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!