Averland Adventures: The Blue Reach Delta

The Fall of Redthorn

To: Berholt Eisenhauser, Captain, Imperial Roadwardens

From: Pieter Konrad, Sergeant, Imperial Roadwardens

Sir,

The infiltration of the Southern Sun Keep was successful and once we had managed to adequately alert the garrison to our presence, we spent some time to barricade a guardroom to give ourselves a small breather. We were just preparing ourselves to deal with the stairwell down that was located in the centre of the room when we heard the sound of loud clanging rising through the opening. We rushed downstairs and saw a group of guards in the middle of what appeared to have once been a kitchen and a single guard smashing at a postern gate with all his might.

The agile Dolwen leapt down the stairs drawing and firing as he went. Three shafts hummed home into the back of the gate opener in a grouping no larger than a child’s hand, pinning the unfortunate creature like a bug against the battered oak of the gate. One of the guards began to charge us and our intrepid halflings began whizzing sling stones at him. Axel’s shots scored, but Adam’s ricocheted off the floor and into the corner of the room. The twanging of a bow was heard as Erik entered the fray and I saw his shots sink home, but failed to halt the brute as he entered melee range. His swing slammed into Adam, but fortunately hit him in the head. Being as it was such a long way from anything that was important, he kept his feet and in the melee. My swing swooped in and caught him in the body, but the beast shrugged it off and kept in the fight.
The group of guards brought their own bows into play and arrows began hissing past us. Axel caught one in the leg that made him yelp as arrows buzzed by Herod as he leapt off the stairs and charged the archers. He brought his halberd down and tried his best to cut his foe in half. I honestly think he would have done it too if the beast hadn’t been wearing a large belt buckle. Pulling his halberd free in a welter of gore, he sought another target. Ekhart’s magic missile sizzled into the group of archers and removed the head of one of them in a billow of fine red mist. Adam drew his weapon and hit my opponent, but again he shrugged off the blow. Erik drew his sword as well, but his hasty strike missed entirely.

My foe took a swing at me that I parried off, but it left me out of position for his follow up which sliced into my side. I managed to drive him back with a couple of quick blows, but neither of them scored enough to do any real damage. Axel took a major blow from my foe that drove him to the ground in an unmoving heap – not awesome. Herod stepped up and drove the heel of his halberd into the centre of his chest, blasting the air from his lungs and causing him to land on his ass with a stunned look on his face. One of Ekhart’s missiles blasted in and tore the shield off of his arm. At this point we all hacked and chopped at this poor unfortunate until he finally fell to the ground, mortally wounded.

We spent a few moments catching our breath and binding our wounds. Axel recovered from his mishap much quicker than I would have expected given how hard he was hit. I heard him mutter something about “licking” and “ticking”, but I was honestly afraid to ask for clarification. Ekhart then led us to the dungeons in the hope that he would find his father. Indeed, we found Viggo Cavindel much the worse for the wear in a small cell near the back of the dungeon. He was filthy and gaunt, but unbowed and deliriously happy to see his son again. After a heartfelt reunion, he sent us on our way to complete our task as he was in no condition to aid us after two months of captivity. He reminded Ekhart of the secret stairwell to his apartments and we headed to the lord’s apartment to bring an end to Redthorn and his evil plots.

As silently as we could, we proceeded up the narrow staircase to the master’s suite. We had a short, whispered conversation about some tactical details and then we opened the concealed door and burst into the room. While Redthorn was no doubt surprised by the manner of our appearance, that was nothing compared to our shock in finding that besides Redthorn, there were four demons in the room. I found out later that they were a Bloodletter of Khorne, a Spined Devil, and two Tar Demons – not that it really mattered at the time, as I was convinced we were all going to die. Redthorn’s head swiveled to us as he picked up a massive three-headed flail as if it was weightless. Gazing at us contemptuously, he proceeded to tell us that we were rabbits in a wolf’s den. I remember thinking that if that was true, I’d be bolting the hell out of here. Raising his face to the sky, he chanted “Blood for the Blood God!” and charged towards us.

Ekhart cast a spell that manifested as a dazzling burst of light. It must have temporarily blinded our foes, as their movements became slower and more erratic – perfect timing! Both groups moved towards each other and combat was joined in earnest. Redthorn leapt towards us and swung his flail with a mighty blow. As he made contact with someone, (not me, thank Sigmar) we were all knocked backwards with an explosion of some kind of magical force. Erik managed to plant a couple of arrows into his hide, but it didn’t seem to be affecting him. Dolwen and Adam were both petrified with fear – a common fate amongst all of us on our adventure at various times. I remember once thinking that pursuing bandits was a hazardous occupation. That was before I began to encounter things that actually made you wet yourself…

We noticed that the blood from the wounds that Erik had inflicted was flowing through the air towards the Bloodletter – obviously some kind of vile Chaos sorcery was at work here. The Spined Devil shot some of its barbs at Herod with a few of them actually sticking to him. I could hear chanting from behind me as Ekhart was preparing another spell. It seemed to be taking an awfully long time, and I was hoping that the end result was worth it.

It was.

There was a bright flare of light and the sound of crackling, like a pitchy fire followed by a concussion of sound that felt and sounded something like thunder. Air rushed past us towards as I shook my head to clear my eyes and try to knock the ringing out of my head. When my vision cleared, I saw that the Bloodletter was gone! I don’t know how he did it and I really didn’t care, but there was a loud cheer from us as we pushed the battle forward. The Tar Demons were taken aback by the abrupt disappearance of their largest member, but soon recovered and charged towards Ekhart to ensure that the same thing did not happen to them. The tar demons spewed some kind of vile at him that made him hop around a little, but didn’t appear to do any lasting harm.
At this point Redthorn transferred his attention to me, much to my dismay. His flail screamed through the air as he did his level best to end my humble existence. His eagerness caused his first swing to miss entirely and I managed to take the second stroke on my shield and duck under the third – damn was he fast! There was a flurry of blows from the demons upon my companions, but I wasn’t really paying too much attention as I was focusing on staying alive.

I took a couple of tentative swings at Redthorn to get a feel for his ability and just about got my head bashed in for my trouble. I swear I could count the spikes on the flail head as it hummed by the tip of my nose. Did I mention he was really fast? He contemptuously parried off my next swing and I realized I didn’t need to spend any more time feeling him out – I was going to get my ass handed to me.

I could hear Ekhart beginning to chant in the background and saw one of the tar devils begin to make arcane gestures in reply. I could only assume he was beginning some kind of sorcerous duel with the vile beast, but again I was too engaged in keeping breathing to pay much mind to things I really didn’t understand anyways. I heard a roar of triumph as Herod literally split the spined devil in two with a mighty overhand blow of his halberd. I took another swing at Redthorn and another lightning fast riposte just about stove me in like a rotten barrel. He obviously decided he was done playing with me and proceeded to use me like a nail into a plank. I have never encountered such power and I literally felt like a child against a giant as his blow swung up under my guard and smashed me into a wall. I had no choice but to disengage and the brave Herod stepped up and took my place and managed to land the first really solid blow on Redthorn. I took a quick look around as I quaffed a healing draught to see how the rest of my friends were faring.

Dolwen was engaged with one of the tar devils. Things looked to be going his way until it managed to land some of its spew onto his leg. Hi quickly scraped it away before it ate through his armor and caused him some damage. I looked back at Herod just in time to see Redthorn land a stupendous blow that caused blood to spray out of his mouth and ears. Amazingly, he remained standing AND engaged toe-to-toe with Redthorn. Our archers rained shafts at the tar devil engaged with Dolwen with Adam hitting it twice and causing it to turn away. Erik took advantage of its position by putting an arrow right through both ears and dropping it in a heap. I pulled both my pistols and blasted away at Redthorn. Once the cloud cleared, it didn’t appear that I’d had any effect. I’d like to think that it was because he was impervious to my shots, but it’s more likely because I was shaking so bad that I couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn with a bucket of wheat. I pulled another brace of pistols braced of pistols just as Ekhart’s spell finished and the remaining tar devil was banished into whatever demonic place it came from, leaving Redthorn alone to face our fury. I have to tell you, he didn’t look particularly worried…
Freed to engage, we all began hammering away at Redthorn with everything we had – arrows, sling stones, bullets, magic darts. I think I even saw Axel throwing candlesticks and a leftover chicken leg, but that could have been my imagination as I was still pretty punchy. Regardless of what went his way, very little of it did a damn thing beyond spalling his armor and sending snarling ricochets around the room. The next few moments were an appalling exercise in futility. The dark gods were looking out for their champion as he managed to dodge, block, parry, or shrug off just about everything we threw at him.

Herod and I were in hand-to-hand combat and the rest of our group was firing missiles as fast as they could sling or loose. Shockingly, there were no friendly fire incidents, which was bloody amazing given the sheer volume of fire homing in on our little dance. Redthorn’s luck ran out as a sling stone impacted on the center of his chest with a meaty thud, the force actually staggering him backwards. Herod and I pressed forward, but failed to capitalize on the opportunity. I saw an elven fletched arrow sprout from Redthorn’s left shoulder, a solid hit by Dolwen. Again, the mace came roaring in at me and I managed to avoid the first two blows, but the third hammered home and staggered me badly. Both Herod and I landed solid hits, but it was like hacking at a granite boulder and I was seriously beginning to doubt the that there would be a positive end to this battle – at least from our point of view.

Adam, Dolwen, and Ekhart all landed solid hits which was a good thing as Herod and I were having absolutely no luck getting anything through to this red-clad behemoth. I remember seeing Herod take a swing at Redthorn and then a lighting fast reply with the flail that knocked him on his ass. I don’t remember what happened next, but apparently it was my turn to get beat on as the next thing I remember was being upside down in a corner with grit in my eye and blood in my mouth. Staggering to my feet with a groan, I looked up just in time to see one of Dolwen’s arrows fly up Redthorn’s right nostril, punching through his helmet and leaving the barbed shaft standing a hand’s width beyond the back of his skull. Redthorn’s eye’s crossed and he slowly toppled forward like a felled oak and crashed into the floor with a thunderous boom.

Panting for breath, we all looked at each other in disbelief. Axel looked at me with a grin and said, “OK, that was the most awesome not-awesome thing I’ve ever seen!” I just shook my head (gently, I might add because everything in my body hurt) and started to reload my pistols. Avoiding Redthorn’s body, we began to search the room for information about where he had come from and what his ultimate agenda might have been. The only thing of interest was a letter from a Lord Vehnyk tasking Redthorn to begin searching for a specific gemstone in the Border Princes, but that was a problem for another time.

We met little resistance as we worked our way towards the main gate and opened them to allow our allies into the keep. The rest was details – clearing the castle, dealing with the prisoners, and doing our best to repair the damage done to our homes and farms. For now, we are just recovering our strength and reprovisioning for our next journey. We’re all of the opinion that this Lord Vehnyk needs to be found and prevented from doing whatever it is he’s trying to do. We’ll be leaving in a few days and I’ll try to keep you up to date on what happens so you can keep the appropriate authorities in the Empire apprised of the situation. My gut is telling me that this could be the beginning of something really bad what with the armies of Chaos Dwarves and Beastmen still in play and an unknown force manipulating these forces for its own nefarious purposes.

Farewell and may Sigmar guide you and keep you safe.

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The battle for Schraumlieben - Part 2

My lungs were on fire as my little legs pumped to keep up with my comrades. Dolwen and Adam quickly leading the way while the rest of us tried our best not to fall behind. Considering our destination was not a pie factory, its impressive just how fast that chubby little halfling can move. The tavern hiding the refugee’s lay ahead, its doors hanging from their broken hinges. Hoping we weren’t to late, we entered the darkened common room. The smashed remains of kegs, tables, and chairs littered the bar room. The secret door to the hidey hole unfortunately lay open, exposing the location of the refugee’s. Running behind the bar, I quickly grabbed two bottles of strong dwarven spirits. Pieter shook his head, frowning in disapproval. “Relax…I’ve got a plan.” Fashioning a torch out of a broken table leg and an old shirt I’d acquired…Dolwen will never miss it…I descended into the darkness to face my past. Navigating through the warren of passages we located our quarry as we passed a choke point in the tunnels. Helmut was discarding the corpse of his latest victim when he saw us, my companions freezing in fear at the sight of the tar devils and soldiers accompanying him. This left just Pieter, Erik, and the two halflings to hold the passage until the others regained their nerve. Helmut glaring in blind fury, pointed at me and yelled “HALFLING!!!” before charging. I only had time for one quick shot at a devil before switching to sword and shield. Helmut’s overhand blow smashed through my defenses, crushing my arm, numbing it below the shoulder. Dropping into a defensive stance while fumbling for a healing potion, I realized that I was the only person in front not wearing plate armour. Hoping to even the odds, I dropped back to get behind my own set of plate, unfortunately for Erik, he happened to be the one wearing it. My keen hearing heard Eckhardt mutter “Coward” which stung a little, but I guess it’s easy to misjudge someone when you can’t tell the difference between reckless and stupid, and standing in a confined space facing a massive, heavily armoured psychopath, who’s biggest desire is to literally rip my limbs off, seemed pretty damned stupid. Pieter, taking full advantage of ours foes preoccupation with killing me, landed a powerful strike to his exposed shoulder, which would have decapitated any normal man but only managed to delay Helmet’s blood thirsty assault. Turning his attack to my friends, Erik managed to defend most of the onslaught before being wounded with another mighty bash of his hammer. “Whatever happened to that dagger?” I asked with a smile. “If you don’t want it, can I have it as a souvenir?” Enraged, he lunged towards me exposing himself once again to attack. Herod seized the opportunity and ripped into the hip joint effectively dropping my foe, the scar from our previous encounter made visible through his torn armour. My allies then turned their attentions to defeating the tar devils. Helmut, however, was not quite dead yet, his healing ability threatening to get him back into the fight. Cursing my name as he struggled, he swore he’d return to get his revenge as he crawled towards me. Seeing my friends had the devils and remaining soldiers well in hand, I calmly pulled out the bottles I’d acquired upstairs and emptied their contents over my struggling foe, determined to do a more permanent job this time. Thinking of all the small folk he’d murdered to date, “Regenerate this.” I snarled, raised my torch and ignited the spirits, engulfing him in blue flames. His screams of rage, changed to ones of pain before eventually being drowned out by those of his dying troops.

Back on the surface, word of Helmut’s demise had spread, demoralizing his troops. The enemy forces faltered and without their imposing leader, routed, their army retreating in the direction of the Sun Keep and their leader Red Thorn. This battle was won, now the townsfolk could turn their attention to rebuilding. Watching the funeral pyres, I was reminded of Helmut’s dying screams. Satisfied that this time, he wasn’t coming back, I turned and returned to my comrades who were busy planning our assault on the keep. Whistling a tune I’d heard some of our troops singing, I realized I’ve finally had enough of burning things…for now anyway.

We reached the keep by nightfall several days later, our small group managing to avoid detection, thanks mainly to the scouting efforts of Erik and Dolwen. The allied army was currently plodding along about a day behind us. We sat down to our evening meal to finalize our plans to infiltrate the keep. I gave the stew another stir before sitting down with my comrades. Dolwen was busy pulling items out of his pack while the rest of us once again huddled around the crude map Eckhardt had drawn. As we discussed the best way to approach the rear wall, Eckhardt remembered a little used secret door nearby once used to escape the keep. Dolwen took a break from whatever he was doing to see where this door was located. We decided the best chance of sneaking in undetected was to use the arrival of the allied army as a distraction. While the enemy was busy watching the army out front, we could then sneak in at the rear. As the stealthiest among us, Dolwen, Erik and I volunteered to scale the wall, locate the door, and open it for the others. Once inside we’d assess the best way of releasing the prisoners. Plan now in hand, Dolwen returned to rifling through his pack, the contents scattering the ground around him “Has anyone seen my black shirt?” (Huh, I guess he did miss it…oh well, he looks better in green anyway.)

At the base of the wall, Erik and I watched as the green clad elf scaled the wall. We had assessed the climb, and decided that Dolwen had the best chance of making it to the top quickly. He would then lower a rope for us to follow. His shadowy form froze at the top as two guards peered over the top into the darkness. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally pulled himself over the wall. Several agonizingly uneventful minutes later, Erik and I started to realize that there would be no rope coming. I was starting to get a little anxious. Hope he doesn’t get caught? Eventually, the outline of the secret door creaked open. I quickly moved to get the others (and my armour) while Erik and Dolwen secured the passageway. Once we were all huddled in the store room at the base of the tower, I helped Herod, Erik, Pieter and Eckhardt look like merc guards before they headed out to reconnoitre. They returned later to tell us they had located the prison on the other side of a drawbridge, but we were going to have to bluff our way past the guards. Sigh…Looks like halfling prisoners…again. Stashing my lock picks in my ponytail, just in case this didn’t work, I prepared to make Adam and myself look more like prisoners.

We crossed the outer grounds without incident and approached the bridge. The first of the two guards yelled out “It takes five of you to escort two halflings?” Pieter retorted “Piss off, we’re under orders. These two were there when Helmut was killed.” Struggling a little, I responded “Actually, I can’t take all the credit. I only lit him on fire.” Herod gave me a smack “Shut your pie hole halfling.” Glaring back at him, I spit on his boots. Eckhardt used the distraction to move towards one of the guards. The other guard was looking suspiciously at Dolwen “Who are you?” as his companion fell asleep at Eckhardt’s feet. Startled, he turned towards Eckhardt who quickly slapped him rendering him unconscious as well. So far, so good. Eckhardt had just finished slicing their throats when a demon rounded the corner into the courtyard at the other side of the bridge accompanied by more guards. Quickly crossing the bridge, Dolwen and I froze in our tracks as the demon approached. Erik moved for the bridge controls, while Pieter made a move towards the demon. The beast glared at Pieter and ordered “Stay with your prisoners!” The demon looked to see the two guards laying at the other end of the bridge, their lifesblood spilling onto the ground. “What did you do my men?” (Okay, he’s stupid. Maybe we can bluff our way through this.) Eckhardt answered “I killed them, just like I’m going to do to you.” (Okay, bluffing’s out) “INTRUDERS!!!” it bellowed, before drawing its sinister looking blade and charging Pieter. Herod and Dolwen moved quickly to two of the doors leading to the tower. Herod was about to lock his when the handle turned from the other side. Throwing his shoulder into it, and quickly barring the door, he warned “We’ve got company.” I was only vaguely aware of these events as well as the raising of the drawbridge, unfortunately, I couldn’t react as I was unable to tear my eye’s off the demon currently fighting Pieter. Truth be told, I was unable to do anything at all due to the awesome and frightening presence of the demon…mostly frightening as evident from the uncomfortable dampness currently present in my small clothes. A moment later, another door burst open admitting more guards, and another demon. Great, now there’s two…still can’t move…getting less awesome. One of the guards took advantage of my preoccupation with the bloodletters and sliced a glancing blow across my forearm. Fortunately, this was enough to shake off the paralyzing effects from the demons. I once again dropped into a defensive stance, fumbling to draw my weapons to protect myself. I circled my opponent, trading blows and misses. By the time I finally dropped my opponent, the demon’s were both dead and the remaining guards were quickly following them. Making sure we were temporarily secure before accepting the healing efforts from Dolwen and Eckhardt, we gathered the weapons from our fallen foes, and prepared to free some prisoners.

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The battle for Schraumlieben - Part 1

The smouldering embers of the funeral pyres glowed in the night as the clean up efforts continued. While Dolwen received some much needed medical attention, the Bernjaeger, accompanied by Erik and Pieter, patrolled the perimeter to ensure there were no other beastmen lurking about. I contented myself by poking the doombull with a stick, my attention occasionally diverting back to the flickering glow of the fires. My thoughts were interrupted when some rangers finally came to drag away the carcass of the minotaur. Sigh…it wasn’t nearly as intimidating now anyway. The beast was heaved onto one of the pyres, sending sparks dancing into the night. The flames engulfed the body, their warmth, strangely comforting. I continued staring into the flames, until the body was fully reduced to ash before turning to rejoin my companions. The Bernjaeger informed us that Sigmaringen would have to be razed. The land, scarred with the taint of chaos, was to far gone for us to save. It would take a monumental effort from some high level priests to be able to sanctify the area. The town would have to be rebuilt elsewhere. Riders had already been dispatched to this end. Our usefulness here was apparently over, it was time to head home.

The ranch was a bustle of activity as we rode in, the support efforts continuing even in Wilhelm’s absence. In order to divert focus from the refugee’s, he had wisely decided to remain in Schraumlieben. A commotion to the north drew our attention, as a group of approximately two dozen dwarves limped into the courtyard. Obviously wounded, Eckhardt immediately went to offer his aide. Speaking with their commanding officer, we learned they had liberated the hedge village of Drebkau before suffering heavy casualties in Hornau when they were ambushed by a large force of beastmen. They had managed to free the town, but only at the heavy cost of half of their troops. They made several attempts to send a message to the Sun Keep, but were unsuccessful, so they made their way here. Our discussions continued until a messenger rode in delivering a summons. We have been ordered to make haste for Schraumlieben. The enemy leader “Red Thorn” is on his way to discuss terms, and he “requests” our presence. I don’t think they’d accept a “No thank-you.” so I guess we are heading out again. I wonder why he asked to see us? It’s not like we have any say in the peace talks, and how does he know our names? Have we been a bigger thorn in his side than we thought? Does he just want to put a face to the reputation? Speaking of thorns, Why is he called “Red Thorn”? Was he born with it?, or is it just a nick name? Did he sit on a thorn once, turning his bottom an irritated red?, or is it a commentary on the size of his giggle stick? Is this incursion just his way of overcompensating? Too many questions. Now I want to go just so I can ask him. Using his crystal ball, Eckhardt looked to see the citizens of Schraumlieben working feverishly on their defenses. Satisfied that we wouldn’t be walking into another trap, we prepared to leave.

Our journey was uneventful. I suspect a temporary cease fire was in affect, and no outlaw in his right mind would risk being stuck between two opposing armies. A large pavilion surrounded by iron circle troops, occupied the area east of town. The mood as we rode into town was tense with a tinge of fear. We reported to Castor Lietdorf, who apprised us of the situation and immediately accompanied us and the Von Altram’s representative to meet with Red Thorn. The Iron Circle troops made no effort to hinder us as we approached the pavilion. Inside, a man wearing jet black armour with a red overcoat introduced himself as Red Thorn and invited us all to sit, motioning towards a large table surrounded by chairs. Struggling into my seat, since there were no halfling sized ones, I noticed the large hulking form of Big Red glaring at me from the corner. He resembled a vicious dog waiting to be unleashed. Growling at us, he slowly drew his sword across his palm slicing it open. The wound rapidly shrank and closed before our eyes…that’s pretty cool…disturbing, but cool. Taking a closer look at the large man, a flash of memory triggered of an encounter in a dark, rain soaked alley. Absently running a finger along the scar on my face, I looked him in the eyes. “I remember you.”…“I thought you were dead.” Looking him over ”You’ve got bigger.”…throwing a large grin ”How are the wiggly bits?” He answered with a snarl, and was kept in check with a motion from Red Thorn. Moving on to business, he laid out his terms. He has absolutely no intention of surrendering the delta but wants to try and coexist with himself as the lord and master. We are assured that all beastmen will be evicted from the region and forbidden from returning, but made no such assurances about other allies of chaos. He offered to release all of the captives at the Sun Keep, and would rebuild Sigmaringen at a new, suitably untainted, location. He then told us that these terms were non-negotiable and gave us until sundown to respond. I’m pretty sure we could give him an answer now, but Castor shook his head, leading us out and back to the relative safety of Schraumlieben. Erik and I drafted a response, but Castor rejected it for something, he said, “a little more…diplomatic.” Pieter of course joined the war council. Appraised the towns defenses, and determined that it was basically un-defendable. The two armies are relatively equal in number, however, the enemy troops are actually trained, whereas ours are mainly militia, farmers, and homeowners. Definitely not promising for our side. The rest of us excused ourselves from the ensuing battle plans for tasks better suited to our individual skills. Erik and Dolwen went out on a scouting mission, and Eckhardt busied himself preparing med’s and setting up a triage. Adam, Herod and I did what we could to boost troop morale. Now, there was nothing left to do but wait for the siege to begin.

The first wave of the attack, tested our resolve and was repelled. The defenses had held…for now. I chewed on one of Eckhardt’s herbal concoctions to relieve my wounded shoulder. One of their archers had managed to tag me with a lucky shot, blasting me off my feet. I was rotating my shoulder, making sure everything still worked, when a scout came to take us to Gramath, the village elder. After a brief overview of the battle, we were informed that the enemy was now attempting a flanking manoeuvre. They were attempting to capture the only means of escape for the towns folk. We were needed to help hold the bridge. Sprinting towards our goal, I could hear the battle was already underway. Rounding the corner, a chill ran down my spine as we were confronted by a pair of devils, tearing into the defenders. Pieter immediately charged one of the devils. Shaking off my initial hesitation, I grabbed my sword, shouldered my shield and waded into the fray, accompanied by Eckhardt. A brute confronted us, blocking our path to the devil, leaving Pieter to defend against it alone. The beastman took a swing at me, missing wide. Eckhardt retaliated, slapping the beast with an open hand. The beast’s eyes fluttered and closed, before toppling unconscious to the ground at our feet. Now free to help Pieter, we watched as the devil suddenly spat a large messy blob of flaming tar, covering our comrade in the sticky goo. Pieter immediately dropped and started rolling around on the sleeping brute in front of us. Combat paused for an instant as both friend and foe alike, stopped and stared with expressions of “What the F*#K!” Judging from all the pelvic thrusting, he either had some hot tar creeping into his naughty bits, or it was some sort of chaos manifested friskiness. Momentary distraction over, I turned my attention to the devil in front of me. I traded several blows with the monster, my sword mostly deflecting harmlessly off its thick hide, while it’s attacks gradually took their toll on me. Fortunately, Pieter, now over his temporary interlude, was now moving in to help. Turning its attention to the return of its former opponent, it launched a couple of swings at Pieter. Dodging the attacks, he counter attacked, landing a couple of solid blows which seemed to stagger the large beast. Eckhardt fired a flaming dart at the devil, which impacted, smoked, annnd…did nothing. I attacked from the flank, connected annnd…also nothing. We proceeded to gradually chip away at the monster, and it did the same to us. Pieter eventually landing a mighty slash, knocking the beast to the ground. Eckhardt quickly rushed in and finished it off with a two-handed thrust of his spear. The initial thrill of the encounter over, battle fatigue and blood loss caused my legs to give out, making me stagger. Unable to continue fighting, I consumed another of Eckhardt’s wondrous healing draughts. The wounds were still present, but I was at least able to stand on my own. The defense forces succeeded in eliminating the remaining devil, and the enemy forces fled. The bridge was saved….Medic!!!

Our wounds were mostly healed when another scout arrived with a report. The halfling refugee building was being stormed by a force led by a large man in blood red armour…Great. Lets hope fortune once again favours this halfling for the impending reunion…I wonder if he kept the dagger?

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"What's the worst that can happen?"

To: Berholt Eisenhauser, Captain, Imperial Roadwardens

From: Pieter Konrad, Sergeant, Imperial Roadwardens

Sir,

After bringing the Kraemer twins to justice in Pfunzig and ensuring that they would trouble the empire no longer, we left for Averheim to meet with what allies we had managed to acquire, and to coordinate out efforts to free the Blue Reach Delta. We met with Matthias Lietdorf and brought him up to date with the happenings in Pfunzig and our ending of the twin’s machinations in the cult of Handrick. He informed us of dinner meeting amongst the allies that evening which gave us enough time to re-equip and re-provision ourselves.

That night, at the von Alptraum’s, we sat down to eat and to discuss the situation. The dwarves were going to secure both Drebkau and Hornau in the northeast, while the Bernjaeger were going to work their way north from Grenzstadt and harry the beastmen in the forest as they worked their way towards Sigmaringen. Schwarmonger had sent in “The Suicide Squad” to infiltrate different areas of the Delta and provide us with some up to date reconnaissance. The nobles were planning on proceeding to Schramleben to engage the Iron Circle leadership in a parley, thereby diverting their attention from the general mayhem we were about to unleash. Our party was to cross the Blue Reach River north of Sigmaringen and clear the village of beastmen and other chaotic influences. Provided we survive, we were to rendezvous with a party of dwarves at the Neiderlitz ranch.

The next day, we headed south along the Blue Reach River to where we had sunk our boat during our previous narrow escape from Sigmaringen. On our way there, we met up with Anton Deadeye who informed us that the chaos warband had been taken over by a rather large, and to paraphrase Anton, “Fuckin’ huge!” minotaur. We also spent some time discussing how we were going to attack the village the next morning. When we got to the boat, we found it miraculously unsunk and floating placidly in a small back-eddy in the river. In it was a chest, and after much trepidation we opened it. In said chest were the heads of two halflings, both members of Schwarmonger’s squad that had been sent in to scout Schramleben. There was a note as well that said simply, “Looking forward to your next visit”. Axel got a little pale as he realized who the likely culprit was, as the halflings in the box had died messily and not at all easily.

We crossed the river and found the rest of the “Suicide Squad” impaled on stakes – so much for up to date intelligence. We buried the bodies and set up camp to get as much rest as we could before the attack the next morning. As we stirred from our bedrolls in the morning, we heard the sound of an approaching group. For a scouting party they were pretty loud as one of them was calling in crude reikspiel, “Dolwen, come out and play”. Obviously, something had given us away and it hadn’t been one of Axel’s patented hobgoblin calls.

The scouting partly consisted of a chaos deformed leader, three gors, and four ungors. Dolwen got pretty worked up at the sight of the leader, and he told us later that this was the beastman he had been tracking before he got embroiled in our schemes here in the Delta. The leader offered to fight Dolwen one on one to an honorable end. Dolwen must have remembered Axel’s advice about fighting fair, because Axel, Adam, and he opened fire as soon as the leader had finished speaking. All three shots struck true, causing the leader to reel back. Erik put an arrow into each eye of one the ungors, dropping it in a messy heap on the forest floor – epic shots. I was debating whether to shoot or not when Adam saw my indecision and shouted at me, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I replied, “I guess we’ll find out”, as I leveled my pistol and blew one of the ungors into bloody rags. So far, so good. Herod slew a gor while Adam and Axel picked off the ungors. My next shot missed a gor by a hair, but that didn’t prevent him from taking a small piece out of me. Axel, Adam, and Erik all accounted for the ungors that they were engaged with. The leader hit Dolwen with a blow that he narrowly parried and missed on his second swing. Herod charged in and hit the gor attacking me, which was a good thing as both of my swings missed terribly. Ekhart was tossing off magic darts like a machine, while Herod killed my Gor and Erik slew another. The only combat remaining was between the leader and Dolwen. We moved in to finish him off but Dolwen waved us off – some elvish honor thing I guess. Personally, my motto is to kill them by any means possible and then move on. To each their own I guess.

Combat continued back and forth and was beautiful to watch – the brute strength of the chaos spawn matched against the fluid grace of the elf. The contest was evenly matched, but we knew it was only a matter of time before someone made a mistake. The leader managed to land an upward sweeping blow with the massive axe he was using that literally lifted Dolwen off his feet. However, he recovered quickly and continued to battle on. Finally, the leader reached just a little too far and Dolwen’s lightning fast riposte took him full in the mouth and terminated with a hands width of blade sticking out from the back of his head. Dolwen spit on the corpse as it slithered off his blade. I thought the drama of the moment was totally ruined by the loud cheers and whistles of the halflings, but Dolwen didn’t seem to mind.

Ekhart bandaged what wounds we had managed to collect and we made our way through the forest to the village. From the cover of the trees, we noticed that the beastmen had manages to erect barricades around the entire village. Not really enough to keep out a determined assault, but certainly enough to make our lives difficult. We spent some time discussing what we were going to do and basically decided that we may as well engage them in the open field and be done with it. What’s the worst that can happen? Famous last words I fear.

As we broke the cover of the forest, the beastmen at the barricades raised the alarm. Through a gap in the barricade, they released some sort of tusked boar-like animal at us that immediately charged our position. A bestigor and a group of gors and ungors followed their pets out from behind the barricade. While the rest of our group prepared to meet the charge of the animals, Gustav and I began a charge of our own. I lowered my spear and thundered towards the enemy. The boars simply avoided us as we passed, totally intent on the group with the bent bows and whirling slings – stupid, stupid beasts. I could hear the squeals of pain and the thuds of impact as my friend’s missile attacks found their mark. I bore down on the bestigor and managed a solid hit on its weapon arm as we rushed past.

In the distance I could see the Bernjaeger scouts begin their assault on the other side of the village. As I turned Gustav for another go at the beastmen, I could see that all the boars were down and that my companions were beginning to target the beastmen. As I charged back and hit the bestigor another blow on the head, some the gors began to fall to the unerring missile attack of my friends. The bestigor took a swing at me, but I managed to parry it with my shield. The remainder of the gors was now engaged in melee with my companions. One of the gors scored a solid hit on Herrod, while one of the ungors hit Adam with a glancing blow. We heard a deafening bellow from the village and all eyes turned to look. Clearing the barricade was one the largest beasts I had ever seen – a towering brute of a minotaur with a fearsome spread of horns, fully armored in plate mail, and wielding a truly massive two-headed battle axe. Chaos symbols adorned his armor and weapons and I remember thinking that “fuckin’ huge” was only an accurate description if a person were given to making ridiculous understatements.

The rest of the group polished off the remaining gors and ungors while I knocked the bestigor down and Gustav tap-danced on its head. We spend a minute preparing as the fearsome foe approached. A wave a fear preceded its advance, as we looked at it and contemplated how few of us were likely to survive this encounter. Axel and Herrod were literally frozen in terror with the thought of imminent death approaching. Most of us managed to shake off our doubts and I dismounted and sent my faithful steed away, not wanting to hazard him in THIS battle. I took careful aim at the beast and hit it dead center, only to stare in disbelief as my round ricocheted away with a nasty snarl – not a good sign. Axel and Herod managed to overcome their fear and joined us on the line. A last round of missile fire, including two more pistol shots, blasted home. They may as well have been buttercups for all the good they did – definitely not a good sign. Even Axel muttered about how this was a lot less awesome than he was used to.

Axel, Adam, and Erik remained engaged with missile weapons. Ekhart was using his magic on it and Dolwen, Belisarius, Herrod, and I engaged it in weapons range. It literally ignored most of our attempts, trusting in its armor and ungodly strength to shield it from harm. Some of attacks were beginning to tell however as the odd blow managed to find the weak spots in its armor. The beast turned its attention to me as its axe blurred towards me in a silvery smear of motion. Fortunately, the first two attacks were clean misses and I managed to get my shield up for the third swing although the force of the blow nearly broke my arm.

Belisarius managed to land a solid blow that actually managed to stagger the beast. Everything else we threw at it failed to penetrate its guard or bounced off of its armor. In return for his valiant effort, Belisarius was on the receiving end of flat swing that hummed in past his guard and smashed into his ribcage, knocking him back, but not out of the fight. One of my swings managed to score a hit and then it was my turn again. I thought that I was done for as the axe droned towards me, but my rabbit’s foot picked that moment to fly off if its chain and strike the beast square in the eye, robbing the blow of much of its power and allowing me to parry it off with no damage.

During the next round of combat, the beast bellowed in surprise as Eckhart’s spell made it lose its grip on its weapon. Outstanding! As it bent over to retrieve it, I thrust my sword into the gap between the shoulder pauldron and the neck and drove it inwards as hard as I could. I must have hit something important because the beast fell in a heap, nearly tearing my sword from my grasp. We heard moans of terror from within the village as the remaining members of the warband witnessed the fall of their champion.

The rest was merely clean-up. Between us and the Bernjaeger, we managed to scour the village of the remaining beastmen. As I write this, the foul bodies are burning in makeshift pyres and we are beginning the gruesome task of searching the village for the any remains of the previous inhabitants. Our plans are to move onwards to the Neiderlitz ranch in the morning. I will file my next report as soon as the next opportunity presents itself. The liberation of the Blue Reach Delta has begun!

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The bombs bursting in air...

I continued to drift in and out of consciousness throughout the remainder of the night. Miraculously, I was feeling close to my usual cheerful self by morning, thanks mainly to the heroic medical efforts of Eckhardt, and of course one of Matthias’s healing potions. Once everyone’s wounds were tended and bellies fed…Adam was starting to whimper a little…we accompanied Matthias and friends back to Averheim.

The mood in town was definitely darker than when we left. Rumours of unrest and vandalism were abundant from within the merchant district, not surprisingly, targeting mainly Matty’s businesses. The Kraemers were busy boys last night. Not wanting to miss another opportunity to meddle in one of their schemes…it is sort of our thing…we agreed to check up on some of Matty’s businesses for him.

That night, we started our patrol. First stop, the textile shop. Immediately, Pieter noticed the door was ajar. Peeking in, Dolwen announced the all clear. We looked around, but found little out of the ordinary. The one item of interest, was the note attached to the dressmakers dummy. “The ring of brotherhood eventually tightens and closes, squeezing out the unworthy.” Nothing threatening there. Locking up behind us, we proceeded to the warehouse.

This time the door was locked, giving me the perfect opportunity to “break in” my newly acquired tools. The inside of the warehouse was dark, with no sign of the night guard. A thorough search eventually found him on the loading dock, stuffed head first into a crate, immediately followed by his legs, then torso, and finally his arms. This was, in my humble opinion, the most uncomfortable position I’d ever seen. A note accompanied our contorted friend reading “A brother that is successful, shall earn his place in the inner circle.” I guess we’ll just have to make sure these brothers don’t succeed.

Our final stop on our patrol, was the clothing retail store. The door was disappointingly unlocked. Slipping in with Dolwen, Bel, and Erik, I immediately, and prudently, disappeared into the shadows. Looking around, we found the note. This time, it was written in blood on the walls…not a good sign for the night guard. “Successful brothers will find untold riches in unlikely places.” Hearing movement at the rear of the store, we silently closed in. We found a group of the Kraemer’s men. They hesitated only an instant before charging. Dolwen and I fired a couple of shots at one of the leaders before they closed on us. The back door burst open, admitting the rest of our party…perfect timing. My opponent took a swing which I easily ducked under. Judging from the sounds surrounding me, everyone else was similarly engaged. As combat continued, the bodies were piling up, as were the profanities from Erik’s corner. I struck my opponent to the side of the head, his eye’s rolling up, as he lay down for a nap. Glancing around, I could see the only other survivor to question was unfortunately laying unconscious, and defenceless on the ground with Erik standing over him taking careful aim with his bow. Even he couldn’t miss at that range, so I started to tie up my thug for further questioning.

While the others began questioning the hired goon, I started looking around the back office with Dolwen. Locating a secret door behind the desk, I opened it to find a spiral staircase descending into the dark. I headed back to the others, to let them know, and to see how the questioning was going. Apparently, our now six fingered friend was only a minor thug and didn’t have anything useful to say. Heading back to the staircase, I predict that very soon, he won’t be saying anything at all. The staircase led to the meeting room and offices for the Cult of Handrik. Locating Matthias’s office, I found another secret door with another descending staircase. The stair led to a corridor deep underground. Hearing whistling, we followed it to find an young boy sitting on a crate in front of a vault. Startled by our silent approach, he presented us with a note. It contained some “complementary” assessments of our previous encounters with the twins. It then went on to invite us to where we first met. That could be a bit of a problem as I seem to remember lighting that particular building on fire, along with the firebug halfling. His mission completed, the kid then fled off into the darkness.

Our journey to Pfunzig was uneventful, and boring, as was our trip through town to the warehouse. The warehouse has been patched up since our last visit. The door was unlocked, clearly inviting us in to the trap. Dolwen was about to suggest subtlety when Pieter strode in and announced “Did you miss us?” He was answered with silence. It doesn’t look like anybody’s home. Checking the upper level we found a note asking us to join them downstairs. We went to the elevator and built a makeshift barricade around the platform in anticipation of an ambush. Taking our positions, Adam headed for the lever, and before pulling it asked “You know this is a bad idea…” “Of course it’s a bad idea.” I replied “That’s what makes it fun.” Pulling the lever, the platform plunged to the bottom. Yep…they rigged it…why didn’t I think of that? The exhilaration of the fall briefly reminded me of my recent foray into halfling juggling. Unfortunately, it was interrupted by the sudden stop at the bottom…groan…still worth it. Reaching into my pocket, I consumed one of my draughts, feeling the soothing effects take hold. Deciding, it best to get out of the way before Adam jumped down and landed on me, I stood up and watched as two bombs sailed towards us…okay, getting less awesome. The successive detonations threw me into the remains of our makeshift barricade, splintering the crates, and possibly my ribs. Staggering to my feet, I spotted one of the twins and fired a quick shot before sprinting for cover. Climbing the crates, I looked for a target. A double detonation revealed Pieter’s location below. Scrambling to a safe firing position, I took careful aim at Valdred…or was it Valdric?..whatever, I shoot at the good looking one, my stone deflecting harmlessly off of his plate armour. Herod’s halberd, however, did not. His mighty swing sheared through his plate like paper, spraying Pieter in blood and gore. I’m glad I’m up here, where the only blood splatter is my own. Climbing down, I was just starting to search for the ugly twin when I heard Adam yell and dance a little jig on his own perch, indicating the other twin had now fallen. Relieved that this threat had now been dealt with, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s next?”

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If I were you Halfling...

I was ready to concede defeat. My attempts to teach my giant friend to juggle were not working out as I’d hoped. The exploded remains of the pumpkins, littered the ground around us. The first attempt was fun, at least until Gothar almost dropped me, which coincidentally, is when we switched to the pumpkins. Gothar could barely manage one pumpkin (or halfling), and it’s now obvious that two is beyond his limited abilities. There is no way I’ll convince Adam to try halfling juggling now. Sigh…If only I had more time, it would have been awesome. The clean up efforts at the mansion were almost complete. Surveying the wreckage I wondered why we didn’t just throw Theo out of his house instead of evacuating everyone else? At least then most of the mansion would have remained intact. Before continuing our journey back home, we were pulled aside by the Gold wizard and Rune master. Gunther and Hagar recommended we make haste for Averheim. We were asked to seek out Matthias Lietdorf. If the Kraemers were now bold enough to attempt an assassination, they must be ready to make their move to seize power. Equipping us with supplies, horses and ponies, we were ready to depart. I think I’ll name my pony “Tea Biscuit”.

We arrived at Heideck, a crossroads village, and the last stop before reaching Averheim. A commotion grabbed my attention to the north of town. The Von Altrams convoy was arriving to much fan fare. “Let’s go say hi.” We were eventually granted an audience after finally convincing them we were who we said we were. It took alot of convincing. We updated Ludmilla on recent events and she again agreed to provide what help she could to free the delta region. She then asked us to help find her niece, who was to have arrived in town, but never showed. We agreed to help look for the woman. Excusing myself from the ensuing discussions, I went searching for a locksmith. I found one who was willing to sell me some lockpicks, but only after I assured him that I wouldn’t use them in Heideck. Again, it took alot of convincing. Eventually catching up to the others, they had already checked the stagecoaches, inns, bars and hostels and found nothing. Convinced Maria never made it to town, we returned to our inn for a hot meal and some rest before leaving the next morning.

On the road to Averheim, we encountered a lone rider approaching us. As he rode closer we could see that he was a road warden. Pieter stiffened noticeably as he approached. Realizing it was his boss, I immediately extended my hand and introduced myself. “Pleased to meet you, I’m Axel.” I was answered with a stern and appraising look which made me feel a little self-conscious. Thats never happened before. “I swear, I never tied his boots together.” I stammered. Pieter quickly pushed me along before I could speak further. Pulling him aside, the two discussed recent events, and the improved legibility of his reports. Bernholt mentioned that the Von Altrams have a country cottage in the area. Its possible that Ludmillas niece has gone there. Before departing, he looked to Pieter and told him that he was destined for bigger and better things. Wilhelm said the exact same thing to me. Its probably a mentors pride thing. I wonder how often a teacher admits to their student “You’re a total screw up?” I’d ask Theodosius if I could. I continue to ponder this as we rode.

Approaching Averheim, we encountered a broken down wagon. An elderly farmer was being harassed by a group on horseback. Pieter mumbled “Time to pick a fight.” and rode up ordering them to “Move along” The leader complained “This wagon is in our way.” “You’re on horseback” I responded “Go around Genius.” Glaring at me, he snarled “If I were you halfling, I’d mind my own business.” Returning a smile “If you were me, you’d be better looking.” Reaching for his pistol, he checked his hand as he noticed Pieter had two of his own. “Lets go boys, we’ve wasted enough time here” and they rode off. Erik and the others seemed disappointed that they didn’t want to play, but I’m sure they’ll get over it. Helping the farmer get his wagon moving again, we continued on to the city.

It didn’t take us long to find the residence of Matthias Leitdorf. When we mentioned we were sent by Gunther we were granted an audience immediately. “How is Gunther these days?” he asked. “Currently unemployed.” I respond. We filled him in on the events leading to the death of Theodosius, and the Kraemers involvement. He told us that the Kraemers had overstepped their bounds, probably in an attempt to seize power and advance to the inner circle of the cult. Currently, they are not part of the inner circle, but they may be trying to create a vacancy. We were reassured that although members, the cult does not approve of their actions. I decided to follow up with our other mission and asked if he knew where the Von Altram cottage was. Obviously startled by the suddenness of my question, he answered yes, wanting to know why I’d asked. We told him of the missing niece and suspected she may have gone to the cottage. He told us that he knew where it was, but was clearly hesitant to tell us. A messenger interrupted us to announce that his brother Castor had arrived in town. He dismissed the matter and nervously said we’d talk about this later. His reactions although odd, did not lead me to believe that he has done harm to the woman. More likely, given the current relationship between the two families, he’s trying to hide a romance with the niece. We went with him to meet Castor when another group led by Ludmilla Von Altram also approached. Castor and Ludmilla met each other in the middle of the town square. The crowd had gone silent, broken by the occasional low murmur. The two coldly but politely greeted each other. When the topic of her missing niece came up, Matthias nervously cleared his throat and admitted that Maria was at his cottage. “I KNEW IT!!” someone yelled excitedly….it might have been me. The two looked at me and then Matthias with a look of shock and confusion. It became apparent that the message that Ludmilla received from her niece had been a ruse. Matthias paled visibly realizing that even though he was well protected from assassins, she was not. Erik was pretty sure the “Gun toting dick wads” (his words, not mine) we encountered earlier, were on their way to the Leiber cottage. We quickly formed a rescue party with Matthias and his guards and made for the cottage to save Maria.

We approached the cottage in darkness. Stealth was prudent, so Dolwen, Erik, Adam, Belasarius and I melted into the darkness. We saw one of the bandits about to climb a tree so we convinced him with a volley that the ground was more comfortable. He wasn’t really in a position to argue. Dolwen pointed out more movement in the trees. I tried to hit one of the windows to alert the occupants of the attack, and hoped that banging one off the wall instead would be enough. The thugs quickly made for the cottage, so I sprinted for the gate to join Peiter, Herod and Eckhardt. Mostly because the wall was to tall for me to climb over. Pieter charged some opponents dropping over the wall while Matthias and his guard made for the house. Following Pieter, I charged my opponent as Pieters gun exploded alerting the others to our presence. The leader seeing me, pulled his pistol taking aim at my head. Closing my eyes, I awaited the inevitable detonation…“CLICK!” Opening one of my eyes to peak, I realized it had misfired. Ranald’s luck. We traded blows, parries, and dodges when I landed a solid hit to his arm. Glaring at me, I countered with one of my best smiles and winks, and dodged his furious counter strike. Landing another strike on his other arm, he roared in frustration. Okay, he’s definitely pissed. Launching a flurry of blows, I easily side stepped the first and managed to get my shield up to intercept the next. Combat continued with neither of us gaining an advantage. Pieter joined the attack on the leader just as two rapid swings finally broke through my defences ringing my bell, and bruising my ribs. Wincing in pain, I managed to stay on my feet. Guess my luck is starting to run out. Missing my next swing, I prepare to face his counter attack. Clearly I need a new good luck charm, mines defective. Time seemed to slow as I watched his blade arcing towards me, the edge glinting in the moonlight, revealing all the knicks and dents from its repeated use. He should really get it sharpened. I was sure my time had come, when his pistol suddenly discharged on his hip, causing him to twist his grip enough,so that I was now staring at the flat of his blade instead of the edge. A flash of light followed, then darkness.

The next thing I knew, I was being shaken awake. Hoping it was a pretty halfling lass, I was instead confronted with Eckhardt’s smiling face. Getting over my initial disappointment, I smiled weakly back. I guess we managed to win this one.

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Giant Problems...Really!

To: Berholt Eisenhauser, Captain, Imperial Roadwardens

From: Pieter Konrad, Sergeant, Imperial Roadwardens

Sir,

After managing to return Stronomire’s Hammer and extricating ourselves from the abandoned Karak, we went back to the Cliffside Homestead to recuperate from our injuries. Dolwen in particular needed rest and Eckhart spent quite a bit of time putting him back together. We noticed that all of us had picked up tattoos, or in Dolwen’s case received a talisman, at some point on our trip and we can only assume that the Dwarven gods had rewarded us in some way for our efforts on their behalf.

We spent a few days hanging around the homestead while the aftershocks of the Karak’s fall rumbled throughout the region. One day, Erik, Belisarius, and one of the homesteaders decided to go hunting again. I remember hoping that they brought something back besides orcs this time. Erik had managed to fell a deer when Belisarius noticed a shaking of the ground that felt quite different from the aftershocks that we had been experiencing. They were short lived and had a cadence to them – impact tremors. They looked up and noticed a gigantic humanoid walking through the trees as if they were tall grass and heading in the general direction of the homestead. They tried to make as good of time as possible heading back to the homestead to warn us, but Erik was struggling with coordinating running for his life, looking behind him, and carrying a large deer. I was standing on the walls of the homestead and I saw him manage a truly epic face plant at about the same time I saw the giant.

As Erik struggled to his feet and gamely refused to relinquish his deer, I took a closer look at the oncoming giant. The first thing I noticed was that although he had a tree trunk hung from his belt, he was not carrying any weapons. The second thing was that he was well and truly feathered by crude arrows. Some of our group left the marginal safety of the walls to attempt a parley while the rest of us stayed on the ramparts. While he never did stop walking towards us, he did tell us that his name was Gothar and that he was being chased by ogres. He basically stepped over the wall of the palisade and sat down in the middle of the homestead to “hide”. This had questionable success as the top of his head could still be seen over the top the walls. I feel it necessary to point out that it’s a good thing that the gods grant all creatures the ability to breathe on their own, because if Gothar had to spend any time thinking about it he would have died as an infant.

Eckhart attempted to heal some of his wounds as we tried to converse with him in order to determine what he was running from. Concepts like numbers, distance, and time meant little to him, so it was hard to establish how long ago he had started to run and how far he had come. We did manage to determine that he was running from an ogre and noblar army and the approximate direction they were in. We also found out that there were Hobgoblin scouts mounted on wolves in the area, as these were what shot him full of arrows. The last thing he mentioned was that he had passed a fast dwarf in his flight and that it was probably that morning when he had done so. I winced when I heard that because the only “fast” dwarves I know of are the runebearers, and if one of them was coming down Blackfire Pass, he was probably carrying a message that we were duty-bound to help see to its destination. So, with a weary sigh of resignation, we prepared to go out and see if we could rescue the dwarf messenger.

Axel, on the other hand, was bouncing around and singing about going to see the ogres and how utterly awesome it was going to be to see a whole ARMY of them! I had to appreciate his enthusiasm, but his sense of what constitutes a fun trip leaves much to be desired. We headed out, back-trailing Gothar for a couple of hours. Axel paused us when he heard the sound of labored breathing up ahead. The more stealthy members of our part scouted ahead to see what was making the sounds. Axel totally ruined that when managed to drive his little toe into a sharp outcropping of rock. His sharp pitched squeal of agony reverberated through the forest, informing everything in ten leagues where we were.

Fortunately, it turned out that the heavy breather was the dwarf we were looking for. His name was Norgond and he came from the same Karak as our own Rorannina Orphanshield. Apparently, his fallen brothers, the Chaos Dwarves (doesn’t that sound just GRAND…) are coming down from the north and he was sent to warn the king of the invasion. Basically we were stuck between two armies – ogres and noblars on one side and chaos dwarves and hobgoblins on the other and we decided that it was past time to shake the dust of Black Fire Pass off of our boots and find safer locales. I had been thinking of ways to adjust Axel’s “awesome” meter a little, but the idea of being stuck between two ravaging hordes appears to have done the trick nicely. It was gratifying to see that he has at least some sense of self preservation.

We decided that it might be a good idea to use the Orb of Othello to see if we could take a peek at the chaos dwarves at least. Working with Norgond, we managed to get a viewing of the Karak and its exterior. We saw ranks of chaos dwarves and hobgoblins as well as various machines of war – all the trappings of an invasion army. With a new sense of urgency, we started to head towards Cliffside. It wasn’t long before I heard noises in the forest, quickly followed by glimpses of a type of goblinoid mounted on wolves that were as large as horses, slinking through and between the trees. I assumed that these were the hobgoblin wolf riders that Gothar had run into. I poked Axel in the shoulder and hissed, “Good Hobgoblin calling – awesome!” He grinned up at me and replied, “Yeah, I know. Great hey?” I rolled my eyes and we started to look for what passed for a defensible spot in an open forest.

We managed to find a cluster of trees that would at least prevent them from charging us and got stuck in as the scouts converged on our position. Both sides opened with missile fire to mostly little effect. I managed to make a lot noise and smoke though. Erik on the other hand hit one of the scouts with both his arrows. The first one stuck in its chest and must have served as the aiming point for the second, because THAT arrow blasted right through the creature and literally dragged its heart and lungs from its body. The arrow continued on and pinned them to a tree four feet above the ground – truly a great shot. Eckhart hit one of the scouts with a magic dart that did solid damage, but didn’t kill it. Then we were fully engaged in melee.

A wolf and rider charged at me and I made the decision to attack the wolf as I know from first-hand experience that falling from a dead mount can do all kinds of nasty things to the rider. My first swing clipped its foreleg and my return stroke cleaved into the back of its neck and drove it to the ground. The hobgoblin scout was catapulted off of the wolf and was driven head first into a tree with a resounding crunch and then it slid bonelessly to the ground. A truly epic kill and one I’m going to boast about for years if I live that long.

I watched Herod take a mighty swing with his halberd and literally blast a scout off of the back of his wolf. I saw its arm go pin wheeling away, spraying gore in all directions and glanced back just in time to see his return stroke hammer in between the wolf’s shoulder blades – knocking it to the ground but failing to kill it. The wolves ravaged amongst us, doing significant damage to our group but we continued whittling away at their numbers, killing a few more. Eckhart took a heavy hit, but remained on his feet while Axel landed a heavy blow that staggered his opponent. I watched in horror as the wolf fighting Herod darted its head in past his guard and grabbed him around the middle in its mighty jaws. The wolf picked him up from his feet and shook him like a terrier shaking a rat, throwing him down to the ground with a resounding thud. I thought he was a goner for sure, but I could still see him moving and gasping for air so I moved in to protect him while regained his feet. My first attack merely grazed the wolf, but my second attack took the top of its head off and deposited it in a heap at my feet.

Combat whirled around in a blur and we all took what opportunities we could to reduce the enemy’s numbers whenever possible. We could sense that their morale was starting to get fragile as they started to begin to withdraw. Alas, it was too late as I slew the remaining scout and Belisarius killed a pair of wolves, left then right, just like he was in the practice salle.

After the combat, we recovered out breath and bandage what we could before continuing on to Cliffside. Upon arrival, we told everyone what we had discovered and helped however we could to prepare the settlement for evacuation. Surprisingly, we managed to convince Gothar to come with us. It seems that he had fought for the Empire in his younger days and was willing to do so again to avenge himself on the forces that had driven him from his home. I hope he will be as powerful of an ally as he seems. We left as soon as we could and made camp at the crossroads where we had fought the brigands. On our way to the city, we warned everyone we met of the oncoming armies, advising them to seek the shelter of the city walls.

When we arrived at Grenzstadt, there was a tense moment when the guard saw Gothar but Axel and Adam threw themselves over his feet to “protect” him, crying piteously, “Don’t shoot him”. We made our way to the inn and had a small discussion with the Loremaster. He suggested that we get cleaned up and meet him, the king, and that idiot Theodosius for dinner in a couple of hours so that everyone could hear the tales of our adventure. We followed his advice and also took the opportunity to restock some of our supplies.

We went to dinner and had to endure more of what passed for wit from Theodosius while we waited for our chance to debrief the king. We noticed that amongst Theo’s regular bevy of serving wenches that there were a couple of men. Not putting anything past where his tastes may or may not lie, I didn’t give it a second thought. The Loremaster noticed Axel’s new tattoo and came across the room with an intent expression and inquired as to where he had gotten it. That led to our telling of the return of Stronomire’s Hammer and all that had befallen us since we had left. We were told that we had done a great service for the Dwarven people and the gods had truly blessed us. He explained that our tattoos were runes given by the gods as blessings to those individuals who had rendered singular service on their behalf. He told us what they did for each us and I must say that it’s hard to describe what it feels like to have been touched by the gods.

Norgond had been waiting impatiently for his chance to pass on his message to the king. The story poured out of him and Eckhart again used to Orb of Othello to show everyone what was happening. We took the opportunity to pass on what we had discovered about the other army in the pass and we all settled down to discuss what was going to be done about it. It was at this point that Herod noticed that Theo was really out of it, more so than normal, so he nudged Eckhart and pointed it out. Eckhart took one look at Theodosius and all of the blood drained out of his face. He turned to us and said, “Firewine – someone’s fed Theodosius firewine”. We all stood up, sending tables and chairs crashing in every direction. I bellowed at the top of lungs for everyone to get out. We brooked no objections as we hurriedly cleared the room, promising to explain later. We managed to get out of the house just in time to watch the expanding energy orb devour half of Theo’s house and all of Theo. On the way out, Axel had noticed that the male servants were nowhere to be found, so we called the watch captain and had him lock down the city and begin a door to door search.

The watch managed to corner the culprits, but they took their own lives rather than be captured. In the meantime, the king informed us that his forces would be available to help us clear the Delta. He would start in the north and work his way south while on his march to engage the chaos dwarves. Since we knew that the Kraemer twins were the only ones that had firewine in their possession, we figured it was time to go deal with them once and for all. We were also going collect what allies we could from the south and begin our campaign to liberate the Blue Reach Delta.

Again, I’ll file further reports as I can. I’m still not totally hopeful I’m going to survive all this but I collect my princely wage for doing something and it may as well be this.

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Party Crashers

The storm clouds dissipated with last of the spectral riders. The runes enchanting our weapons were already beginning to fade. With only a few hours till morning, we decided to get what little rest was still available to us before sunrise, at least it would be a little drier. The following morning after breakfast, we wove our way up the mountain path to the entrance of the dwarven ruins. Eckhardt cautioned us about watching for traps as we walked. Obviously, I’ll have to give him Pieter’s captaincy. The entrance resembled a massive dwarven head, its mouth opened wide as if to bellow or sing…or belch, probably belch. While admiring the craftsmanship of the carving, I heard the sound of snoring. I was fairly confident it wasn’t coming from the stone head, which would have been awesome, so Dolwen and Erik crept up to investigate the source of the noise. A pair of bored goblin sentries were snoozing on stone benches. Making sure they never woke up, Dolwen tossed the corpses down the mountain in case someone came looking for them. He could have saved himself the effort, I’m pretty sure the arterial spray covered walls would reveal their fate, even without the bodies. My keen hearing detected more noise from within the ruins, it sounds like a party…maybe we can join it. We entered the first room cautiously, finding several doors and no goblins. Searching the doors one by one, we found a pair of snotlings playing hide and seek behind the first. They probably should have hid from Pieter. The next door released a gaseous cloud, engulfing Pieter, Dolwen and Erik. It had little effect on Dolwen, however, the other two looked like they’d been drinking for hours. A lone snotling was also in the room sharing the effects. It probably should have stopped giggling long enough to hide from Dolwen. Through the third door, I detected laboured breathing. Opening it carefully, we discovered tied to a post, a sickly looking creature resembling a ball with teeth. While Pieter and Erik giggled and expressed their undying affection for each other, the others put the poor beast out of its misery, and I tried to figure out how you’d tie up a ball? The last two doors revealed a weapons room with a secret door leading to a murder hole over the entrance. This could be a good place to hide if needed. Continuing to the next room, we found some desecrated statues of dwarven deities, and many sarcophagi. Considering he had only recently learned to read, it was a bit of a surprise when Pieter discovered he could also read Khazalid, and located the resting place of Stronomire. Placing the hammer in the vacant depression, he appeared to have reached a state of complete serenity. It also seemed to have the additional benefit of sobering him up, which unfortunately, did not extend to Erik, who was threatening to relieve himself on one of the statues. We moved Erik quickly to the next room before he could anger the spirits of the fallen. Pieter hung back a moment and mumbled a quick prayer, before once again picking up the glowing hammer. I guess I get to keep his sword a while longer. I could hear chanting in the distance as we entered the next room. Here, we found and quickly freed two prisoners. Retreating back to the weapons room, we told them to hide behind the secret door until we returned…if we returned. The next room revealed a couple of guards who were quickly dispatched, and a roaring fire being tended by two snotlings who were even more quickly dispatched. We also found a large pile of dwarven skeletons in the corner, probably marking the location of Drummond’s last stand. Throwing open the last door, we prepared to crash the party.

The goblins definately seemed surprised to see us. The leader yelling something as he pointed excitedly. Not speaking goblin, I assume it was something along the lines of “Get em!” The fight went pretty much as expected. Pieter put the hammer to its intended use, Eckhardt let out an excited “Woot, woot” when he killed the shaman, and Erik demonstrated his extensive and creative use of vocabulary when he finally felled one of the brutes. As combat continued, I felt a low rumbling emanating from the next room….“Umm guys?” Over the next few minutes, the bodies continued to pile up, and the rumbling continued to escalate. A large tremor, accompanied by a loud crashing alerted me to the large creature bursting through the floor into the next room…"Seriously, GUYS!!" As the last goblin fell, a booming voice bellowed “WHO DISTURBS MY SLUMBER?” The beast was immense, with legs the size of tree trunks, the torso of an oversized ogre, and the body of a dragon. He was easily the largest, most powerful, and terrifying creature I had ever seen…..Awesome. “Sorry for waking you, the goblins were making a terrible racket.”, “We have taken care of the problem however, and they shouldn’t disturb you anymore.” “Please feel free to go back to sleep.” A massive face appeared in the doorway glaring at me. “YOU ARE ALL INSIGNIFICANT GNATS!!” “Yes sir, totally agree.”, “Hardly worth the effort to squish us, not to mention all the screaming….” The face withdrew from the door while Dolwen dragged a goblin from across the room. Perhaps the beast is considering letting us leave, maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all. Tossing the corpse into the next room THOOOOMM!!! it was summarily and completly flattened by a monstrous foot….Nope, definitely bad guy.….Plan B then. A slow grin appeared on my face, this was going to be fun. Seeing an opening, I sprinted across the room and hoped my companions could use this momentary distraction to their advantage. Vaulting over, and sliding under the beasts massive tail, I ran a serpentine route under the behemoth. A foot slammed down nearby, narrowly missing Adam who had apparently decided to join the fun. The exit was now in sight so we sprinted the last few yards to safety. Turning back, I watched in awe as my companions attempted to follow our lead. It was like watching beetles scatter from an overturned stone. They were doing surprisingly well. Most of them anyway, Belisarius was staggering around like a drunken toddler. If it hadn’t been for Pieter giving him a few helpful and well timed shoves, Adam would no longer be the shortest member of our group. Eckhardt and Herod were the first to arrive making their way to the shrine room with Adam. The others seemed to be taking their time, perhaps they wanted to study the beasts underbelly?, I just hoped it didn’t suddenly decide to lie down. Dolwen was dragging a wounded Erik towards us, while Pieter once again kept Bel from a very painful spinal adjustment. Erik was launched into the wall next to us by the beasts mighty tail, the wall and roof raining debris down on him as he crawled to relative safety. Another mighty swipe slammed the wall narrowly missing Pieter and Dolwen as they ran past me, leaving Belisarius alone in the room with the Dragon ogre. The continued pounding had now opened a hole large enough for the behemoth to follow us, so we were forced to retreat to the shrine room…sorry Bel. Poor guy had finally made it to the next room only to find himself once again on the wrong side of the monster. Dolwen, Eckhardt and I fired several vollies at the beast to try and give him a fighting chance. Dolwen noticed and targeted a half healed wound, causing the beast to reel in agony. The distraction was enough to clear the way for Bel. Snapping in anger as he ran by, the raging behemoth pounded the walls of the shrine, threatening to bring the roof down on us. Pieter stared at the glowing hammer for several moments before returning it to its resting place, turning to us he stated “Time to go”. “Agreed.” Retrieving the prisoners from the hidey hole, we fled the mountain as it was rocked by a massive tremor. The mountain shook with diminishing aftershocks before everything finally went quiet. Staring at the entrance, the dwarven head still spewing clouds of dust, we confirmed that the beast was no longer pursuing us. Pieter looked to me and extended his open hand. I was speechless, I can‘t recall Pieter ever making such a genuine display of friendship and admiration to me. I was about to shake his hand when he impatiently wiggled his fingers and spoke a single word…”Sword?”

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Get Karak-ing

To: Berholt Eisenhauser, Captain, Imperial Roadwardens

From: Pieter Konrad, Sergeant, Imperial Roadwardens

Sir,

Continuing from my last report where we had been ambushed in Blackfire Pass by a force of brigands with a thespian bent, we heard noises in the surrounding forest and given the drubbing we had just received, felt that discretion was definitely the better part of valor in this case. Belisarius remembered a small outpost not far from where we were and we all thought that it would be a fine place to recuperate and recover from our battle. We spent a couple of days there with the inhabitants and they filled us in on what had been happening in the area. The one thing we found very interesting was the fact that they had heard the sound of horns coming from the general direction of where we suspected the Dwarf stronghold to be.

Meanwhile, Erik and Dolwyn went out hunting with them to help supplement their meager food supplies. Unfortunately, they brought something home with them besides food, as they came across a party of orcs led by a particularily foul looking black one. Erik, who had managed to kill a mountain goat, was struck by an inspiration – perhaps if he dropped the goat, the bad orcs would leave us alone. Alas, that plan failed miserably and they barely made it back to the stockade in time to prevent being eaten themselves. So, we found ourselves in a situation where the orcs had blockaded the only exit from the vale where the outpost was located, leaving us no option but to go through them in order to continue our mission.

After some discussion, it was decided that we would advance down the valley and try to get the orcs to engage us. Then, we would withdraw back in to missile range of the outpost to allow the residents there to bring their bows to bear. For once, the plan actually worked and we managed to goad them into attacking us and follow while we withdrew. Some of the orcs had bows and showered us with arrows as we retreated, but aside from a graze on my right arm, we were unscathed by their efforts. We initially engaged with missile fire as well – Adam made a good shot at one of the orc archers, while I hit the black orc with two well-placed pistol shots and Eckhart hit him with one of his trusty magic darts. I don’t even think he paused a step as he continued to advance along with his fellow greenskins.

The orc archers returned fire, hitting Dolwen and myself while Adam hit his orc again with another solid shot, nearly tearing his arm off. Erik managed a nice shot of his own before the melee was joined. The initial blows were well in our favor as Dolwen, Axel, Erik, and Adam all scored hits on their opponents. Harod cleaved his orc right down the middle with a mighty blow from his halberd, nearly splitting him in two. Eckhart hit the black orc with another magic dart while my forehand/backhand combination missed badly. The battle continued with both Dolwen and Adam dropping archers and Harod getting a minor blow in his next opponent. I managed to score a hit on the black orc, but the beast managed to shrug off my blow. He on the other hand, managed to smash me on the arm with massive horse cleaver he was carrying. Bellisarius took a hit as well, but stayed in the fight. Adam hit the orc that was trying to kill Eckart while Harod kept carving his way through the orcs, much to my joy. You’d think it would be easy to hit something as big and ugly as the black orc was, but no. I kept missing him badly just about every time I took a swing at him. On the other hand, I did manage to block or avoid almost everything he threw at me, including two swings that I’m sure would have driven my head out of my ass had they connected.

Combat wore on with blows being traded back and forth and with us slowly chipping away at the orcs. I kept failing miserably to kill the orc leader while managing to keep my various bits and pieces away from its murderous blows. Finally, only the black orc was left. Adam let loose a mighty sling shot – right into Belisarius’ leg, causing a significant amount of damage and a truly epic yell of rage. Eckhart hit the orc with another magic dart that actually made him pause and we took heart in the fact that this mighty foe was at last near the end of his strength. We traded a few more blows until Eckhart hit him again and knocked him down where Bellisarius stepped in and killed him. Catching our breath, we hobbled up to the outpost to rest and seek what healing we could find.

After we had recovered from our battle, we moved out towards the abandoned dwarf Karak. We travelled without incident for two days and finally set up a camp in a small clearing within sight of a large cave that we assumed was the entrance to the Karak. As night fell, we huddled around our fire and watched a truly epic thunderstorm roll into our little vale. We knew that something was amiss when within the booming of the thunder, we could hear the drum of hoofbeats and the braying of hunting horns. We hurriedly applied the temporary runes that the Loremaster had generously gave us and waited nervously for the stormriders to appear.

As the phantom riders charged towards us, both Belasarius and Herod stepped up and delivered solid blows to their opponents that either seriously wounded or outright slew them. I had to admire their bravery, but I couldn’t help but think that if they’d seen as much as the rest of us had, they wouldn’t have been quite so fast to engage ghosts. I hit mine as well and got a struck in return, while the rest of us fared quite well against the vile creatures. We were successfully reducing their numbers when all of a sudden I was struck by my foe. The chill of the undead flowed through me and I was literally frozen with terror. I was certain that I had breathed my last as I saw my ghostly opponent contemptuously raise his blade to run me through. Fortunately, Adam managed to kill my spectral foe before he could complete his strike and finish me off.

As I shook off the effects of my paralysis, I noticed that Belasarius had managed to kill his spectre and had moved on to engage another. I moved up to help Erik, who had been struck by the same paralysis that had held me. Eckhart killed his spectre with a magic dart and the remaining ghost took stock of the situation and turned to flee. The dwarven hammer in my hand began to shake and vibrate with a life of its own and I was overcome with an overwhelming need to strike the hammer against the ground. I took a deep breath, grasped the hammer firmly, and dropping to one knee, drove the haft against the unyielding earth. There was a soundless concussion of energy as a bright sphere of light blasted outwards from the contact. We couldn’t hear anything, but we could certainly feel the force of the compression as the energy flew outwards. I looked up just in time to see the fleeing ghost and his mount get struck by the energy wave and literally fly apart into shreds of ectoplasm. I’m not at all certain what chain of events caused the hammer to act the way it did, but I sure hope we can duplicate it when the time comes.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to get what sleep we could in preparation of our ascent to the Karak in the morning. I have no idea what we’re going to find or what dangers we’re going to face, but I doubt we’re going to be bored. Damn, I’m starting to sound like Axel. I really need to get back to a nice, safe occupation like patrolling the roads for brigands and beastmen.

I will file additional reports as the opportunities present themselves and if I don’t die.

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Mithon to Blackfire Path

The Last Rest Inn was a much friendlier establishment than the last bar we were in. I actually received my meal this time, and Pieter never once had to draw his pistols, …okay once, but that was just to make sure they were still loaded. We continued to plan our mission to Blackfire Pass over a round of Bugman’s, while Adam licked the remains of his meat pie from his fingers. Obviously, I was going to need more lamp oil, having exhausted most of my supply igniting zombies. Pieter gave me a strange look when I mentioned this. I think he suspects that pyromania is some sort of racial trait of Halflings, probably because of my tendency to burn the bad guys belongings, and of course the occasional pyromaniacal Halfling. I was also gonna have to locate some lock picking tools. My recent attempts to learn the art has reached a temporary impasse. For now, I’ll just have to make do with Pieter’s Dwarven made door motivator. Our discussions were interrupted by an invitation from King Alrik. We have all been invited to accompany him to a dinner at Lord Theodosius’s mansion this evening. Now we can see for ourselves whether he’s capable of plotting against Alrik, or as the Captain put it, “A complete waste of skin.”

We were escorted into the mansion where we found the Dwarven king and his retinue talking amongst themselves. As we made our way over to them, I made note of the others in attendance. A stern-faced Bernjaeger was brooding in the corner, several extremely healthy serving girls were busily making sure that everyone’s glass remained full, and there was a drooling imbecile wearing a jesters costume…he must be our host. Making my way over to him, I was about to introduce myself when two well dressed men entered the room. Introducing himself as “Theodothiuth”, he welcomed us all to his home. We all made small talk, and spoke of some of our adventures, interrupted occasionally by the high pitched giggling of our host. Easily the most impressive thing about Theodosius was his inflated sense of self worth. His propensity for lisping was clearly not an unfortunate speech impediment, but rather something he’s deliberately developed for appearances. I suspect he believes it makes him sound noble. Just another example of his towering intellect. Some leaders (like Alrik) make men glad wherever they go, others, whenever they go. Our earlier suspicions seem to be unfounded. I doubt this idiot could spell assassination, let alone plan one. He couldn’t even pronounce the word, it would probably come out as “athathanathon”. Probably the bigger threat would be for one of the other guests to decide to do the world a favour and promote one of his successors. His companion in the gold trimmed robes was another matter. His advisor Gunther was clearly not an idiot. Based on his ability to put up with Theo without pummelling him, he must also have exceptional willpower. My guess is he’s a spell caster. Erik later informed us that he was also wearing a medallion for the cult of Handrick. This individual could be a legitimate threat, it wouldn’t be difficult for him to manipulate his master. Another bout of high pitched squeals convinced me to pursue the more intellectually stimulating conversation of the jester. Chatting while he juggled, he gave me a few pointers which I will be sure to put to good use in the future. Eventually we had all had enough of our hosts “hothpitality” and prepared to leave. Eckhardt was briefly pulled aside by the loremaster, and asked to meet him tomorrow morning. On route back to the inn, we ran into two familiar faces. Belisarius and Harod, having finished escorting the survivors from the tower, were now hoping to join us. I suspect they feel we can help them get the revenge they desire for the razing of Sigmaringen. I didn’t care, anybody capable of helping Pieter on the front line will be a welcome addition. Truthfully, I’m more effective as a moving target, than as a combatant. Accepting their offer, we retired to our inn.

The following morning, after breakfast of course, we went to see the loremaster. He once again told us of the first and last wielders of the hammer, but could not provide any insight as to which crypt the hammer should be returned to. We learned of the storm riders, a group of spectral warriors who are the cursed spirits of the human riders who betrayed and killed Stronomire, the first wielder of the hammer. He also warned that we may encounter the tortured spirits of the dwarves from the fallen city of Karag Dronar. Since normal weapons cannot defend against these spirits, the loremaster gave us some runes to enchant our weapons for a short while. With our two new companions, it was decided that Pieter and Eckhardt would donate their runes to the newcomers as they were already equipped to handle the restless dead. Thanking him for his generosity, we left to complete our preparations.

On the second day of our journey into the Blackfire, while getting to know our new comrades, we were interrupted by some crying in the distance. We decided to check it out, mainly to break up the monotony, and because it’s what we do. An overturned wagon lay at the side of the trail with a sobbing man crouched in the dirt beside it. Blubbering something about his poor unfortunate father being killed, I thought it odd that there was no sign of dear old dad’s corpse…(trap?) Eckhardt recognized the dialogue from a play he’d seen and called him on it…(yep..trap.) We were quickly surrounded by seven outlaws, and one scary looking dwarf. Their leader offered “This doesn’t have to end badly.” Looking at that others, I sighed “Yes it does.” and joined my comrades as we fired a volley at the leader. Quickly changing weapons, I prepared to meet the bandit charging me. After trading several ineffective blows with my opponent, my blade amazingly found its way into his unprotected eye socket. As his skull slid off my blade, I noticed Pieter being hard pressed by the leader. I fired a shot which rang off his helmet, Pieter took advantage of the momentary distraction, and severed his arm at the elbow. The leader looked to the ruins of his arm pumping his lifes blood on the ground and collapsed with a stunned look on his face. Pieter went to Adam’s aid, while I went to help Belisarius who was in full defensive mode with his opponent. I managed to connect with his opponents head causing him to focus his attention on both of us. This freed Belisarius to launch an attack of his own landing a slice across the outlaws forehead. Blood ran freely into his eyes, blinding him, so he was unable to defend against the overhand slash I launched at his unprotected shoulder. His arm was half severed, blood gushing from the wound as his corpse crumpled to the ground. Ranald’s luck is definitely favouring this Halfling, let’s hope it continues. Turning to the dwarf, I saw Harod doing his best to defend against the onslaught, the elf laying unconscious or dead at his feet. Rushing to his aid and bouncing a strike off the dwarfs armour, he bellowed “I’ll take on every last one of you!!!”, “You’re in luck.” I replied “You’re gonna have to!” At this point, the dwarf crushed Harod with a mighty blow, knocking him off of his feet and out of the fight…crap. Glancing around quickly, I noticed Adam, Dolwen, and now Harod down and out. Erik and Eckhardt were maintaining a barrage of arrows and spells from the perimeter, and Pieter and Bel were valiantly holding on. To make things worse, I was now facing this dwarven berserker alone…Double crap. The dwarf’s superior armour and martial skill versus my superior speed and agility. We squared off, and I hoped I could hold on long enough for my friends to finish off the rest of the outlaws. I’m actually starting to worry a little…Okay maybe more than a little, I may have peed myself just a bit when Harod fell. We traded several ineffective attacks, when the crack of a pistol detonated nearby to no effect. Cursing, as he joined the fray, Pieter swung and was parried by the dwarf. An arrow whistled by my ear, and I yelled “Aim higher!”, then I remembered I was fighting a dwarf, “Never mind!” I evaded a vicious swing from the dwarf and slipped on the blood soaked ground just as he quickly reversed his swing missing me by a hair. Regaining my footing, I countered with a blow which deflected harmlessly off his armour. Pieter found an opening and managed to draw blood. Eckhardt’s following spell blasted his hand, forcing him to drop his axe. Shrugging off his shield, he retrieved his axe with his left and refused to surrender. Fine with us, after he’d dropped two of my friends, we were not about to offer quarter. Launching an awkward swing with his offhand, the dwarf penetrated Pieter’s defences. Wounded be undaunted, Pieter battled on. Dodging another of my swings, the dwarf was unable to defend himself against Pieter’s mighty strike with the hammer. I clearly heard his spine snap as he fell helplessly to the ground. Pieter breathing heavily, walked over and calmly put the paralyzed dwarf out of his misery. Looking around I was relieved to see my fallen friends were all still breathing. Looks like Eckhardt has his work cut out for him. We moved away from the carnage and set up camp for the night, hoping that tomorrow would be slightly less exciting.

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