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Of cats and colds (10)

Of cats and colds (10)

Jeremy felt a faint prickle on the back of his neck, and a familiar swelling of power in his belly. He looked around searchingly. There, at an opened, shadowed window above, he saw a pair of green eyes staring at him. They blinked once, there was a moment of dizziness, and a second viewpoint was overlain on his sight. He staggered, before the scene settled and he realized he was looking down into a nearby courtyard. The darkened yard was incredibly bright, and sudden movements of dust and shadow pulled at him. A pause, and there was the faintest of creaks, impossibly loud. He saw a short figure sneaking out of the hostelry, pack on back.
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“Who could that be?,” he whispered. The halfling, Keila Cobblepot, he realized. “Now follow her.” The strange overlain vision wheeled suddenly, and he found himself staring at … something light, something pink against a dark background, viewed through half closed eyes. The vision resolved itself and he found himself looking at a wall of fur inches from his eyes.
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With an effort, Jeremy raised his eyes. The cat in the window looked up briefly and half closed her eyes mockingly. Another moment of dizziness, and she went back to licking her arse.
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The characters

Petra Nunce, Reiklander – gambler
Wesley Smitt, Reiklander – scout
Grim Grimmson, Dwarf – trollslayer
Jeremy Dewbender – apprentice grey wizard

After a cold and sleepless night outside Stromdorfʼs locked gates, (not helped by Wes hawking up huge gobbets of phlegm), the four heroes enter the town. The duty sentry directs them towards the barracks, and they split up outside the building, with Jeremy and Petra taking their prisoner to the local watch house, whilst Wes and Grim decide to check out the town.

(Quite sensible, really, with Petra using her new talent (master of disguise) no-one suspects her, and Jeremy has that letter from the head of the Grey College. The two less disguised [and more stupid] characters decide to avoid the authorities, at least until Jeremy has established their alibiʼs).

After viewing Jeremyʼs magisterʼs letter and hearing his explanation of the Holstʼs crimes, the sergeant sends them to the watch captainʼs house with an escort. The escort serves to clear the way through a gaggle of petitioners, and the wizard and his scribe are quickly ushered into the commanders presence.

Jeremy shows the Captain his letter of introduction from the Grey College, and explains what happened at the farm. Tristan is questioned briefly by the Commander, and, on Petraʼs advice from the previous night, accuses the Holstʼs of human sacrifice; the Eigelʼs, he claims, merely put out food and strong drink, and only discovered what their neighbours were doing recently. When they objected, his family was attacked and killed.

Meanwhile, Grim finds a wanted poster for the group on a wall inside a local pub (ʻchecking out the town,ʼ eh?). A drunk, sporting a wide hat, a waxed moustache and an outrageous accent staggers over.

“Short person, what-a does a this-a mean? Short, like ʻim over there?” he gestures towards a tiny, gnarled up man sipping beer in the corner, “Or short like him?ʼ he points at a man with no legs, a war veteran sat at a nearby table. “Or do they-a mean short like a …. a stuntie?” The drunk looks up and focuses on Grim, taking in his stature. He seems surprised. “Like-a you.”

There is a stunned silence as most of the bar take in Grimʼs appearance, the barbaric piercings, the scarred torso, the wild mohican, the staring, bloodshot eyes, the huge axe over his shoulder. There is a general movement away from him at the bar.

Grim turns his gaze upon the drunk. “What,” he spits out between clenched teeth, “did,” he juts his head forward aggressively and widens his eyes, “you,” his hands tighten on the axe, “say?”

The drunk straightens, and sweeps his hat off with a bow “Eh, no offence, compadre. You Northerners, you all-a look-a da same to me.”

There is a moments stunned silence from the dwarf, while the entire bar holds itʼs breath, then with a roar of laughter Grim embraces the other man. “Drink, crazy man. Drink with me!”

(Grim was unable to attend this session, so weʼd worked out that he would go off and find a bar, and drink himself into oblivion, thus missing the entire episode. He wakes up two days later in Eduardo Rodriguesʼ (the drunk) shack on the edge of town with no trousers (WES!), his eyebrows shaved off, and having sworn brotherhood with the Estalian. The two have formed a temporary party and share the ʻDrunken Bumsʼ trait).

Meanwhile, Wes asks around and is directed to the local weapons shop, looking for a sword. He looks at several blades, well outside his price range, and enquires about bow strings (last session I raised the possibility of a chaos star result snapping his bowstring – he has no spares). Later he strikes up a friendly conversation with the proprietor, who apologizes for the lack of a fire – the coal merchant Florian Wescheler disappeared mysteriously a few weeks ago, and hasnʼt been seen since. Wesʼs interest is piqued.

Back at the Commanderʼs office, Jeremy has his official documents stamped and signed by Kapitan Kessler. He notices the ʻTrouser Banditsʼ poster, and asks about it (Petra cringing inwardly).

“Pathetic, isnʼt it? Bunch of loser low-lives escape from Lachenbad courtroom, and they rushed out these posters,” moans the captain. “Unfortunately, it seems the bloody prosecutor was too clever by half, some kind of a legal mix up about dwarves and short people – course, the posters are taken from the prosecutions submission, so now we donʼt know wether were dealing with short people, very short people or dwarves. Iʼve asked the roadwardens to get clarification, perhaps get a picture, but thatʼll take a week or so.”

Petra makes an unctuous bow to Herr Kessler and hurries Jeremy out of the room. “Was that you?” asks the wizard. “The trouser bandits?” he snorts derisively, then stops suddenly, and staggers, leaning against the wall. He feels uncomfortably … full.

Petra puts her hand out to steady him, and a blue spark flashes to her arm. “Ouch!” She steps back, fear showing in her eyes. The magician is about to do something scary.

Confused, Jeremy casts around for the source of the magical influx, sensing a greyness in the winds, and spots a pair of green eyes in an alley. They blink and disappear suddenly, and the feeling of fullness is gone.

“What was that?” asks Petra, keeping her distance. The wizards eyes have lost their shadowed look, but she keeps her hand on a dagger. A quick glance shows no-one has noticed the wizardʼs strange behaviour.

Jeremy shakes his head, clearing it. “I think that that, my dear, was my cat.”

(At the end of last session, Phil [Jeremy] had asked about the possibility of obtaining a familiar – Iʼd told him Iʼd think about it, and heʼd had his normal advance. I introduced the cat-familiar as a side story, boosting/over-loading the wizardʼs power at opportune moments. Jeremy would have to locate the cat to bond with it. I also loaded the cat with a bunch of action cards that would not be under the wizards control, and fail effects such as “lick arse”, “mad half-hour”, “who, me?” and “gone hunting”. The cat acts as a npc until bonded).

The two wait under the eaves of the captainʼs office until Wes appears – the rain is truly sleeting down. Grim, it seems, has disappeared with the town drunk, so the remaining party members discuss their findings – all three suspect a link between the missing coal merchant and the Holstʼs sacrifices; they regret not enquiring more deeply into exactly how the farmers got their victims (thatʼs my crew; stupid). They decide to investigate further, after a nights rest at the Thunderwater Inn.

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After a meal, food and a good nights sleep, the three begin their investigation. Jeremy pays, and his purse is considerably lightened. Overnight, Wes has managed to give his cold to Petra (“too much snogging” chortles Jeremy, and pushes up the party stress counter), and neither is at their best, socially speaking. They question the innkeeper about Herr Weschler, the coal-merchant, coughing and spluttering everywhere, and are quickly directed towards the ʻStewpot hostelryʼ, a local halfling establishment. The barkeep quickly wipes away the snot and spittle on the counter, muttering about ʻfilthy wizardʼs and their getʼ.

The ʻStewpot hostelryʼ is a rather empty establishment, cosy but a little dull. The adventurers question the proprietor, one Keila Cobblepot, and she describes the coal-merchant as ʻnice if a bit simpleʼ. He left about a week ago, she says, hitching up his wagon himself and departing in the early hours before she was awake. She seems a little scared of the wizard (not unusual!), and bustles around giving them (free) tea and biscuits.

Suddenly Jeremy reels, and sits down heavily. A ghostly scene overlays his sight, a building, familiar. The Inn! The vision focuses upon an upstairs window – their room! Gently the curtains move, as if someone is brushing against them. Jeremy sits up suddenly, to find the hostelry gone quiet, the room seeming more shadowed than before. Everyone is staring at him with trepidation. “Quick!ʼ he shouts, “Someones in our room!”

The three heroes dash out of the building, much to everyoneʼs relief, and run through the wet, muddy streets back to their Inn. Jeremy, still a little dazed from the vision, manages to fall into the deep mud at the centre of the street, much to the localʼs delight (another tension point!). They burst into the Inn and charge up the stairs, past the astonished Innkeeper. A few seconds spent fumbling with their locked door and in they storm.

The room is in disarray, and a window is open, drapes flapping in the breeze. Their few belongings (well, Jeremyʼs really) are scattered around the floor. There is a note pinned to the wall with a knife, which Petra manages to hide before the innkeep comes puffing up the stairs.

“A robbery, your honours, itʼs terrible. Itʼs never happened before. Just you let me at them bludgers, Iʼll show them a thing or two!” The innkeeper scowls ferociously.

Jeremy, convinced by the manʼs passion, begins to apologize. (Gotta love that old gullibility trait!) “Think nothing of it. Could happen to anyone.”

Petra steps in. Sheʼs stayed at many of these places, and knows access to their belongings is available for a few silvers, or with a bent piece of metal. “All our money! Twenty crowns stolen, I should call the watch!”

A considered look crosses the Innkeeperʼs face, and he counters by suggesting that they should have carried that much money with them, or he would have locked it away if they asked. The dickering continues, neither side really wanting to call the watch. Eventually they settle on the heroes having a weeks free board and lodging and nothing said to the watch, whilst Jeremy looks on dumb-founded.

“You, you lied!” he stutters after the hostelier leaves. “I didnʼt leave any money here.”
Petra considers explaining that the Innkeeper probably opened their door himself, but decides against it. “Yes, but I did.”

Even Jeremy finds this hard to believe. “You left twenty gold crowns in our room. I thought you had no money?”

Thinking fast, Petra continues. “It was payment. The robber was our contact. He left a message.” She pulls out the note sheʼd hidden and reads aloud ʻthe seal is ours. We’ll be in touchʼ (S#*@t! – Jeremy looks even more suspicious_). More quick thinking. “Itʼs a code.” She touches her nose. “A secret code.” (_Oh yes, now the local thieves guild is interested, following a message from
the assassin Petal in Lachenbad. Good times to come).

After another huge meal, an early lunch (well, it was free!) the three begin their investigation. A chat in the bar reveals that Herr Wescheler, the coal merchant, had bodyguards whom he left behind when he departed early. They hadnʼt been paid, and set off the next day towards Ubersreik to remonstrate with him. A long, wet, walk around the walls talking to watchmen, revealed that one of them at the North gate remembers the cart leaving in the early hours some days ago. He didnʼt see who was driving, though, as he was here to check what came in; nothing left Stromdorf (except water, he jokes – ha ha).

By this point itʼs getting dark, and all three adventurers are tired and soaked to the skin. Jeremy has caught Wesʼs cold, and is out of sorts; they decide that tomorrow, the first order of business is getting good wet weather gear, and a drink and a (free) meal sounds attractive.

As they trudge back towards the Thunderwater Inn, Wes, looking at the near perennial storm, notices that there seems to be a focal point of lightning actually in the town. He points it out to the rest of the group (remember, Jeremy, your mission?) and they try to locate it. After more slogging around the sodden streets, they find themselves outside the local temple to Sigmar, which is topped with a large, hammer shaped lightning conductor. Jeremy tries to see the local winds of magic – bright, bright blue, as you would expect when looking at a lightning strike.

Whilst standing outside the temple wondering what to do next, Jeremy feels a faint pull from the east. “This way,” he says abruptly, and leads the others across the market square towards the west gate.

They approach the Stewpot hostelry, when Jeremy gets the strange overfull feeling again. Wes and Petra step back as his eyes start to darken, and his face becomes shrouded in shadow. He stops.
“Whatʼs going on?” asks Wes, concerned.

“Jeremyʼs going a bit mad,” answers Petra. “He keeps getting these fits, something about a cat. Comes from being a magic user, they all lose it in the end.” She makes circling signs with her finger at her temple.

Before Petra can expand on her friends incipient madness he interrupts. “That halfling woman, sheʼs leaving the hostelry. Sheʼs got a pack on her back.” Wes and Petra look around. Theyʼre some distance from the Stewpot, and canʼt see anything.

Jeremy continues to stare blankly and mutter to himself. “Thatʼs right, now follow her.” A pause, then he curses suddenly. “Oh arse, sheʼs getting away.” He looks at the others suddenly. “Didnʼt you hear, sheʼs getting away? Come on!”

A sprint, and the three come upon Keila Cobblepot sneaking down the street. She briefly attempts to bluff her way out of the situation by claiming to be off to see her ill auntie, but not even Jeremy falls for that. The adventurers are far too strong to resist, and sheʼs dragged off to the captains office, where she quickly confesses to her part in the kidnapping of various solitary visitors to the town, incidentally implicating Tristan Eigel in the crimes. Kapitan Kessler is overjoyed to find the culprit for a number of recent disappearances, and mentions the possibility of a reward and further work – both Wes and Petra become extremely interested, and agree to return in the morning for an update.

And to finish off. Jeremy borrows Wesʼs compass, and sets out to try to map lightning hot spots in the dark. Petra returns to the Thunderwater Inn where a group of tipsy card players decide to teach the poor lonely scribe how to play cards; amazingly she wins ten shillings off the table in an outrageous run of luck. Wes heads across town to check on Grim, and when he finds him passed out in Eduardo Rodriguesʼ hovel, carefully removes his trousers.

This was the episode when I finally decided that if you canʼt beat ʻem, join ʻem, and let all their pigeons come home to roost. The thieves guild is on their case, pictures of them from Lachenbad may turn up at any time, and Petra, Grim and Wes are attempting to keep Jeremy in the dark about their criminal natures. Oh yes, and the Emperorʼs agent has yet to appear, hard on the trail of a stolen secret Imperial message. I also gave Wes a cold (highly infectious, causes Fellowship -1, recovery difficulty improves by 1 each night). A kind of normal disease that is just very annoying. Bit like the Trouser Bandits.

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