or “Once Were Yokels”
The foul stench of dirty, sweaty flesh. The mindless shouts and murmuring of the rough, brutal and uneducated. The bestial lust for blood, death and dismemberment… and this is all just from Grudge’s corner of the pit. The rest of the basement is almost as bad—to use technical terms, it ‘smells like buggery’ and sounds like the very mouth of whichever particular Hell or Hells your personal religious beliefs lead you to fear. It is smelly, dingy, rowdy, dim, dark—a swirling maelstrom of greed and bloodlust, and in the calm eye of that chaos stand Grudge and his opponent, Agnes Schild, the personal bodyguard of Baron von Holzenauer.
Schild reaches forward to shake Grudge’s hand. “So” she asks, “why are you fighting for von Saponatheim?”
“Oh, is that who it is?” replies Grudge. “I didn’t know. I’ll fight for anyone, if the pay’s good.”
“Then let’s see how you fight…”
Leaping to the attack, Grudge lands the first strike—a vicious two-handed clout to the neck, blind side, which does crippling damage. The odds on his victory shorten immediately. She retaliates, and lands a fist, but Grudge’s scarred, nuggetty frame bears it well. The chances of this combat lasting a long time suddenly seem small. A few more blows are traded, Schild weakening visibly but with perverse good humour, spitting blood and teeth; but when she misses with one of her attempted punches a swift riposte from Grudge lays her on the floor, unconscious. However, the dwarf won’t be celebrating his victory any time soon, for even as the dust rises around the still form on the pit floor, events in the crowd take a turn for the decidedly antisocial…
During the combat, Immolatus casts a minor spell to detect the use of magic in the basement. However, one of his neighbours in the crowd takes offence at the vicinity of a magic user (ironic, this, from the lowest of society’s low-lives…) and shoves our flame-tempered hero. As Grudge lands his final blow, an anonymous arm strikes Immolatus out of the formless mass that is the basement’s crowd, and within seconds—like a generic fire-starting implement applied to generic combustible material—the room is heaving with conflict; after all, it’s so much more fun to take part than just to watch!
Out of the struggle, backed against a wall in one of the dingy recesses of the basement, von Saponatheim cries “Men! Men! Help me!”, looking to our party for assistance. Foolish man.
Grudge picks Schild from the floor and carries her to some likely-looking retainers. As she comes to, she asks (through bruised lips and broken teeth—she wasn’t pretty to start with, but now…) whether Grudge is interested in some work with von Holzenauer. He looks across at the stricken von Saponatheim and replies yes, but that he has an immediate contract to fulfil. Schild suggests a meeting at dawn the next day at East Gate, and then is lead quickly away through the crowd. Grudge slowly turns and dons his armour, with a view to providing assistance when he’s good and ready!
In the meantime, Torus quickly surveys the packed room for a glimpse of the bookie with whom he’d laid his bet on Grudge, and sees from the corner of his eye his quarry heading for the stairs. Literally surfing the crowd (ignoring the fact that surfing is unknown to the citizens of the Empire), Torus reaches the stairs just behind the fleeing bookie. With a lunge, Torus trips him. All is heading towards fisticuffs until Torus hands across his betting stub, upon which the bookie placidly hands across the gold piece he owes and Torus stuffs it greedily (and presciently) into his pocket. Turning back to the throng, Torus uses a tried and trusted method of crowd-clearing—brandishing his diseased limbs—and amid cried of “plague” and “pustules”, he starts wending his way towards his beleaguered employer.
The rest of our happy band are a little more immediately accommodating to von Saponatheim’s needs. Yuri pushes his way through the crowd, glowering at those around him and administering the occasional solid clout to keep his way clear. Immolatus attempts to shield himself from the barrage with a spell, but fails—however, the consequent spray of sparks gives him breathing space as his anti-magic assailants fall back in superstitious fear.
Gradually the party makes their way to von Saponatheim, and—facing the crowd, (literal) backs to the (semi-literal) wall, (metaphorical) noses to the (metaphorical) grindstone—they prepare to face (and return) the blows of the crowd. When…
A thunderous blast echoes through the room! A large man appears at the top of the stairs, and having fired his blunderbuss into the ceiling, shouts “Get Out you lot!” Sheepishly, like misbehaving children, the crowd ceases their violence and, sheep-like, wend their way up the stairs into the taproom and thence into the night. Many bear the scars of the evening’s entertainment, some received from our band (including one young lout whose nose will forever move around his face thanks to Grudge’s tender ministrations).
It transpires that the gun-toting thug is the tavern keeper, William Docker, suggesting that the name of the tavern—The Docker’s Arms—was inspired either by a massive ego, a poor grasp of grammar, or a peculiar sense of humour (“so, you are the Docker?” “yes”.“Let’s see your arms” etc etc… Ubersreikians are not renowned for their repartee). With cries of “see you tomorrow night” to Innkeeper Docker our band stumbles out into the baleful green moonlight of the city evening. The sickly emerald penumbra formed by the glow of Morrsleib, the Chaos Moon, causes more than one stomach, already weakened by alcohol and violence, to empty on the filthy alleys around the inn. Just another night in the Docks…
Away from the tavern crowds, von Saponatheim suddenly drops his foppish act and a dodgy disguise and appears much more deserving of respect (or even fear?) than before. He reveals that the gold crown originally paid was counterfeit (now passed off to the unwitting bookie), and, congratulating the adventurers on their loyalty, pays them two crowns for their excellent work. He also indicates that if the band want any further employment, they can approach his shifty part-Kislevian employee Pietr Koch at the Axe and Hammer.
Back to the Red Moon Inn, where Torus spends a restless night grappling with his visions and demons and awakes unrefreshed and just as ill as he went to sleep; Immolatus recovers from his secondary infection but can’t shake off the pox; and Grudge and Yuri sleep like particularly ugly and ill-smelling babies. The wages of sin are certainly not distributed evenly in the Old World…
Waking unpleasantly early the next morning, the party stumbles bleary-eyed to the East Gate to find a sprightly and foppish hunting party, complete with servants, ready to depart and led by von Holzenauer (accompanied by a battered Schild). As Grudge waves clear of the whole riding business (“Ya won’t find me on one of those misconceived contraptions..”) and mentally prepares himself for a lot of running, the others try their hands at mounting their steeds, with various levels of success—Torus is fluid (in a good way); Yuri and Immolatus are fluid (in the way diarrhoea is fluid) and end up on their butt (in the case of Yuri) or backwards on the horse (in the case of Immolatus).
The horns sound and the hunters set off. Fortunately for Grudge, there are numerous stops for refreshments, and so he manages to catch up for a breath before the group sets off again each time. However, there is no avoiding the strong implication that our heroes are not impressing anyone with their skills or breeding. Grudge spends some time speaking with Schild, who can at least operate at his lower levels (physically and socially), but Torus decides that something more impressive is required. Scanning the trees, his eagle eye picks out a small rabbit nibbling grass in a clearing. Without a second’s thought, he nonchalantly draws his bow, gets his hands caught in the string, juggles it crazily for a moment, drops it, and sees it shatter upon the rocks. A general snigger breaks out, as von Holzenauer raises a mildly condescending eyebrow. Not to be daunted (and much ruing the cost of a new bow), Torus raises his crossbow and with an impressive shot pierces the poor defenseless bunny. Grudging nods from the onlookers, and von Holzenauer says “I see you are more skilled in the crossbow than the long bow.” Ouch.
Attempts at social intercourse are equally futile—as Torus asks about the political situation in Ubersreik, the baron’s lengthy monologue on “Silver mines… Imperium… my second cousin’s husband’s uncle… blah blah… civil war… council… von Jungfreuds.. blah blah blah” quickly results in glazed looks and muted yawns. The only part of this monologue even remotely comprehensible is that it will be von Holzenauer who is hosting the masquerade ball, at his mansion.
Just as things are getting terminal, a beater cries “deer!” and the company launches into action; all but Grudge, who continues his puffing trundle, and Yuri, who falls nobly from the saddle. Our adventurers sigh—at this rate, they will be lucky if von Holzenauer gives them a job cleaning lavatories. Fortunately, their potential employer fells the buck with a single, impressive shot, which seems to improve everybody’s humour (especially the servants, who no longer need to fear a beating for an unsuccessful hunt). As the carcass is stripped, von Holzenauer mentions a small task that needs looking into, the successful resolution of which might not, taken as a whole and in the general scheme of things, adversely affect his political ambitions (yes, nobles do talk in such ellipses; the upshot—“you help me, I help you”. Eventually the party understands…)
Apparently a member of the city watch, one Grimwold Wirtz, has gone missing while searching the sewers. Notwithstanding that this would seem to be an occupational hazard for sewer-searchers, von Holzenauer requests the band to speak with Captain Andrea Pfeffer, chief of the watch, with a view to finding the errant watchman. A small reward is even promised (after some prompting by Torus).
Of course, all good things must come to and end. And so does the hunt. Our adventurers return to Ubersreik, confident in the knowledge that they will be missed not at all by those with whom they rode. And good riddance.
Their first task, given the very options and quests open to them, is, of course, to look for a bow and some armour. After Torus fails in his attempts to find a bow, Grudge impatiently threatens a passer-by into revealing the location of appropriate merchants. Torus quickly buys his long bow. Grudge is all ready to buy some (human made, ho hum) scale armour for 3 crowns when he decides to haggle—and alienates the merchant so much that the sale is cancelled and he is banned from the shop. Infuriated, Grudge intimates the hapless vendor into soiling his garments, but the sale is not consummated (and the shop door is quickly closed and bolted as the seller runs of to wash and change…) “Closed for the business”, so to speak…
Finally recalling their verbal commitments, the adventurers make their way to the barracks of the city watch to speak with Captain Pfeffer. She explains the situation (albeit with a perturbing lack of apparent interest in the fate of her errant watchman), and suggests they speak with the City’s sewer expert, a certain ‘Noseless’ Brandt, who resides at the Red Moon Inn and with whom the adventurers are already acquainted—in the common room, his constant refrain of giant rats and dangerous tunnels being hard to ignore.
The continued poxed state of various members of the group is still a matter of concern, so Yuri decides to investigate the availability of some form of healing potion from Wolfhart Lutzen. Travelling to Lutzen’s Floracopoeia, our naïve travellers are about to discover the true evil that lurks in the hearts of men. Blindly, trustingly, blithely they travel the streets to their destination, where Yuri wrangles a single valuable bottle of healing draught, needed most by Torus. Happily, Torus reaches for his pouch, wherein resides almost 5 gold crowns (some 3 or so of which are party funds) only to discover that some odious prestidigitator, some light-fingered pilfering wretch, has absconded with all his funds, save only the solitary gold crown that he pocketed from the bookie at The Dockers Arms. To say Torus’s mood sours is an understatement—now considering himself to be penurious, he declines the health draught. Immolatus immediately purchases it instead.
In a dudgeon, they head to The Red Moon Inn, where they speak to Noseless Brandt. Well, more like they get spoken at by Noseless Brandt. For ages. And ages. Interminably. They hear the epic tale of how he lost his nose (thereby acquiring his ‘nom de nez’), in the process taking down a horde of 20 or 30… no, was it 30 or 40?… greenskins. How his new state suited his new role as Ubersreik’s Chief (aka only) Sewerjack. How only a trained professional should attempt the sewers. How… another beer? Thanks. How the city watch should have listened to his advice. How big the rats are down there—did he say how big the rats are down there? They’re big, the rats down there.
Eventually, crossing his throat with ale and his palm with silver, our party persuades Brandt to take them into the sewers the next morning, through one of the western grates closest to where Grimwold Wirtz went missing. So, aurally beaten and reeling from a day of disasters, there are but two tasks left to draw a curtain upon the whole sorry affair.
First, to the Temple of Shallya for some healing. But even this is no easy task—the temple is in an uproar, as a one-legged man is tended to, screaming of ‘tentacles’ and ‘slime’, surrounded by the city watch as the adventurers hear tales of him having killed his whole family (and removing his own leg). The man is obviously mad, or chaos infected, or suffering indescribably bad deliria tremens. Or all three. Pleasantly for our band, the patient seems to hail from the location of the sewer grate to which they are heading the next day. Rats, tentacles and slime—a perfect breakfast.
Torus at last receives a benediction from Shallya and loses his delirium symptoms. He remains disturbingly poxed however. As for Immolatus, even the expensive healing draft cannot help him shake the damned pestilence.
The final business for the day is a quick trip to von Holzenauer’s mansion. A small bribe to the evening watch speeds their passage, where Grudge asks to speak with Schild. First, he expresses his suspicions as to the ball and poisoned beer. Slightly skeptical (but recognising Grudge’s frightful uppercut), she agrees to ensure that all supplies are properly tasted and vetted. Next, Grudge asks of any well-known professional types with an ‘F’ in their name. She can think of only two – a certain Wolfgang von Falkenhayn (a friendly but somewhat oafish supporter of von Holzenauer) and the dwarf Borgun Foambeard (from Borgun’s Brewery). Neither seems an immediate suspect.
Dispirited, the team wend their weary and embarrassed way back to their inn, there to await the morning and their impending trip into the sewers of Ubersreik. There’s nothing quite like going to bed with something to look forward to…