"You know, I think I preferred it when we still had a boat" said Joachim. The diverse group had finally managed to reach the coaching inn they were looking for to continue their journey. They were a mismatched group, Joachim von Polnitz, a minor (and impoverished) eastern noble with extensive training as a military surgeon. Hans Neasen, a student of both law and swordplay, with an unsavoury reputation. Margrethe Toodles, until recently a boatwoman and smuggler, and Heike Gruber, a woodswoman from a small village, now Margrethe's partner and lover.
Joachim and Hans had booked passage to Altdorf, on Margrethe's riverboat. Which had been a pleasant way to travel, until the boat was searched by the river patrol, smuggled casks of Bretonnian brandy found and confiscated, and then the boat itself impounded to pay the fines. While justice was done, they had found a notice offering very good terms for an expedition with Crown Prince Hergard von Tasseninck, and had decided to head to Altdorf to investigate this offer. However, the group were now reduced to travelling on foot to the nearest coaching inn to book a coach to Altdorf.
As they approached the "Coach and Horses" late in the evening, the group had to jump out of the way of a Four Seasons coach, as the driver whipped the horses down the road. "They'll be lucky to get where they're going before dark" observed Hans. They entered the compound around the inn, where another coach stood silent. Unable to resist the delightful cooking smells from inside, they hurried into the inn.
The landlord of the inn greeted them, a large fellow who appeared to have an endless fund of words from the way he was continually talking. Eventually the group settled for drink first and food later, and also ordered three rooms and four breakfasts. Examining the inn revealed an assorted group of travellers; the coachmen from the inn outside, busily getting extremely drunk; a noblewoman, along with her maid and bodyguard; a student of some type, and a foppish gentleman.
After the meal Joachim negotiated with the the coachmen, and managed to bargain them down from their original 15 shillings to 6 shillings for each fare to Altdorf. He booked four passages to the City, and then went up to bed. The others lingered over a quiet drink, accepting a drink from the fop, who introduced himself as Phillippe Descartes. They turned down his invitation to a "friendly game", however. "We need all our money for the journey" explained Margrethe. Hans attempted to introduce himself to the student, who explained that he was Ernst Heidelmann, and needed to study for the entrance examinations at the University of Altdorf. Soon, the group headed up to their rooms.
Early in the morning the group gathered for breakfast, along with the other passengers. They then waited for the coachmen, until it finally became clear that they weren't going to appear, and Gustav was sent to wake them. When the coachmen did finally appear, it was clear that they were obviously nursing titanic hangovers as they staggered around preparing the coach. When they finally seemed ready, the group discussed travelling arrangements, as there was only space for two left inside the coach. Margrethe and Heike offered to ride on top. Once everyone was aboard, one of the coachman disappeared back into the inn to use the facilities, reappearing twenty minutes later.
Once the coach finally got moving, it quickly became clear that the driver, Hultz, wasn't going to exert himself much, and that it would be quicker to walk. Heike took over the driving, and Hultz curled up among the noblewoman's hat boxes to sleep. Things went well for a while, until the coach ground to a halt with a wheel missing. Ignoring he noblewoman's shrill complaints about the driving, the group managed to get the wheel replaced and continue, as it began to rain. Heike and Margrethe huddled under their leather coats and hats, and pressed on.
The rain finally stopped, just after Hultz had recovered enough to take over the driving. In the crisp air, progress was good for a time, and the coach reached the main Altdorf to Nuln road relatively quickly.
Around a bend in the road the travellers saw a grisly sight. A creature was crouched over the body of a Four Seasons coachman, a human hand in its mouth. The creature turned, spat out the hand, and as the travellers were frozen in horror at the creature's rotting skin, and the green ichor seeping from its eyes, it brandished a bloody dagger and charged the coach, screaming. The horses panicked, breaking the traces and bolting, dragging Hultz behind them. The creature charge at Gunnar, the coach guard, who was fully occupied in applying the brake and stopping the coach. However, the wild charge was stopped in its tracks by a ball through the head from Margrethe's pistol, as Hans and Joachim leapt out on either side of the coach.
"What was that?" wondered Margrethe. "Goodbye Rolf" muttered Hans. Then came a great crashing sound from off the road, and just as Heike was about to fire a cry of "Don't shoot! It's me, Hultz!" Hultz had managed to get back to the coach, although without the horses. Just then a scream rang out further round the bend, alerting the group to more danger ahead. The four scouted carefully round the corner, to see an overturned coach, two of its horses still trying to struggle free as another of the mutants with a tiny head hacked at them with an axe. Another mutant with scaly skin stood guarding the area with a crossbow. Another, with a pointed head, was trying to bandage a third with a bestial face, which lay screaming on the ground. A last mutant, with cloven feet, was feasting on the body of a dead child.
An arrow from Heike took out the mutant with the crossbow, and the group retreated further round the bend and waited in ambush. As pin head charged around the corner, Heike's arrow took him in the chest. A shot from Joachim's pistol disabled pointed head, with his lower leg ruined by the ball. Cloven feet however, appeared from the bushed behind Hans, and lunged at his with his spear. Hans just barely heard his arrival, and just barely parried the thrust. A second, weaker thrust was easily parried, and Hans' riposte sheared down into its jaw and neck, killing it instantly. Hans and Joachim had no trouble in dispatching the wounded mutant.
"That was the one flaw in that plan" muttered Hans. "We had to take our eyes off them".
Margrethe went to examine the bodies, while Heike went in search of the horses, and Joachim and Hans checked on the passengers on their own coach. Margrethe found that the last mutant had died since they saw it, and relieved the scaly-skinned mutant of some coins and a ring. Checking the coach revealed the bodies of another Four Seasons coachman, two young artisans, and a half-eaten baby. Margrethe went pale and turned away, noticing another body almost hidden under a bush. Examining this body revealed that it was almost the double of Joachim at first sight, although after a few seconds she started to notice the differences. She quickly searched the body, finding papers detailing that Kastor Lieberung was travelling to Bögenhafen to collect an inheritance, as well as proof of identity.
"Hmm. What's this then" came a stern voice. Looking up, Margrethe saw five riders, clearly roadwardens. As she collected her wits the one who had spoken before added "I am Magnus Athrech of the roadwardens, and I'd like to know what happened here".
"I was travelling on a coach to Altdorf, when we were attacked by a creature" answered Margrethe. "We killed it, and then heard a scream further on and came to investigate. There was a fight, and the creatures that attacked the coach were killed - you can see two of the bodies here. The rest of us are back around the bend a little with the coach, while I came to see if anyone here can be helped".
"In that case, I think you should be commended for your public service" replied Magnus, as the roadwardens began to examine the scene. Margrethe fetched Joachim, to show him the body and papers. "Well, obviously these papers should be returned to the solicitors then" he answered. Margrethe rolled her eyes.
Eventually the roadwardens finished their examination, loaded the bodies into the Four Seasons coach, and using two of their own horses set off for the next coaching inn. Meanwhile Heike had found the horses, and the group's own coach was ready to continue. The remainder of the journey to the Seven Spokes coaching inn was quiet, apart from the noblewoman's frequent complaints about the horrors she had been subjected to, and a minor argument about their course of action.
"Look, estate, two thousand crowns, well stocked wine cellar pointed out Heike.
"If nobody claims the money it'll just go to the Emperor" added Margrethe.
"It would be entirely dishonourable to try to get the money by deceit" declared Joachim. Margrethe buried her head in her hands in despair.
"We can at least look round" put in Hans, trying to defer a decision until later as Joachim grew more stubborn. "We'll decide what to do about it later"
The Seven Spokes coaching inn was unremarkable, and the tired group were happy to have a drink and hot meal, before retiring early. The noblewoman and her retinue booked passage for the remainder of the trip on a Four Seasons coach.
With three less people in the coach, all the travellers were able to sit inside the coach for the rest of the trip. All they saw on the road all day were a couple of other coaches, heading out of Altdorf, and a company of cavalry, riding in splendid formation. Finally, they reached Altdorf in the early evening, as the coach drew up in the Königplatz overlooking the river.
"Keep hold of your luggage as you get out" warned Hans, "the touts try to grab them, and some of them are just thieves - if they get your bag they'll disappear in the crowd and you'll never see it again. Finally, the group, still with baggage, were able to fight clear of the crowd of touts and get their first proper look at Altdorf.
The group then noticed two men approaching them. While one looked about, the other scratched his left ear with the little finger of his right hand, while staring at Joachim. This was repeated several times, becoming more exaggerated each time. Finally Hans went to enquire what the men were doing, but just as he reached them, their worried expressions changed to ones of relief, and they hurried over to where a stocky man stood near a doorway to a house, following the man through the doorway.
The confused friends might have investigated further. But for a more welcome meeting. With a huge cry of "Greta, what a surprise, it's me, Josef", a burly fellow with a huge beard joined them. Margrethe introduced him as Josef Quartjin, who she had known for more than ten years.
"Why don't we head to a place I know of near here, and down a bottle or two of wine?". asked Josef.
"A bottle or two each", queried Heike.
"Ah, but you be a lass after me own heart" exclaimed Josef.
The company then decamped to the Boatman Inn, for several bottles of wine. Josef expressed his sympathy at Margrethe losing her boat, and made her and her friends an offer. "I've got a cargo to move to Bögenhafen now, and I could do with some crew. I'll pay a shilling a day for the two of you who know how to handle a boat, and the others can travel for free. How's that sound?". Needless to say, the friends were quick to accept. "Good idea", acknowledged Josef, "after all the Bögenhafen Schaffenfest shouldn't be missed! Here, take a look at this handbill I picked up". He showed them a handbill advertising the annual Schaffenfest at Bögenhafen.
The convivial evening was marred by the arrival first of a sinister scarred man in black leather ("Max Ernst" muttered Josef, "A cruel and heartless thug"), and then a couple of young nobles and their quartet of bodyguards. As Margrethe and Heike moved to shield Hans from their view, they behaved in truly obnoxious fashion, describing the inn as a "Quaint Establishment" and its patrons as "smelly oicks". The friends ignored them until they progressed to a game of throwing up their ale over anyone nearby. Sadly, Heike was nearby. Twice. As she prepared to leave, Max Ernst strutted over and began to both threaten and insult her.
"I wouldn't if I were you, pea-brain" he rasped, "Why don't you just sit there and enjoy the fun". In similar vein he continued "Why don't you country bumpkins wash the swill off before coming to a civilised city?".
Margrethe had had enough. She grabbed an empty wine bottle and swung with all her might at Max's head. Despite his reputation, Max didn't see the blow coming, and was stretched on the floor unconscious. Joachim checked him over, and proclaimed him alive, but possibly with a fractured skull. The inn's patrons applauded, as Max was dragged off and dumped outside.
After that incident, the nobles soon decided to look for more fun elsewhere. Meanwhile, Margrethe was working through many bottles of wine bought by boatmen delighted to see Max get what he deserved.
As the friends followed Josef to his boat, the Berebeli, they realised that they were being followed. Heike remained behind to watch the followers, and was surprised to see the two men from the Königplatz earlier that evening. She was even more surprised when they were both shot down by an unseen crossbowman! She quickly rejoined the others, to tell them of the incident.
More trouble was to follow the next morning, as the news spread among the river folk that one of the nobles who had visited the Boatman Inn the previous night had been killed, and word reached Josef that Margrethe and her companions were wanted by the Watch. Josef quickly set off for Weissbruck!
A little way outside Altdorf, the group were disturbed to notice that they were being shadowed by Roadwardens, riding along the tow-path. The patrol quickly headed for the barge, trotting alongside. As Margrethe hid below, Josef brought the barge into the bank. The leader of the patrol warned them that they were off to investigate reports of bandits in the area. He also mentioned that a noble and two artisans had been killed in Altdorf the previous night.
On arrival in Weissbruck, after a three-day journey, the friends were surprised to see a shadowy figure with a crossbow slung over his back, who they recognised as the stocky man who met the cultists from the Königplatz. He then disappeared into a riverside inn. The friends investigated inside the inn, but he had gone straight through a back door and vanished. Enquiries at the bar revealed that the man in question is Adolphus Kuftos, a bounty hunter.
The characters returned to the boat to lie low, since they are leaving for Bögenhafen in the morning. Fortunately for them, they decided to post a guard on the boat that night. During Heike and Hans' watch, a crossbow bolt thudded into the rail of the boat just below Heike's chest - had the rail not been there it would probably have killed her. Heike looked wildly about for her attacker, and spotted a man reloading a crossbow in the shadows. As she took aim on the main, two figures appeared from the darkness, hurling burning missiles - Molotov cocktails!
While Hans and then Josef struggled to put out the flames, Heike's shot caused her target to fall, and her next shot disabled one of the men throwing Molotov cocktails. The other two fled into the darkness. While Joachim and Heike investigated ashore, the rest fell to putting out the fires started by the Molotov cocktails.
On shore, Adolphus Kuftos - the man with the crossbow - had bled to death, while the second casualty, apparently a common thug, was little better. Joachim was still stabilising him when the watch arrived, but even with expert care his survival was far from certain.
Josef had summoned the watch, since it seemed the safest course with bodies all around. With Josef and other boatmen as witnesses, the watch declared it "self-defence" and allowed the group to go, taking the surviving thug into custody.
Josef and crew set off for Bögenhafen at first light, eager to be away from Weissbruck. The trip is quiet.
It was a crisp, clear day, early in the afternoon, when the Berebeli finally arrived in Bögenhafen. Josef went off to see Herr Ruggbroder, a local merchant, about his cargo, while the four travellers set off, to find the solicitors. They weren't exactly surprised when their enquiries failed to locate either the solicitors Lock, Stöck and Barl, or a street named Garten Weg. With a shrug, they set off to the Schaffenfest.
One of their first stops at the festival was the medicine show, where an assortment of characters were hawking assorted nostrums such as "Doctor Zeuss' Wonder Tonic". "Charlatans, all of them" snorted Joachim, until they came to one of the stalls. A middle-aged woman was selling the usual tonics, but also had a fair selection of herbs. Joachim eagerly took the opportunity to resupply his medical bag, and fell to chatting with the woman.
Nice to see someone who knows his herbs from his... elbow" She admitted. "My name's Elvyra Kleinestun. If you're ever in Wissenbruck and you want to learn more about them, come see me."
While Joachim negotiated, Heike rejoined the group - she had headed for the livestock market with Margrethe. "We'll call him fluffy" she said, indicating the small black kitten nestling on the top of the gear in her pack. Margrethe had made a small purchase from a stall vending "the best mousers in The Empire".
The friends gave the wrestling ring a wide berth, headed for the freak show. There, a man in bright clothing was drumming up a crowd for the show. Behind him stood two wagons, one with a banner proclaiming "Doctor Malthusius' Zoocopeia - Strange creatures from all corners of the world". After a few minutes, a three-legged goblin, which had chewed through its rope, squeezed through the bars of its cage and tried to escape. Hans was able to grab it as it went by, and other members of the crowd quickly helped bring it under control.
"Thank you my friends, thank you", said the brightly-dressed man, "My thanks for stopping a most valuable exhibit from escaping. Here take these, and please come back in an hour and see the show for free." He handed a few shillings around those who had helped capture the goblin.
As they headed for the jousting, the group saw a pitiful figure in the stocks outside the festival court. A small, scruffy, man, apparently only just conscious, lay spattered with rotting fruit. As they approached he looked up. "Please, have you got a shilling to pay my fine? Please help me".
Margrethe's heart was touched, and she decided to pay the fine; entering the festival court tent and paying a shilling to the clerk there. The small man, Gunnar Gurnissen, was effusive in his thanks.
"Thank you so much you're my bestest friend ever" he declared, before announcing "This is my bestest friend ever" at the top of his voice. "How about we go have a drink, eh?". It didn't take long for Margrethe to become annoyed enough to give him two pennies for a drink just to get rid of him, while Heike was seething with jealousy.
The friends moved on to watch the jousting for a while, before returning to watch the Freak Show. On the way, they saw that Gunnar was back in the stocks. Heike and Hans took the opportunity to buy some rotten fruit this time - a less sympathetic reaction.
At the freak show, as Doctor Malthusius' assistant - a rather seedy-looking individual - was leading the goblin out, it suddenly turned, bit him savagely on the hand, and made a break for freedom. People in the crowd were screaming and running in all directions, as the goblin reached the town wall, where it vanished through a rusted and broken grating. The watch were quickly summoned, and their investigations quickly revealed that the grate covered a ventilation hole into the town's sewers. Soon Malthusius, along with the group, were taken to see Magistrate Richter at the festival court.
"This could be a problem for the town", said Richter, after hearing the story. "The watch are already at full stretch keeping order at the Schaffenfest". However, I can see from your appearance that you are resourceful people, and I understand that one of you has had a hand in recapturing this goblin already. I am therefore prepared to offer a reward of ten gold crowns for clearing the creature out of the sewers."
"And I'll give the same for the safe return of my exhibit" added Malthusius.
The friends weren't quite sure why they were receiving this offer, but it was tempting enough for them to accept. Before long their luggage - complete with kitten - had been taken to the Journey's End inn near the east gate, and they found themselves climbing down a ladder into a noisesome sewer. The sewer was dark and smelly. Very smelly. The four intrepid hunters wrapped cloths around their mouths and noses, but still the stench was almost overpowering.
It was fairly straightforward to find the end of the tunnel where the goblin had entered the sewers, and it seemed to have cut itself as there was a trail of blood leading back the way they had come. Heike's tracking skills were very useful as they followed the blood.
The four found themselves becoming increasingly nervous as they followed the trail, speaking in hushed voices. Once or twice they thought they heard a muffled cough, or a stealthy footstep. At one point Heike noticed a worn section of the walkway, which could have pitched her into the effluent. She almost did fall in as a pack of rats burst past her, squealing loudly at having been disturbed by the light. The groups boots protected them, as the rats scurried away to new hiding places.
Finally, the trail of blood led to something they hadn't expected to find in a sewer - a door! Blood on the door seemed to indicate that the goblin had squeezed through a small grille in the door. Margrethe tried to hold the lantern up and look through the grille, but couldn't see much. Trying to open the door, she found that it was bolted. Finally, Margrethe decided to break the door open, and with a couple of charges managed to do so.
Beyond the door lay a room. There was some furniture in the room, and on the floor in front of the door, a pentagram was inscribed within a copper circle. To the left of the door lay a pile of bones, prominent among which was a pelvis with three sockets! As Margrethe debated what to do, a cloud of smoke formed in the pentagram, beginning to coalesce into a vaguely-humanoid form. That decided Margrethe - demons weren't in the contract. She grabbed the pelvis and hurried from the room, followed by the others. All but Hans.
Hans lived for challenges, and here was a challenge indeed! He drew his long sword, and headed for the door. Standing in the doorway, he quickly aimed a thrust at the demon's chest, but the demon stepped back, its eyes glowing red within the smoke still surrounding it. "Leave" it bellowed, in a rasping, ugly voice, and gestured. Hans found himself caught by an invisible force, thrown across to the other side of the sewer tunnel, where he hit the wall hard, twisting his right ankle. From there he bounced back across the walkway, and slid into the effluent.
Deciding that discretion may be the better part of valour, Hans pulled himself out of the filth and joined the others for the trip back to the manhole where they had entered. They made it back in good time, and three of them were soon back at the in, while Hans headed for a "refreshing" dip in the river and a change of clothes. Joachim treated Hans' ankle, which wasn't a serious injury although it had been painful at the time. After that, it was time for some much-needed sleep, although sleep was hard to find that night.
In the morning, Hans was pleased to discover that his ankle was pretty much healed; in large measure due to Joachim's expert doctoring. He, along with the others, were less pleased when they were presented with a bill for 24 shillings by the Journey's End inn. Apparently the goblin had been killed elsewhere while they were in the sewers. After much grumbling, they paid, left fluffy in the care of the inn's maid, and went to see Magistrate Richter.
Arriving at the festival court, Richter's clerk Andrea greeted them. "I'm afraid Herr Richter is presiding over a case involving two brawling labourers", she apologised, "if you can come back in fifteen minutes he'll be free by then". The group wandered the Schaffenfest for a few minutes, before returning to the festival court, where they were immediately shown in to see Magistrate Richter.
"I have bad news for you, I'm afraid" explained Richter. "The watch tell me that the goblin you were searching for was killed by falling crates in Warehouse four, by the river, about an hour after you entered the sewers. As a result, I'm unable to authorise payment of your reward." The group were stunned, but declined to say anything so soon. "We want to take some time to be sure of our facts", said Joachim, "We'll be back once we have done so."
If Richter had seemed sympathetic to their position, the clerk at the Town Hall seemed less so. "The Goblin was killed in a warehouse last night" he announced, "and so I can't authorise any payments." The group argued their case, and also asked where the goblin's body was being kept. "I have no idea" replied the clerk, stiffly.
Finally the clerk disappeared through a door behind his desk for a full half hour. When he returned, they saw he was holding several sheets of paper and a small pouch of coins. "I have been authorised to pay you the sum of one crown each, as payment for expenses incurred while on official business for the town of Bögenhafen. Sign here please." Examining the papers revealed that they were an acceptance of one crown as a full payment of expenses for their employment. They signed, and were given the money.
Leaving the town hall, the friends took the opportunity to pace out the streets. As best they could calculate, the door had been below an office building near the Adel Ring. Enquiries revealed the offices to belong to the Steinhäger family. It appeared that at least some of the rich and influential citizens of the town were involved in this.
Next the group went to see Doctor Malthusius, who appeared philosophical about the loss of the goblin. "I'm told it was killed in a warehouse.". Joachim explained their reservations about this story, and showed Malthusius the pelvis, explaining about the demon in the sewers.
So that's why they wouldn't give me the body" exclaimed Malthusius, "I was hoping to have it stuffed as an exhibit!" He looked serious. "If you're planning to investigate this further then be very careful. Personally, although my curiosity and my better nature urge me to become involved, I'm glad I'm leaving town the day after tomorrow. But if you do want to find out more, you could try the town library as a place to start."
Hans and Joachim set off for the town library, where they met Greta Harbokka, the librarian. She explained the workings of the town council to them, and also introduced them to the four great merchant families, the Ruggbroders, the Steinhägers, the Haagens and the Teugens. While at the library, they also overheard a comment from one patron to another about a crazy man preaching in one of the town squares; something about "The fate of the town will be shown in the face of the moon". Heading for the square the man had already gone.
Leaving the square, the four headed for the river to interview the watchman of the warehouse where the goblin was allegedly killed. Anton, the watchman, was at first leery of the strangers, but after a small inducement he proudly boasted how he had killed the goblin with his club. He denied that the goblin had been killed by falling crates, "No, I killed it with my club", he insisted.
With several of their suspicions confirmed, the four headed back to see Magistrate Richter again. This time they showed him the pelvis, and told him the full story of their investigation in the sewers. Herr Richter was understandably concerned. "If what you tell me is true, then there is every reason for concern. However, before I can act against such prominent citizens I will need more proof. Perhaps if you can confirm that this underground temple is still there, complete with demon, I could arrange for workmen or even the watch to find it, and provide corroborating evidence?"
Leaving Richter, the four went back to the boat and Josef. With his help, they were able to hire a rowing boat, and at dusk set out along the river; entering the sewers through a rusted outlet. As they headed along the major sewer tunnel in the direction of the temple they made a grisly find - Gunnar's body, his clothes caught on a sharp corner of rock. He had been mutilated, and there was a huge hole in his chest where his heart had been cut or torn out.
"Hmmm. Definitely made by sharp instruments these, not claws or bites" explained Joachim, whose professional instincts had cut in while the others were still recovering from the shock. Leaving the body, they made their way to the door, which lay directly upstream from the body.
The door was bolted again, and a look through the grille with a lantern confirmed that it had been stripped bare; even the pentagram was gone. So that was their evidence, predictably missing. It was a disconsolate quartet that made their way out of the sewers again.
It came as something of a shock to everyone to find that Morrslieb, the Chaos moon, was full, when it had only been crescent last night. "The fate of the town will be shown in the face of the moon", muttered Joachim. "We have to see that crazy man", replied Hans. But for now, it was time to return to the inn, and enjoy a hot meal and a warm bed.
First thing in the morning, the four went back to see Richter and let him know what they had found, but when they reached the festival court they were disappointed.
"He went home ill yesterday afternoon" explained Andrea, the clerk. "Said he felt really bad".
"Did he have any visitors" asked Hans.
"After you left yesterday? Only Reiner Goetrin, the captain of the watch. He came in a little while before Herr Richter started feeling ill. If you're business is really important you could try to see him at home".
Disappointed, the quartet decided that something was suspicious, and they should indeed visit the magistrate at home. Joachim managed to talk his way past Gilda, Richter's housekeeper by explaining that "I know something of medical matters".
"You can wait in the sitting room then, since Physician Reinhold Heichtdorn is with Herr Richter now." Gilda told the group. In short time, the physician came out of Richter's room, and began putting his coat on.
"Keep him warm Gilda, there's a good woman", he instructed. As Joachim tried to introduce himself, Heichtdorn interrupted "I'm afraid I've no time. Come and see me at the physicians' guild house if you need anything." He left, hurriedly, and Gilda ushered Joachim in to see Herr Richter.
Joachim had to admit, the disease was something very unusual. Herr Richter had a very high temperature, and his forehead looked swollen. But there was something vaguely familiar in these symptoms... "Aha!" exclaimed Joachim, as his memory snapped into focus. He strode from the room. "Come on, I need to pay a visit to the physicians' guild" he told the others.
At the guild house, Joachim was quickly admitted to see physician Heichtdorn. He began explaining the disease, with much flattery thrown in; this was a risky visit, the guild frowned on unlicensed physicians. "While I wouldn't dream of depriving you of your patient, or wish my part in this to become public, I have experience from several years ago from my Army days with a similar case. I think you'll find that the following preparation will most likely effect a cure for this "purple brain fever" that I am convinced, through my humble skills, that ails Herr Richter."
"I'm very glad to accept your assistance in this case" answered Heichtdorn, accepting the proffered paper, "since I have only heard of one other case like this in Bögenhafen, several years ago at that, and in that case the victim died."
"Who was the victim, might I inquire?" asked Joachim.
"Karl Teugen, the head of the Teugen family".
"Hmm." answered Joachim, thoughtfully.
Joachim rejoined the others, and they headed for the town square where the crazy man was supposed to be preaching. This time he was there, and he appeared to be as crazy as supposed. However, sometimes his ramblings seemed to make an odd sort of sense.
"Doom, the doom is upon us. I see seven and I see nine, all they have will be mine, mine, mine. The end is nigh, repent and abhor your sins."
As Hans and Heike headed towards the man, he looked past them at Joachim and screamed "The mark is among you, beware the bringer of chaos!" With that, the crazy man turned and ran.
Leaving the square, as inconspicuously as possible, the four headed for the Watch barracks to interview Reiner Goetrin. As they chatted to the sergeant about the "goblin affair", he told them that "The Captain seems well peeved about the whole thing; he spent the whole day yesterday in his office writing reports and complaints, didn't stir once!".
The sergeant also mentioned that "Anton, the watchman was found face-down in the river this morning. Amount he drank, everybody knew it was only a matter of time before he had the accident!" The group asked to see the captain about an "impersonator", and explained that he had been seen visiting Magistrate Richter the previous day, which he had apparently spent in his office. They also asked about the goblin case.
"The goblin case is closed from above" answered the Captain with a black look, "But I'll certainly look into the matter of impersonation - that could be very serious." With that, the group left the barracks.
That evening, Heike and Margrethe kept watch on the Steinhäger offices, from the vantage point of a nearby inn. The offices seemed to be deserted shortly after dusk, when Franz Steinhäger left. As he left, a piece of paper dropped unnoticed from his pocket. Heike retrieved the note, which was an announcement of a meeting at Teugen's house. "All the inner circle must attend".
The group decided to keep watch on Teugen's large house on the Adel Ring. They saw six people head towards the house during the evening. On their way back from this, they realised they were surrounded by a group of thugs, both in front and behind. One of the thugs spoke.
"We've got a message for you. Keep your noses out of what don't concern you or you might wake up one morning at the bottom of the river. Why don't you try your luck somewhere else, eh? I hear that Altdorf is lovely at this time of year."
The thugs then disappeared into the night. The four decided to sleep on the boat that night, with a watch posted, and made their way there under a Morrslieb that was even larger than the night before, looming over the town.
In the morning, grasping at the last few clues left to them, Hans and Joachim went to the library. Joachim's researched unlikely references to "seven" or "nine" (from the crazy man's speech). After a whole morning's work, Joachim finally found a reference to an "Ordo Septenarius" as a donator to the library. Asking Greta about this, she explained that it seemed to a charitable organisation, most members being merchants, and admitted that they had donated money to the library several times.
Joachim had taken almost as long to find a clear reference to Morrsleib or the sewers, apart from vague references to the smaller moon as being connected with chaos. Finally he found a relevant fragment:
"When the moon doth grow unnaturally in the sky, a time of change and flux shall ensue, the Great Mutator shall then take his pleasure and mortals will feed his hunger."
After finding that it didn't take long to discover that the Great Mutator was a title often ascribed to the Lord of Chaos in his aspect of Tzeentch!
Meanwhile, Margrethe and Heike were tracking down the less savoury citizens of the town. Research finally led them to the Crossed Pikes inn, near the Watch barracks, where they met Franz Baumann at the bar. Finally, they came to an arrangement - Margrethe and Heike would pile coins on the bar, and when Franz decided they'd piled enough, he'd let them know something about their interests. As they piled quite a few shillings on the bar, they learned several interesting facts:
"The door into the sewers from under the Steinhäger offices was installed between a year and eighteen months ago."
"Members of the Steinhäger family and other nobles have been seen going into the office at all hours of the day and night several times over the last few months."
"Strange noises have been heard from behind the door in the sewers; including chanting and the occasional scream."
"Nobody's ever seen the door open, although mutilated corpses have been found occasionally in the sewers downstream of the door. The corpses have almost always had their hearts cut out."
"We knew Gunnar Gurnissen, he was an alcoholic small-timer, been around for a couple of months. Several beggars have died the same way over the last year."
Realising that they'd got all they were going to, the pair took their leave of the inn, rejoining Joachim and Hans. They finally decided on a bold ploy - they'd call at the merchants' guildhouse, posing as a noble and his retinue. They explained that Joachim wanted to make certain anonymous charitable donations, and perhaps the Ordo Septenarius could handle them for him?
The group was asked to wait for a few minutes, and then shown in to see Freidrich Magirius, a merchant and town councillor. He seemed to know exactly who they were, and ignoring their cover story told them that "It seems to me this is no more than a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. If you will do me the honour of dining with me, I'll explain the whole business to you. I can assure you that there is nothing sinister about it all."
Agreeing to the meal, the four were taken to the Golden Trout, an exclusive club. Magirius took them to the dining room, where they ordered food and wine. Conversation over the meal was restricted to small-talk about the wool and wine trades, Magirius insisting that he will talk about the order after the meal.
After the meal, sitting back with brandy, from a decanter ordered by Magirius, the four listened as he explained. "I can see how this series of misunderstandings has arisen. I suppose it's only natural, since we prefer to keep our society confidential. The Ordo Septenarius is a club, if you like, and most of the members are drawn from the merchant families of the town. There are forty-nine members in all - forty-two ordinary members and an Inner Council of seven. We represent a kind of elite within the guild, and co-operate with each other in order to reap the greatest profit for all. We also make donations to the churches and library, and run a soup kitchen in The Pit for the relief of the poor, in association with the church.
"There are various reasons why we prefer to remain nameless - many of our members are councillors like myself, and many more are in a position to stand for office if we choose. People in this position would be open to accusations of bribery and electioneering if they were to engage in these charitable activities openly, and it would be a shame if the poor were to suffer because we were afraid to do anything for them.
"Also, our co-operation in mercantile ventures is bound to incite a certain amount of bad feeling amongst our competitors. As things are, people are aware that some co-operation is going on, but they don't know who is involved; thus, they cannot openly accuse any individual of malpractice or take any reprisals - and their suspicions tend to work against them, giving us even more of an advantage.
"So you understand our need for secrecy. There are many who would reap great political advantage by discovering the membership of the Ordo, and some of our junior members might be tempted by their offers. We need to offer them some encouragement to abide by the rules of the society. Because of this the workings of the Ordo are wrapped in a certain amount of ritual - or, should I say, the semblance of ritual - with various ceremonies, oaths and grades of initiation. I find that nothing concentrates the mind on thoughts of allegiance like participation in ceremony and the promise of promotion."
After that, the gathering soon broke up. Magirius refused to answer any more questions about the Ordo, explaining that "I have already given you a complete explanation, which I was under no compulsion to do! The workings of the Ordo do require a certain amount of secrecy, which I may already have breached. I will say no more."
After the meeting it was getting dark. The features on the face of Morrslieb were now very prominent, and the moon appeared to hang over the town, not far above the height of the tallest buildings. As the four returned to Josef's boat, the eyes in the face appeared to open, and follow them. All through the night, the moon stared at the town, occasionally licking its lips with a thick red tongue. The four huddled on the boat, and tried to sleep between their watches.
As the quartet broke their fast, they were surprised to find that they had a visitor - Freidrich Magirius. He bustled in, looking pale and worried, insisting they go below to hear what he had to say.
"When Teugen came to us from Nuln", explained Magirius, "he told us that with our help he could influence the entire economy of The Empire. Bögenhafen would become great, greater even than Marienburg, and we would all become rich beyond our wildest dreams. That is why the Ordo was established, and the lower ranks are no more than a smokescreen.
"Everything was going according to plan until you discovered the temple below the Steinhäger offices. I was instructed to reassure you - to make you go away, so that preparations could go on.
"The ritual will take place tonight. I don't know where yet, but I will get word to you as soon as I can. Teugen said that a human sacrifice will be necessary to prepare the new temple, and that was too much for me. I didn't realise anyone would have to be killed. You must help me. Going to the authorities is useless - Teugen and the Inner Council control them all. You are my only hope.
"But why would a respected merchant get involved in this in the first place?" asked Hans
"I thought at first that, as I said, the rituals were simply a smokescreen, to make the members take the secrecy of the organisation seriously. It's only now, that I realise that Teugen intends to use some foul sorcerous ritual involving human sacrifice to achieve his ends. I'm not sure the others will back out. Some of them are in much deeper than me, and they can't expose Teugen without compromising themselves. That's why I came to you.
"Take this letter, it accompanied the scroll Teugen received a few days ago, which he intends to use for the ritual. I have to go, I can't be seen with you. I'll contact you as soon as I know where the ritual is to be held." Magirius hastily left, checking the way was clear as he did so.
"Well, that explains a lot, doesn't it?" exclaimed Heike.
"No wonder we were getting nowhere" added Hans, "with the council making sure we didn't."
"I suggest we lay low until the message arrives" suggested Joachim, a suggestion the others quickly agreed to.
The day seemed to crawl past, until late in the afternoon when they were visited by a messenger in Magirius' livery. He delivered a note to them, and quickly left.
The quartet lay low that day, waiting for the message from Magirius. Finally, one came - a young boy delivered the message and then promptly left. But it wasn't the message they were expecting. Instead, it read
"I must see you urgently. Please come to my house on the Adel Ring as soon as you are able. Magirius."
"It's a trap" said Heike and Joachim almost together. The others agreed.
"Why would he tell us how he couldn't be seen with us, and then invite us to his house" pointed out Margrethe.
"It's a trap. But we don't have a choice" replied Joachim.
So the group set off to the Adel Ring. At Magirius' house they were let in by the same boy who delivered the message, and shown into Magirius' office. At first the office seemed to be deserted, papers lying in order on the huge oak desk. But when they looked behind the desk they found a pool of blood, soaking into the carpet from the body of Freidrich Magirius!
There was a message scrawled in blood on the side of the desk, Magirius' last message to the group. It read "WHSE 1..", but the last figure was either a three or a seven, they couldn't tell.
"Warehouse 13 or 17", said Margrethe, "but which one?"
Just then the air was rent with a cry of "Help! Help! Murder!" from the front of the house. The boy appeared in the doorway, a sardonic smile on his face.
"You know" he said, "you really ought to have minded your own business." His mocking laughter trailed behind them as the group bolted for the back door, even as the watch were coming in the front.
The friends dashed through the garden of Magirius' house, and over the back wall. Quickly they set off into the alleyways of Bögenhafen, and after a few minutes frenzied pursuit, they managed to lose the watchmen chasing them.
"The Ostendamm", suggested Hans, "Let's check out the warehouse."
As they made their way to the Ostendamm, where the warehouses lined the river, they noticed a large crowd gathered near a burning building. Suddenly, someone who looked exactly like Heike dashed away from the crowd, past the group and into an alley. The mob were in pursuit, crying "Stop! Fire-raisers! String them up!". Framed again, the four wisely chose to run rather than protest their innocence.
Eventually the group managed to get away from the mob, only to be recognised by a watch patrol. After a frenzied chase through the streets, they finally managed to avoid the patrol, and find a secluded route through to the Ostendamm.
As the four friends headed for the Ostendamm, they were confronted by a group of 8 thugs, wearing leather and armed with clubs. The thugs charged, but Joachim and Heike each shot one down. Two lunged at Hans, who moved so that one got in the other's way. A thrust from Hans ran the nearest through, killing him on the spot, while Margrethe wounded another. The remaining thugs had had enough, and turned and ran. The friends ran too, rather than face the watch.
It was almost dark as the group reached the Ostendamm. Warehouse 17 was owned by the Ruggbroder family, so they checked warehouse 13, which bore the Teugen family symbol. The warehouse wasn't locked, and inside were crates of bottled fruit.
After a brief discussion, Hans hid upstairs in the warehouse, while the others concealed themselves among the crates, and waited patiently. Shortly after dark a cart arrived outside, and Franz Steinhäger and two labourers unloaded several sacks. As the labourers drove the cart away, Steinhäger began to lay out a copper circle, drawing a pentagram inside with salt, and setting silver candlesticks at the points.
Half-an-hour later, several carriages arrived outside. Teugen, his cousin Gideon, and five others entered the warehouse, and began to put on their white Ordo Septenarius robes and make other preparations. Soon everything was ready, but the Ordo appeared to be waiting for something.
A short while later, another cart drew up outside the warehouse, and two thugs brought in a large, heavy sack. Teugen and Steinhäger opened it, revealing a young woman, bound hand and foot. She was laid in the middle of the pentagram. The members of the Inner Circle, now dressed in white robes showing the symbol of the Ordo, (a beasts head inside a five-pointed star) on the chest, and long pointed head-dresses, came to stand in a circle around the pentagram.
As Teugen drew a dagger, the others began chanting rhythmically. Teugen passed the blade ceremonially through the flames of each of the candles, and then stood over the woman, the dagger high above his head.
At that point, Heike struck. Her arrow pierced Teugen through the chest, killing him instantly. Before he had even hit the ground, Joachim and Margrethe had both shot Gideon, killing him as well!
Pandemonium raged, as Hans leaped down the stairs and secured the doors, so that nobody could escape. After a quick consultation, and securing the surrender of the Inner Council, the four released the young woman, leaving her with a dagger and the remaining members of the Inner Council. Taking Teugen's purse they left the warehouse, and were surprised to see Josef and the Berebeli nearby.
"I was thinking you might need a lift" said Josef. Quickly the group boarded the boat and left town. Wanted once more for murder and this time arson too!
The Berebeli was well upstream of Bögenhafen by mid-morning, as Hans noticed a body drifting towards them. He quickly fetched a boat hook and fished it out of the river as is went past. The body was human, killed by wounds from several crossbow bolts, some of which still pierced the body.
As the Berebeli continued on round a bend in the river, the crew were confronted by a boat, a medium trading boat similar to the Berebeli, apparently adrift on the river, corpses littering its decks. All remained quiet, apart from the soft hooting of an owl.
Hans used his boat hook to help the Berebeli pull alongside the drifting boat. Hans prepared to board the boat, with Joachim and Margrethe just behind him, and Heike keeping watch with her bow drawn.
As Hans boarded the boat. a mutant flew down from the trees along the bank, her spear opening a deep gash along Hans' hip. Heike took her chance, and her first arrow sank deep into the mutant's belly. She plummeted into the river, and was lost from view.
Suddenly, two more mutants, one with a bestial face and another with a vicious beak in place of his mouth and nose, appeared from the cabin and moved to the attack. The first was killed by a pistol shot to the belly from Joachim, while the second was disabled as Margrethe's pistol ball smashed his hip.
As the wounded mutant lay screaming on the deck, a tentacle had appeared from the water and grabbed Heike, pulling her towards the water. Hans leapt to her side, and his savage swing severed the tentacle. Spurting blood, it withdrew into the water, and was not seen again.
The fight over, Hans dispatched the wounded mutant, and all four began to examine the corpses. Three were human, a man and woman in their mid-twenties, and a man in his forties, the remaining two mutants, one with a skull face and stalked eyes, the other with birds legs, a furry tail, and an eye in the end of his nose.
After searching the bodies and the cabin, the group headed down to the hold. It seemed deserted, but Margrethe noticed the lid of one of the many crates below move slightly. Surrounding the crate, Hans opened the lid, to a loud scream!
Inside the crate was a cowering young woman, dressed in bright colours. As she saw who had opened the crate, she dropped her knife and almost collapsed with relief, needing to be helped out.
After recovering a little, the woman introduced herself as Renate Hausier, a pedlar from Grunburg, and told her story.
"I have been working the Bögenhafen area for the last few weeks, and, since I was in the outlying villages at the time, decided to head for Weissbruck. So I joined this boat at Herzhald. I was in the hold when the mutants attacked. I looked out, and saw this horrible skull-faced creature. I knew I ought to fight, but all I could do was run. In the end I hid in here and hoped no-one would notice me."
Escorting Renate on deck, she was able to identify the three human bodies. "They are Fritz Segel, the boat's owner and captain, and his son and daughter-in-law Albrecht and Heidi."
Coming on to the deck from the Berebeli, Josef greeted Margrethe warmly. "Well lass, looks like you're a captain again". He turned to the others and explained "On the river it's common custom to work a salvaged boat until you can trace any next-of-kin, and keep any profits as a salvage fee. So at least for now, the boat's yours."
So, the four took the boat, and the seventy-five sacks of wool in the hold, and headed for Weissbruck, with Renate travelling with them. Josef meanwhile, went his own way, and gradually over the rest of the day, the two boats lost touch.
A little after midday, the boat was finally tied at the docks of Weissbruck. They were greeted by a strange pair, who appeared to be pedlars. While one began his patter about his fine goods, the other looked directly at Joachim, while making a strange gesture, with the thumb of his right hand against his right ear, palm forward, and fingers spread. The four quickly moved away.
Renate left the group at Weissbruck, while they went in search of a merchant to buy the wool they'd found in the boat. They found a Herr Hohenzoll, who after some negotiation paid 95 crowns for the wool. The group decided to invest the money in iron, to carry up the canal.
The group decided to decamp to a canalside inn, to celebrate their newfound wealth. Most of the river folk there were discussing the death of Crown Prince Hergard von Tasseninck, who's notice calling for adventurers had originally attracted them to Altdorf. A number of the river folk were also commenting on the number of mutant corpses found floating down the Reik just south of Kemperbad. One described how "Only the other week we pulled one out of the river with bright green fur and four eyes on stalks".
After a small celebration, the quartet move on to find Elvyra Kleinestun, who had offered Joachim training in herbalism when they met at Bögenhafen. As she had said, they had no difficulty finding her home; a small but well-kept two-up two-down cottage at the edge of the town. However, the building appeared deserted, and as they approached nearer they noticed that one of the windows was broken, apparently smashed from the outside; the plants from the window box lying scattered on the street in broken pots.
Deciding to investigate, Margrethe picked the simple lock on the front door. Inside all was quiet. The parlour had been thoroughly wrecked, as if by a violent struggle. As they inspected the room, Hans found a note. It read "This is your final warning! Deliver the goods to the red barn by sunset tonight".
Moving on through the house, the quartet found that the kitchen and bedrooms had all been ransacked. However, in the kitchen they found a door to a cellar, hidden behind a tall cupboard. The stairs behind it lead downstairs to a cellar. As they opened the door, a small, indistinct shape shot down the stairs, and into the darkness of the cellar. Following with a lit candle, they found that the shape was a young girl, aged around ten.
Heike managed to calm the girl, and they discovered that she was Liza Sauber, an orphan who lives with Elvyra. When asked about Elvyra, she told her story.
"A few days ago some men came to see Elvyra, and left after a lot of shouting. Then late yesterday, Elvyra had told me to go down to the cellar and stay there. Then there was a lot of noise from upstairs, and I heard Elvyra scream. After a long time it went quiet, but I was scared and stayed hidden."
When Heike asked about the two men who were visited, Liza wasn't able to tell them much
"They were big and rough and smelled bad. Elvyra used to take me to the Happy Man - you know, the inn, but after they came she told me not to go near there any more".
The group decided to report the apparent kidnapping to the town watch. The watch weren't helpful, explaining that they were unlikely to be able to look into the kidnapping for some time. They were able to look after Liza until Elvyra was found, so the group left the child with them, as they headed to the Happy Man to make enquiries.
At the happy man, the group stood drinks for the bartender. He told them that "three men were staying at the inn, but settled up bill and left last night. Funny, cause I remember them saying they were to meet up with a boatman friend to take them back to Altdorf, but he wasn't supposed to arrive till tomorrow morning."
However, at the inn, their best contact was Otto, the elderly potman. In return for a constant supply of drinks ("I'm not sure I can remember; it's amazing what thirst does to a man's mind, isn't it"), he could tell them that when the three men left, they took a large trunk and a wheelbarrow, heading north towards the canal. He also remembers there being a red barn just on the other side of the canal.
The quartet headed back to the canal, and took a boat across. The name of the barn was more than a little misleading, as only the doors still retained their red paint, faded and peeling. A large trunk stood outside the barn. Margrethe picked the lock on the trunk, to reveal a sack, and a faint smell of perfume. They were on the scent!
After a quick, whispered planning session, Hans opened the door to the barn, with Margrethe and Joachim in close attendance. One of the kidnappers was inside, demanding in a fake rustic voice "Get out of my barn". He soon realised that his impersonation was failing as Heike aimed an arrow at him, but he was able to dive aside as she loosed the arrow.
Hans went after the kidnapper, longsword drawn. His first slash slid harmlessly off of the kidnapper's shoulder guard, and the kidnapper leapt back to avoid his follow-up thrust. For a few moments, Hans and his opponent circled, sizing each other up. Then, simultaneously, the two attacked! Hans' blow landed first, a backhand diagonal which sliced off half of the kidnapper's ear before slicing into his face, aborting the kidnapper's thrust to the chest before it could land. Hans' follow-up attack cut deep into his opponent's left eye and face. The battered kidnapper surrendered.
Meanwhile, Margrethe had climbed the ladder to the upper level of the barn, with Joachim close behind. They were halted, however, as one of the two kidnappers there had a bound Elvyra by the hair and his knife to her throat. For a short time there was a standoff, and then the thug pushed Elvyra at Margrethe and, with his fellow kidnapper, turned and jumped out of the barn into the pile of hay below.
As the kidnappers began to run, Joachim and Margrethe moved to the upper doors to the barn, and both fired their pistols. Margrethe's shot hit her target in the hand, while Joachim managed to shatter the other's knee with a pistol ball. Heike had been standing watch outside the barn, and her arrow took the still-running kidnapper in the back, killing him instantly.
Interrogation. The group decided to manacle the captured kidnappers and leave them in the barn. They lay in wait at the rendezvous, but nobody arrived.