24th Ulriczeit 2511 (from midday): Steeple chase; Unbearable; Cahoots; Rest

They couldn’t see the galloping horse, but it was clear it was departing on the northern road out of Flussberg. The choices were clear: continue to stakeout Flussberg in the hopes that Janna is brought through the town or chase after Specht and see if they can find some answers. Neither choice was the obvious course of action, but the latter was at least actively trying to do something. They returned to the Deft Dancer to gather their gear, letting Gele know that they would be gone up to a week. She offered to wait, seeking some (probably illicit) cargo to transport when they returned. She, Felix and Jasmina would keep an eye out for suspicious people with a young girl, but they weren’t sure why.

The party set out from Flussberg towards Veloren and Neufaljung, about twenty and twenty-five miles away respectively. The Neufaljungweg was known to offer poor footing in icy weather, due to its slate surface. Thankfully the going was fine, the snowy/icy surface having been well churned with traffic. The route was quiet now and the clear skies started to cloud over, the first flurries of snow beginning to fall. The road was surrounded on both sides by forrest that was getting denser the further north they went.

A few miles out of town they spotted something to the side of the road. As they approached, it appeared to be a horse lying on its side. Gunnar moved closer to investigate, while the other two kept an eye out for anything that might try to ambush them. As the slayer got closer, he saw that the horse was clearly dead, long claw marks along its flank and what looked like bites taken out of his flesh. A deep exhalation of air was the only warning Gunnar got as a huge bear launched itself from the bushes, picking up speed as it hurtled towards him. Gunnar reacted calmly… holding his great axe, Shadowsplitter, above his head and adopting a wide stance. The bear halted, its breaths coming fast. They stood only a few yards apart, eyes fixed on each other.

Salundra could see no sign of the rider, but the horse looked like the one they had spotted Specht on. She snuck into the bushes while the bear’s attention was elsewhere and proceeded stealthily closer, hoping to see if the rider had been flung from their mount. She crept up in line with the bear, though unsighted and a little deeper into the shrubbery. There was no sign of the rider, but there was a satchel. She grabbed it up. The bears nose twitched, catching a sent on the air. It realised she was nearby and stood on its hind leg, stretching its claws wide and bellowed. Gunnar fearlessly held his ground, noting how weak the bear looked, its ribs visible even through its thick fur. Ferdinand began to move forward. The bear’s bravado shrank away and it dropped to all fours and ran off into the forrest. “Poor thing looks starved”, said Gunnar as Salundra emerged from the woods and Ferdinand came along side. Salundra nodded, “The Graf has been gathering mercenaries for months and I bet the majority have come this way, taking all game they could while travelling. An animal like that should be hibernating, but instead it’s desperately seeking any food it can”. She held the satchel aloft, “Its misfortune might be our good luck”. Opening the satchel revealed mundane provisions and an interesting letter. Unfurling it revealed an almost identical letter to the one Rikard Fischer, the Graf’s agent, had given them promising safe passage in the Duchy of Black Rock. Fischer and Specht must be in cahoots.

The light was fading and the snow was falling heavily now, but they reasoned they’d push on further up the road for a while, the carcass of the horse likely to attract attention. The moved in a distance form the road and set a fire. The ate some cold provisions and some warm wine, though Gunnar definitely drank the lion’s share! The set watch, Ferdinand taking the first stint. He could feel the Urn weighing heavily on him, almost calling to him. Nothing happened during his watch, but he was glad when his turn came to sleep. It was not restful, his dreams were disturbed and sleep fretful. The snow kept falling, deadening all sound, but the rest of the night passed without incident.

25th Ulriczeit 2511 (until late afternoon): Roadblock; Talking to the dead; Teaching respect; Wight night!

Salundra, who’d taken last watch, let the others sleep a bit past daybreak. It was a dull day, the low clouds and continuing snow, robbing light from the day. The ate, packed up and set out, a blanket of snow about 8″ deep covering everything. After a while they came upon a single set of tracks in the snow. If these were Specht’s, it looks as though he’d spent the night less than a mile from them. The forest gave way to a rising gorge that began to close in on either side of the road. A roadblock was ahead, obviously manned by four or five guards. They were challenged when they got to it, but their explanation that they were mercenaries seemed to satisfy the guards and they were let through. It was late morning by the time the topology changed again, the gorge receding to more open terrain, still somewhat forested, but not as densely as before.

A grizzly sight greeted them at a fork in the road… the emaciated corpse of an Altdorf captain hanging in a gibbet. He looked like he’d been dead for a couple of months. Ferdinand heard a deep moan emanate from the body, but he was convinced he was the only to have heard it. He convinced the others to go ahead while he paid his respects, though Salundra was a little curious as to what he might be up to. Glancing back she say him reach up and touch the foot of the corpse, appearing to be muttering something under his breath. Ferdinand didn’t think this would work, but the moan was strange. He managed to commune with the dead soldier, but what he hear was mostly incoherent, only catching snatches like “He’s mad”, “torture and pain”, and horrible screams. Ferdinand could see that many of the marks were more than those left by ravens, deep scaring and tissue damage covered exposed flesh… the witnesses of vile tortures. Ferdinand was shaken and hurried to catch the others.

As the morning passed to afternoon, they sighted smoke up ahead, the snow having abated a bit. Too soon for it to be the refugee camps at Veloren. Maybe it might be mercenaries encamped. As they got closer they saw it was a small squad of brightly-uniformed Estalian who were playing dice, laughing and appeared to have been drinking since breakfast. When they saw the party walking up the road they began to snigger and joke amongst themselves. One of them began to walk towards them, pointing at Gunnar, gesturing about his hair and guffawing in a language they didn’t understand. His friend joined him as he tried to mimic the slayer’s walk. Either these Estalians were raw recruits or had lost all of their senses. Gunnar turned and walked towards them, Saundra and Ferdinand sharing knowing glances. Gunnar walked to within a yard of three of the five-man squad, the two others obviously being a little more sober started to back away. The ‘clown’ continued to poke fun at Gunnar… a slap with the flat side of his axe dropped one of the number, cursing the ‘clown’ to turn and run. The last of the trio made to swing a halberd at Gunnar, but a counter-swing felled him, a large amount of blood signalling he may not get up again. One of the other two decided to intervene and stepped forward, obviously intending to use his own weapon to harm Gunnar. By now Saundra and Ferdinand were in the fight and they intercepted him with sword and scythe. Another of the number wouldn’t get up again. The Estalian Gunnar had felled with the flat of his axe head made to strike him, but this time the keener edge ended him. Gunnar made off in pursuit of the ‘clown’, rapidly closing the gap. An initial axe swing plinked off the side of his helmet, but didn’t slow him. A follow up to the back of a knee did! He fell and a coups de grace finished him. One of the Estalians had gotten away. “Maybe he’ll spread the word and their kind will show a bit more respect next time”, Gunnar said as he returned to the others. In the Estalians equipment they found some provisions, a tent, cooking utensils and some gold.

They returned to the road, heading north again. The light began to fade from the short day and snow started to fall again. A thumping from the Urn resounded in Ferdinand’s ears, its malice starting to pull him down. Through the woods, he and Salundra glimpsed something moving parallel to their path. “Rojas!”, Salundra hissed and made off at speed towards the wight. There was a good distance between them, but she closed it quickly despite him spotting her and fleeing. After about a minute she had almost caught him and he turned to face her, panting… a strange thing to see in an undead creature. “The urn should be returned to me…”, he growled, rapier in hand. Salundra shrugged and Rojas lunged. After swapping some initial glancing blows, Salundra fought like a warrior possessed. Each lunge from the wight was met by a deft riposte. Desperation entered his cold eyes. Twice she side-stepped elegant moves from him, the second time using his momentum to step behind him and strike hard at his leg. He howled in pain, collapsing to the ground as an ashen outline of the warrior he had been, the dark ash mingling with the snow.

Ferdinand winced… the urn glowed red hot. He tried to extract it from his robes without the others noticing, but he fumbled it to the ground along with a dark looking grimoire he had been keeping from the others. The urn vibrated violently in the snow, soliciting frowns from Ferdinand. Gunnar stepped forward and put Shadowsplitter through it, shattering its onyx material into a thousand pieces, several of which struck them. Just as its form imploded, a desiccated human heart could be glimpsed inside… a last foul beat moving it before the axe ended it too. It disappeared into a fine dark ash, the southern wind mixing it with the falling snow. Gunnar and Salundra looked to Ferdinand and the book in the snow, the concern writ large on their faces.

… and we’ll leave it there!

Until next time,