Matthais Hoffer, Witch Hunter of the Ordo Fidelis, felt like kicking himself. How could he- a veteran of several military campaigns and even more actions against the servants of chaos- have fallen for such a dumb line as the one that glib Siegfried had put past him? Hoffer wondered if Jacob and Ulrich would ever let him live it down.
Who were these people anyway Matthais asked himself? They seemed to live in a bubble of startling coincidence and the sheer dumb luck of fools. First Kroen reappears in Middenheim after near a year's unexplained absence, only to wind up dead while the news was still fresh. Then this ragtag bunch of adventurers start asking around about the death. And now it turns out that not only were they working for Schutzmann tracking down Morten's murderer, but they had actually escorted Kroen and the rest of the Untergard refugees on their journey to Middenheim. That was already more coincidences than Hoffer cared to put down to sheer accident.
More annoying still, this bunch had sworn a holy oath to Schutzmann and Greimold to conceal the identity of Morten's- and presumably therefore also Kroen's- killers. And they had kept it too. To cap it all they had proceeded to deliver the artefact- whatever that was- to the Temple of Ulric without giving away a single clue about its nature.
Matthais Hoffer was a man utterly devoid of humour. Even black irony was alien to his nature. His mission left him no time for such luxuries. No, Hoffer lived by cold hard facts and brutal penetrating suspicion. Occasionally he did allow himself the odd moment of consolation. He took one now in his conviction that these deceitful upstarts were at least loyal servants of goodness. Too smart by half- which might prove their undoing- but not slaves to darkness.
Father Odo restrained, the brass skull secured, the party settled in for the rest of the night. Seigfreid was still brooding so he was awake when, on Grundi's watch, the quiet was shattered by the sound of Grundi's horse neighing and whinnying and thrashing around in extreme distress. The pair went to investigate and sure enough, there was the brass skull again, grinning at the horse from atop a boulder.
The poor creature was beside itself with terror. Grundi's efforts to calm it proved fruitless and it broke free of its tether and disappeared into the night. Fortunately it didn't go far in the thick forest and Grundi was able to catch up with it soon enough.
The brass skull's antics had everyone well and truly spooked by now. Siegfried decided that enough was enough. Grabbing a cloak, he picked the skull up and perched it on a rock. He spent the rest of the night sitting staring at the back of the skull to make sure it didn't get up to any more tricks.
The party roused itself at dawn. When it came time to set off, Siegfried wrapped the skull in his cloak and carried it in front of him as if in a sack. The journey back through the Drakwald continued, with the PC's taking turns to carry the skull.
Berthold went down with a case of the Galloping Trots. This slowed the party's pace down a bit, as he had to keep disappearing into the undergrowth every couple of hours.
Siegfreid decided to try to reassure Father Odo that his murderous intentions had been misconstrued. He kept it up for several days, bringing all his eloquence to bear on the aging priest's feelings. But Odo was having none of it, so eventually Siegfreid gave up, and left the old man to his own devices.
In the middle of the afternoon five days out from the tomb, the brass skull suddenly took it on itself to start shrieking and wailing in a shrill, high pitched tone. The sound was muffled by the cloak the skull was wrapped in, but it was still sufficient to shatter the peace of the forest, and to carry a long way.
This was too much for Grundi, who was carrying it at the time. Shut up, shut up, shut up bellowed the dwarf, banging the skull repeatedly off a tree trunk. This took some chips out of the bark, but otherwise had no effect.
The party pressed on. They hadn't been going for long when the skull's wailing was answered by an animalisitic bellow from deep in the woods behind the party. The PC's looked around. This was no place to be caught in a fight they realised. So on they went. looking for a site where they could prepare themselves to meet whatever it was that the skull had brought upon them.
About half an hour later they found a clearing at the foot of a small hill. There was a rocky outcrop on the slope of the hill offering a good vantage point from which to attack anything that crossed the clearing. Odo and the indisposed Berthold- with the skull in his care- themselves in the lee of the crest of the hill, while the others took their positions atop the rocky outcrop and prepared their weapons.
Time passed painfully slowly as the PC's waited, listening to the howling get nearer and nearer. The howling stopped. The waiting continued. Suddenly 5 beastmen broke through the treeline and sprinted howling across the clearing. The PC's let fly with their missile weapons- including Grundi's infamous blunderbuss- to little apparent effect.
Before the PC's knew where they were at, the beastmen were scrambling up the outcrop and hand-to-hand combat was joined. Two beastmen reached the top of the outcrop in a flash and laid into Grundi. Seigfried came to his aid. Meanwhile Mordrin rained blows down on the head of a beastman still below him.
Moments later the remaining 3 beastmen also reached the top of the outcrop, and everyone was in the thick of it. The PC's gave a good account of themselves. Grundi crushed the leg of one beastmen leaving it to topple helplessly backwards down the outcrop. Seigfried repeated Grundi's trick, only to slash the beastman's belly right through to the spine with his backswing, leaving an explosion of entrails trailing through the air as the creature fell to earth. Mordrin too was giving a good account of himself.
As beastmen blood, guts and limbs seemed to be flying everywhere, it looked for a moment as if victory was in sight, only for this glimpse of hope to be overshadowed by the sight of 5 more beastmen charging in from the left flank. A chill gripped the PC's as they feared their dooms were upon them.
Once again things happened quickly here. Siegfried ran over to tell Berthold that he and Father Odo should make their escape on the horse. Then he veered off and ran round the side of the outcrop to try to draw some of the reinforcements away from Grundi and Mordrin. The 5 beastmen split into 2 groups: 2 went after the horse, the others pursued Seigfried.
Siegfried was injured near to death by this time. He turned to face his pursuers, determined to sell himself dearly. To his surprise he saw 3 men in heavy armour appear from behind the beastmen's flank. One- wielding a mighty 2-handed axe- went to join the dwarfs, one went to the aid of Berthold and Odo, and the other- armed with a greatsword- closed in on the beastmen which were by now closing in for the kill.
Briefly worried about the newcomers' intentions, the PC's were relieved to see them wade into the beastmen, and awestruck by their display of martial prowess. Swinging their great weapons in mighty arcs they rained blow after blow on the beastmen. Grundi had by this time run round the base of the outcrop to come to Seigfried's aid, and with his help the beastmen were soon put to flight.
That's only worth half quipped Mordrin, as the brawny axe-wielder finished off the last of the group which had made the first assault. The man looked down on the dwarf with an expression of mixed amusement and amazement.
Everyone paused to catch their breath and regain their composure. The 3rd figure reappeared leading the horse with Berthold and Odo safe and sound. Siegfreid introduced himself as Constable Seigfried of the Middenheim City Watch, the other PC's as fellow watchmen, and Father Odo of the Temple of Ulric in Middenheim. The tall man with the greatsword introduced himself as Matthais Hoffer, and his companions as Jacob Bauer and Ulrich Fischer.
The newcomers soon proved to be skilled with more than just arms, as Fischer capably bandaged the PC's wounds and Hoffer invoked Sigmar's Grace to heal Seigfried's more serious injuries.
Then the interrogation began; gently to be sure, but an interrogation it was all the same, because the 3 men were Witch Hunters of the Ordo Fidelis, of whose grim repuation the PC's had first heard in assocation with the peculiar burial of Gerhard Gismore Kroen during the Morten murder case so many months ago. It turned out that the Witch Hunters knew of the party's interest in Kroen, which gave them an interest in the party. Learning something of the party's mission, they had resolved to track the party though the Drakwald to ensure no ill fate befell them. The PC's were duly grateful for this.
Hoffer plied the PC's with question after question until he had the whole story: from their journey from Untergard, through their deputisation by Schutzmann, up to their mission for Father Ranulf. The party told Hoffer that they had tracked down and 'dealt with' the murderers, but refused to say more, preferring to honour the oath of secrecy they explained they had sworn.
Hoffer showed some incredulity in the face of this story, but he was gradually persuaded of its truth.
Talk then passed to their mission for Father Ranulf. Hoffer was interested in the artefact of which there had been mention. Fearful of the Witch Hunters' reaction to those in possession of an icon of Khorne, the party preferred not to give anything away. When asked outright where the artefact was, Siegfried was able truthfully to say that they didn't have it- because Berthold had had to leave it behind when he fled for safety on the horse.
By this time Seigfried in fact had the icon hidden under his feet. Fischer meanwhile was keeping him under careful observation. With the aid of a minor diversion provided when Grundi passed him his backpack, Siegfried's hands proved faster than Fischer's eye, and he was able to hide the icon without the Witch Hunters realising.
The artefact still had to be found before everyone could leave, so a search of the area was begun. After a few minutes, Siegfried exclaimed out loud, and made for his pack. Rummaging inside, he pulled out the tattered banner of the Knights of the White Wolf found in the tomb's trophy room. Here it is he cried.
Hoffer was sceptical, a lost war banner hardly being a potential threat to the city of Middenheim as he pointed out. Amazingly, the cock-and-bull story Seigfried spun was enough to convince the Witch Hunter [rolled a 99 for his test against Seigfried's Charm!], and the matter rested there.
Preparations to move on began, with the Witch Hunters intent on escorting the party back to Middenheim.
Chaos Without, Corruption Within
- #2 Mutants, madness, and more mysteries
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim