rained down a flurry of blows, blood soon poured from his nose and mouth, which ended only when the referee pulled her off and declared her the winner.

Von whathisface seemed quite outraged at having lost what Kromaw knew must have been a good deal of money. Maximilian similarly expressed his surprise at the outcome of the match. Durion and Jorn joined them at the ringside seat. Aleron leaned casually against the wall observing the entire room.

Kromaw was determined to have his own match. Storming up to the betting counter…

“Kromaw want to fight in the pit!”

The game master looked up at Kromaw with wide eyes. “Wha?? An ogre? How is that even fair for a human to fight an ogre? We got a reputation to upkeep here…”

“Kromaw fight more than 1 person if you want!”

“Errrm, well…. I suppose it would be something a little different. Very well, you’ll fight two of our best fighters.”

The referee went down into the pit and made the announcement.

“Today we’ve got something special for you folks! Two of our top champions will face off against a true beast! An Ogre!”

A gasp from the crowd went up as Kromaw stepped into the ring, he dropped his massive hammer and ironfist by the side as he went in. They fell with a clang in the momentary silence. Silence which was soon broken by the din of bets and wagers pouring in. Most going onto to Kromaw to win the fight.

Kromaws opponents were going to be the women who just won the previous fight, as well as another large muscular man. The woman glared at Kromaw, and also at Graf Siegfried von Saponatheim.

As the fight was getting set up, Von Saponatheim leaned forward and whispered into Kromaw’s ear…

“Take her out. Make her pay!” he said with a good deal of venom on his breath. Which is what Kromaw was planning on doing, he had every intention of winning. Kromaw figured he was very upset with losing the previous bet. Kromaw also noticed the rest of the party were putting bets on him too. Well of course it was only natural, no way could humans beat him in a fist fight. Von Saponatheim also made a bet, a gold piece!

Then the bell for the fight rang.

Kromaw rushed forward. The woman came at him, ducked to his right and threw a solid blow at Kromaw’s thigh. Kromaw chuckled inside, he barely felt that. He clenched his fist and brought it down on the woman. She attempted to side-step the blow, but Ogres are surprisingly quick and she took the full force of the blow. She rolled with it and ended up behind Kromaw, though she was obviously nursing a couple cracked ribs.

Then the man came at him. Rushing forward he put all his effort into a punch at Kromaw’s gut. The clang as his hand met the solid iron of the gutplate was loud enough to hear over the roar of the crowd. The man recoiled shaking his hand in pain.

Kromaw swiftly brought his fist down on the man as he stood there, but he was quicker than he looked as he barely evaded the blow.

The women acted on this momentary distraction, and planted a punch right in the small of Kromaw’s back. Kromaw was surprised! He felt a bit of pain… Something was tweaked back there in his back. Now he was a little annoyed!

Wheeling around, Kromaw backhanded the women right upside the head. She reeled from the blow, for a moment it almost appeared that she was going to fall.

“I saw you come in with Von Saponatheim! You’re working with scum like him?” she blurted out with a mixture of spittle and blood.

Yet more silly human babbling. They talk too much.

“Whatever he’s paying you! I’ll pay you double!”

That got Kromaw’s attention! Getting paid double was way better than not getting paid double. But how much was double exactly? Kromaw didn’t remember… So he reached into his pack and grabbed EEEK!

“Hey, how much gold we getting paid for this job?” Kromaw asked. The cheers of the crowd were now mixed with some booing as the action seemed to have stopped.

EEEEK! began furiously scrabbling over his fingers and toes. “Five-teen plus another elevenseen… Carry the two hundredzes…”\

ONE!!! ONE GOLD!” squeeked the gnoblar, as he looked up into the ogres face with a mixture of terror and confusion.

Kromaw seemed satisfied and stuffed the gnoblar back into his pouch. “Deal?” he inquired?

“Deal, two gold!” said the women.

Kromaw grunted in affirmation, just as the man slammed into Kromaw’s backside with a full body heave. He hadn’t even noticed what just happened, unlike Kromaw’s companions who saw Kromaw take out the Gnoblar.

Aleron whispered to Max “This can’t be good. We might wanna change our bets”, he also noticed the odds had spiraled into 6-1 in Kromaw’s favor.

Kromaw slightly shifted as the man attempted to bowl him over, but even the strongest man has little hope of moving a ton of muscle and fat. He wheeled around, faster than the eye could blink. And caught the man right in the gut with a beauty of a punch!

The man flew straight back into the wall of the ring with a sickening thud and dropped to his hands and knees, caughing up a good bit of blood onto the sandy floor of the pit. The odds jumped to 10-1 in Kromaw’s favor.

The women danced around Kromaw, throwing punches which connected with no force but appeared to be real.

Surprisingly, the man managed to regain his feet. But he was clearly not in much shape to continue. But he ran forward, expending one last effort. He actually partially vaulted Kromaw’s massive gut, to land a punch square between Kromaw’s eyes… The blow was good, Kromaw’s vision actually got blurry and he wobbled slightly. But the man clearly got the worst of the blow, his arm fell limp at his side with multiple fingers jotting out at angles they weren’t supposed to sit at. The man slumped to the ground in a heap.

Kromaw stepped to the side, his vision slightly distorted by the blow to the head. The women then came in, off the railing! And delivered a very convincing jab at Kromaw’s throat. Truthfully it didn’t hurt at all, but it still set Kromaw off balance…

Kromaw toppled over backwards. There was a massive thud as he smacked into the floor, and a sickening crunch… He’d landed on the poor man crumpled in the dust. Dead silence followed…

The referee rang the bell, and declared the match over! The ogre had lost! Pandemonium followed! The few individuals who had bet against the ogre, which included Max, Aleron, and Durion who had all switched their bets at the last minute, collected massive prizes, while those who had bet on the ogre lost heavily.

Von Saponatheim was furious! He’d just lost a gold piece! Jorn however stepped in. The thick tobacco smoke and dust which was already making the room rather hazy became positively soupy as Jorn calmed down the irate nobleman. The haze served to obscure the other member’s collecting their truly obscene winnings… After collecting the 3 gold pieces he won from his bet of 30 silver, Maximilian returned to Saponatheim’s side.

“yes yes, quite curious. It happens sometimes I suppose! Not much to be done for it, quite unfortunate…” he said, carefully concealing his much heavier coin purse from the eyes of the nobleman. “We should probably be leaving though, I expect this place will become quite dangerous momentarily” an assertion Von Saponatheim quickly agreed with.

Kromaw groggily got to his feet, the squashed remains of his opponent smashed into the sandy floor. The women told him to meet him out back.

Picking their way through the crowd, Kromaw made his way to the back alley. Durion managed to join him, saying the rest of the party was going to get Von Saponatheim away from there and they’d meet back at the inn.

The women said that she was actually the chief bodyguard of Baron Manfred von Holzenauer, one of Von Saponatheim’s rivals for becoming the liege lord of Ubersreich.

“I’m exceedingly grateful for that back there, though my ribs aren’t nearly as grateful. You’ve more than earned this gold. I had quite a bit riding on that match on the side, not to mention my reputation. I’d also like to invite you to a hunt that my master Von Holzenauer is hosting in the morning. Be at the east gate at sunrise, I’ll expect to see you there! " she gave a small bow and ducked out of the alley.

Kromaw and Durion made their way back to the Red Moon inn, arriving back around midnight. The inn was beginning to close up, the last rounds of drinks were being served. Max and Aleron had already returned to the inn, they explained that Jorn had left them on some other business after they’d left Von Saponatheim at “The Emperor’s Arms” hotel. Maximilian had actually managed to charm an invitation to the upcoming ball from Von Saponatheim on the way back, he flashed the invitation about proudly to anyone who would listen to him.

Kromaw and Durion joined Aleron at a table for a last drink before bed. Maximilian was up at the bar chatting up the other locals, and constantly fawning over the bar maid. Most perplexing behavior.

“What’s he doin exactly? Max is very strange.” Kromaw asked Aleron, figuring that another human would know what was going on.

“Ahh, well… erm you see Max is ummm… Well when a Mommy and Daddy human love each other very much…”

OHH! Is it human mating season?” said Kromaw said with an expression of realization. “Seems silly. Lots of unnecessary flapping and yapping. You should just skip all that boring stuff…” Kromaw trailed off. Well at least that was one mystery solved! Kromaw felt like it was a productive day, he’d made a bunch of money and learned how humans mated. Kromaw downed the last of his beer and stomped up to the room he’s rented for the night. Tomorrow was the hunt! And maybe another change to earn some more gold.

Grunewald Lodge - Act 5
Maximilien Bids Grunewald Farewell

“Rally to the courtyard! Rally to me,” Captain Blucher shouted from the front of the manor. I was pleased that he had survived the battle, he seemed a solid man and an excellent warrior, if a bit stodgy. Shouts from the side of the lodge from Olver and the other guards followed, as they made their way around the building. Abandoning the array of cultist’s corpses on the roof, we carefully made our way down the damaged ladder to the ground in the descending darkness, rejoining an exhausted and heavily breathing Kromaw at the bottom.

Covered in tufts of fur and blood (a goodly amount of it his own), Kromaw’s forearm guards were dented and scratched. Like many of our weapons, they had seen a great deal of work this evening. I had been forced to use Albrecht’s trouser leg to clean my own blade before sheathing it… after he stopped twitching, of course. My father’s blade would need a well-earned cleaning and oiling tomorrow to bring it back to its usual beautiful condition. And my shirt… quite a mess. Covered in small tears and spots of blood from that idiot Albrecht’s blunderbus. My chest would add a few additional manly scars to the collection already there, but that would be even more impressive for the ladies, so no issue there.

Arriving at the front, exhausted, we joined a small group of survivors. Over half the staff had either been a cult member or been killed by the beasts in the attack, leaving a double handful of sweaty, injured combatants, and a few groggy, shambling servants. Captain Blucher shouted orders at those that stood around him, as men began to disperse on various errands. “You, get Lord Aschaffenberg… you two, go to the infirmary and get some bandages,” he directed.

A groggy Aschaffenberg stumbled out of the front door with one arm draped over Sonja. “Lads, lads, fine job you’ve done, my apologies for missing out on the festivities.” Patting Sonja on the back, he dismissed her to tend to the wounded. “Judging by the bodies, I see that a few of the beastmen found their way on the grounds. Care to fill me in on where they got off to?” At that, we let him know of our heroics and various exploits, and found him suitably impressed. There were several details which we did not see fit to include; notably, the successful summoning of a large and hideous beast of chaos.

“Well, I’ve heard enough. Difficult to absorb, that is,” Aschaffenberg admitted. “All this over a damnable painting of an eye, eh? Hard to believe all the fuss, or how it connects to the beastmen becoming so focused on getting into the place. But I can see the results all around me. We’ll need to see about getting this mess cleared up tomorrow before the bodies go to rot, perhaps see about hiring some more staff, seeing as you folks took exception to so many of the current lot. For now, get yourself up patched up as best you can, then get yourselves settled in for the night. Tomorrow will be a busy day, what?”

With a great yawn, Aschaffenberg slowly trudged back up the stairs and into the cabin. After waiting a few minutes for attentions from Sonja to throw some bandages on my chest, I removed my bloody shirt and carried it inside. Encountering a pair of disheveled and tired looking servants – Franz and Heiko – I tossed them the shirt and told them to add the shirt’s repairs of their list of damages to repair. Leaving them with slightly confused looks on their faces, I then went to check on Gertie. She was just beginning to stir in her overstuffed chair. “Wha… what happened,” she asked.

“You were about to be sacrificed to summon a demon, my dear,” I answered. ""You must have been drugged, for we found you unconscious on their altar in the cellar. But we rescued you, and the cultists are no more. You’ll find that the lodge is, well… sparsely populated at the moment. But do not fear, for there is no more threat." With a shudder, she seemed to recover some of her energy, standing a little unsteadily.

“Thank you so much, my lord, you and your companions, for saving us from this dreadful curse. I knew that Gregor was perhaps unreasonable, maybe even with a slight cruel streak, but this… this is horrific. I never though he was capable of such evil. We owe you a great debt. I hope Lord Aschaffenberg will see his way to rewarding you all for what you’ve done for us.” Hesitantly, she reached out and touched my bandaged chest, blushing. “My pardon,” she said, blushing, “I… I should probably go and rest. I’m sure there’s enough free bedding for you find somewhere to sleep as well.”

She began to make her way towards her room unsteadily, and being the gentleman that I am, I escorted her to her quarters in the hope that she would be comforted. And indeed, she seemed to be comforted her most thoroughly. She was… most grateful. Most grateful indeed, which she proclaimed loudly and repeatedly throughout the night, very likely to the annoyance of the other people sleeping on the upper floor.

In the morning, I was roused to the sound of a creaking door, as Gertie made her way out of the room. Seeing me yawn and stretch, she gave me a wink before she slipped out of the room and continued about her morning duties. Gathering my belongings, including a mended shirt that one of the servants had lain folded beside the bed, I dressed and headed downstairs to greet the new day’s tasks. Arriving in the dining room, several of my companions greeted me as they sat and discussed our options, with Lord Aschaffenberg at the head of the table handing out directives.

“Well, folks, here is the order of things. I’ve already dispatched Heiko into Ubersreik to hire some new staff for the lodge. No doubt he’ll be there a few days. I myself will prepare here along with Vern to journey there to attend a ball set for three days hence. Vern will see that you’re paid handily for what you’ve done here for us, upon which our contract for your service will be fulfilled. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve directed a small bonus for going above and beyond my expectations, eh? While I’d like to tarry, we have many preparations to begin, and a great many bodies to dispose of. I’ll keep an eye out for you in Ubersreik, an hope to see you there at the ball. Until then, gentlemen, best of luck to you.” Rising from his chair, Aschaffenberg tossed Vern a loudly jingling coin purse and excused himself.

p After receiving a rather large handful of gleaming silver coins from Vern as he made his way around the table, we then began to make our plans. “Well, we could return to Ubersreik to resupply and look about for new employment,” Aleron offered. “Bah,” Durion interjected, “we need to see about getting this axe back to its rightful owners.” Jorn offered a compromise. “We can try and do both in Ubersreik – there are no doubt any number of dwarfs that we can inquire there about the owners, while seeking employment and even attending Aschaffenberg’s ball as well.” I agreed with a nod; Kromaw leaned to one side and shrewdly interject a loud, rumbling fart to top off the conversation, his small gnoblar friend snickering softly from his perch on Kromaw’s shoulder.

Gathering in the courtyard after a small breakfast provided by Gertie, we learned that she was to return to her home town of Geissbach for a few days, located midway between the lodge and Ubersreik. Further, Vern would be accompanying her while on the way to Ubersreik to oversee preparations for Aschaffenberg’s arrival at his manor in town. Happy to escort them there, we made our way out of the main gate, our various satchels laden with supplies and coin purses jingling merrily as set out towards the city. The morning passed uneventfully as we walked, except for Aleron, who was mounted on his steed.

Somewhere around midday, we arrived at a small village not much more than a wide spot in the road, a handful of cottages clustered around a small chapel, and a large green meadow cut into the forest with several sheep and a few cows grazing. Following Gertie to one thatch-roofed cottage, we bid her goodbye. With a peck on my cheek, she said “I hope I’ll be seeing more of you, Maximilien.” I replied, “Well, you’ve already seen a great deal of me, I’m sure… but yes, you’ll no doubt see more.” With a grin, I slapped her lightly on the bottom, at which she squeeked and scurried into the door, blushing. Rejoining my companions, we continued out of the village, several young children and one or two of the townsfolk staring suspiciously at our group of heavily armed men (and especially Kromaw’s huge bulk), as we made our way down the path and around a bend, the village disappearing into the trees.

Taking a turn from our path onto a much wider and heavily traveled road, we now headed through the forest directly towards Ubersreik. As the sun moved across the sky and began to sink towards the treetops, we stopped and took stock as we heard the crack of a tree limb. Alarmingly, shadows began to move on both sides of he path, solidifyin gino the silhouettes of men as several of them began to step out from the trees, weapons in hand. Roughly clothed, with mismatching armor for some, and an array of old and rusted weapons, they were obviously not friendly. While most of them waited near the treeline, one older, grizzled man with graying temples in his dark hair and sporting an eye patch stepped forward.

“Well then, people, led’s make this easier for everyone. Just go ahead and drop your weapons, gear, and purses, then continue on your way, and it’ll all be over,” he said, looking at Aleron. Most likely, he assumed Aleron was in charge, as he was the only mounted person in the group. Taking up the assumption, Aleron guided his horse towards their leader, and spoke harshly. “Unless you’d like our boots up your backsides, I think you’d best just leave off.” Their leader’s good eye squinted in apprehension slightly as he took in the well armed group of men before him, especially Kromaw, who cracked his huge knuckles… only to ruin the effect by emitting a loud, reverberating fart.

What in the hells had the ogre eaten this morning? Perhaps it was the drugging he’d received last night, for he’d been squeezing them off at irregular intervals all day – enough that nobody wanted to walk directly downwind of him at risk to their health. Either way, the stench was vile enough that several of us were set to coughing or retching as the robbers snickered at us.

“Looks like you’re more of a threat to yourselves than anyone else… alright, let’s get ’em!” With that, a few of them nocked arrows or shouldered crossbows, and the remainder warily crept forward. Durion whipped his own crossbow up, and loosed a bolt which dropped their leader to his knees, clutching the feathered shaft in his side as he grunted in pain. Arrows and bolts zipped by us, only one finding purchase… right in Aleron’s shoulder. Shouting, he barely maintained control of his horse as it bucked and snorted, drawing his mace with his good arm and preparing for battle.

Running to assist the outnumbered group on Aleron’s side of the road, I drew my boot knife and found the archer who’d managed to hit Aleron. Teeth clenched in frustration, he was desperately trying to restring his bowstring, as it looked to have snapped on him – a long red gash across his cheek gave evidence to this. I did him the service of adding injury to his insult, by flicking my dagger at him, sinking it several inches into his shoulder. Spinning, he dropped his bow and began to paw at his belt for a knife with his good arm.

The group quickly descended into a melee at the treeline – the entire group of us, minus Kromaw, attempted to send these men packing. Kromaw, in a fury, charged the men on the far side of the road, swinging about him with both bladed fists. Hearing a series of crunching and wet thumping sounds followed by screams, we had little worries that he could take care of himself. On our side, I quickly closed with a pair of robbers with my rapier’s blade bared, dueling dagger in my left hand ready to parry. Before they could react I used my superior reach and speed to deliver a series of slashes to the grizzled man on my left. This forced him to take a step back with his mace held at chest height as he flailed it around wildly to avoid further insult from my blade.

This left me facing a thin, ragged and pimpled youth, who took the opportunity to swing a large axe at me from overhead with both hands. Stepping just to the side and allowing it to dig harmlessly into the dirt at my feet, I was surprised when the shadow cast by my blade came to life of its own, elongating with blinding speed until it punctured the boy’s upper thigh and withdrew. Jorn’s work, and most welcome at that! Clutching at his heavily bleeding leg, he too backed away to stand next to his friend with a look of fear on his face. They knew they were clearly outmatched – and I took advantage of the situation. “I’ll make you the same offer you made me – drop your weapons and coins, and leave, or I’ll take your lives as well,” I threatened. And they did! Snatching at their belt pouches and throwing them on the ground at my feet, they both ran towards the trees, the older man beating the youth who limped as rapidly as his leg would allow.

No longer engaged, I looked for new opponents, but found none. From his horse, Aleron swung his mace into the kneeling bandit leader’s face, dispatching him quite thoroughly. Durion cocked his crossbow, but found no targets on the far side of the road either. Kromaw was finishing off the last standing pair of them by bashing their heads together repeatedly until there was nothing left to grip. “No poison Kromaw’s food,” he bellowed, “no poison food!” Maybe he really was still affected by the drugs… Vern stood and looked at us aghast, clearly amazed at how effective we were at violence and mayhem. Slapping him on the shoulder to snap him out of it, I joined my companions in removing valuables from the remaining bodies and stowing them away.

Resuming our trip perhaps a bit worse for the wear, we nonetheless made good time. As the sun continued to settle in the sky, we came upon a wagon headed in the opposite direction. The driver, a gray haired, thickset merchant with an ornate merchant’s ring, hailed us and gave us the name Florian Wessler. We warned him that we’d driven off a group of bandits, but there were still some remaining in the forest ahead of him. With thanks, he decided to continue his journey, giving little heed to our advice to turn back or choose a safer route. Either confidence or stupidity could be the death of him, but we had done our duty.

Only half a league later as we approached the city of Ubersreik, we came upon a quite well made and richly decorated coach that was broken down on the side of the road. A crest with a purple stag’s head topped by Sigmar’s hammer was placed proudly on the back, and beside it stood a well dressed nobleman leaning against a large tree in the shade. He looked on as two coachmen sweated heavily while they wrestled with a broken wheel. However, it looked as if they were unable to raise the coach’s axle enough to replace the wheel. “You there, would you like to earn a few coins? If so, my men could use some help fixing the coach.” Aleron guided his horse over and dismounted. “Of course, my lord. I suppose our large friend here can lend a shoulder. In the meantime, could we know your name?”

None too impressed with commoners addressing him, he still did us the service of responding. “I am Siegfried Von Suponatheim,” he allowed as he stroked his blond pointed beard. “Know that you’re aiding the future Lord of Ubersreik. If you can get this coach back on the road quickly, I’ll see that you’re well rewarded, and possibly remembered.” Aleron nodded, and waved Kromaw over. Siegfried’s eyes widened as Kromaw stomped to the carriage and shoved the coachmen aside, grabbed the protruding axle with both hands and lifting it off the ground. The coachmen rushed to remove the broken wheel, pounding furiously on it with a mallet. Quickly placing a new wheel onto the hub, they took only a few short minutes before one of them announced “We’re done, my lord,” and motioned for Kromaw to release his burden. Kromaw grunted in agreement. He’d barely broke a sweat during the process, although he had grunted continuously throughout. He celebrated with one final, triumphant, explosive fart as he heaved the carriage back onto its wheel.

The young nobleman’s eyes narrowed in distaste at Kromaw’s display. “Well. Disgusting, but effective. About what I’ve come to expect from commoners. Pay the men, Hans,” Seyfried said dismissively as he climbed into the carriage. From his seat inside, he leaned out of a small window. “Still though… not a bad set of men to have on call, Hans. Find out where they’re staying, we may have more work for them this week, what with the ball coming up.” One of the coachmen, a short portly man with a fringe of graying hair and large nose, stepped over to our group and began doling out silver from a large purse. “Right then, gents,” he said. “You tell me where you’ll be, maybe I stop by the next day or two if my lord has business.”

At that, we pocketed our gains and made for the city again, shortly passed by Von Suponatheim’s carriage as he caught up. His coachman whipped the reins furiously as he attempted to make up for lost time. His was not the only coach we encountered – as we neared the city, the traffic increased steadily. Laborers streamed from the city towards their nearby villages, and farmers returned to their fields with empty carts. Nearing the gatehouse, a large line of coaches, wagons and horsemen was steadily increasing as various travelers attempted to enter before the setting of the sun and closing of the gates. Eventually we came to the front, and paid our shillings as tolls for entrance along with a silver for Aleron’s horse. There was some discussion as the guards argued over whether to charge Kromaw the same as a horse, as he most likely outweighed one, but we managed to convince them that he had no more legs than a human, and should be charged the same.

Coin purses a bit lighter, we made our way across the massive drawbridge as the sun began to set. Long shadows covered the river from the battlements over the gate as we passed beneath them. Several yards of stone stretched overhead before we finally found ourselves under the darkening sky again, inside the walls at last. The main road stretched for hundreds of yards before widening in a market near the city’s center , and men bearing torches made their way down the avenue as they lit the lamps for the evening. Beginning our walk towards the city center, we discussed where we might want to spend the night. “We might go to the Axe and Hammer, there’s good ale to be had there,” Aleron suggested. Fortunately, I managed to quickly dissuade the group, as it happens I’d been thrown out one night after having a bit too much fun. “Nowhere so welcoming as the Red Moon, my friends – I have a good friend there, as I’m sure you remember from last time. Let’s head that direction, shall we?”

A chorus of assent and nods, and we were off. Who knew what the city had in store for us tonight? A trip to the market to replenish some supplies, a tankard or six of ale, and perhaps some company to help keep the bedding warm overnight would not go amiss. Fortune favors the bold, so I quickly brushed the dust off of my finely embroidered traveling clothes, smoothed my moustache, and prepared to charm my way into the good graces of the good men and women – most especially the women – of Ubersreik.

Grunewald Lodge - Act 4
Maximilien Delivers Three Feet of Pointed Justice

With a massive bellow, Kromaw burst from the doorway in a lumbering run, barreling into the room with abandon. He was greeted by the sight of a large group of people huddling in a circle around a table positioned in the center of the room. On the table was the form of a person, barely seen through the bodies gathered around the table, and at the
head of the table was what appeared to be a painting… but not a normal painting. This one depicted a bulbous, bloodshot and misshapen eye which strained against the borders of the frame as if it were attempting to break free through sheer force of will. Surely this was the painting that had been missing from the sitting room, the one that Hanna had described with such reverence.

Hands raised above heads, the gathered cultists issued broken and mangled syllables from their mouths, led by none other than Gregor Piersson, who stood on a pedestal near the head of the table. But it was a horrible, monstrous representation of what we had known as Gregor, for he was not as we had seen him last. His bandages were removed, revealing a large, hideous, staring eye which protruded from his right socket, wildly casting about the room as he led the chant – which Kromaw now threw into disarray.

Shocked and pale torchlit faces turned towards Kromaw, their chant quickly trailing off into confused questions and shouts. The closest few turned and backed towards the table, a few of them cowering, others recovering their nerve, drawing weapons and preparing to fight. A twang sounded, and a crossbow bolt whizzed by Kromaw’s shoulder, leaving a narrow slice in his shirtsleeve before lodging itself in Gregor’s arm. With a shout of frustration and pain, Gregor leapt down from the podium, leaned over the table and grabbed the painting with his good arm. Pressing it against his side, he roughly began to shoulder his way past members of his coven towards the door on the opposite side of the room, a grimace on his face while he scowled at our intrusion.

Kromaw’s exit from the tunnel had finally provided the freedom we needed to move around, much as a cork departing a bottle. And much as a bottle of shaken champagne, we burst forth from the exit in a fury. Durion was vigorously reloading his crossbow at the mouth of the passage as we rushed by him, jostling as we slipped past, slowing his reloading process and drawing angry curses while he resumed cranking the string back. Aleron dashed into the fray, veering to Kromaw’s right and swinging his mace upward into the stomach of a surprised man in coachman’s livery. With a sizeable “oomph,” the coachman folded and dropped a large dagger as he curled around his stomach.

Jorn then entered the room and slipped to the right with a book in hand, gesturing with exact movements and muttering nonsensical arcane words. As he spoke, a darkness began to gather around him, swirling into his hand before hardening into form of a sword. Thrusting his hand forward, the tip of the darkness disappearing into thin air only to be accompanied by a woman’s shout from the far end of the room, as I could only suspect she was impaled by the shadow blade which Jorn now withdrew and released.

Approaching the doorway now, I was able to make out many familiar faces – Gunnar and Konrad, Berthold, the doctor, Hanna, and several servants besides, many whom I did not recognize. And horribly, laying unconscious on the table in a spread-eagle position, was Gertie! I could not believe what was happening here – Hanna, a cultist, assisting in a ceremony that would undoubtedly result in Gertie’s death or disfigurement… both of my options for evening entertainment rendered unattainable by these people’s actions? Unacceptable! There would be consequences tonight, consequences that could only be inflicted by cold steel.

Rushing past Jorn as I finally entered the room, I set my sights on the left side, where Berthold stood stupidly tossing a dagger between his hands with a worried and look on his face. With a heated rage building at his participation, I broke into a sprint. “Berthold! This is not how you treat nice ladies,” I shouted. Berthold’s mouth dropped into a fearful gawk as he noticed me finally, and raised his dagger vainly in front of him. Batting it away with my dueling dagger, I drew back my father’s rapier and smoothly drove his moronic smile and out the back of his head

Dragging Berthold’s body to my right and allowing him to slide off of my blade, I was treated to the sight and sound of Kromaw flattening one of my previous dice game opponents, Gunnar, with a double-fisted blow to the head. Gunnar’s much-shortened body so violently crumpled against the ground at Kromaw’s feet that I could hear a series of cracks from his shattering bones. As Kromaw turned to the right he noticed Doctor Sieger, who was furiously, if ineffectively, jabbing at Kromaw’s leg with a small scalpel. Kromaw bellowed into the doctor’s face with rage and indignation, although it seemed the worst he’d suffered was a few tears in his trousers. The doctor looked up, his face pale, momentarily frozen in place with fear. He dropped his medical satchel at his feet, scattering a spray of metal instruments across the floor. Turning to run, he suddenly lifted into the air, propelled by Kromaw’s foot, and launched into an arc several feet across the room and several feet down a hallway, tumbling into the corner in a contorted heap.

Not able to watch further, I found myself accosted by none other than Konrad, a smirk on his face. He strode towards me with a rusted longsword in one hand, teeth bared and gritted as he drew back for a strike. Stepping into his reach I quickly caught his upraised sword with my dagger, surprising him by twisting it downward and trapping his sword against him at an awkward angle. “You’re not as good at swordplay as you are at dice, my friend,” I said as he sneered at me. Unable to use my rapier’s blade at such a short distance, I cocked my arm back and drove the hilt directly into Konrad’s nose. With a crunch, it showered blood across his face as he shrieked, dropping to the ground and clutching at it with both hands.

I now found myself momentarily freed of opponents. Kromaw had cleared a swathe in the immediate vicinity with his vicious pummeling, and Aleron was still to Kromaw’s right, trading blows with another brawny, dark haired guardsman armored in leather. I watched as Aleron blocked a sword strike with his mace, diverting the blade just clear of his body, immediately answering with a backhanded blow to the jaw. Teeth and blood sprayed across the room as the guard dropped to the ground, his head rebounding against the stone floor. Having a bare moment to recover, we noticed that the few cultists that remained were quickly moving towards the hallway on the right side of the room in a panic. Shouts and screams rebounded throughout the room as they fled.

Now that I had a moment, I leapt up onto the table glancing at Gertie long enough to see that she was breathing, although unconscious. Joyful that at least one attracive female would survive the evening – Hanna would not, most assuredly – I jumped down to the floor. Turning my landing into a roll, I used my momentum to drive my dagger through the neck of the bloody but still conscious soldier at Aleron’s feet. Continuing the roll and leaping to my feet, I now looked for a new opponent… only to find that we had thinned the group of cultists out most thoroughly. The few still in the room had either met their deaths at the hands of our party, or were approaching the safety of the hallway.

Albrecht Krug was the first to disappear down the hall after Gregor, with a large book tucked under his arm. One heavily muscled soldier, Pietr Koch, accompanied him at a lumbering run, the unconscious body of the servant Todd slung over his shoulder. Hanna, the extremely attractive but equally treacherous servant, followed closely on his heels… only to trip on the slain doctor’s outstretched leg. Sprawling in the hallway, her skirt splayed about her, she scrambled to her feet and fled yet again. Attempting to stem the flow of escaping cultists, Durion sprinted from behind Aleron and moving surprisingly fast for a dwarf, with the ancient dwarf hammer we had found outstretched in one hand. Intercepting one last panicked male servant, he drove the hammer into the man’s chest with a loud crunch. Collapsing mid-run with a strangled gasp, the man fell to his knees while grasping at his doubtlessly crushed ribs, turned purple, and promptly keeled over with a wheeze. At that, we found ourselves alone in the cultists’ altar room, their footsteps fading rapidly as they retreated.

An enraged Kromaw gave chase down the hall, his great legs pistioning past me as I quickly launched into a run behind him. A shuffle of steps told me that at least a few of the remaining party were behind me. Unfortunately, I was unable to move past Kromaw despite my long, graceful strides, as his ass nearly blocked the entire hallway. This had the effect of slowing our pursuit – by the time we exited the hallway into a rather small chamber, there were no remaining cultists. A pile of displaced crates did, however reveal yet another secret passage. Small clouds of dust puffing from the entrance betrayed its recent use. As the remainder of the group crowded in, we began to discuss giving chase. Ultimately, we were forced to split again – we knew that the cultists must be tracked by the trail they left, but Kromaw would never begin to fit into the passage they had used. Aleron would accompany Kromaw as he made his way back through the pantry and into the kitchen, while the rest of us gave chase. “Bring Gertie with you – make sure you put her somewhere safe,” I shouted behind them.

Kromaw grunted in assent, and stomped into the altar room, followed by Aleron, rolling his eyes as he left the room. As agreed, Durion went first into the passage, first inspecting it and discovering that it consisted of a vertical stonework shaft. Wedging himself into the passageway, Durion climbed carefully, using a set of handholds carved into the stone walls. Coming upon a trap door set at the top, he cautiously cracked it open, allowing a sliver of light to enter. Peering about, he saw no sign of anyone in the room, but the bookshelves gave it away as the library on the ground floor. Hoisting the door all the way open, he scrabbled out underneath a table, and posted himself by the door to keep watch with axe in hand while the rest of us squeezed ourselves through the passage. As we emerged, we were greeted by the muffled sounds of combat through a small, filthy cobwebbed window set high in the wall. Climbing on a short bookshelf and wiping a clean spot, I was presented with the sight of mayhem.

The window overlooked the large breach in the lodge’s outer wall, and by the waning light of the setting sun I could see heavily muscled, hairy, bestial bodies pouring through the gap. A few of them fell, sprouting feathered crossbow bolts, as a pair of guards did their best from on top of either side of the breach to stem the tide. Shouting nearly loud enough to match their ferocity, Olver the huntsman laid about him furiously with a boar spear, spitting a beastman up to the crossbar as I watched. Nonetheless, they continued to leap and gallop past him on cloven hooves, charging onto the lodge’s grounds. We realized that we now had two problems – cultists with the will and the means to carry out some vile ritual, as well as the threat of simple massacre by invading beastmen. What horrible timing, that these would both happen at once!

Once assembled, we filed into the hallway prepared for battle yet again. Kromaw and Aleron rejoined us from he kitchen, with Gertie hanging limply over Kromaw’s shoulder like a large, exceedingly attractive sack of potatoes. We chose to deposit her in the sitting room next to the library. Leaving her limp form slouched in an overstuffed armchair, we then made our way past the still-sleeping lodge servants – towards the front door and the sound of battle. Barreling into the courtyard, we were confronted by an unnerving sight. A veritable horde of beastmen were running wildly about, looking for anyone or anything to kill. Captain Anders Blucher was a welcome sight – at least four of the fiends lay about his feet within sword’s reach, as he slung his greatsword about with both hands keeping a pair of them at bay while they attempted to close.

“The cultists,” Aleron shouted after charging and caving in a beastman’s skill with his mace, “we must find where they’ve gone!”

“What about the servants? The beasts’ll tear them apart if they get into the lodge,” Jorn replied, paging rapidly through his spellbook with a frown on his face.

“Kromaw and I can hold them along with the Captain,” I yelled above the din, “we’ll hold the door at all costs.”

I barely had time to finish my exclamation before I noticed one of the creatures charging me, out of the corner of my left eye. I quickly turned and skewered its breastbone with my rapier at maximum reach, and allowed it’s momentum to carry it past me as I stepped aside. Kromaw had waded into a group of them, using his armored forearm to fend off one beast while flailing about with his weapon at another pair. He clipped one of the beasts’ arms, sending it spinning away to the ground while the others leapt about, attempting to get close enough to strike without being similarly pulverized. The Captain continued to slice his greatsword in a deadly arc, dismembering another beast… but still their number increased! Several moments passed, as we fought to keep them clear of the door. However, we realized that they were making no real attempt to enter – instead, they continued to run amok, as if looking for something, without finding it.

“Fool,” I could hear Durion shout from the far side of the lodge, even above the din, “stepped on my hand, daft ass, nearly put an end to me, get your foot off my head!” But his shout had come from higher up, as if… from on the lodge’s roof! We had made an error staying by door, as well-intentioned as it was. The roof could only be the last possible holdout of the cultists. Perhaps Aleron, Jorn and Durion had found a way up – and we needed to join them to stop the cultists, for surely this was what the beastmen were looking for. Shouting for Kromaw to follow, I began a spring to the side of the lodge.

Dodging deftly, I managed to evade the odd swing of a poorly aimed weapon as beasts attempted to intercept me. Rounding the corner of the building, I ducked as Olver swung his spear in an arc over his head before plunging it into a beast’s neck. Spotting a rickety ladder with several broken rungs propped against the side of the building, I wasted no time at climbing it. Hand over hand, I climbed furiously, attempting to join the three men on the roof to help suppress the cultists. As I rose, I could hear an increasing loud clamor in the roof – a chanting that rose in both volume and pitch, reaching what sounded to be a climax… which was consummated with a hideous screech, like a mixture of both a great bird and an enraged tiger. I redoubled my efforts to reach the rooftop. As my hand reached the edge of the eaves, I heard one last, tortured shout above the sounds of ringing swords and cursing – Gregor’s voice perhaps? As I lifted my head over the edge, I saw something that caused me to pause momentarily with something approaching panic – but not actual panic, for Maximilien Cristobal is unfamiliar with fear, and has no time for it.

Lifting itself from the rooftop on great, hideous, black wings was a grotesque beast, almost impossible to describe. As it let out a terrible screech yet again, I saw a blur of writhing, thrashing claws… long, jagged, gnashing teeth in a frothing mouth, pure hatred and fury personified. This must be the thing that the cultists had been aimed upon, but with great surprise, I watched as it began to gain height and make its way towards the setting sun. Dwindling to a thrashing silhouette with outstreatched wings, it was apparent that the remaining cultists were unable to make it do their bidding. Gaining my footing on the rooftop, I realized that they were in completed disarray, panicked completely at the loss of their leader, for Gregor did indeed lay on the ground next to a now featureless painting, a gaping gash in his throat pumping blood as his distended, disfigured eye stared at the sky.

Making their way across the roof at top speed were Hanna, Albrecht, and Pietr, running wildly to escape to the far side. Jorn leaned against a chimney, strained and pale, most likely having released some sort of deadly spell. Durion, sitting on his rear, scrambled to his feet to give chase, as Aleron grimly removed his mace from where it had lodged in the side of another servant’s skull. A red rage overcame me as Hanna ran past, as I had seen her run from me before. This time she would not escape! Withdrawing a small dagger from my boot, I flung it with all my might towards her back… and it struck true. With a short shreik, she took two more wobbling steps toward her goal, then toppled sideways toward the edge of the roof and over, with a crunching splat following seconds later from the courtyard below.

As I rejoiced with the satisfaction of seeing her heels flying over the edge of the roof, my left ear was almost deafened as I was blasted by a hail of projectiles. Reeling backwards in pain and surprise, I realized that my entire left torso and arm were aflame, with many small tears in the fabric just now beginning to turn red with blood. Next to me, Durion shouted in pain, several small gouges in his face and torso making it clear that he had also been caught in the blast. Looking in the direction from where it had come, I saw Albrecht splayed on his back, with the huge black barrel of a blunderbus pointed in my direction, wind whipping the smoke away from the shot he’d just fired. A sneering smile on his face quickly turned to wide-eyed fear as Aleron ran up and vicously drove his mace downward into Albrecht’s upraised arms, breaking both of them before continuing on and turning his face into a red pulp.

Albrecht’s body twitched a few last times, his heels drumming against the rooftop, and we realized that we were alone… the cult of Grunewald Lodge was no more. Walking to the edge of the roof, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the beastmen horde seemed to be robbed of direction and purpose, and an increasingly obvious movement back toward the breach showed that they had no more wish than to make it back to the forest. As we watched, they galloped, scrambled, and leapt back through the breach, with Captain Blucher and Olver goading them along, and the guardsmen Ernest and Manfred on the walls peppering them with their crossbows as the last of their hooves, horns and tails disappeared into the growing darkness. Breathing a sigh of relief, we began to make our way back down the ladder, and survey the deadly handiwork that Chaos had wrought today.

Grunewald Lodge - Act 3
Maximilien's Evening Entertainment Does Not Pan Out

Our party milled around in the hallway, attempting to decide on a course of action before dinner. Kromaw looked bored, leaning against the wall with one hand scratching his backside and the other digging between his teeth for random scraps of meat. The rest of us engaged in a quiet but heated discussion, eventually resulting in a decision to speak with Aschaffenberg. Upon knocking at his door it opened only a crack, exposing a sliver of Vern’s face. He shooed us away, claiming insistently that the lord was indisposed and would see us at dinner.

Splitting up to investigate in small groups, I headed downstairs with Aleron and Kromaw, while Durion and Jorn decided to remain on the upper floor and see the doctor. Walking down the stairs with Alaron behind me and Kromaw lumbering down after, we entered the main hallway. Kromaw, distracted by the smells emanating from the kitchen, stopped, turned, and entered the door, presumably to bother the cook for a taste. After entering the main hall, Aleron and I noticed voices and a general bustling in the dining room, and continued that way to enter. While I made my way there, Jorn and Durion cut away and disappeared into the room between the study and sitting room – judging by the large bookshelves, it appeared to be a library of some significant substance.

A particularly attractive female that I’d not seen before was setting silverware, while Konrad and Gunnar (who had taken some coin from me at dice only a short while ago) were distributing various plates and glasses, with Gregor overseeing and barking out orders with a general air of annoyance. Aleron questioned the group about the various cuts of meat to be served, only to be assured unanimously that the venison was quite excellent, and must be sampled. However, Aleron took it upon himself to nearly give us away by blurting out to the group “so, I hear the goose is good!” I noticed Gregor jerk slightly, almost in panic as he turned his head towards Aleron, then transitioning to a seething glare with his remaining good eye. Oblivious to the glowering stare, Aleron directed Gregor to change his order to the goose. Obviously forcing a pinched smile, Gregor answered “of course, of course, it shall be done.”

I decided to speak with the servants for a moment, allowing Aleron and Kromaw to continue their investigation as they headed for the manor’s central courtyard. While I proceeded to regale my new friend Hanna with tales of drinking and dancing to be found in Estalia, I noticed through the open hall door both Durion and Jorn come down the stairs, and proceed into one of the rooms off of the hallway. Judging by the tall, closely packed bookshelf, this could only be a fairly well-appointed library. I managed to catch the eyes of the dark-haired, attractive serving girl – she blushed and glanced away, but this only encouraged me by providing a challenge. As I approached her, she quickly set down the silverware she was adjusting and turned towards me. I introduced myself, and began to charm her most vigorously. At first,; it was “yes, my lord” this, and “no, my lord” that, but before long her formality began to fall away as she grew more comfortable. Soon, she gained the confidence to meet my eyes and begin to respond to my advances, somewhat to the dismay of the other two servants. Jealousy, perhaps? Only to be expected.

Regardless, Hanna hung on my every word, quite clearly enjoying the attention. The other servants began to give her dirty looks as they labored with the table setting, but we gave them no heed as we were quite clearly taking care of matters of higher importance. Hearing raised voices, a scuffling, and a crash, I turned to see a dark-haired male servant standing in the hallway, a look of shock on his face, as Gertie sprawled on the floor with broken wine glasses strewn about her. Gregor furiously stalked out of the dining room to begin berating Gertie viciously for her clumsiness while the male servant looked on in fear. Finishing his shouting binge with the warning “and don’t let it happen again,” Gregor stomped into the kitchen and slammed the door behind him. I was quite appalled – he had been exceedingly insulting at a pretty girl I had designs upon, and I felt compelled to act.

Excusing myself from Hanna (and earning a pouting frown as a result) I walked to Gertie’s side and helped her regain her feet. “That was not acceptable,” I said to her, “for a man does not raise his voice at a beautiful woman… unless she truly earns it.” She returned my statement with gratitude, only to be surprised when I offered to improve Gregor’s attitude by inserting roughly three feet of tempered steel through the gizzard. Stammering, she thanked me for the offer, but refused. I could tell that her gentle heart wished no revenge upon Gregor, even though a thorough puncturing would have been most beneficial to everyone forced to work with him.

Patting her on the behind and sending her on her way to fetch fresh glasses, I began to return to the dining room, only to be joined by Durion and Jorn who accompanied me after exiting the library. Apparently they had found some interesting doings upstairs, as the doctor had left a book describing his treatment schedule, which happened to very closely coincide with periods of lethargy and unconsciousness amongst the staff. Further, they had managed to pilfer a pair of books from the library. One appeared to be a fairly uninteresting book on plant life, with the saving grace that it described the herb that caused the abnormal stench in the upper floor. It seemed to be useful for causing drowiness, wich fit perfectly with the symptoms of several of the staff.

The other was an outlawed treatise on dealing with the worship of Chaos. As these books were burned as a matter of course across the realms of man, it was very surprising and unnerving to find one not only in such good condition, but brazenly displayed in this nobleman’s library. It seemed that the books were kept company by an elderly man, Otto, who strangely enough drew pictures of disturbingly misshapen animals in a journal that he guarded most closely. While Jorn and Durion were unable to draw information from their conversation with him, he was indeed a character that needed to be watched closely. The strange quirks of the lodge’s staff were beginning to add up to a troubling amount.

We were unable to speak further, as Gregor began summoning the staff and guests to dinner loudly. The various servants began transiting the hallway to the kitchen to fetch the courses, while Kromaw issued forth with new gobs of smeared food decorating his many-colored tunic and pants, smacking his chops. Vern and Aschaffenburg finally made an appearance, and made their way to their seats. I followed, placing myself at Aschaffenberg’s right side in order to be within speaking distance, as I had a great many questions to ask. We were joined at the table by a sturdy looking fellow with a glorious mutton chop beard, who was introduced as the captain of the manor guard, Anders Blucher. Also seated across the table from our group was Doctor Seger, frequently glancing at Jorn and Durion with narrowed eyes. Vern sat to Aschaffenberg’s left, and seating himself further down was a rough looking bald man in what appeared to be out of place at the table, wearing hunting clothes and (of all things) a dog collar, who was addressed as Olver.

Piles of fragrant meat were delivered by the shuffling pair of servants, Gertie and Todd staggering under huge plates of meat. The others flitted around the table, to and from the kitchen, to refill various glasses, goblets, bread baskets and the like. As our table was steadily laden with various cuts of venison and a pair of beautifully roasted geese, several of us began to fill our plates and start our meals. In the meantime, I engaged Aschaffenberg in conversation.

“Quite the spread I must say; did you take any of these magnificent beasts yourself,” I asked.

“No, no, not I. I haven’t done much in the way of hunting the last several years. It was the Hunt Master, Olver, he’s quite skilled indeed.”

At this, I addressed Olver, as he finished a portion of goose. “How is it that you managed to find so many prime deer with the beasts prowling the forest recently? I imagine they must scare away what they don’t catch.”

“Well,” he replied gruffly, “it were no big deal, although we did have a run-in here and there with the things.”

“We had a run-in ourselves with the things earlier – even without being outnumbered they caused quite a bit of trouble. You don’t find them to be a problem?”

“Well… no, sure enough they don’t go down too easy, but we dealt with them alright I guess,” Olver responded dismissively.

At this point, we were interrupted by a chorus of hounds baying, no doubt from the kennel in the courtyard, which continued for a matter of minutes and showed no sign of ceasing. Aschaffenberg cast a glance at Olver, and gestured towards the manor’s front hall. With a nod and a scowl, Olver pushed himself away from the table and muttered “save me some venison – and plenty,” to the captain as he rushed down the hall towards the front door. We continued to eat and converse, although the noises Kromaw caused as he annihilated haunch after haunch of venison occasionally drowned out our words.

There was so much meat that even Kromaw struggled to finish his helping. SItting on a barrel in the corner, he dropped a large hunk of gristle without finishing it – a strange occurrence indeed. In fact, he almost appeared a bit sluggish, his massive gut rumbling loudly as he began to digest the tremendous gobs of flesh he’d devoured in the last few minutes. Washing down one last fist-sized chunk with a bucket of ale, he issued a massive belch and slumped against the wall, eyes unfocused. Such a quick reaction to a full stomach – or was it? Looking around, it seemed that many who had venison on their plates were affected similarly. Jorn seemed to be put off by his portion of venison, having only a few small bites before filling himself with a few slices of buttered bread, remaining relatively alert. Captain Blucher’s head rested on his elbow, his breathing slow and even. Heiko, the coachman at the far end of the table, leaned back, his mouth gaping as he snored in his seat.

Aschaffenberg himself seemed to be afflicted by a sudden fatigue. As he pushed his plate away finally, he raised one last goblet of wine and drained it in one gulp. “Seems
I’ve drunk a bit much, I think. Must be time to retire, what? I’ll be heading up to my room – I’m sure the servants will continue to see to everyone’s need, please continue,” he said, with a slightly slurred voice. At that, he rose ponderously to his feet and began to shuffle out of the dining room. “I do say, though, any of our guests tonight who would like to join me for a drink is most welcome,” he stated, waving at our group. Deciding that we’d had enough, we began to rise as well, and followed Aschaffenberg as he trudged up the stairs, puffing for breath with a hand on the wall to steady himself.

Entering his room and seating himself on his heavily cushioned chair, we stood around him with grave expressions. “So, what have you uncovered this evening,” he inquired, his eyes drooping as he languidly poured a goblet of brandy. While he drank, he motioned us to all grab a glass and join him. However, we decided that we had learned enough to cause him great concern. Aleron informed him that we had found some very suspicious goings-on that seemed to be orchestrated by the doctor, and that most likely the venison had been dosed with a sleeping agent that the doctor had been brewing and using on the staff. At Aschaffenberg’s confounded look, we began to ask him if he suspected any reason the doctor would have to drug anyone, and who he might have noticed suffering from this affliction in particular.

Aschaffenberg’s head lolled as he muttered his responses to our questions. “Wha… what’s that you say now? Poisoned? You don’t… you don’t say. Prepos… posterous. Now look here,” he blurted out, stumbling unsteadily to his feet. Lumbering to the bed, he flopped down, the glass in his outstretched hand slowly tilting as its contents began to drain onto the carpet. “You see… it’s… can’t…unh,” he grunted at us. A loud snore tore forth from his mouth which hung open loosely, a stream of drool slowly issuing from the corner. It seemed that Aschaffenberg would be no further help tonight. Sharing frowning glares, we issued from the chamber, and went downstairs to check on the rest of the staff.

Just outside the door, however, Alaron happened upon Konrad and Gunnar just at the top of the stairs, leaning against the wall and apparently loafing while snickering to each other. Frustrated, and furious at their oblivious attitude, Alaron grabbed Konrad and forced him against the wall, one hand gripping Konrad’s tunic and the other clenched into a fist; Gunnar took the opportunity to edge down the stairs. “You! What have you done, what do you know about the poison! Tell me now, or you’ll be sorry,” he shouted. Konrad appeared completely bewildered. “Wha… nothing, nothing at all, what poison,” he answered with a quavering voice. The look of fear was quite convincing, and with a sneer, Alaron let Konrad loose, upon which Konrad bolted back down the stairs.

Needing to somehow acquire more information, we all headed down to the ground floor. Returning to the dining room, we were confronted by a chorus of snores. Gunnar was loafing, with a large leg of goose in one hand and a wine glass in the other, while Hanna gathered silverware; Konrad sat on a stool at the side of the room, a mug in his hand shaking with nerves as he glared at us. Alaron and Jorn caught Gunnar’s eye, and cornered him, pelting him with questions to little avail as far as I could tell.

I decided it was an excellent time for me and Hanna to become better acquainted. She had no problem abandoning her halfhearted attempt at cleaning up, preferring, of course, my attentions. At first our conversation went along quite smoothly. I could tell Hanna was impressed with my smooth demeanor and witty banter. She obviously enjoyed the attention as well – it seemed that the pickings amongst the males at the lodge here were slim indeed, and she now gorged herself on my company as a ravenous animal upon a choice piece of meat. Now that there was no pressure for time, I was able to thoroughly ensnare her in a cocoon of complements and flirtatious teasing.

Inviting her into the sitting room to continue our discussion, I noticed her blush slightly, but she agreed to follow me. Allowing her to enter and seat herself, I closed the door and positioned myself beside her, and continued to speak with her easily, asking about her doings at the lodge. However, as we spoke, I noticed a change in the room from when I had been here earlier. The heavy drapes which were closed earlier were now open, with a square of wall showing no dust, indicating that something had been removed. I asked what it could be. Hesitant at first, she finally admitted that there was usually a painting there. And her eyes lit up! Her voice trembling, she described the painting with such fervor that I was quite taken aback. Words burst forth from her in a torrent about a glorious, beautiful eye, and she could not be stopped. Allowing her to gush at length, she finally regained her calm… but she had dampened my appraisal of her. I was now intensely suspicious, for her description of the painting had taken on the tone of speech normally reserved by zealots and madmen.

I suggested to Hanna that perhaps we could take a walk around the manor’s grounds and search for the painting she seemed so fond of. She began to fidget nervously, her eyes darting as her face steadily grew redder. Could she think I had offered to find somewhere secluded for a tryst? Quite possibly; I have been known to have that effect on women, and they mustn’t be to blamed, for it is only natural for females throughout the nations of man to fall under the spell of Maximilien’s magnetism. However, I had other ideas – I did indeed wish to find whatever was missing from the wall, and Hanna seemed at first quite agreeable to the suggestion. I stood up, helped her to her feet, and guided her to the door.

Leaving the room with her, I was caught flat-footed when she suddenly bolted, skirt flapping and heels flashing as she fled down the hall towards the kitchen door. Quickly bursting into a run myself, I was thrown off of balance and fell to my knees when the carpet slipped from under me, losing valuable time. Upon regaining my footing I attained maximum speed, and slammed the closing kitchen door back open, only to reveal a completely empty room. Thinking that she must have continued to the back of the house, I nearly left the room, only to glance towards a pantry door that was ajar and slowly closing. Skidding to a stop, I approached cautiously. Peeking through the door, I heard faint footsteps and a scraping sound, which quickly ceased. Easing myself down the stairs, I turned the corner to find… just a drab storage room. Barrels stood stacked in the corner, a wine rack against the far wall – or at least a rack of the sour swill that people of the Empire called wine, at least. And just at the base, a pair of scrape marks! I would have to fetch the others…

Climbing the steps back to the kitchen quietly, I quietly hurried back towards the dining room, only to find Aleron and Durion speaking with each other in the main hall. They stood with ashen faces, Durion frowning with arms folded as Aleron gestured wildly. “That gods-damned chanting was unnatural, there’s no way any of us needs to go down there without the rest of us,” Aleron said. “We need to get the others together and investigate in force. Where the hell did did all of them go?”

As Aleron finished speaking, they both noticed me approaching. Joining them, we found that we had a great deal to share with each other. I was not the only one who had found a secret part of the lodge. Aleron had searched Aschaffenberg’s chamber, only to find a secret entrance in his fireplace to the lodge’s cellar. Upon entering the cellar, he had crept down a twisting and poorly lit hall. As he had moved deeper into the cellar, he had noticed what sounded like chanting – an unsettling, hair-raising cadence that had no business taking place under a hunting lodge. Deciding not to take unnecessary risks on his own, he had made the prudent choice to return for reinforcements.

Relating to them my finding in the wine cellar, it seemed that we had found separate entrances to the same underground level. As we spoke, Kromaw and Jorn returned from their investigation of the lodge’s grounds. They had found that the few able-bodied guards remaining in the guardhouse had been unconscious much as the servants in the dining room. Someone had delivered drugged refreshments to them without arousing their suspicions, leaving the remainder of the staff to move around unnoticed. Realizing that almost nobody left above ground was still awake, we decided that we needed answers – quickly. Hanna, Gertie, the doctor, Gregor and several other servants were absent with no explanation. Could they perhaps be the source of the chanting? It was time to find out.

We decided that the cellar entrance through the pantry was our best bet, as Kromaw would not fit through the narrow tunnel in Aschaffenberg’s fireplace. Marching through the kitchen and down into the pantry, we gathered around the wine rack, and began tryign to find out how to move it. After a few moments of prodding, we began to get frustrated, when Kromaw simply grabbed it with both hands and heaved, tearing it away from the wall with a crunching shriek of shattering wood and bending metal. “Kromaw open,” he hollered, leaving us staring wide-eyed at the demonstration of strength. Noting that the absent wine rack now revealed a large opening in the wall bordered by shards of wood and twisted metal hinges, we agreed that the passage was now indeed open.

Arranging ourselves in the pantry with Kromaw at the forefront, we filed down the cellar steps. Durion followed, Aleron and Jorn behind, with myself at the end of the party. Keeping an eye behind us as we crept down the hall, we shuffled along into the decreasing light, encountering first a left then a right turn in the passage. Darkness engulfed us, only to be pierced by a dim, flickering torchlight ahead of us. Peering down the hallway, we heard a
continuous chanting, rising and falling, several voices in unison. I could not make out the words, but they sounded harsh, foul, and caused a feeling of unease. However, we were prepared, and were not unnerved.

Steeling ourselves, we drew our various weapons quietly and prepared for battle…

Grunewald Lodge - Act 2
Maximilien Charms the Grunewald Staff

Resting in the courtyard, covered in sweat, our small group had finished unloading the wagon of its various contents and transporting them to a small shack nearby. Meanwhile, those of us that were injured managed to fashion bandages to some extent. Kromaw’s many bleeding wounds were patched up temporarily, allowing him to carry a significant amount of the burden, though in pain and complaining the whole while about wanting a snack.

Somewhat disturbingly, I had noticed occasional movement in one of the upper floor’s windows which overlooked the courtyard. Catching a twitch of the curtain, I saw a glimpse of man’s face halfway covered in bandages, scowling as he peeked around the fabric. One eye was covered by the bandage – the other was narrowed as he spied on us. I had not realized that we had an audience; as it was a male voyeur, I perceived that I might need to put on the shirt which I had removed earlier while laboring in the heat. Admittedly, it is known that Maximilien has a fantastically chiseled body which tends to attract the looks of many ladies, and the occasional man as well despite his best efforts. However, it must be said that Maximilien decidedly prefers the ladies. While it may have been only natural to admire the view from the window, I did not wish to give the voyeur any encouragement to continue.

Upon completion of the unloading, he finally burst throught the front door and came down the manor’s front steps, with a furrowed brow and pinched expression, addressing himself as Gregor Piersson, steward of the manor. “Lord Aschaffenberg has asked to see you for additional duties; he is waiting in his room upstairs. Please follow me immediately,” he said briskly. Dusting ourselves off, we followed him up the steps and into the hall of the mansion, parading through a large dining room and proceeding up a flight of stairs to the lower of the manor’s two stories.

Though more somberly decorated than my family’s hunting lodge in Estalia, the quality of the furnishings, portraits and trophies was still impressive, and I felt fairly at home. Perhaps I’d have a chance to hunt something a bit more traditional than the man-beasts we’d already dealt with, before departing the place for other endeavors. The dining room in particular had many trophies – a pair of stuffed falcons were hung from the roof, and a large black hunting cat of some kind was mounted in the corner, mid-leap, with a snarl permanently arranged on its face. Realizing that I was falling behind the group while ogling the room, I hurried to rejoin them.

Arriving on the first floor, Gregor directed us to enter the door to an opulent chamber, where Aschaffenburg reclined in an overstuffed chair with a goblet of wine in his hand. We filed in, with Kromaw’s huge bulk barely squeezing through the door as he hulked beside the bed, and Aschaffenburg’s eyes narrowed at our disheveled state. Not to be put off, he visibly dismissed his initial impression with a shake of his head and a ‘harrumph.’ Standing up, he launched into our new assignment energetically.

“Well well, didn’t take you too long, I see – stout looking bunch, the lot of you. Now then, people, it’s not just luggage I was excited to receive – I have a fairly concerning predicament I’d like you to have a look into. While I’ve inherited this place most fortuitously, it seems that it’s not exactly everything I was expecting. Not only have we had increasing run-ins with packs of beastmen galloping throughout the woods at will, but even the simple task of managing the staff is also more troublesome than I’d expected. Something’s off, you see, but I just can’t place my finger on it. Gregor reassures me that nothing is amiss, but the air of the place is unsettling in some manner, beyond the dampened spirits caused by these damnable beasts.” He began pacing while talking, consternation on his face.

“Of course, one must expect the odd injury here and there while chasing vicious animals through the forest, but it seems that it’s been rougher on the folks here than I’d have expected, what with all the infirmary beds being filled to the brim by malingerers. Why don’t you go see doctor Sieger there, down the hall, and perhaps get him to patch up those of you that seem to be, ah… worse for the wear, let’s say. Should be able to fix you up quite nicely, I’d expect. I suppose we’ll have you join us for dinner this evening to celebrate the lodge finally being staffed and furnished. But before then, feel free to take a look around the grounds and get to know the staff. If you should need anything, just let Gregor know, and I’m sure he’ll take care of you. However, should you find the nature of what’s ailing the place, come directly to me! Now then, off with you to the doctor, and we’ll meet again at dinner.”

Waving us through the door, Aschaffenberg foisted us upon the steward again, who pestered us about what we wanted to eat that evening. “We must know so that we can begin preparation immediately – will you be having the venison or the goose? The venison is quite outstanding, but we must know either way – there are animals that need slaughtering.” After taking our preferences we chose a mixture of both, myself going with the goose, and Kromaw insisting on a small herd of deer for himself. Gregor then steered us toward a door at the far end of the hall, through which we could hear the occasional moan of the injured as they were administered to. Entering, we found several beds filled with various persons, including a pair of injured humans who were quite obviously guards or mercenaries, and an elderly dwarf with crazed hair who blurted out random phrases – as we watched, he went on about an eye that was watching him, or some somesuch. Tending to them was a small, hunched man with white hair in a bloodstained smock, several medical instruments filling various pockets, and some sort of optical gadget draped from his balding head. Obviously, this was doctor Sieger. Capering around him and pestering him furiously was a scrawny young man with a scraggly moustache, and a singularly dull look on his face, as he peppered the doctor with inane questions non-stop to the doctor’s annoyance.

At the far end of the room stooped an older woman with graying hair wearing simple gray robes with a device of Sigmar dangling from her neck, who was tending to bandaged guardsman. We could see that she was quite obviously blind, eyes white and milky, perhaps from some past disease. One of the many, many drawbacks of living in the colder environment here in the north, no doubt – give me a sweltering Estalian summer day any time! Copious amounts of wine to slake your thirst, the delicious feel of sweat on a beautiful woman’s skin as she presses it against… but no! Things to attend to, here, first. I would have to find something (or someone) to help me distract myself from this gloomy environment later! In fact, not only was it depressing to be in such a room, but there was some kind of heavy smell that laid about the place as well. Not too different from something you might smell if beer or liquor were fermented poorly; but that was the extent to which any of us could identify it.

Each of us began to move about the room and look around. While some of the others listened to the priestess (who was named Sonja) tell a tale of sacrifice and dedication after having suffered some lack of piety, I decided to see what the doctor’s helper, Berthold, had to say. Speaking for a few moments with the cheerful dunce as he attempted to distract the doctor, I found that he had completely lost touch with reality, or perhaps had never had a grasp on it in the first place. He claimed repeatedly that he was “helping” the doctor, although he couldn’t describe a single way in which he was helping. However, I managed to glean some useful from him regardless – when I asked who the prettiest girl at the manor was, he sheepishly described a lass named Gertie. He was obviously smitten with her, – I slapped him on the arm and ensured him that he was most helpful indeed. “I thank you, and by all means, my friend, I shall be certain to tell her you said hello!” At that, he gave a grateful look, such that I almost began to feel guilty… but then the moment passed, and all was well with the world. As it turned out, I had one more thing to investigate this evening!

Unfortunately, this was the only valuable piece of information we’d gained. Despite pointed questions from several of us, the doctor had very little to offer about the various afflictions of his patients. Several of them were incoherent, perhaps even beyond the extent which their wounds should have rendered them, but the reason was not apparent. The only one showing signs of energy was the dwarf, but he only sat up occasionally to shriek out continued nonsense about being watched, before falling back into a stupor. After having Sonja help with Kromaw’s many gashes, we decided that we’d had enough of this place, and needed to inquire elsewhere.

Making our way back downstairs, we began to wander around, eventually making our way into the kitchen, where a plump, dark haired woman puttered around at one of the stoves. As we piled in, we could see the look of annoyance on her face at the invasion of her little kingdom… which quickly turned to shock when Kromaw’s huge bulk filled the doorway. As he squeezed himself through the door frame he shouted in his great deep voice, “FOOD!” Reaching into his patchwork travelling sack, he pulled out a massive hunk of meat, recognizably a haunch of one of the beasts we had put down. I hadn’t seen him claim it on the battlefield, but I should have not been surprised, based on his prodigious eating habits.

Stomping to an unused counter, he slapped the carcass down and began vigorously hacking at it and ripping great slabs off, spraying gore and blood all over the kitchen, dousing several of us with the stuff. And getting it on my clothes and skin! All over the damned place – bits of meat and offal clung to me. Despite my immense disgust I resisted the urge to vomit, and instead determined that I must change my clothing as soon as possible. Aleron stood by as well with a disgusted look on his face as he peered at his blood-covered clothing. Surprisingly, Durion was not made of the same stern stuff that we were, as he began choking back a mouthful of vomit while running towards the rear exit, one hand over his mouth and leaking chunky fluid through his fingers.

The cook began to brandish her cleaver, shouting threats and ordering everyone out while Kromaw finished his messy butchering and attempted to stuff chunks of meat in a stove – this put a very effective end to our examination of the kitchen. Not wanting to endure the cook’s continuing wrath and screechings, we used various exits and left Kromaw to his own devices. I myself made my way back into the hall while brushing a few of the larger chunks of refuse free from my jerkin, and began to wander the hall looking for a place to change.

As I gazed at the various trophies lining the walls, I again reflected that I must hunt something suitable to my skill. A particularly large bear’s head in an ornate wooden mounting attracted my attention, as we had very few of such size in my native part of Estalia; I walked slowly down the hall examining several such creatures at my leisure… and found my evening’s entertainment walking down the hallway towards me. A finely shaped wench with fiery red hair, and hopefully a personality to match! Pale of complexion as with most Empire lasses, but with smooth, creamy skin, she was all the more attractive for it. Obviously, this must be Gertie. Walking up to her confidently, I proceeded to introduce myself with aplomb…

And she stared at me like I’d grown an extra head, eyes widening as she began to physically recoil. I was very surprised, as this was not the reaction I was expecting to my finely honed skills at seduct… Ah, by the hairy black ass of Morr! I’d already forgotten the gore that damned ogre had splattered on me! As Gertie backed away with a look of repulsion on her face and stammered an excuse, I quickly excused myself and began to look for a suitable place to change into something a bit more clean and refined. Ducking into the nearest doorway, I found myself in what seemed to be a relatively unused study. Shelving on the walls included a large handful of books, writing equipment, and the odd scale, looking glass, beaker, and other various trinkets and baubles which bored nobles tend to collect while pursuing idle hobbies. I sympathized – sometimes it is difficult to find activities of suitable interest to fill one’s time, what with all the servants to see to the more basic duties around the place.

Fortunately, chasing women works well for me, and there is such a wonderful variety of them to pursue! Along those lines, I proceeded to clean myself up in the aid of said pursuit. Using a metal nautical apparatus with finely polished surfaces, I carefully picked pieces of innards out of my moustache, and added a fresh application of wax. Once cleaned, I removed my satchel, and quickly brought out a set of clothing I had retained for more formal occasions back home. Only the best silks and linens from Araby and beyond are suitable for those of high birth; after pulling the vest over my new tunic, I was now attired fit for an evening of fine dining.

Which now brought me back to my intended pursuit of Gertie. Wandering back down the hall, now confident in my appearance, I began to look for her. Hearing a murmur of voices in a room off of the hallway, I made my way there swiftly. Following the sound, I entered a sitting room, filled with a table and several chairs, portraits along the walls, except for one wall which was entirely covered by a large purple drapery. In the corner, conversing in low voices, were Gertie and the pompous steward, Gregor. Giving me a shifty glance, Gregor ceased hissing directives at Gertie, and asked haughtily what he could do for me. Attempting to put him at ease, I congratulated him on what a fine establishment he appeared to be running… but my complements seemed to roll off him like water off a duck’s back. “All very well my lord, I’m sure,” he said, and with an obviously forced grin, he quickly excused himself and rushed out of the room down the hall to attend to something or other. However, I was not overly concerned with Gregor… oh no, I had other designs! I quickly turned my attentions back to Gertie.

She seemed somewhat disturbed by the exchange – no doubt she was glad to be rid of the steward, as she looked at me expectantly. I apologized for my unseemly appearance at our first introduction, but surely this could be excused and we could start again fresh. At first, she seemed to respond meekly, no doubt due to addressing a well-dressed (and devastatingly handsome) person – but I ensured her that she certainly was not beneath me! At least, not quite yet… After a few moments of witty banter, she began to respond more warmly. But as she began to relax, I noticed her focus begin to wander, and a general air of fatigue begin to overcome her. As her eyes began to droop, an exhausted demeanor settled over her finely shaped frame. “Please excuse me, I must return to my room, I’m so very tired, and I must rest up to help with dinner” she said. As this did not appear a typical ruse to invite me upstairs (and I have received many, of course), I decided to allow her to head to her room. I hated to see her leave, but enjoyed the view as she left. Yes, finely proportioned indeed! I decided this situation was for the best; she would need to save her energy for the evening I had planned for us.

After one additional exploratory lap around the ground floor, I made my way outside to the back of the property, and was pleased to see it contained an expanse of trees and other pleasant vegetation, with the occasional bench or lounging furniture spread around. A few outbuildings were here and there against the fortified outer wall – I could see what looked to be a stable, and could hear faint barking of a kennel beyond a small group of trees. After only a few moments of wandering, Jorn appeared walking walking around the bend of a stone path, using both arms to carry what looked to be long-neglected dwarfen hammer. It seemed he had found it partially hidden in a small shrine to Sigmar in a secluded portion of the grounds. He was quite troubled that he was not familiar with its origin or import. While I was not an expert myself at the manufacture of armaments, my family’s wealth was built on the armaments trade, and I had some familiarity with the general making and origins of various weapons throughout the world, and dwarf weapons were very highly valued in particular – I told him that he had made a very interesting find indeed.

The weapon that Jorn carried resembled that hammer which citizens of the Empire for some reason got themselves all excited about – Galamorza, or perhaps Glama Razo, or some such dwarf name – but surely it could not be the real thing! We were shortly joined by Aleron and Durion, upon which Durion exclaimed that the weapon was most definitely of dwarf manufacture; in fact, its ornate and excellent construction meant that it must be a family heirloom. “It’s a grave thing we’ve found here,” Durion explained. “This hammer is no doubt desperately missed, and the clan that is searching for it will value it very highly. Anyone possessing it, and not making every effort to speed its return will be held accountable. We’d best not be the ones that are found dithering with it, for if we do, we may find our way into a book of grudges.” While dwarfs ware somewhat rare in Estalia, I had heard enough tales to know that dwarf grudges were nothing to be trifled with. We agreed to discuss this at length, once we were finished with our examination of the manor.

However, we decided to continue our exploration of the grounds for the time being. We elected to follow the trail of something that Aleron and Durion had found. After touring the grounds and speaking with the hunting master, a burly and roughly mannered man named Olver with very little to offer, they had stumbled on something interesting. A plant that was obviously well tended in what was otherwise an overgrown garden – and it was called Gertie’s Asset, strangely enough! Or something like that, but who is worried about the names of plants? I decided that this was an omen, and definitely boded well for my evening… With that, we went upstairs to do a more thorough inspection on what the doctor was up to, since the plant we’d found smelled very similar to the faint stench we’d encountered in his infirmary.

Upon entering, we asked doctor Sieger several pointed questions. Responding brusquely, he attempted to send us away, volunteering only that the plant was medicinal and that he had several patients who required it for their treatment, but evading the exact nature of their malaise. Being struck by a clever idea (this happens often, of course), I volunteered that I did not feel particularly well, and that perhaps he had something to treat my fatigue. With this, the doctor uncharacteristically brightened, and offered a dose of elixir; he pulled a small bottle out of his smock and opened it. However, I was extremely suspicious, due to the stupor that his patients suffered. “I thank you, fine doctor, but I wish to attend dinner and perhaps dose myself before I go to sleep, so as not to miss out on the festivities. May I perhaps have a small amount to take later?” Slightly begrudging the request, he did nonetheless manufacture a tiny vial and fill it with a small amount of the stuff. After this, he lost interest in us again, and insisted on returning to his duties.

Still suspicous, we left him to his devices as we investigated the remainder of the second floor. Hearing exclamations coming from the servants quarters about a poor roll of the dice, I decided to take it upon myself to distract them while the remainder of the party investigated the doctor’s quarters. Popping into the quarters, I met two of the servants, Gunnar and Konrad, who invited me to join in for a few coppers.

One of the common grounds that men of all stations may find is the odd game of chance – I joined in cheerfully. The rattle of dice and the laughter at each other’s misfortune would serve to cover noises from down the hall, but after a few throws I was forced to make excuses for my friends’ hamfisted attempts to open the door -I could have sworn I’d heard Kromaw offer to just bash the door in, using what passed for his “inside” voice. Hardly the most sneaky way to do it, but effective, I suppose. Fortunately the offer was refused, as someone must have figured out how to pick the lock.

After a few more minutes of dicing nervously, Alaron appeared in the doorway with a frustrated look on his face, beckoning me to rejoin the group. Excusing myself from the dice game a few coppers poorer (this was, of course, a result of being distracted while covering for my friends, not due to any lack of skill on my part), I rejoined the party in the hall. They had found several bottles of the potion that the doctor was using, but had no further explanation of exactly what it was purported to do, or means of making it. More interestingly, the doctor happened to leave the infirmary with the intent of going to his room, at which point Kromaw decided to scare the daylights out of him in the hallway, and invite him to turn around and go the other way. Not sneaky in the least… but at least our activities in his room were hidden.

As we were at a loss, we found it appropriate to return to the ground floor. Just as we came to this decision, Gregor made an appearance and announced that it was time to prepare for supper; he directed Gunnar and Konrad to cease their dice game, and shook Gertie awake brusquely before making his way back down to the dining hall with the servants in tow. Realizing that we had only a limited time to ourselves, we began to discuss the best way to use our time before dinner.

Grunewald Lodge - Act 1
Maximilien Gains Several Followers and Hangers-On

Maximilien Cristobal is a man of action. A man of daring, and skill. And, of course, an irresistible focus of women’s attraction. His life’s mission is to give the world the gift of himself – but his most heartfelt regret is that there are only so many women who’s lives he may brighten with his attentions; only so many nobles and commoners lives who’s lives may be enriched through his presence; only so many criminals and beasts he may impale with his blade. We will now investigate Maximilien’s attempt to vigorously spread his attentions upon the citizenry of Altdorf and its environs.

Maximilien’s tale begins in the southern portion of the Empire’s county of Reikland. He has recently escaped from his home province in Estalia with his two younger sisters, his father’s rapier and a small stash of gold. With just enough warning from a trusted retainer, Maximilien managed to avoid his uncle Rafael’s attempt to sever his branch of the family tree by escaping with his sisters and several horses from the family stable. For months they have dodged and evaded, making their way to the port of Magritta, and hiring a ship to take them to the city of Marienburg in the Empire, and finally up the Reik river to the capital of Altdorf.

Staying just ahead of his scheming uncle’s agents, he has managed to shake their pursuit long enough to gain shelter and protection for his sisters with one of the well-to-do Estalian merchant families in Altdorf who are sympathetic to his plight. As his sisters deserve to be treated with the respect and elegance that they have come to expect as scions of a noble family, he has left the majority of his moneys with them to provide for their needs. As a result, Maximilien must now seek his own fortune. And one day, perhaps, when he has come into his own, he shall return with his sisters to Estalia to regain his position in his family’s seat.

Gold is not easily come by in the Empire; only through the application of sufficient skill, effort, and daring can it be expected for significant quantities to accumulate in one’s purse. Desiring to limit his contact with his sisters and their hosts for their own protection, Maximilien was forced to seek his fortunes elsewhere,at a safe distance. Traveling a few days south, he made his way to the town of Ubersreik. Not the largest city in the Empire, perhaps, but near the foothills of the Grey Mountains, it boasts many opportunities and has a near inexhaustible need for both laborers and warriors. Here, Maximilien was well served. A man such as himself has many talents to offer a city such as Ubersreik, and quickly found an opportunity to prove his mettle. An interestingly worded advertisement on a public notice board seized his attention – from here, we see the tale through Maximiliens’s eyes.

I held the scrap of paper in my hands, the crisp but harsh script of the Empire fairly shouting at me. Some nobleman, it seemed, needed to move his belongings into his hunting lodge outside of the city, but was curiously demanding brave and hardy men. Somewhat below me, I should think, to use fine and dextrous hands such as mine for simple labor, as they are much better suited to the hilt of a finely balanced rapier, or perhaps even better, the skin of a finely shaped woman. However, the implication of danger made me curious, and would perhaps give me a chance to start making a name for myself here. I decided to pursue this a bit, and see if the actual errand proved as intriguing as the offering suggested.

The directions on the broadsheet brought me down a series of narrow and bustling streets to what appeared a fairly standard inn one might see in the Empire. Perhaps not as clean as a similar Estalian inn might have, the place was roughly built but sturdy, as reflected the characteristics of its patrons. A red moon emblazoned the sign above it, buttressed by a pair of pewter mugs; I stepped inside. Casting about the place, I did quickly find that the bar wench weaving through tables and benches was perhaps less rough than I would have expected, hair flowing beautifully over her shoulders and down her back and a mischevious glint to her eye. Giving her a smile and a wink, I made a mental note that I would have to pursue her – most vigorously – when I had the time. I did, however have some business to attend to here; any caresses would have to be limited to those given by my eyes for now. Later in the evening, perhaps, who knew…

The rest of the inn wasn’t heavily occupied, with a few laborers and craftsmen of various sorts scattered about in various states of drunkenness after their day’s work. A few stocky figures amongst the workers were quite obviously dwarfs; uncommon in Estalia but not completely unknown to us there. Still, I was surprised at the number of them intermixed amongst men so thoroughly in the Empire. One dourly dressed man moped about in a corner, casting nervous glances about the place. A group of gentlemen – I am not sure if that is the proper word but it shall suffice for now – was seated at a booth at the darkened back of the common room. It was not difficult to overhear them as they were quite loud and boisterous, and I picked up mentions of a job that sounded like that which I was present to apply for, with mentions of a lodge recurring several times. “We need a swordsman; we’ll be helpless without a man of skill and daring to protect us,” I heard one say to the other. Well, perhaps not that exactly that, but it would have been appropriate. Any group venturing into the wilderness would need a man such as myself along to ensure success and safety.

I made my way over to them, and they finally noticed me when I slung myself over a chair. Introducing my own illustrious self to them, I looked over my potential compatriots. Men for the most part, and a pair of dwarfs. And yes, the area was not well lit but did I truly miss… gods be good, was that an actual OGRE wedged into the seat? Indeed it was! A river of juice ran down his chest from the copious quantities of meat he was pouring down his gullet while the remainder of the group acknowledged my presence. As they turned their attentions towards me, I expressed my desire to join their band in this endeavor. “My friends, I have overheard your mentions of employment. I, too, seek to enhance my fortune as well as my reputation, and think I may be able to help.” Most dignified of the bunch was a stout, dark man in a brigandine vest who hailed himself as Aleron. The dwarfs, both from Karak Azgaraz, were mismatched. [Sylar’s Dude] was a burly and solid mass of muscle, light of hair and heavily bearded as dwarfs are prone to be, and hailed himself as an axe for hire. The equipment draped upon him – crossbow and large double-headed axe the most obvious – proved the truth of this. The other darker (but just as heavily bearded) dwarf, [Gabe’s Dude], had a multitude of mechanisms, contraptions, and gadgets filling his various pockets and festooning his vest, indicating his status as an engineer.

The ogre, festooned with a patchwork of chainmail, wearing blue pantaloons and what appeared to be a monocle, belched out the name of Kromaw Dwarfeater in between gargantuan mouthfuls of meat. Not so strange that the two dwarfs were seated at the opposite side of the table from the great oaf, then. Occasionally, a small green hand would dart out of a pouch at Kromaw’s belt – I was later to learn that it was Kromaw’s pet gnoblar that he kept to assist with difficult mental feats such as counting. As we spoke, we were joined by one last hopeful companion; the rather nondescript man in the corner had decided to join us finally. He wore fairly simple gray clothing, but on closer inspection had multiple trinkets, scroll cases and a small book tucked within his belongings. Hailing himself as a novice wizard, he caused a handful of raised eyebrows and perhaps a few scowls (mostly from the dwarfs), but this group was sufficiently eclectic as to accept even this exotic addition without undue friction.

As we began to get a feel of our group’s composition over several beers and ales, our prospective employer finally arrived. A man who named himself Vern burst through the door hurriedly, wearing a dusty cloak, having apparently had some rough dealings on his way to the inn. A bandage on his hand gave some background on why he hadn’t asked for mere laborers. Apparently, the nobleman he worked for had recently inherited a hunting lodge deep within the Grunewald forest, and was having some difficulty with wild animal attacks or something of the sort. However, he seemed a bit flustered when we asked him about the bandage on his hand; detecting some evasion, but he simply laughed off our concern and claimed we’d be able to take care of ourselves handily. After some dickering over the terms of employment, we agreed to head for the lodge the following morning. This released our group to our own designs for the evening, and while the majority of my new companions entertained themselves with ever increasing amounts of alcohol, I decided to pursue the wench I’d spotted earlier in the evening.

Awakening in my room on the second floor of the inn at the crack of dawn, I groggily climbed over the smooth skin of my evening’s entertainment. While I was having difficulty remembering her name, I was most certain she would remember mine for along time, based on the number of times she had called it out last night. Stretching to shake the aches from my muscles that were caused by our strenuous activities, I jostled her awake and quickly but gently sent her on her way. Gathering my belongings, and belting my father’s beautiful sword to my waist, I made my way down the stairs to begin the journey to the lodge.

Gathering behind the inn at the stable in various states of alertness, our group met with
Vern, who had stationed himself next to a wagon with a nervous, elderly coachman perched on the running board. “A solid day’s journey to the lodge, people; place your goods on the wagon and jump on up so we can get started and inside the gates before nightfall,” he said. After packing into the wagon, we began to rattle down the cobbled street to the east, past craftsmen and laborers hurrying to their day’s business. Various peddlers were setting up their wares in small tents or tables along the main road, the occasional ragged and dirty beggar intermixed, pleading for alms. A pair of whores lounging in front of a brothel beckoned us, even this early in the morning – perhaps an idea I would have considered entertaining, were I not so recently sated.

Passing a shrine festooned with hammers, lightning bolts, comets and suchlike, a robed priest of Sigmar screamed commandments at a small group of commoners crowded around him. “Abhor the mutant! Cast him down with steel and fire! Death! DEATH TO THE UNCLEAN!” he shrieked. Well, I thought to myself, certainly one abhors the mutant, what else should we do – embrace them? Such acts are best saved for attractive females, of course… not the scales, tentacles and horns of mutants. As I mused to myself, the buildings became smaller and more sparse as we approached the edge of the town, with trees beginning to fill spaces between them. Only a few minutes past the last outlying shack, we were ensconced in surprisingly dense forest. A simple turn of the road, and civilization was almost undetectable save for a distant murmur.

Hours of travel later as we approached the lodge and began to relax slightly, we began to run out of topics for idle banter. Feeling compelled to keep spirits up, I began to regale my companions of my extensive experiences with Estalian women to take their attentions off their sore backsides. The dwarfs laughed and slapped each other’s backs, Jorn looked on with a smirk on his face, and Alaron threw in the occasional comment from on horseback as he rode alongside to the left wagon, adding his own (although perhaps less extensive) experiences with Empire lasses. Every once in a while, Vern or the coachman would make an exclamation of disbelief at my varied and numerous conquests. Even the Kromaw seemed to be entertained with my descriptions of the fairer sex as he walked along raptly, drooling slightly on this chainmail with a large grin on his huge, lumpy face. Occasionally, a small green gnoblar would cackle at an interesting bit as it peaked out of Alaron’s belt pouch.

Unfortunately, this did distract us from the forest itself. Vern shouted for attention, as he straightened his back and began to peer into the undergrowth along the road. At the snap of a twig, we quickly ceased our conversation and directed our gazes in to the fores around us. Rustling in the dense bushes along the edge of the road only provided brief glimpses of fur and rough skin, an occasional set of horns protruding into view for only a moment here and there. As we finally began to realize what had begun stalking us, it was nearly too late to react. A shaft of wood leaped from the undergrowth with blinding speed, lodging itself into the side of the wagon with a thunk and quivering only a few feet from where I leaned against the rails – the first of a veritable hail of spears that began to pelt us from the tree line! They came from both sides, which was worrisome, as the only way to escape from the engagement was now straight ahead towards the lodge.

Knowing that something was to shortly follow the initial bombardment, I waited only for the last flying spear to narrowly miss coachman before I jumped down from the wagon, not wanting to be restrained by its confines. A proper swordsman needs space in which to maneuver; running alongside the wagon as we hurried towards safety, I trotted next to Alaron’s horse while drawing my sword and readying myself mentally to dish out violence. On the far side of the wagon, Kromaw stomped along solidly with his weapon trailing in one hand, gazing dully at the tree line with a slack jaw. The remainder of the party stayed in the wagon, the dwarfs readying their various ranged weapons while Jorn began a low chant, an intense look of concentration on his face. The coachman whipped the horses furiously to increase their speed, with Vern next to him frantically fitting a bolt to his crossbow.

Glancing about at the increasingly loud rustling and snapping sounds in the undergrowth, our time to prepare was rapidly coming to an end. With a cacophony of howls, grunts and screams, large manlike shapes began to rush forth from the shadows and leaves. But they were not entirely manlike; I was able to make out various horns, hooves, claws and fur in various amounts on each of them as they thundered towards us. Having only limited attention to afford the remainder of my companions, I still managed to glimpse the ebb and flow of the engagement. Kromaw’s great bulk managed to attract the attention of multiple beasts, as they converged on him while he flailed about with slow but incredibly large and powerful sweeps of his weapon. The beasts, acting as a pack, darted in, managing only to score a fleeting blow here and there before being flung several feet by the tremendous impacts, landing in crumpled, disfigured heaps.

Alaron reined in his horse and moved to intercept one beast, while Jorn’s incantations reached a climax behind me, a strange wave of concussion passing nearby as a large, heavily horned and armored beast was flung from its feet. Hurling through the air, it plowed into the trunk of a tree at a tremendous speed, with a loud crack is both its body and the tree as both were fractured. A twang sounded from the driver’s seat, and another beast dropped with a crossbow’s quarrel jutting from its chest, grasping and bleating its last gargling breath as it expired, kicking and thrashing on the ground.

One abomination separated from the pack and made a line directly for me, and I prepared to receive its charge. A vicious expression on its misshapen face, shot horns curling behind its skull, the thing raised a wicked club above its head and roared as it approached. Although crooked and bestial, its arms were heavily muscled, and it began to flail wildly with the club as it reached me. Skillfully dodging its clumsy attempt to pulverize me, I began to flay my opponent, piece by piece. A quick feint with my blade toward the eyes brought its arms up to protect its face – I quickly followed with a slash to the belly, then a lightning stab to the torso as it dropped its guard again. While apparently powerful, the creature was no match for my swift bladework – the thing bleated and squealed as I finally put my father’s sword smoothly through its neck, dropping he foul creature to the ground in a gout of blood and flailing limbs while it gasped it’s last breaths.

Unortunately, this caused it to sprawl directly in front of a fellow beast which I had not noticed charging from behind him, which then proceeded to hurl itself into my legs as it screamed, bringing me down along with it. I quickly scrambled to regain my footing, only to find that Alaron’s horse dispatching the new beast by trampling thoroughly it into the ground. Strong and vital though it appeared, it could not fend off the vicous rain of metal-shod hoofs as the horse reared, descended, and hammered the thing viciously into the turf, leaving only a bloody ruin before Alaron could calm him.

Now clear of immediate threats, I regained awareness of the remainder of the party. Kromaw, bloodies by several large gashes, delivered a final crushing blow to a beast’s torso with his great, meaty fist, driving the thing into the ground with a loud, wet, crunch. Kicking and lashing with its claws and hoofs, the thing suffocated, unable to breath with a crushed rib cage. As its last spasms died away, all was silent save for the heavy breathing of myself and our companions, as we sought to regain our footing. Looking about, it appeared that Kromaw’s victim was last creature to have ventured from the tree line – we were alone again.

But not for long, it seemed. A great clamor of roaring and shouting increased in volume from the depths of the forest. We could hear it approaching; though not near yet, the number must have been great for the sheer intensity of it. Whipping the horses furiously, the coachman increased speed as I attempted to catch up to the wagon. Skillfully, I obtained maximum speed and leaped onto the back, joining my companions there. Alaron galloped alongside, and Kromaw’s huge form painfully hobbled along as he grunted with the strain of forcing his bloodied legs forward. As we rounded a curve, the gates of the lodge’s wooden wall finally came into view. With a shout, Vern commanded the doors open while we maintained speed; surprised guards quickly moved to obey, hauling mightily, opening the metal-reinforced wooden doors just as we reached them. Leaving the clamor behind while the guards nervously slammed the doors behind us, we slowed to a halt in the courtyard and attempted to regain our nerve.

Slowly gathering around us was a small group of laborers and servants, gazing in consternation at our sorry state. No doubt, they should have been worried that such a fierce bunch of warriors ended up so bedraggled from a simple trip from Ubersreik to their estate – this did not bode well for the inhabitants of the lodge. An elderly face peered at us in distaste from a window in a higher floor, and several of the commoners shouted questions as to what had happened. Vern attempted to appease them; “Just a bit of bother, people, no great cause for concern, we’ve driven off a small handful of beasts on the road here. Be back about your business.” Fortunately, the stout gates closing behind us did give a bit of reassurance, and a calm began to descend on the populace of the lodge.

After a few moments as Vern directed a few able-bodied men to assist us in the unloading, the front door opened, revealing what appeared to be the lord of the place. The fine cut of his doublet coupled with his commanding voice as he addressed us served to further identify him. “Well, what have we here? Looks like you suffered a bit of trouble on the way out, what? No worry, as soon as you have my belongings in the lodge, we’ll have you looked at. Vern – get the men settled when they’ve done with their tasks, and I’ll have a short word with them after. Now, off to it!” With that last, he dismissed us, leaving us with several massive casks, crates and boxes in the courtyard. We began to remove ropes and toss them to the ground – already bloodied and sweaty, we were here at last!


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