The dust hasn’t settled. In fact it hangs in the air as the morning sun shines over the trees. The landscape is unrecognisable. The cliffs have partially crumbled into the Reik and all kinds of debris litter the rivers surface, slowly drifting downstream. Where Castle Wittgenstein used to stand is an enormous pile of rubble and stone, and smoke rises from various places.
It’s a peaceful moment, with only the sounds of the birds and the ambience of the river.
On the deck of the Jolly Nobber everyone sits exhausted, looking at the scene in front of them. It’s been a long night.
The party are fatigued, battered, weather beaten and wounded and in all round need of rest. They discuss their next move.
The first thing is to get out of here and away from carnage they’ve been involved with before people start showing up.
Rowlocks gets everyone into gear and prepares the boat. Half a day’s sail downstream towards Kemperbad, then pitch up somewhere safe and get some rest. Everyone helps, despite the temptation to collapse, apart from Dumpling who is in bed downstairs, recovering from her traumatic ordeal. Gnoblar gives her something to help her sleep.
Shortly after lunchtime, a safe spot is found, near to the forests edge so Gnoblar can try to replenish some of his herb stocks. The boat is secured and after some lunch, everyone relaxes and rests.
The Jolly Nobber has been turned over, probably by Kratz and his friends, and anything laying around if immediate value has been taken – but they haven’t found the secret compartment built by Werner.
The next five days pass leisurely, its the end of the summer and everyone enjoys some well deserved downtime after chaos of the last week. Rowlocks spends his time fishing and chatting to Werner and Durak while the warriors spa on deck, perform weapons and armor maintenance and drink ale. In his cabin
Wandy is deep into his books, studying his latest find of Dagmar’s diary. Gnoblar has gathered some herbs which he begins processing into pills whilst reading his physician manuals.
During the evenings, laughs are had, stories are told and plans are made.
There’s been a few traders pass, and an increased number of river patrols heading towards the castle. The river patrol are fobbed off with tales of innocent traders who know nothing about the events up river.
Werner has been told to take the ransom he doesn’t have to Middenheim.
After finding a letter to Magritte, they know that there is one of the Wittgensteins remaining, who is enjoying the high life, in Middenheim.
These facts, combined with Rowlocks burning desire to find an archery competition, which they know there will be at the Middenheim carnival, the decision is made. The plan is to call in at Delberz so that Wandy can visit Heironymous, then head north to the City of the White Wolf.
Everyone is back to full strength apart from Dumpling, who is back on her feet pottering around, but still not quite herself.
But spirits are high and Rowlocks steers the barge down stream.
It’s pleasant sailing and a much needed change of pace. They opt to steer straight past Kemperbad and continue towards Altdorf.
The next day, as Rowlocks steers the Jolly Nobber downstream, he sees a trade barge up ahead. A man stands on the deck and waves as they approach.
The Maria Borger is a trade vessel, not too dissimilar to the Jolly Nobber, and as Rowlocks brings her closer he can see the captain is distressed.
“Hey there, I’ve got a couple of sick men on board, are any of you medical?”
Everyone looks at Gnoblar, whose just appeared on deck. Gnoblar sizes up the situation for a minute, then offers to help.
Once alongside, Gnoblar, Werner and Wandy jump aboard. Bernhardt introduces himself and the crew and explains that two of his men, Karl and Hans, have been taken ill. The sailors are cold, pale and deathly white with cold sweats.
No one knows what to think about the situation, alertness levels are high and the party are quite suspicious. Gnoblar agrees to go take a look at the patients and heads down the stairs.
Karl and Hans both have the same symptoms, and despite Gnoblar’s knowledge of common diseases, he can’t pinpoint the cause, and they don’t look good. Wandy spots two small puncture wounds on the neck of Karl, Gnoblar takes a look. Bernhardt says this is strange, they weren’t there yesterday? Further inspection finds them on Hans too. Bernhardt reassures his struggling mates that they’ll be ok and says the bite marks might have been from rats.
Werner spots a small pendant on the floor, a religious symbol to the god Taal, and picks it up. Immediately, Hans starts mumbling things about being made to take it off.
This makes everyone even more suspicious, is it Bernhardt doing this?
After some chat, Bernhardt reveals that he does have some special cargo on board, that he picked up from some large mercantile operation in Kemperbad. With two sick crew, he’s finding it hard to man the boat and make the journey on time. It seems he’s been paid very well to make a delivery. After some persuasion, he let’s the adventurers down into the hold to have a look.
It’s a large single crate with a large lead seal on one edge. The crate bares a coat of arms and Wandy takes a look. His time spent in academia and his knowledge of heraldry pays off, and he recognises it as the Orlock family that died out in the Age of the Three Emperors, hundreds of years ago. Hmmmm.
OK. Gnoblar reassures Bernhardt and says they’ll think of a way to help and they head back onto the Jolly Nobber.
It’s a funny situation. Back on the Nobber talks are held. What’s in the crate? Lead seal? Is it possible this could be something to do with the skaven and the warsptone? That would seem almost too good to be true. Whatever it is no one feels like opening it. How come Hans and Karl are sick but Bernhardt and his wife aren’t? We need to stay off the boat in case whatever it is is contagious.
Initially the plan is to offer to pay for the cargo, take it and deliver it, then Bernhardt can take his crew back to Kemperbad to get medical help.
They decide they don’t want the cargo on board and that they should tow the Maria Borger, and make it easier for the boat to make its deadline. It’s a long way to tow a boat, but really it’s a plan to stall for time and see what happens over the next few days.
Bernhardt is delighted with the offer of help and Rowlocks makes the necessary preparations. After a couple of hours they’re off and heading down the Reik.
It’s a slight setback but no real problem. Night sets in and everyone moors up and settles down for the evening. A watch is set up on the Nobber and everyone gets some rest.
The next morning, Rowlocks is up with the birds, checks the boat and shouts across to Bernhardt- no reply. He hollas again but nothing. He wakes everyone else up.
There’s clearly no signs from the Maria Borger as it floats lifelessly on the Reik. Werner, Gnoblar and Wandy decide to board and have a look, everyone else stays on the Nobber.
There’s nothing on deck so they head downstairs. Hans and Karl are still ill in bed, further searching locates Bernhardt and his Mrs. They are both sick, pale, weak and in their cabin in bed, they can barely move.
A medical inspection by Gnoblar reveals two small puncture marks on their necks. This is not good. There’s immediate talk of cutting the boat loose, torching it and heading to Altdorf, but after further talks they decide to go look at the mysterious cargo.
In the cargo hold, Werner grabs an iron bar and wedges it in the crate and levers it open.
Inside the crate, much to everyone’s surprise are two coffins. One lays open, surrounded by soil and earth. Inside the other lays a man, dressed in fashions from centuries ago, blood seeps from the corner of his mouth.
“If this is what I think it is,” says Wandy, “Then this is a very dangerous situation, vampires are very powerful, formidable adversaries.”
The instinct is to immediately run and get as far away as possible, but Gnoblar has other plans. If they leave the Maria Borger, then there is the possibility of multiple vampires running amok in the Reikland.
Gnoblar decides they must be killed. Wandy tells him he needs stakes of birchwood to run through their hearts to truly finish them off forever. Luck is on their side, as it’s daytime they currently pose no threat, but it won’t be long.
Gnoblar heads off into the forest with Werner to collect the necessary wood. Werner then uses his carpentry skills to carve stakes.
A couple of hours later, it’s time. Gnoblar takes his stakes and heads below.
First, the main cause of all these problems, the Orlock Vampire. He leans into the coffin, places the stake, aims a hammer and runs him through. The vampire wrenches upright, gasps, looks Gnoblar in the eye, smiles and drops down lifeless.
The next four prove to be more difficult. Although Bernhardt and his crew are weak, they are not unconscious, and they beg and plead for Gnoblar to stop, but he knows he has to put them out of their misery and save them from an endless nightmare.
He steels himself, fights through their sorrowful begging and kills them one at a time.
With the deed done, he returns to the Nobbar, leans into the Reik and washes his hands. Rowlocks cuts all ties with the Maria Borger and leaves it to drift. With that, they set off towards Altdorf.
A few days later the spires of Altdorf rise in the distance as the boat sails along. Having had a bad experience on their previous visit, and still concerned about the potential murder charges from a few months ago, they decide to head straight past to Delberz.
It’s easy sailing in the late summer sun. The waterways around Altdorf are busy as ever with trade boats, tourist ships and river patrols.
The boys reminisce of the last time they were home in Delberz, which seems like an age ago.
A few days later, they arrive back in Delberz, and it’s a welcome sight.
The first port of call is Heironymous. The wizards house is on the outskirts and on the river, which is convenient for mooring.
Everyone jumps off the boat, and Wandy leads them up the path to the stone tower house.
Hans Peter Schiller opens the door with his usual look of disdain. Always in Wandy’s shadow, Heironymous’ second favourite apprentice looks unhappy to see the adventurers..
“Oh, it’s you lot, you’re back. I suppose you want to come in…”
As they enter the study, Heironymous, who is usually always preoccupied, is overjoyed to see them and is off his odd-socked feet to greet them.
Schiller is ordered to bring refreshments, and everyone gets comfy and the debrief begins. The wizard is keen to hear the whole tale and talks go on into the night. The party indulge him with the whole adventure they’ve been on, the signal tower, Grissenwald, the Barren Hills, Kemperbad, Wittgendorf and Castle Wittgenstein.
He listens intently and the different possibilities and hypothesise are discussed. Who has the warpstone meteorite? Where is Etelka? What actually happened? Everyone speculates, but the only real lead from the affair, is the group know there is a living member of the Wittgensteins, Magritte’s brother, in Middenheim. Werner’s ransom also has something to do with Middenheim. Combined with Rowlocks’ archery obsession and the upcoming carnival, the course is set. Middenheim it is, and Heironymous also thinks this is the best course of action based on the circumstances.
But first things first, Wandy needs to study and train, which gives the party some further downtime. Werner heads back to his parents inn with Gnoblar, Durak and Rowlocks for a few days drinking and eating, and Dumpling begins to pull herself together and starts tidying and pottering on the boat.
A week or so later, everyone regroups and plans the journey. Middenheim is not reachable by boat, so they negotiate to leave the barge moored at Heironymous’s house and Dumpling will stay on board, and help Heironymous.
Plans are made and options are weighed up. In the end, they decide not to go by coach or cart, and they head into Delberz to buy a wagon and horses. Werner will drive the wagon up the main Altdorf to Middenheim road and hopefully be there before the carnival starts.
They need to travel light and everyone heads back to the barge to decide what to bring and what to leave on the boat.
After a while, the backpacks are ready and they say their goodbyes to Heironymous and Dumpling, jump on the wagon and Werner whips the reins – the journey to Middenheim begins.