Evisceration. Disembowelment. Gutting. Charnel house. Foetid, intestine ridden putrescent mass of festering body parts. Given their grasp of the Imperial language, these are the thoughts that are swirling through Immolatus’ and Torus’ minds as they view the field of combat. “Shit, ay!” is what Grudge and Yuri are thinking, their vocabulary being somewhat more limited.
The scene is literally one from the End of Days. The bodies, the stench, the weeping, the wailing, the crackling flames, the dancing shadows, the mindless humming of Grudge as he cleans his Great Axe and mentally rehearses the embellished drinking stories he will tell of his first encounter with a Daemon…
As the party picks their way carefully across the blood and ichor soaked ground, morning mist rising in the damp air as if the very souls of the damned were leaving the bodies of the dead, the Lady Agnetha raises her eyes to the saviours of her town and with true and noble gratitude shouts: “It’s all their fault. This all started when they arrived. They’re responsible for all this!”
The adventurers are slightly taken aback; this isn’t quite what they expected. No “thank you, my children”. No “please have this small fortune in gratitude”. No “let me anoint your naked bodies with these expensive oils…” Just the usual “It’s all their fault”. A hero’s life is singularly unrewarding from an emotional perspective.
Lucky the pay tends to be good.
The moment is a perilous one. Certainly, there are some in the crowd who saw the combat, while others appreciate that the Green Pox started a long time before the party arrived. But logic never stopped a good old crowd frenzy, and some of the townspeople begin casting angry and irrational eyes at our protagonists. Surely this is the time for someone with a smooth tongue and honeyed words to turn the tide. Someone who, with a few bon mots and a clever turn of phrase, can bring the situation under control. Someone with charm, and grace, and poise. Instead, Grudge speaks to Lady Agnetha.
“Puill yoursel’ togitherrr, woman!” [Grudge’s accent will be translated into Imperial from here on] “The town is a mess, and your people need you now more than ever. Act like the leader you are, and stop making up ridiculous stories”. At the same time, Yuri gently takes the son’s body from Lady Agnetha’s arms (with a small and largely unnoticed slip…) and tries to calm her with soothing words. The good cop/bad cop act seems to work; Lady Agnetha is led away and the tense moment passes. Torus, who had slipped off into the shadows, reappears. His explanation was that he was just surveying the crowd in anticipation of combat action. The others aren’t convinced…
It is decided that Torus, the best rider of the group, should depart post haste to Ubersreik to ensure appropriate spin is put on the recent events—given that their instructions were to be discreet (foolish instructions to our band at the best of times), it is important to minimise the negative elements of Lady Agnetha’s actions (eg. banishing Shallyan priests, presiding over a plague of Green Pox, harbouring chaos minions, hugging poxed dead children, going insane…) and highlight the positives (eg. um…). Torus speeds to the Bucket of Blood Inn to commandeer a horse, one ‘Rufus’, from the innkeeper, who tentatively asks for it to be returned (alive). Torus happily gives this reassurance, with absolutely no interest in its veracity, and sets off on the ten mile journey to Ubersreik.
The others retire to Lady Agnetha’s residence, to find the place a shambles. Servants and guards mingle and formicate with little or no purpose. The party take the Lady to her room, where she promptly crawls into bed with her son’s corpse (who, it transpires, has been dead for weeks). This is not a good situation. Quickly summoning Friedhilda, Lady Agnetha’s maid, the adventurers obtain the Lady’s standard sleeping draught and see it administered in more than sufficient quantities. Once Agnetha is down, the dead boy’s body is taken and cremated (with due care, reverence and odour) in the family crypt. Hopefully little is left to snuggle up to.
Unfortunately, some of the servants have observed their mistress’s erratic behaviour, and short of having them all killed or incarcerated (both solutions holding some attractions for Grudge), word of the situation is bound to leak out, making Torus’ valiant ride to Ubersreik in the dark and the wet and the cold even more important.
So we flash to Torus. Not long out of Hugeldal, he encounters the Shallyans who have camped awaiting news of the events in the town under the leadership of Father Bram. Torus quickly updates them on the unbelievable events of the night before, and they immediately commence striking camp to offer their assistance to the remaining townsfolk. Of course, if their assistance to Torus is anything to go by, the townsfolk shouldn’t hold their breath—Father Bram’s attempts to cure the pox are spectacularly unsuccessful. Even as Father Bram dons his pig-intestine surgical gloves (with the large knots!) with a resounding ‘snap’, Torus begins to wonder what is actually involved in Shallyan medical training…
As Torus prepares to leave the Shallyan camp, his parting words of encouragement stress that “the moment is now” for the Shallyans to impress Hugeldal with their skill and dedication. And then falls off his horse. He scrambles back on, and rides off into the dark and the wet and the cold…
So we flash to the rest of the party, taking their baths, eating their fill, fondling the staff and sleeping like babies.
To Torus, cantering through the dark and the wet and the cold.
To the others—silence, other than contented snoring and the occasional nocturnal fart.
To Torus, who arrives at last outside Ubersreik through the dark and the wet and the cold… to find the gates closed and the guards of absolutely no mind to let him in, even after the blandishment of 5 shillings. Muttering under his breath about wasting time and dreaming of warm fires and soft bedding, Torus finds a lean-to and makes himself as warm as he can, with Rufus the Wonderhorse.
Back in Hugeldal, the other party members wake—fully refreshed in Grudge’s case, partly refreshed in Yuri’s, and tired and weak and one symptom worse off in the case of Immolatus. Truly a grim and perilous world of Diseased Adventure.
Agnetha starts screaming for her son, and Grudge’s blunt attempts at clinical psychology (including telling her that her son has been cremated and reminding her that this is a grim world of perilous adventure) leave her initially delusional and ultimately catatonic. Quickly exculpating himself of all responsibility, Grudge decides that this is clearly a job for the experts, which in the case of the Empire isn’t saying much. Off, then, to the priests of Shallya to offload this little problem. At the same time Immolatus has Father Bram (gloves and all) cure him of his most recent symptom, and the party agrees to take messages to Marianne Altenblum at the Temple of Shallya and the burgomeister of Ubersreik of the events in Hugeldal. The party agrees, with absolutely no interest in the veracity of their promise.
Some quick shopping for new clothes (their previous ones having been burned for sheer grossness) and then the adventurers set off for Hugeldal to meet Torus at the Red Moon Inn, where Torus arrived early that morning when the gates opened and ate and drank himself into a minor stupor waiting for Leonhard Zauberlich. Torus books a room to wait, and appears downstairs just as his compatriots arrive. Together they meet with Zauberlich, and update him on the situation in Hugeldal. They suggest that Aschaffenberg send out a team to deal with Lady Agnetha and the situation, while putting a positive spin on the rumours that will start emerging (“The Lady Agnetha valiantly fought off a horde of Chaos Daemons with her bare hands” sort of stuff). As they talk to Zauberlich, and as he orders drink after drink, they realize that he is a useless boozer, and they wonder whether Aschaffenberg will get the message and, if so, what sort of garbled state it will be in. Oh well, that’s his problem. In his cups, Zauerlich eventually gives the companions Aschaffenberg’s address.
Heading off to the Temple of Shallya, it transpires that Mother Altenblum is ill (Green Pox perchance?) and instead our heroes meet with Marianne Hertzlich, a tall, willowy, young priestess with striking features and sad blue eyes, who they update on the Hugeldal Situation. Those with injuries also remain at the Temple hospice further healing. Yuri is completely healed of his wounds and is a happy chappy. Torus is healed of his wounds but fails abjectly in his endeavours to shake his disease. Immolatus is healed neither of his wounds nor his disease. The status of Shallya in the pantheon of the party’s gods is slipping rapidly. They are also readily developing a strong aversion to gloves, pig intestines and what passes for medical education in the Empire.
Grudge meanwhile wanders off to the Dwarf Quarter (obviously), to a tavern called The Axe and Hammer which is has been built to look and feel as much as possible like a subterranean dwarven hall. While there he passes a jocular ‘test’ by not paying for non-existent Bugman’s XXXXXX (as if they’d have Bugman’s XXXXXX in Ubersreik…) and is offered a job by a shifty looking human. He hires a room for the evening, passing to the downstairs halls to the ‘dwarf only’ section where he spends much of the night bullshitting with other dwarfs. As part of the gossip, he learns about a drama at the nearby Borgun’s Brewery, where a figure was detected skulking around the beers—and after asking, Grudge finds out that one of their beers, Old Subterranean, is to be served at the upcoming ball. Grudge’s mind leaps to the suspicion that someone is going to poison the beer with Green Pox to infect the nobles at the ball. Generally sounds like a good idea.
The next day, Torus and Immolatus try again for healing, and again Shallya gives them the proverbial finger (encased in the proverbial surgical glove). Atheism looms large on their respective spiritual horizons…
Yuri wanders off to find a herbalist and eventually discovers Lutzen’s Floracopoeia, owned by stringy-lloking fellow with a nervous blink called Wolfhart Lutzen. Uri proves his credentials and opens his wallet and joins the Guild of Apothecaries—at a special rate following a successful sob-story.
Grudge waddles to the Temple of Sigmar to find details of the “prying Sigmarite priest” mentioned in the Hugeldal note, but instead spots Lord Rickard Aschaffenberg and wife sitting in the pews. Bribing a priest with a 5 shilling donation to the temple, Grudge delivers a short and cryptic message to Aschaffenberg, who briefly speaks with Grudge in the shadows of the columns and confirms that Zauberlich did his job and ‘things’ are being taken care of. He also reiterates that he has his reputation to consider and can’t be seen mixing with vagrant adventurers, but perhaps if they keep their conduct to a high standard he may have further use for them.
And so the party meets up outside The Axe and Hammer at sundown, where the shifty agent awaits them and a carriage (with blacked out crest) eventually arrives. A well-dressed man with a long pointed beard and groomed moustache, who is calling himself ‘Klaus’ for the evening, flips the the adventurers 1 gold piece as half payment for the evening and invites them onto the back of the carriage. They head off to a very bad part of town.
They arrive at a backstreet tavern called The Docker’s Arms, the outside of which Torus quickly cases. It transpires that ‘Klaus’ wants the adventurers to inconvenience another noble by incapacitating (not killing) that competitor’s ‘right hand man’. Inside the place is packed and rowdy. After paying off a doorman at the back they head down some stairs to the cellar, which is dominated by a pit fighting ring. It seems that Grudge is to return, albeit briefly, to his previous employment. As he strips down and enters the pit, and as Torus starts to make bets, his adversary pushes through the crowd—it is a tough, dark-haired woman with a leather patch over her left eye, wearing colours of black and red. Without more ado she springs into action. Combat has commenced, and after almost 48 hours without violence, the enthusiasm among our adventurers for a good punch-up, even vicariously, is almost palpable…