From the Journal of Master Alois Leitner, Free Agent of the Empire

Entry One:

Backertag, 23rd Brauzeit, 2527 I.C.

It has been several days since my last entry, with weather conditions and trouble upon the roads restricting my time to write. I met with two mercenaries on the 20th of Brauzeit, thanks to a tip off from Dierk - they had been haunting his tavern for some days now looking for work and their prices were reasonable. One, Charles le Aubé , is a Breton of noble bearing fallen on hard times. The other, Kilfuk, is a dwarf barbarian of the northern steppes. Both seemed hardened by years living by the sword and will be suitable retainers. A brief discussion of terms, a drink to seal the deal and we set out for the dock. Our destination is the town of Stromdorf, the supposed hiding place of a considerable bounty issued by the Elector Countess Emmanuelle von Liebwitz. Surprisingly, we were set upon by small green-folk only an hour out of Altdorf, but luckily my newly acquired companions were quick to the task of dispatching them. The Breton drew a tower-shield and took up position protecting me, while the dwarf charged the cackling creatures wielding a large and fearsome blade. I readied my sling and took stock of the situation, noting the freshly severed hands hanging from the belt of one of the creatures. Clearly they were not about taking prisoners. Unfortunately for them, neither was the dwarf. It is true what they say about the mountain folk; they have a mighty rage and an unquestionable aptitude for battle. He made short work of two opponents, opening one from groin to gullet and cleanly bisecting another. Shield held high against a hail of arrows, Charles surged forward to engage. His skill for spying openings in his opponents' guard showed he had some level of formal or military training, and was well worth my coin. I too joined the fray, wounding one of the foul creatures before Kilfuk buried his sword in it's back. One made to escape by diving into the river, but the Breton was not to be denied his kill. Taking up a fallen bow, he pierced the fleeing greenskin with a well-placed arrow. Moments later, one of the leviathan Riekland trout snapped up the wounded morsel - arrow and all - leaving nothing but a slowly dispersing cloud of blood.

I turned to see Kilfuk performing a grisly act of dissection upon our defeated foes, removing their mandibles and teeth for his growing collection of bone jewelry. I didn't think much of this barbaric practice, but Charles assured me that it was not uncommon among dwarf-kind. He postulated these were night-goblins from the nearby mountains, indicating their black garb and milky eyes, but could not say what they were doing so close to human settlements. Wishing to be away, I suggested we move on to the dock. The barge arrived shortly after the ringing of the bell at the docks. The boatman informed us he was waiting on two more passengers, and I took the duty of informing him about the goblins and the grisly trophies they bore, portending an ill fate for the missing passengers. A short prayer to Taal and we were off down the Reik.

Rain lashed at us for a night and two days, soaking us to the bone. The Breton hunkered underneath his broad shield to avoid the worse of the conditions. Shortly before nightfall on the second day, a mighty crash roused us from our revere. The captain - likely drunk at the tiller - had fallen asleep and run us into a thick pylon supporting a bridge. The impact threw us all to our knees, but the drunkard disappeared over the rail. I made a dash for the tiller, but was unable to wrest it from the grips of the current. Charles and Kilfuk began yelling commands at the deckhands, but our efforts were all for naught. Our mast caught the bridge structure, with the surging current quickly capsizing the vessel. We were all swept swiftly down-river, struggling in the vicious slipstream. Blind luck saw us caught in an eel-trap a mile from the bridge, and we were able to pull ourselves free of the net to stand shivering on the riverbank. Charles spotted a mill in the distance with lights emanating from within. We were greeted by a bear of a man, dwarfing Charles in height and Kilfuk in build. After an exchange of introductions, he graciously allowed us the use of his common room. The giant's name was Freiderik, a Norscan miller living with his wife and apprentice. A lustful glint entered the Bretons eye, but spying a two-handed axe mounted above the fireplace, I quickly reminded him that to court the betrothed of a host was to court death at his hands. I exchange small-talk with Freiderik about our destination, but soon find my eyelids growing heavy and retire for the night.

In the morning we set out fresh in dry clothes, Stormdorf being but a few hours walk from the mill. Charles deposited a silver into the palm of our host, and I conclude that the Breton is likely freshly descended from nobility and not yet familiar with the true value of coin. Stormdorf squats close by the river, and we were greeted by a rusted and clearly non-functioning cannon facing down the bridge into town. Kilfuk scoffed at this apparent lack of discipline, suggesting the rest of the town is likely to be found in equally ill-repair. The dwarf's words prove true; Stormdorf had certainly seen better days. An air of malaise hung heavy about the town, with the people seeming slow to action. Even the town guard barely paid any notice to the heavy armament of my companions. I find us lodgings at the Thunderwater Inn, ready to set up shop so I can begin my investigations. We all gratefully collapse into chairs and share a drink despite the early hour, finally at peace after a tumultuous travel. Kilfuk leaves to find a healer, to the surprise of Charles and I. It seems the dwarf had been bearing grievous wounds without comment, suffered during the engagement with the night-goblins and our subsequent near-drowning. Charles also shortly left, hoping to purchase some fresh equipment and apparel. With the two of them gone, I was finally able to minister to my own injury, a badly twisted and swollen ankle from being caught in the drag-net. I figured if our quarry was a Physician, then the local Barber-Surgeon might know his his location. I arrived at the chop-shop in time to catch the end of some nasty dentistry work by one Master (Barber-Surgeons' name), and he quickly set about his ministrations upon my poor leg. I employed the word play taught to me by my old mentor, Professor Heinrich, catching the mis-truths and lies in conversation with (Barer-Surgeons name). It appeared that a man arrived some months past, a Physician by the name of Dr Schneider, taking many of the higher paying clientele of the Barber Surgeon. This could be the very man we are searching for, acting under a pseudonym. I payed the man for his time and his silence and returned to the inn. Charles was deep in his cups when I arrived, and after some brief discourse as to the development of the case, we retired for the night. Or so I thought.

The next morning I found a bleary-eyed and unwashed Charles nursing a severe hangover, head-down in a quiet corner of the inn. It seemed he had taken it upon himself to learn the art of the javelin, spending all night "training" with the town guard. Kilfuk was already away for his treatments with the town's apothecary, Mother Hildette, so I set about forcing a heavy breakfast of meat and bread upon Charles. I needed to sober him up, hoping for his aid in investigating the practice of the likely Physician. The residence was a fairly well to do establishment located in the centre of town, but it with nary a light nor candle aflame within, the house looked unoccupied. I took it upon myself to scout around for a closer look. In my brief absence, Charles somehow managed to gain the attention of the Town Watch, along with their frightfully scarred Captain. He immediately questioned our business in town, and I must admit his investigative technique was equal to my own. I came clean about my role as an agent, but left out certain details of target and lack of official employer. The lawman seemed unimpressed, allotting one of his guards to accompany us as a "guide" for the duration of our stay. The outcome could have been much worse. Charles and I made our way back to the inn, deep in thought over how to deal with this latest hurdle…

Entry Two:

Konistag, 25th Brauzeit, 2527 I.C.

As I pen this by the light of my lantern, Charles prepares a stew for the party in the shadow of a smoking farmstead gutted by fire. The day before, Charles had suggested the use of a thief or cut-purse to break into the house of our supposed bounty, leaving me quite embarrassed that such a simple solution hadn't occurred to me. As the sun reached it's zenith, Charles and I set out for a tavern of lesser repute. On the way I insist on purchasing some less ostentatious clothes for my companion. Charles acquiesced, though with some reluctance. A short conversation led us to an establishment by the docks - the Biting Eel - which we found full of all manner of unsavory characters. While Charles set about distracting our "guide" - no doubt with tall tales of bravery on the far-off fields of Bretonnia - I learned the whereabouts of a potential hire. I found a thin and unassuming man engaged in a game of chance, seeming less than jubilant with his present winnings. After a brief introduction, we discussed terms and agreed to meet at the Thunderwater at the time the street lanterns were lit. In leaving, I caught a brief look of disapproval from our minder; I must remember to ask Charles about it.

Nightfall came, and so too did our newly hired footpad arrive at the Thunderwater. Much to my surprise, Kilfuk joyously shouted the man's name (Eduard Stein!) and scooped him into a crushing embrace. It emerged that the two had been colleagues some years past, apparently culminating in an incident involving a Duke's prize greyhound. The details remain scetchy. We three set out for Dr. Schneider's home while Charles again selflessly took on the labor of distracting our guide. The Breton's carousing and womanizing causes me some worry. I hope his mind is set to our mission. The house of the Physician remained untroubled since our previous visit, and the thief quickly set about his task. Kilfuk perched upon a wall, seemingly immune to the near-constant downpour. I chose to huddle under the meager protection of nearby eaves. Eduard returned in a short while bearing an ink-stained document. Not wishing for it to also become rain-damaged, we make for the nearest tavern. On the way, Stein informed us that the house was abandoned, empty save for the note and a heavy iron-bound chest. Fearful of discovery by the ever-inquisitive town watch, I gave express orders not to return to the house until after I deciphered the note. Out of the drizzling rain at a nearby tavern, I relayed the still-legible parts of the note to Kilfuk and Eduard. It confirmed that the physician was indeed our target, having intended to post this letter to his spouse in Altdorf. It was dated the 21th of Brauzeit, some three days past. I cursed, fearing that the trail would go cold. Eduard suggested that the blotched document could indicate the man had left in a hurry, or even under duress. As I pondered such, Kilfuk stomped out of the tavern with nary a word, his agitated nature limiting his ability to stay still for longer than a few moments. With him gone, I decided it was time to enlist the thief as a member of this little dysfunctional group, and knowing how diverse his skill-set was (and how much more likely he was than the rest of us to end up in prison) I offer him a weighty share of the promised bounty. I hoped to buy no small amount of loyalty in doing so. I parted ways with Eduard, instructing him to meet with the us at the Thunderwater on the morrow.

I returned to our lodgings to find our drunken and well-laid "guide" curled up next to a homely wench by the name of Daphne. The barkeep informs me that Kilfuk had left not long ago in the company of Charles, their heads bowed in conspiratorial conversation. I surmised that they intended to return to the Physician's house and lay claim to the chest Eduard had spotted. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to dissuade them - and that their capture or death wouldn't cost me more than the time needed to hire new protectors - I lay down by the fire and let my thoughts collect. The morning came, and with it the sheepish faces of my trustworthy chums. I noted Charles's lack of eyebrows, and evidence of scorching to Kilfuk's beard. They were unwilling to discuss exactly what they found within the chest, and I professed I did not care if they had found some baubles to sell for profit, only that which pertained to my investigation interested me. After much discussion, Eduard confessed that the chest burst into flames upon opening. A trap perhaps? The contents were nothing more than a collection of vials and glassware. Curious indeed. Kilfuk, not appreciative of my line of questioning, again stormed off, muttering to himself. The dwarf may prove to be too unreliable and I briefly contemplate leaving him in town whenever we find our next clue. With the Physician in question nowhere to be found, Charles suggested that he talk to the local guard whom he had spent the night drinking those few days prior. I concur, choosing to head into the high-quarter and ask a few questions of my own. Alas, I turned up no fresh leads. Charles however continues to impress with his tenacity; through some clever misdirection he has managed to glean from the watchmen that a Doctor Schneider had left in the middle of the night, accompanied by a local farmer named Hoult. I flipped the Breton a silver for his efforts and began preparing for a journey to the the Hoult Farmstead. Both Charles and Eduard have warned that forest roads are no place for cityfolk to wander at night. Kilfuk returned later that evening, his hands blackened with soot from a day at work in the smithy. As long as he keeps his mind on our main mission, I care not for how he spends his free-time.

We chose set out early, before the sun had risen. It felt good to be on the road again, the sodden path scattered with fresh loam, the misting rain flushing the air with forest aromas. Several hours into our journey I caught the faint smell of smoke on the breeze, spying a column of black smoke rising between the treetops. Kilfuk and Charles broke and ran toward the fire, leaving Eduard and I to bring up the rear. We found a farmstead, blazing despite the rain. The dwarf and the Breton barreled into the burning house, but could find no survivors. They emerged with faces grim and eyes narrowed in anger. Charles spat the word "Chaos", causing me no small amount of alarm. Before I had the chance to question him further, we heard the sound of men shouting and cursing. Rushing into a field of long grass, we spot two men rolling in the wet earth with fists flying. One was a blonde, skinny fellow, the other short and thickset with dark hair and piggish features. I made to instruct Kilfuk to break them apart, but the dwarf had already grabbed the blonde youth by his tunic and roughly hurled him aside. Both men were screaming at each other, barely registering our presence. Eduard and I grab the other and proceed to question them both. The farmstead belongs to the Igol family, the blonde being one of the younger sons. The piggish man was a Hoult, again a younger son. Our discourse was interrupted when young Igol broke free of Kilfuk's grasp and lunged at Hoult, a knife appearing in his hand. Eduard reacted almost before I had time to turn around, placing an arrow through the man's thigh. Igol stumbled for a moment, but his momentum carried him into Hoult. They flailed together for no more than a second before Charles laid Igol out with a stroke from his javelin haft. I leaped forward to manacle him, but it was for naught. Charles's blow had broken Igol's neck. Regaining our composure, we noticed that Hoult had fled. Eduard took off at a sprint while Charles gave mercy to the crippled farmhand.

Hoping to capture the fleeing man, I followed Eduard with manacles in hand. Charles and Kilfuk chose to remain at the homestead and search for further clues. I found the agile thief a ways up the road, confronted by half a dozen burly men, who all bore a curious resemblance to the short man standing in their midst, as well as each other. Probably as a result of inbreeding. Nasty business. Eduard seemed lost for words and I quickly introduced myself. The largest of them identified himself as a Master Otto Hoult, the patriarch of this family and owner of the Hoult Homestead. I questioned him as the his sons involvement at the Igol residence. Apparently the two families are at odds with one another, the Hoults not appreciating the Igols insistence on pacifying a herd of beastmen with sacrifices of livestock. Informing Master Hoult of the destruction we found at the Igol homestead, he nodded approvingly, saying that they received their just rewards for trucking with the beastmen. As to the whereabouts of Dr. Schneider, Master Hoult was less forthcoming. Feeling that the conversation had turned sour, and hearing the lie in Master Hoults words I bid them farewell and briskly walked away. Eduard and I came upon our other companions a few moments later, and we discussed how best to handle the Hoult family. Kilfuk advocated for kidnapping one of the family, and holding them ransom for information, while Charles suggested we break bread with them, gaining their trust instead. I felt that violence need not be our answer in this instance, and voiced my support for the diplomatic route. Eduard scouted through the forest to watch out for any ambushes, and Kilfuk positioned himself squarely in front of the main house, resting casually the pommel of his blade. Sitting down to a meal of fresh produce I conversed further with Master Hoult, who clearly felt more at ease within the walls of his abode and with a belly full of ale, the words flowing more freely from his mouth. Dr. Schneider had indeed been in these parts, entertained by the Igol family, and in the opinion of Otto was most likely dead along with the Igols. I thanked Otto for his hospitality and information, and returned to the others. With night rapidly approaching we deemed it best to make shelter at the burned out Igol residence. I fear the trail is once again growing as cold as the nighttime air…

Entry Three:

Festag, 27th Brauzeit, 2527 I.C.

Much has occurred since my last entry, and forgive the somewhat erratic nature of the following. I am still somewhat sore and aching from the stunning blow a foul beastman struck upon my face just hours before. Sometime during the night before last as we rested in the burned ruins of the Igol residence, a female from the Hoult family approached Kilfuk while he was on watch. She implored that he listen to her, claiming that Otto hadn't told us the full truth of the matter at hand. I questioned the woman after the dwarf had awaken me, and while she was not exactly forthcoming, I could detect no lies in her words. She informed us that both families paid sacrifices to the beastmen of the forest, that it was the only way to survive so far out from the walled villages and towns. With the Igols dead, she reckoned that her family would be next. She claimed she could lead us to the beastmen which took Dr. Schneider and the Igols, something which immediately garnered my full attention. Even if he was dead, the bounty could still be turned in. We quickly struck camp and followed Lady (I use the term loosely) Hoult into the wilderness. After an hour of trekking through brambles and branches, we came upon a menhir situated in a clearing. The great stone was surrounded by a field of bones and rags 20 feet in all directions, a sacrificial altar for sure. My skin crawled at the thought of all those who perished here over the years, their blood spilled and their flesh rent for the braying herd of un-humans. Lady Hoult called out into the darkness, and we were all shocked to see a cloven-hoofed beastman wrapped in a torn tunic emerge from the trees. My hand went to my blade, mirroring the actions of my companions, but we were halted by the most curious sight of Lady Hoult stepping up to the creature and embracing it, speaking softly as a mother would to a child. The beastman introduced itself as Foaldeth and Lady Hoult did confirm my suspicion that it was her son, born no doubt of some infernal union of woman and beast, the very concept of which turns my stomach even now. Foaldeth tells us a tale of the beastmen and their herd hierarchy, of cursed artefacts and blood feuds. He wished to dismantle the herd in order to protect his human family, and knew of a way to do so by the capture of the Lightning Stone, an icon the beastmen worshiped. I argued with the others that this was no concern of ours, fixing feuds among base creatures of the ruinous powers. They are quick to argue that if the beastmen herd grew any larger it could very well threaten the town of Stromdorf, it's meagre defences not able to fend off an attack. It seemed my companions are more altruistic than I had given them credit for. Inquiring as to the whereabouts of Dr. Schneider, Foaldeth informs me that if the doctor was taken as a sacrifice, then his body will be found underneath the Lightning Stone. I had no other choice than to agree.

Foaldeth led us deeper into the twisting trees, staying low and quiet. Eduard scouted ahead of us, his skills for staying silent in the streets and alleys proving as equally useful in the forest. We watched as he dispatched two sleeping beastmen, silent as Mort himself. The thief is quite obviously not squeamish when it comes to performing violent tasks. Coming upon another clearing, we spy what must be the Lightning Stone. The esoteric icon sits beside me even as I write this, gently glowing like fading moonlight. The intricate silver workings inlaid around its smooth surface create dazzling patterns which the eye is unable to comprehend. It must be a part of a whole, if the uneven and rough rear is anything to go by. Perhaps chiseled off from the original? Stolen? Gifted? It's easily as large as the round shields born by soldiers of the empire, yet weighs far less than it's size suggests. Forgive my musings, the Lightning Stone is a terrible beauty and one finds oneself lost in thought when in its presence. The stone was not alone in the clearing, with over a dozen beastmen braying and chanting in supplication to it's baleful light. We held our progress to devise a plan. Eduard was to sneak past the beastmen and strike them from the rear with his arrows, while Charles and I attacked from the front, hoping to split them into easily dispatched groups. Kilfuk would remain behind with Foaldeth, to both protect our rear and ensure we were not betrayed.

Alas, even the best laid plans are cursed with terrible luck. Eduard quickly found himself enclosed by the beastmen. With his back to the Lightning Stone, he loosed arrow after arrow into their charges. I took my place by Charles's side, slinging stones at the creatures who avoided his sword. Lightning crashed in the night sky, striking the stone and sending up a brilliant display of sparks and arcs of white-hot light. A sudden rush of half a dozen beastmen forced me to retreat, ducking and diving the swinging clubs and jabbing spears which came my way. Charles found himself in a similar predicament, with the largest of our opponents harrying at his defences. Despite his bravado and often unscrupulous attitude, Charles made an excellent account of himself that night. Catching glimpses through the melee, I watched as he masterfully blocked, parried and dodged attacks in succession, returning with vicious ripostes, opening bellies and severing limbs. A monstrous creature, which I could only assume was the pack leader, joined the fight against the brave knight. Seemingly immune to the blows Charles rained down, it smashed it's way through his tightly woven defensive patterns with a notched and gore-laden two-handed axe. Charles bravely engaged the beast, plunging his sword through it's nether regions and up into it's torso. I heard its emasculated cry ring out across the clearing, and could only watch helplessly as with its last vestiges of inhuman strength, brought the axe down upon Charles's helm. At that moment I knew my chances of survival were slim to none. The Breton was down, and I could not see the thief nor the dwarf. Blade to blade with one of the smaller beasts, I spied another gearing up to charge me and end my existence. You could imagine my surprise when instead it bore down my opponent, cleanly slicing it from shoulder to sternum. I frantically back-peddled away as it roared into the night, deducing quickly that with the leader of the herd dead, this particular beastman had taken it upon himself to take his stab at the position. My only chance for survival, and the survival of my companions, was to lead it on a merry chase among the living beastmen, hoping the ensuring bloodshed would finish them all off. After several tense minutes watching the beatsmen fight among themselves, I rewarded the winner with a sling-stone to the eye. I roused Charles from his axe-induced slumber, noting that he had only been struck with the flat of the blade. Sigmar clearly looked kindly upon him, as did Eduard given the arrows protruding from the back of the vanquished beastman leader. I found the thief in a similar state of unconsciousness a little further away, his limp form lay next to the pierced bodies of at least five beastmen. Quickly searching the clearing Charles found an arm clothed in finery and bearing the ring of the Orders of Hospitaller, no dobut belonging to our bounty. Tossing both the arm and the Lightning Stone into a rucksack, we made our exit, the calls of more beastmen in the forest speeding our departure. Kilfuk was waiting for us, an impressive tally of dead creatures strewn about him. It seemed Foaldeth had fled shortly into the fight while Kilfuk was distracted. No matter.

By the time we made it out of the forest the morning sun had begun to rise. Greeted at the edge of the farmlands by the Hoult family, we reveal to them the tale of what we encountered. They are relieved to know that the herd is fractured, but I had to warn them that there are many more beasts left in the forest. I agree to not discuss the matter of their dealings with the beastmen with the local authorities, for truly it was no concern of mine. Returning to Stromdorf by midday, the gate guard hurried off to collect their Captain when they saw our battle-weary and bloodied bodies. I inform the Captain that we were in the process of investigating the bounty when we became lost during the night and set upon by beastmen. I give a flowery account of the bravery extolled by my companions, which seems to please the Captain and impress his men. He graciously offered to allow us to stay pro-bono until we had sufficiently rested. Gratefully we collapse into our beds at the Thunderwater, sleep quickly taking us all, only to be rudely awoken in the dead of the night by a curiously dressed fellow poking around Charles's effects. Drawing his blade, and clearly in no mood for any funny business, Charles demanded to know what the man was doing. He introduced himself as Nicolas Schulmann, a celestial wizard who was residing at the Thunderwater the floor above ours. Nicolas explained he had been drawn to our rooms by the magical energy given off by the Lightning Stone, and that he had been searching for the icon and its like for some time. The wizard made us a striking suggestion that night, offering to pay us 10 silver a day to be allowed to study the Lightning Stone in privacy. I negotiated for a higher daily wage of 15 silver, and the proviso that Charles was to remain lodged at the Thunderwater to keep an eye on the proceedings. A quick agreement was signed, and then the wizard was gone, allowing us to finally rest our weary bones.

It is the following morning, the 27th of Brauzeit, and I write this as I sip a lovely tea strained from a local leaf. Eduard and I are to set out for Nuln to deliver the bounty, while Charles steels himself for the daunting task of managing the needs and demands of the wizard. Kilfuk has yet to make his decision on where exactly he will go, and despite the dwarfs belligerent nature, we do hope he chooses to stay for a while longer.

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