Friday, 27 May 2011

Their Fated Travels...Chapter 35 - The End of the Beginning; The Beginning of the End?

The final chapter of TFT is up. You can read it as always at fanfiction via THIS link - http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5775192/35/

or below in this forum itself (better)



Their Fated Travels…

RPG Party events as told By Robert James Freemantle

Chapter 35
The End of the Beginning; The Beginning of the End?




   A week and a half had passed, as injuries were healing and money was being spent to sustain the group’s stay in Nuln. They realised they wouldn’t be able to keep it up for much longer – for they would have to get back and replenish their coin purses with some steady wages from the capital.  
   The group stood around Maestro inside a darkened corner of a Nuln Tavern, where they stared at Maestro’s latest purchase…He held in his hands a large egg.
   Tobias inspected it and his eyes narrowed, “Maestro, is that what I think it is?”
   Maestro uneasily shifted his weight from foot to foot, “Umm, well probably, yes.”
   Dieter sneered, “Oh good, it looks like there will be enough omelette to go around.”
   Maestro clutched the egg protectively to his chest replying, “It isn’t an egg for eating, Dieter.”
   Rissandrea raised the glasses from the bridge of her nose and rubbed the place where they had left a mark, commenting, “Then if it is not for eating, what is it for?”
   Maestro smiled, “For flying!”
   Tordrad looked from speaker to speaker becoming more confused by the moment.
   Anastasia chipped in, “Alright, how can anyone possibly ride an egg?”
   Dieter looked at the girl, with malevolence clear in his eyes.
   Tobias looked up his nose at the girl, his spectacles catching his eyes in the light and making him look a little like an owl, “Because dear girl, it will hatch and become a griffon.”
   Maestro raised a finger to his lips, “Shhhhh, quiet down about it then, do you think I want everyone knowing what I bought on the black market? Especially that Karl Franz, he wouldn’t like that, him.”
   Dieter scratched his head in alarm, “You mean to say Maestro, that you are proposing to fly that thing when it is fully grown?”
   Maestro gave an over exaggerated nod in response and stated, “I just have to make sure that I’m there when it hatches.”
   Dieter pitched in quickly, “So that it will think you are its mother?”
   Maestro screwed his face up at this and defended with, “No, its father obviously.”
   Dieter replied with, “I like my way more.”
   Rissandrea considered this and spoke, “Well I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that it wasn’t a dragon’s egg then.”
   Dieter was next to speak, “Well foolish wizard, you should probably keep it away from Tordrad anyway, or before you know it, he’ll be cracking it into a glass and drinking the damned thing with vodka.”
   As the word “vodka” was used, Tordrad suddenly became animated and managed to speak Reikspiel enough to say, “Drinking?”
   One of Maestro’s eyes bugged out as the other screwed up almost impossibly small as he replied, “Tordrad, it’s barely ten in the morning, what are you thinking?”
   Tordrad replied with strange words in his native tongue. All heads turned to Anastasia as she translated, “He is thinking that it is five hours since his last drink…”
   Dieter shook his head at how stupid they all were and said, “I suppose it would be the best hangover cure, yes…getting drunk again.” Then he sighed before continuing, “I’m surrounded by idiots, but what is worse is that some of them are the smartest people I know…”
   Tordrad still wanted a drink…he hated having to settle for water, even though it was the right colour. His armour was still being repaired after the massive damage it had sustained these past weeks. Though even without the armour, he still looked overly huge for a human being, like a bear up next to five gazelles. Although for one trying to imagine Tordrad as bear, one’s imagination now would not be called upon to stretch very far… 
   Maestro plucked his spirits up and said, “Aaaaaaand, consider this my fine fellows…” before adding with consideration, “and fellow-ettes, The front end of a griffon is an eagle and the back end is a lion. That works out quite lucky seeing as I have a birdspeak spell. I might be able to communicate to it, at the front end at least. Maybe not the back end – which means it won’t be my fault if it goes around pooping on you lot.”

   Some days later, Tordrad had gone missing without warning.
   Through a conversation with the other Kislev warrior that took part in the tourney, Tordrad had learned from this man of the whereabouts of the slavers camp. They were currently pitched three quarters of a day’s ride from Nuln.
   Tordrad had left to deal with business as he saw it. This gave Dieter no comfort at all. He wondered where the man had gone, but at least he knew Tordrad still lived. After all, the tattoo on his chest was still looking the same and it wasn’t burning…yet.
  
   Tordrad was without his armour, still in repair at the blacksmith. He wore instead some hardened heavy leathers of a black colour.
   His swift ride had brought him to the slavers camp by nightfall.
   He had dismounted a good distance away from his objective and reconnoitred on foot around the perimeter of the area.
   He was lightly armoured and that would make a big difference to how he would approach things, but this also made him lighter on his feet. He was able to dodge and avoid the sentries he found here and there on the outskirts and climbed a tree that overlooked the area. From this vantage point he could see where the slaves were being kept – inside pits dug into the ground. These pits had metal grids above the top of them, sealing the areas in at ground level.
   There were many wide coaches parked in a station area together. It was likely that the slaves were moved via these.
   Tordrad wondered why they were still here. What purpose were they serving? Then that question was answered. A large white tent illuminated from the inside caught the man’s eye as the opening flap of it moved and out stepped several robed men, along with the strange slaver master wizard who had been present at the tournament. With them appeared several important looking nobles. These men did not originate from this camp, for they were being shown around, shown the slaves. A procession of helpers walked behind in tow.
   A snapped neck from behind and the Kislevite man had made his way into the camp proper. By sticking to the shadows and moving quickly, he managed to get near to the procession of nobles. The robed slaver guard who had been lagging at the back was quickly grabbed with a hand around his mouth and dragged back into darkness. Whatever fate befell him, was unseen as at last Tordrad re-emerged again wearing the man’s garb. Now he was in robes, disguised as a guard, albeit an extremely large one. None of the guards were as big as this but he knew it would help him get away with glances or a merely cursory nature. In the dark of the night that was all he needed.
   By patrolling the outer edges of the compound all the while following the group of nobles who were obviously here to purchase slaves, Tordrad was able to get a good glimpse of the slaves themselves. He could not see the dwarf he had come for. He then remembered the condition he would have been in and realised that he would probably not be shown to potential buyers. The slavers perhaps intended to make him fight in other tournaments at a later date.  That could not be allowed to happen. He had made that dwarf a silent vow. Though he would not be bound to it for the recipient hadn’t even heard it, Tordrad knew and that was all there was to it.
   As the night went on, several slaves had been hand picked by the nobles and led away. These were purchases that had been secured - A combination of men and women. In one case a screaming child was taken from his mother, for she was being bought and he was not. Such sights of despair were hard for the northern man to bear, but this firmed his resolve even more. Perhaps he didn’t need only to help the dwarf…
   Tordrad had counted twelve slaves to each pit - Always males in one together, with children and females in others separate. He calculated based on how many slaves were shown to the nobles that two pits contained slaves that hadn’t been shown to the buyers. This was made easier though because one of them was a pit for the females. That left only the slave pit on the north west side of the compound. Tordrad quickly made his way over to it.
   Being dressed as a guard meant that he could get close enough to examine those inside, with quick glances down. He couldn’t tell if the dwarf was down there or not but he had to trust his instinct. He looked over the caged area but none of those inside took notice of him. He quickly got their attention with, “PSSSST”. Most of them looked up. When he saw he had his appropriate audience he began to recite the reikspiel words he had learned in advance, spoken in an extremely strained manner, “I am - ‘ere to – resk – yew. Not leave – yet. Leave - with horn”, the last word, ‘horn’ was particularly hard for him to say, which resulted in his adding several more n’s than were needed.
   Tordrad then surprised the prisoners by producing a key. The guard whose garments Tordrad now wore had been carrying this key on his person. There was only the one key, made of iron. The slavers were indeed lazy or confident in their security because this one key would therefore likely fit all of the cages. Tordrad began his test of this theory with the first lock. It clicked open quickly. At once, the prisoners began to push at it, as if to try to make their exit right now. Tordrad gave these people a stern and threatening look. Even though he was their rescuer and outnumbered at that, the look in his eyes warned the slaves against disobeying him. There was something fierce there, something more frightening than even the slave master.
   Leaving the cage door unlocked but closed, Tordrad quickly moved on to the next one and did the same, reciting the same words. The key did indeed fit all of the other locks. That was a stroke of luck. Tordrad had learnt to take luck for what it was – a helping moment that could be further taken advantage of with immediate sound decisions.
   He moved on and opened other metal gates in the ground giving the slaves inside the same message in each case.
   The “bought” slaves were now being moved to a separate area near the large white tent the nobles had originally arrived from. The taint of chaos was all about this place. It was more than just simple greed. He had seen this when he’d passed the horses earlier, those tied to the wagons. Their eyes glowed a ghastly red colour. Tordrad had seen this before in creatures tainted by the chaos Gods. This was a very bad sign indeed, and run by an Empire Wizard at that! Terrible, he thought.
   It appeared that the slavers were going to be leaving soon. Everywhere his eyes darted he saw tactical opportunity present itself. His plan was now set. Also, nobody seemed to question why the horses had their feedbags attached tonight. They had surely already eaten…
   Suddenly his plan was in threat of being ruined. One of the guards had moved too close to a slave pit and a particularly annoyed slave who couldn’t wait for revenge had lifted the gate grabbing at the guard’s foot and dragging him down into the pit amongst the rabble where he was set upon by them – with the slaves venting their pent up aggression.
   The other guards had been alerted to a disturbance and started to head towards the pit in question.
   Tordrad adapted to the situation using it to his advantage, by sneaking directly across the open, towards the white tent.
   Very soon, slaves had started to pour out of the pit and were engaging the guards. They had not gone on Tordrad’s signal! This at least kept the camp distracted from what he was now doing. He had emptied the gunpowder from several nearby muskets against the tent opening. He then grabbed a nearby torch from a holder stand that was sunk into the ground and threw it at the flap. It ignited quickly but Tordrad didn’t wait around to watch the events that transpired next.
   The men hurriedly rushed out from the other end of the tent to put the fire out. Another distraction was in place. Nobody blinked twice at an overly large guard running away into the shadows. They might have figured he was going to fetch a bucket to fill with water or the like.
   Even though it would have normally been against his better judgement, to harm an animal in any way, Tordrad had made an exception for the horses in this place. They were inherently tainted. He could see they were starting to buck and kick, furiously snorting and attacking enemies that weren’t there. That was no surprise at all, seeing as Tordrad had earlier came upon a container of the strange mad cap mushroom paste the slaving corporation had used on Grimdal in the tournament. Tordrad having acquired this paste and had dropped it into the tainted horses feed bags and attached them earlier. Now the effects were finally coming about. The restlessness of the steeds intensified by the moment.
   Tordrad looked about the encampment and saw the other playing pieces set firmly in position. Now was the time then.
   A second cage of slaves was already beginning to open from those restless within. The guards saw this too and were forced to split up to deal with it. Frenzied cries were going up everywhere.
   Tordrad blew his horn, which made a deep sound that reverberated through the chests of all present. This was the signal for the others to emerge. All of the metal gates covering the ground were pushing back at once and the slaves emerged from every pit together. Of those pits Tordrad had not had the chance to open, the other slaves were going to do it for him, because he had dropped the keys into one of the cages. Now the entire place truly was in ruin. A small army of slaves rebelled against the forces who faced them. Though they outnumbered the guards, they were not armed. They picked up any item they could find to use as improvised weapons. The encampment was in battle all over. The horses broke free of their restraints that tied them to the posts, whinnying and neighing furiously as they broke into homicidal charges for those they first saw, as the mad cap compound did its work through their bloodstream. With foaming mouths they tore into guards, smacking them to the ground and worse still, pulling the wagons with them. Though these wagons were heavy, their strength was suddenly immense, with the huge containers seeming not to slow them at all! Tordrad pitched into guards here and there – with those falling dropping their weapons, new opportunities arose for freed slaves to take up arms and fight.
   Of course, the sounding of the horn had not really been for the slaves sakes. It had only been tied into what Tordrad was already going to do, so that the two could easily happen together. The horn was the cue for Avalanche, the Kislev hailed war horse to charge into the encampment and that is exactly what the glorious beast did, its hooves thundering hard against the ground as it picked up on the excitement in the air all around it.
   With one motion, Tordrad jumped onto the beast as it kept charging through with no pause, both were confident and well rehearsed in such manoeuvres together by now. Tordrad single-handedly stampeded through a group of guards, cutting down the stragglers to the sides. This gave the ailing slaves nearby new hope. He searched around for his target, the dwarf. He was still nowhere to be seen. No matter he decided, and continued onwards. He rode quickly towards and then into the rampaging lines of tainted steeds that still pulled the wagons, even though they were sustaining damage at a great rate.
   As Tordrad ducked and weaved amongst them, following their flow of gallop, he was protected from the row of archers who were attempting to sight him up. Their lines of vision were blurred and uncertain. The command came to shoot the other horses anyway. The guards complied. As one horse fell, its wagon overturned and crashed through a tent.
   Tordrad had already made it around the edge of the camp again and began to gallop in a line behind the archers, towards a row of three small cannons along the ground. These cannons Tordrad had come upon earlier in his reconnaissance. He had made sure they were loaded with ammunition and powder. He had also made sure to turn them around to face the camp.
   Tordrad rode on and brought Avalanche to a stop momentarily in front of another of those large torches on a stick in the ground. He removed it and held it up into the air, speaking calming words to the horse and patting it to make sure it did not fear the fire. It trusted its rider’s soothing words and did not act in an unruly fashion.  He rode on, back the way he had come, back towards the cannons.
   The archers were now causing disruption in the slaves. While their aggression was high, their morale was waning from the arrow fire that landed amongst them. Just at that moment, Tordrad had reached the cannons and as he sped past them, he lowered the blazing torch from horseback, catching alight all three fuses in succession. He rode on and by the time he began to steer round to gallop towards the centre again, the cannons fired!
   Chaos and disruption was everywhere. The archers had lost half of their number from a cannon ball hitting the middle of their line. The other balls had shot across the encampment tearing the earth up around it. This gave the impression that they were being attacked by an army from the outside, further adding to the state of panic and confusion everywhere.
   Finally Tordrad spotted Grimdal. He was fighting a group of guards, as best as he could. His injuries did indeed still look severe but he fought with a passion that was unbridled and took his foes by surprise. Tordrad rode in and cut down the men who were upon him. He then spoke, “
   Of course, Grimdal couldn’t understand him, saying, “You think I c’n understand that muddling jumble you’re speaking manling? Guess again I…wait a minute.” As he said this, his demeanour changed, “I know you. You’re that bastard I fought in the arena.”
   Tordrad nodded his head enthusiastically at this and started with a strained attempt at Reikspiel, “I - to – save” as he pointed at Grimdal. The dwarf clenched his teeth, “I don’t need saving. But you’re going to, I haven’t forgotten it. You were part of it, that’s all I know.”
   With that, Grimdal charged Tordrad, even though he was on horseback. It was suicide. Tordrad couldn’t let it go that way though, after trying so hard to rescue him. He gave a command to Avalanche in his native tongue and the horse reared up, kicking the dwarf to the head with its front hooves. Tordrad jumped down from Avalanche, picked up the now unconscious form of the dwarf and rested him on his front across the back of the horse. He was about to climb on to his mount when he was interrupted by a clearing of the throat behind him. He turned around slowly and was confronted by the cowled figure of the wizard, he who led this band of slavers. The wizard too recognised Tordrad, he had seen him against his dwarf fighter, the same one now across the back of the horse.
   The slaver wizard spoke, “I see you could not let it go man of the North. That is a terrible shame. Now you come to my place of work and cause disruption? You are the cause of this aren’t you?”
   Tordrad simply stared at the man, unable to understand his words anyway. The wizard continued, “Did you think I would just let you get away with it? I am a magister of great power! It is a shame though that you are not wearing that beautiful metal armour you had on when I last saw you. I could have encased you in it like an iron maiden. I suppose I will have to think of some other creative thing to do to you.”
   The wizard brought his staff up and pointed it at Tordrad. The large man jumped out of the way as a huge blast of energy poured forth from it, barely missing him. Tordrad landed with a roll and drew his scimitar and shield. The wizard threw a single gun bullet at the shield. It sped at it unnaturally and as it touched the metal of the surface, bore straight through it as if it were warm dough! The bullet came through the shield and impacted into Tordrad’s side. Blood began to drip from his wound. Tordrad threw the shield at the wizard but before it could reach, it turned to liquid metal and fell harmlessly to the floor around him in metallic droplets. Tordrad stared in shock and looked worriedly to his own blade suddenly.
   The wizard smiled, “Yes that’s right” as he unleashed another spell, this time on Tordrad’s scimitar! The weapon began to melt as he held it. A great burning pain seared Tordrad’s hand as he was forced to drop it, lest the metal bond itself to his skin!
   Tordrad began to run forwards. He was determined to kill this wizard with his bare hands if he had to!
   The liquid metal droplets on the ground suddenly rose into the air and hovered for a moment. Tordrad quickly drew his great axe just in time as with a gesture from the wizard, the droplets fired towards Tordrad. He turned side on and raised the flat of his axe against them defensively. Only one droplet got past the axe and it burned the ground nearby. The rest stuck to the weapon. This was bad too for they started to work their way through the axe itself, making it steam from the melting contact.
   He finally reached the wizard and swung his axe at him with all of his strength. He knew he only had time to get one good swing in before this weapon too was rendered useless. The wizard’s body though instantly became covered in a metal coating, as the axe blade sparked off of it making an impression but not penetrating the metallic skin.
   Tordrad was forced to drop the axe before it too was used against him. He now had no choice in the matter. He gave his battle cry, “Do-Tor!” and punched the wizard with his fists. Each impact clanged against the metal but did not injure or faze the man at all, merely rocking him back a step here and there. The wizard took great pleasure in watching the man tiring himself out on him.
   Just at that moment, something strange began to happen. Tordrad’s eyes began to crackle with energy like they had done several times before. Lightning suddenly surged through him, crackling down his arms and at that moment as his fist made contact with the wizard, an electrical current from him passed into the metal and through to the man behind it! The wizard was electrocuted from the charge! With each fist that struck, the electrocution continued. The metal covering the wizard quickly receded back and another well placed fist smacked the man to the ground. He lay there convulsing painfully and then went still. He looked dead. His body was steaming from the electrical heat that had poured into it.
   With a satisfied battle cry, Tordrad mounted up and raced hard for the nearest exit. There was no gate in place, only a group of guards across it. He ran Avalanche right through them, knocking them aside. The slaves saw this and took advantage of the breach at once. A massive revolt had taken place and soon the camp had been overthrown. Those slaves who had survived the ordeal managed to escape and headed to Nuln for help. Tordrad quickly rode ahead of them with the now freed dwarf.
   Once they reached the city, Tordrad had delivered Grimdal to Rissandrea for treatment. She took him willingly and though he was violent and angry when he came to, he did not raise a hand to the woman directly. Tordrad felt it was better if he wasn’t around anymore, or ever met him again for that matter because the dwarf might not easily understand the truth of his intentions, not until he had had time to think upon events with a calm mind. That certainly wasn’t going to be any time soon after waking.
   Rissandrea did what she could for the dwarf, seeing his chemical low caused by his body’s now dependence on mad cap mushrooms. She began treatment at once.
   He would always have a slight drawing need for the evil substance. That could not be changed, but the actual physical dependence on it could. He would just have to go cold turkey, locked up in confinement. Nothing she did though would ever heal the mental scars of the dwarf, regardless of how much she mended his physical condition. Dwarfs were just that way inclined. In fact, as the days rolled on and Grimdal rolled around in his new prison as he saw it, sweating and wanting to die, he swore something out loud. Of all of the many words he did swear, of this one thing he spoke only once. Only once did such a thing need to be said. He swore to Grimnir that this atrocity for a life would be rectified. He swore to shave his head and undertake the oath of the slayer – only then would his afterlife be one of contentment and peace – only then would he sit in the halls of his ancestors and drink of their ale. He resolved, as soon as he was well enough over these effects, he would escape this place and make his way to Karak Kadrin, the slayer keep, to the shrine of Grimnir. Upon arrival, he would offer up his shaven hair in prayer to the ancestor God. Soon, he thought, soon.

   Several days later the time had come for them to leave and Rissandrea to stay. At last her work on forming the Vhor church in Nuln was about to commence. She had been granted an audience with the head Priestess of Nuln to finalise the details.
   Maestro’s visions had been reported by Tobias to the Nuln Palace. His recent future sight accomplishments had gained him some respect in the upper circles here, even if he didn’t want it. The visions lately too had taken on a darker theme, a troubling tone, containing storm clouds and birds migrating away at the wrong time of the year. Tobias explained to the council of advisors that in his professional opinion as a scholar and high master of the Celestial College this was an ill omen that required immediate College attention.
   Emmanuelle had instructed the girl escorted back to the city of Altdorf by an armed convoy of her best troops. Her life was not to be risked with this group of misfits.

   There the party stood, at the wooden gateway that led out of the city of Nuln. Tordrad had his armour on again and was mounted atop Avalanche who himself looked grand in his newly polished barding.
   Maestro was sitting on the back of Tordrad’s horse.
   Tobias stood there and looked confused at how Dieter and he were going to possibly travel, but Dieter had already taken care of that, he said. There was no horse present so no one understood what his plan was. Every time he enquired Dieter told him to “pipe down half pint”.
   Rissandrea had tears in her eyes. She had grown quite attached to this group in the months spent with them. This was at last goodbye, perhaps forever – though she did plan on seeing Tobias again, soon. As the young woman’s beautiful brown eyes squinted from the tears and peered from her spectacles out across the group, she considered each of them in turn.
   She thought about Maestro, at how cowardly he could be yet how great a wizard he truly was. She could empathise with him at least, he was after all trapped in a life he did not deem for himself. She wondered how she might have felt were someone to forcibly stop her from serving Shallya. Yes, she understood much of Maestro’s attitude. Some of it was perhaps also partial insanity. She too knew that this was a normal reaction to a world so full of death, war and destruction. With darkness at the shore sometimes the only sane reaction is to go insane. Wizards always led an unnatural life anyway, locked away in towers as they often would. Such things could make a man eccentric. She knew though that Maestro was gifted beyond the scope of most other wizards too. Whether he liked it or not, he had been a good servant of the Emperor.
   Then Rissandrea’s eyes saw Tordrad, sitting proudly in his saddle. He gave a gentlemanly bow to her as he saw she looked to him. Tordrad was a truly remarkable warrior and not just because he could turn into a bear! He managed to put up with Maestro. Although perhaps that was helped in some way due to his lack of understanding of the wizard’s actual words. Yes, that perhaps helped a lot, but they were still a great match together. Tordrad had proven himself trustful and a man of honour. While his northern manners were sometimes considered a little difficult or harsh, and his sense of humour a little dark and brutal, his heart was golden and full of goodness – things such as this she could tell. He had jumped in front of Dieter to save him from the explosion in the semi-final of the tournament, just because he was wearing armour and Dieter wasn’t. A true hero.
   Next she considered Dieter. Even now the man was scowling at her but over the months she had learned to tell the difference between his different scowls and growls. Were anyone else to look they would probably think he felt ill of her. This particular scowl though, she recognised as one of concern. Dieter was worried about her! Not that he would admit it of course. Though she didn’t realise that the true reason was because one of those who were marked upon his chest in the trial of the Gods would now be split apart from him – that he would not be able to have an influence in saving her life (and in turn) his own life were anything to happen to her.
   Rissandrea smiled as she looked down and petted Ulger. The doberman dog had been given to Rissandrea as a gift by Dieter. He had told her, “I have instructed him to protect you. Whatever happens he will treat you with the same respect as he holds for me. Who knows? With your holy reverence he might treat you with more…I hope you both look after each other.”
   The dog was very soft around her, nuzzling its nose under her hand to get her attention so that she would stroke its head.
   Dieter stared at Ulger and thought silently, And make sure you do look after her…I am relying on you my friend.
   Rissandrea lastly looked to Tobias. She had become closest to him more than even the others perhaps. Trying to treat his various mental anguishes had become an important project for her. He was certainly a halfling of nobility and duty, putting the honour of his Emperor’s service above even his own mental wellbeing. He had also shown Rissandrea the letter Frederick had left for him, so she knew that better days were coming for him. This made her feel better at least.
   Dieter looked at the book Tobias always carried around with him, as he took it back off of Rissandrea. The Shallyan girl had written something in there for him. The halfling was about to put it away when Dieter spoke impudently, “Just you remember, we made an agreement blessed by Rissandrea that we would not turn me in to the authorities, that we will first make attempts to cure whatever is inside me. We are waiting for Rissandrea’s church to be up and running and then work can begin.”
   Tobias rolled his eyes, “Of course Death, I commit my thoughts only to this book, none shall be spoken aloud at this time.”
   Dieter gritted his teeth and imagined harming Tobias in roughly thirty different ways before speaking, “Yes, that is all very well – and you know my name is De’ath you stunted pompous ass – but, a book can be more powerful than a weapon. You do after all keep it holstered in that leather strap on bag of yours…”
   Tobias smiled, “I shall take that as a compliment towards the power of my writing then.”
   Dieter hated the way the halfling was so up himself and full of self-importance. He stabbed the next words out harshly, as if the gates of his temper were fraying, “You are a freak in the mind, unsettled due to warpstone changing you. That information too is in the book. If anyone reads that book they will see that you have secrets to hide as well. Some, I am sure might call you a…mutant…not that I used that word…but I am sure witch hunters would be interested...”
   Tobias narrowed his eyes at the man, “By all of my integrity Death, I could swear you are threatening me, if I did not know any better.”
   Dieter snarled his lip up to show his teeth on one side, “Oh it is no threat you half-pint –want-to-know-it-all-ignoramus, it is a promise. If you ever have me taken to the Iron Tower for questioning I will be sure to tell them all about you as well.”
   Rissandrea stepped forwards, “Oh come on now the both of you, be at peace. This is a sad enough occasion already without feelings of resentment to bookmark it in our memories.”
   Dieter sighed, letting the hate forcibly seethe back out of him. Tobias nodded at Rissandrea encouragingly, as if he considered her to be referring mainly to Dieter.
   Tobias spoke then, “A promise has been made to Rissandrea, but remember that it is based only on what has been seen so far. If you show me any new kind of questionable darkness then I will be forced to do something about it.”
   Dieter smiled sadistically, “Ah well you might be tested a little by this then.” And he waved his hand in gesture to no one visible in the distance. With a crackle of magical energy suddenly that rocked Maestro in his seat atop the horse, as it danced over his skin, a dark grey horse appeared mid gallop out of nowhere and came to Dieter’s side. At first it seemed to be translucent with wisps of smoke coming from it, but as it got closer it materialised more stably. Soon it looked solid enough, except for the odd shifting in its skin, where the unreality of its creation glitched on the surface. Dieter mounted it at once. The others were left gobsmacked. Dieter hadn’t even cast a spell. There was no magical weaving and no words spoken.
   Maestro was first to speak, “My empathic channelling…I can feel the grey wind of ulgu seething through me. What is this about Dieter?”
   Dieter addressed them all, “I am unsure. But as you know, Maestro, a normal hedge wizard can not easily attain the winds of magic. Nor can any human properly attain more than one magical wind’s focus. Therefore you know this is not my doing.”
   Maestro scratched his chin, “You have a point there I suppose.”
   Rissandrea lowered her head and silently spoke a prayer for Dieter’s soul, though she was beginning to secretly suspect that it might be beyond saving. Only proper tests would reveal the truth of it though.
   Dieter frowned at Tobias, “Well are you getting on or not? It’s bad enough that I have to share a ride with you as it is. Don’t drag this out…”
   Tobias continued to stare in amazement.
   Dieter made a noise in frustration and began, “So you would rather walk would you? I am sure it would be all the worse for you having to run behind, with your shorter legs as they are…”
   Reluctantly Tobias mounted the horse, albeit with some struggle because he was too short. In the end one of the stable hands nearby had to put out a wooden box for him to stand on, the like of which was kept to help children mount horses when leaving the city.
   Reluctantly Dieter permitted the halfling’s presence, though the hatred for him burned ever deeper, with him being so close behind him as he was. He could not keep an eye on him from there. He did not like that…
   They rode away, wondering if they would ever meet Rissandrea again. The Old World was a dangerous place and nobody ever took their continued life for granted. As the sun was going down, their horses pushed on leaving Rissandrea as a small dot at the gate, but in this lighting condition it looked just like she was a tiny flicker of white flame wavering this way and that, as an illusion from the heat waves coming up off of the ground in the distance.
   No words were spoken, not for a very long time.

   After a day of riding, the group had managed to find a horse for Maestro and a pony for Tobias. They paid a low price, with the pony thrown in free. Maestro was careful to not annoy his horse like he had a habit of doing with most of their kind.
   Seven days of riding brought them to a heavily forested area where nothing existed anywhere – no outpost, no sign of life – but then all of a sudden while they journeyed through the centre of it, they came upon a building. There they discovered a wayfarer’s Inn complete with stables and coach house.
   The group stopped at this place to re-stock their supplies of food and to get a good night’s sleep without someone having to keep watch on rotor overnight. That could get tiring after too many nights doing it.
   Maestro was put instantly into a bad mood when they discovered the Inn was having its presence “graced” with an elf visitor. He was of course getting preferential treatment from the staff, getting drinks and food served quickly.
   Maestro made eye contact as his knuckles turned white. The elf looked back at him with a look of dawning realisation upon his face. The elf seemed to recognise the man.
   Tobias looked at them both and then spoke to Maestro, “Does that elf know you?”
   Maestro spoke angrily, “Oh all elves know me…just like I know all elves, a rotten lot of gits.”
   Dieter chuckled amused with the situation – perhaps the alcohol was letting this moment of relaxed behaviour come about as he asked, “I sense a story in this somewhere. Care to elaborate?”
   Maestro raised both eyebrows in surprise and commented, “Gosh Dieter, it’s not often you are interested in the affairs of others.”
   Dieter finished his mouthful of ale and replied, “Yes well take advantage of it then. It might not happen again.”
   With that Maestro obliged him, explaining, “Well I suppose it goes back to the roots of the magical colleges for a start.”
   Tobias started, “Ahem, you weren’t even around then.”
   Maestro scowled at the halfling – it was almost as if Dieter and Maestro had swapped places of personality tonight, although neither one of them particularly liked Tobias even on the best of days. The wizard continued his point, “If it wasn’t for that meddling bloody Teclis, the Colleges needn’t have been formed and magic needn’t have had rules. We would have all been hedge wizards like in the old days but still free to do what we want, like tinkering for a living.” 
   Maestro saw the unconvinced expression on Dieter’s face and realised he had to offer the more detailed explanation. He took a long drink of his tall glass of milk and watched Tordrad do the same with his own tall glass of vodka and then began, “It was some years ago now, when I was but a lowly junior apprentice in the College. As Tobias here knows, they make us apprentices do the chores and slop work for them - all of the cleaning and other things. We aren’t allowed to use magic either, oh no indeed not. If they catch you using magic to help then you get punished with even more work. When we used to ask why we had to focus so hard on doing these chores and only a little of the day on learning spell work, we were told: it will serve as a constant reminder that magic must only be used when needed, not when desired.”
   Dieter still looked confused, “How ridiculous.”
   Tobias chipped in, “Consider this, the wilful slack application of spell-casting opens one up more frequently to the potential dangers of the daemonic bird God, he who’s eye sees all.”
   Maestro replied, “Yes and his big beady eye has certainly been watching us lately.”
   “No thanks to that sewer portal incident in Altdorf, yes…” stated Dieter crossly.
   Maestro became momentarily lost in that memory before shaking himself free of it again and continuing his story, “Yes well, it was just an ordinary day, for me at least, I mean, it wasn’t for the College, it was a really rather big day for them. High Archmage Teclis was about to journey from Ulthuan to the Celestial College that day for an important meeting and inspection of the current wizard masters and senior apprentices. A bit of bloody meddlesome elf quality control…They blame us for the continued reign of chaos after all, oh yes, not like they don’t have their dark elves to contend with…think they’re above everyone else they do!”
   Dieter shoved the wizard’s arm to get him back on track and said, “You are coming off point again, calm down and continue the story.”
   Maestro spent a moment and organised his mind as Tobias slapped a hand across his own face in realisation of the story Maestro was about to tell, he spoke, “Oh no, this tale, yes, I know of this tale all too well. Your name was famous to the entire College after that day, and you were still only a junior apprentice…”
   Maestro ignored that statement well, not letting it get to him as he continued, “Well, the College didn’t trust us lower ones with the information that they were to receive a guest of supposed supreme eminence…supreme stuck up-ness more like – but anyway – I wasn’t to know was I?”
   Dieter began to chuckle a little at this, “What did you do Maestro? I think I’m going to enjoy this.”
   Maestro continued, “Well, Ulthuan is quite a long way to travel to and fro – but because of the natural formation of magical lines within the core of our world, sometimes when the winds are blowing magic just right, our College becomes the centre point of some very focused power indeed. At times like this, roughly every decade or so, a portal is created between Ulthuan and the College. So on that day, there I was with the mop and bucket, ready to take it back to the janitorial cupboard and get more soap to scrub with. I wasn’t entirely sure which door was the cupboard because one of the senior apprentices had handed the bucket and mop to me when he had been asked to come do something else for his master. His master of course had shouted at me telling me to get on with it when I had protested. But anyway, all of the doors along this way looked alike you see…I couldn’t tell. I mean who puts a portal of such importance in a doorway that looks so bland?”
   Tobias smiled, “The Celestial College, that’s who. We hide that which must not be seen in plain sight. I am surprised you were even able to see two doors, Maestro. Most students would have only been able to see the one, the janitorial cupboard door.”
   Maestro shrugged, “The guard let me through too, knowing full well that I shouldn’t be able to see the other door either. Well I opened a door that I thought I needed, an old looking door with the wood of it quite worn and the paint flaking off. I knew what skinflints the College were so I figured that it had to be the right door. I opened it and went on through, ready to get my supplies. Then what do you know? It turns out I had walked right through the portal and into Ulthuan…Oh dear. I was stood right in the middle of Tyrion’s throne room, wearing dirty garments, holding a filthy mop in one hand and a pale full of dirty water in the other.” Maestro shivered at this memory as Dieter began to laugh out loud. The wizard continued, “Of course, you know what sticklers those elves are for cleanliness…it’s not natural to still smell of soap after a hard day’s march but an elf will find a way. In fact, I’m sure the only way the Phoenix King Aenerion could be stopped in battle after obtaining that overpowered sword, was if he broke a nail.”
   Tobias butted in, “All right Maestro, you are going off on a tangent again. Stick to the story.”
   Maestro realised this and spoke, “Oh ah, yes, heh heh, sorry. Well, I was so overwhelmed by it all, the pomp and majesty of the palace hall, more grand than that of our own Emperor even that I… dropped the mop and bucket. Dirty water spilled out all across the throne room floor. Well, they did not like that I’ll tell you. The combination of that and the fact that my own empathic magical energy had disrupted the portal by going through it that it no longer worked, meant that I was in quite some trouble with them. Teclis had not yet come down to go through the portal you see. He was perhaps taking too long having his slaves braid his hair or such, who knows? But it meant their floor was dirty and the official trip wasn’t going to happen. They locked me up in their dungeons for that, but not before making me clean up the mess first. Even in Ulthuan they felt that was all I was good for.”
   Tobias had to stop himself from saying out loud that that was all Maestro was still good for. He smiled internally at the thought of it instead.
   Maestro continued, “They let me out – after a few weeks locked up. The Patriarch of the College himself had to personally speak for my release. Only then did they let me go. At that point even Teclis started staring at me in some concern, as if the same information the College knew that always made me paranoid was now open to Ulthuan as well. I caused a lot of problems for them while they had me there. Then, it was a blimmin’ long trip home as well, I tell you. I was tied to a griffon so I wouldn’t fall off and it was commanded intelligently to take me back to Altdorf. Worse still, I was afraid of great heights and flying at that time. I only discovered that from the trip. I stopped screaming a few days later into the trip, when I lost my voice. Though I did get over my fear of heights, flying and indeed girffons. Yes, that was a long trip…”
   Tordrad hadn’t understood a word of the story, but from the looks on the others faces he was glad he couldn’t anyway.
   The elf and Maestro kept giving each other looks that could kill.

   Dieter had retired to bed early, to get a nap in now before it got dark. That was not his only plan though. He was having a dream currently, a moment near the beginning of his history – a moment others wouldn’t normally remember. Why was he remembering this he wondered? It was his birth, yes he could see it now, he could see how he was born. Unlike others before being born, he had developed curiously sharp teeth in the womb…He wasn’t due to be born yet but his hunger, his drive, his curiosity had gotten the better of him. Already he had tasted blood. Already he had eaten his brother. He decided it was time for him to leave and explore what was outside of this fleshy liquid-filled place that imprisoned him.
   He digged at it with his fingers but the wall was too resistant. He knew there was only one way he could do this – and so he began to eat.
   Dieter’s mother had collapsed in pain at that very moment. The pain only grew more intense and for one and a half hours she suffered before her baby emerged with a bloodied face. It was breathing on its own without problems. The only one screaming was the mother. The men around her were not doctors, physicians or midwives. They were cultists, men in robes waiting for this moment to come from the woman they had held restrained in their basement cellar these past months. The child had eaten its way out of its mother and as a result she quickly bled to death.
   Dieter was born unto this world, a savage little creature, premature by choice, overly smaller than he ought to be and with some physical defects – problems that would continue with him into his adult life.
   The child was offered in ceremony, as was planned, but the one who had claimed to be its father did not come. There was no word or sign from the Khornite daemon prince. He had contacted them months ago, telling his followers that he had mated with a human woman and that soon his son would be born.
   All eyes fell upon the daemonic medium amongst them. His eyes rolled into the back of his head and he just about managed a message from the daemonic plane, a quick burst of information that he could receive before the horrors of that place overwhelmed even his cruel and experienced mind. The message sent was believed to be from the daemon. He spoke it aloud to the others: Now is not the time for me to come to him. Let him suffer the pain of the world alone, with no help of friend or aid of comfort. He will learn to despise his fellow man. In time we shall meet.

   Dieter had dreamed this same moment several times in his life. Through his onieromancy he was able to see uncanny things like this. Still though, he wondered why he was dreaming at all. Because of the God of death and dreams he had stopped sleeping at a conducive hour for dreaming and he had learnt to mentally block his mind from doing so too, by way of self-hypnotic suggestion. Why was he doing so now? Why could he have possibly allowed himself to sleep and dream? Then he remembered – He had gone to sleep intending to dream – intending for something unexpected to happen. He knew what it was now.
   Dieter had become self aware within his own dream and as this happened, the dreamscape itself suddenly collapsed and gave way to darkness, though it flashed red every now and then erratically. He was somewhere inside his own subconscious mind and he knew he was dreaming. He could shape this place into anything he wanted and so he imagined a room, a richly decorated office with a fine oak desk, writing quill of a long black feather and blood as ink in the pot. Dieter himself was sitting at the desk. This was his office.
   The window inside only gave suggestion of a colourless world outside. His mind was not concentrating on it and therefore it did not have to be filled with much information.
   There was a knock at the door. Dieter spoke, “You may enter.”
   A finely dressed tall man wearing black came in. Dieter recognised him as Morr. The man walked towards the desk, a serious focused look upon his face.
   Dieter spoke, “Please, sit.”
   The man wordlessly did so and then began to speak, “Why have you summoned me so? After so long avoiding my realm.”
   Dieter looked seriously at Morr and spoke, “I have brought you here because I want to negotiate a deal.”
   Morr in-took a vast amount of breath and for a moment Dieter felt he was going to suck all of the breathable air out of the room. He then calmed his mind again, remembering that this was a dream, his dream – there was no air in this room. He was still in control.
   Morr spoke, “Negotiate? There is nothing left to say, mortal. The price has already been named. The game is afoot.”
   Dieter spoke considerately, “I want to propose another idea.” Dieter snarled his lip upwards confidently now, feeling great power wash over him. He had Morr right where he wanted him, trapped in a dream he now controlled. He wondered quickly if it might be possible to destroy him in this place – he set his mind upon the task of working this consideration to fruition if possible in the background of his mind while he continued his proposal aloud, “I want the Shallyan woman removed from the list. I have given this great thought. It is obvious that you are sending your minions to kill my party so that you can have me sooner. She does not deserve to die because of me. If you remove her from the list it only benefits you. You get me quicker.”
   Morr spoke, “That is not the agreed upon contract. Only Verena may change the terms – and only if in agreement by all parties.”
   Dieter replied in a cock-sure manner, “Then use some leverage on her. You’re a God, you’re the man of the house aren’t you? What you say surely goes, doesn’t it?”
   Morr went silent – having stopped making the sound he had been making that sounded like breathing. For all intents and purposes it was like having a corpse sit in the opposite chair.
   Dieter didn’t like Morr going silent on him like this. He would have rather heard an angered response than just silence. At least he would have known where he stood with the death God.
   Still no words from Morr, so Dieter spoke again, trying to incite a reply, “Oh come on, I would have thought you would be happy. I’m trying to redeem myself somehow. That is what you wanted wasn’t it? For me to learn how to care about others?”
   Morr spoke at last, “Do not presume to understand my will, mortal. Whether the woman is saved or not is of no concern to me. Her soul was mine the moment she was born. It is now simply a case of when I choose to have her. I care not for your redemption either, regardless of what you do in this lifetime, when I finally hold you in my grasp Dieter De’ath you will be my special plaything for eternity.”
   Dieter considered a battle with Morr here and now. He was starting to fancy his chances. He surely only had to imagine a dungeon with instruments of torture. He could take pleasure in taking his time with him.
   Before Dieter could decide how best to compose his attack, the window in the room opened and a raven flew in from outside, before pitching on Morr’s shoulder.
   The raven, yes that was Morr’s calling card, his sign remembered Dieter.
   Morr reached across the table and plucked the black quill out of the pot it had been resting in as he spoke with authority, “I will be taking that back now, it belongs to my pet.”
   As Morr pushed the feather into the bird, Dieter felt his own chest starting to ache from a stabbing motion. Damn it he thought, the feather quill, it was from Morr’s raven. So he still controlled it all, right from the very start?
   Even though Dieter had only thought those words Morr replied as if they had been spoken aloud, “Of course I control it. What a fool you are. You think you can come into my realm and claim it as yours? You think to become self aware in a dream and try to defeat me?”
   Suddenly the room darkened around him until it was completely black as Dieter found himself bound to the chair he had been sitting in. the only light inside this place was the intelligent beaming eyes of the raven, somehow they seemed to glow intensely almost hypnotically like two burning candles. Morr’s voice was heard to speak again, from no direction in particular, “You will have your answer soon. But for now, why not enjoy the hospitality you so intended for me?”
   After that, Morr’s voice was not heard again, but more of the ravens appeared from the darkness and began to pitch upon Dieter.
   The man tried his best to stifle a scream as the birds began to peck at his flesh, pulling it away. He did his best to smile while wincing, for his request had been granted. Morr did not like terms being put to him but Dieter knew he had won by making the God appear.
   One raven began to work on Dieter’s face, pulling at it, tearing parts off. His eye was picked clean out by one. The ravens cawed enthusiastically, like a song they sang in unison, even though it was out of step with the group as a whole. Dieter could no longer hold it in. He screamed his pain and let it flood free, his shouts of agony rang out across the vast planes of nothingness that surrounded him. He could only wait and suffer as the birds picked his flesh and then meat clean for what felt like hours leaving him eventually as only bones. Still he was not allowed to die. Why wouldn’t he die? This wasn’t fair he thought. He had a right to die. Let me die he thought, “Let me die. Let me die. Let me die!” The last words pulled him from his nightmare, the words he had spoken still rang in the air. “Damn you” spoke Dieter, “A thousand curses from a thousand planes upon you, making me speak such words.”
   The ordeal had shaken him up. He realised he needed to get out, for some air. The forest would be the perfect escape. He just had to remember to stay awake tonight…

   Maestro sat opposite Tobias at the table. The halfling spoke, “I swear Maestro, if you drink anymore of that milk you will start mooing like a cow.”
   The wizard giggled stupidly as he answered, “Oh bovine incantment eh? That would be a thing to see when casting a spell.”
   “It certainly would” replied Tobias, “But surely there is already a name for such a thing isn’t there?”
   Maestro’s eyebrows rose in genuine interest, “Oh?”
   Tobias leaned forward and spoke in a hushed voice, “Yes, beastmen bray shamans I think they are called.”
   Maestro started laughing at once. Tobias too chuckled at his own wit. He allowed himself off the hook to laugh, seeing as it was his own joke after all.
   A little while after this, Tobias retired to his bed. Little did he know that only unpleasant and disturbing dreams waited for him there…

   An hour had passed with Dieter stalking silently through the trees. It felt so good to be alone again. Populated places always restricted him with their rules and watchers.
   He was hungry. He had not fed on the meat he desired most for such a long time. He had brought pieces with him of course, the odd morsel cut off now and then, and the group had asked him what he was eating. He would always reply with something confusing to change the subject.
   As he painfully made his way under a fallen branch that blocked the ditch off that he moved through, he heard a sound on the slight wind that blew his way. What was it? He wondered, what is that sound? Moaning? Was somebody hurt? Are they in pain?
   Dieter’s curiosity got the better of him, even though the old world was dangerous and prone to disastrous traps, he just had to know what was going on.
   Even though he walked with a limp and used the aid of his stave to get along, Dieter moved with absolute quietness. Not even a deer would have heard his approach towards a rough clearing where a small campfire had been lit. The sound was coming from this place.
   Dieter looked at the flames of the fire as they cast shadows against the trees in the distance and somewhere between those trees, writhing shapes could be seen as silhouettes.
   Dieter moved closer and as he did so he started to realise the moans of pain and anguish were a mix. The woman who lay on her back presently was crying from her suffering. The man on top of her was clearly a rapist – having his way with her with his pants around his ankles. His sounds of moaning however were of genuine pleasure.
   Something in Dieter’s blood began to boil. He stepped forwards silently and watched the terrible scene before him. He called upon the amethyst powers and at once the shadows around him quickly surged towards his hand where they formed his familiar scythe.
   He decided he was going to teach this man a lesson. He just hoped that he would be able to stop at the man and not continue on to the woman…He could feel the now uncontrollable anger seething in him. Would just the one be enough he wondered? His heartbeat quickened with the excitement of what he was about to do. He was hungry, too hungry to care now. His belly was indeed in need of proper sustenance, but something deep within him craved for more than just that.
   Dieter’s scythe blade made its way around and into the space beneath the man’s neck as he obliviously continued taking the woman by force. He was a fat but strong looking fellow. Beads of sweat dripped off of him and onto the magically created weapon where they sizzled gently as they ran down it.
   Without a word of warning or any sound at all, Dieter masterfully pulled up on the scythe handle, taking the man by surprise and cutting his outward exclaim short as the blade dug into his throat.
   With all the strength he could muster, Dieter pulled the man up off of the woman by the force of the blade itself. It had sliced deep through the man’s neck and he spluttered as he painfully fought for air between the magical scythe and the blood obstructing his passageway.
   The woman stared open-eyed at Dieter as he forced the man all the way onto his feet. By now the blade had made its way so far through the man’s neck that he was dead but standing. Dieter observed him and the expression on his perverted face as his long swollen tongue lolled out of his mouth in protest at what had happened further down the throat, or this was how Dieter saw it anyway.
   With a deft flick of the wrist, the blade moved free of the man as he was allowed to drop as his cadaver had been trying to do. With the same movement the hedge wizard doctor in training brought the weapon around to face the woman. She was finally getting to her feet and sorting her clothing out.
   Dieter walked towards her, the weapon still bearing down on her.
   She began to quiver in fear and spoke, “Please, please no…don’t come near…you…he…you saved me, what are you going to…?”
   The woman’s words were cut off as Dieter spoke, “Quiet your tongue fool girl and tell me what you are. I will give you this one chance – and only one.”
   She stammered in response to this and Dieter’s nose clenched up with the rest of his face in annoyance. He brought the scythe down close to her leg and put the pointed end up her dress forcing it to raise.
   The woman was shaking with fear as her upper thigh was exposed along with her underwear.
   The man spoke, “I want to see if what I thought I saw was indeed what I did see…”
   As Dieter stared at the woman’s upper leg he saw it, a tattoo of a raven there on her skin.
   The woman’s features suddenly changed from an expression of fear to one of annoyance at being found out. She spoke in a tone that wasn’t fitting to her previous demeanour, “It looks like you found me out. I lured this poor fool here knowing what he would take if he found a woman like me alone in the woods half naked. He was chosen carefully.”
   Dieter’s sense of smell was terrible but his sense of taste was extraordinary. He could taste the magic in the air, somehow lurking in or around this woman. The short curly haired man spoke, “Why should I not cut you down where you stand right now witch?”
   The woman laughed at this with an unexpected confidence, “Because little mortician, I carry part of a message to you from the God of Death. Morr agrees that one sigil must indeed burn on your chest this night.”
   Dieter spoke aloud, “So he is granting my wish, that the woman be spared?”
   The woman began to step backwards. Dieter didn’t like that. He moved towards her quickly and brought his scythe about, sensing a trick.
   As Dieter gestured with threatening intent two things happened: Firstly a gale force-powered wind knocked Dieter backwards some way. Secondly the female follower of Morr suddenly turned into ravens, her body breaking apart to be revealed as birds that scattered in all directions that led away from Dieter.
   Then he was left alone in the clearing at last, a feeling of confrontational pride overtaking any fear he ought to have felt. He was not going to let his foes get the better of him. He would have his meal as planned.
   The man turned around with a sadistic look upon his face and eyed the corpse. He sank to his knees and began devouring it there and then. The parts he did not eat as they were cut away, were thrown into the campfire. Huge chunks of meat he did gorge upon, savouring how tender it was uncooked. He was free to be wild again, free to be…free.
  
   Time passed and Dieter lost realisation of his surroundings, getting too far caught up in his meal to properly assess things as he normally would. Somebody was coming and he hadn’t picked up on the intruder yet…

   Tobias made his way through the forest, in a strange state of half sleep and half waking. He did not know why he was here. He was as oblivious as he would be in dream…Though it was night, he was very much in the mind set and persona of his scholarly day time self. His eyes were open, for he could see what was before him and feel the ground beneath his feet, but his body, it moved strangely, as if gliding, like one might find in a dreaming state. He wasn’t even completely sure if he was the one in control of where he was going, but a great sense of purpose drove him there none the less – and he was eager to see what would compel him to do so.

   Dieter heard a foot take a step forwards into the clearing. Whoever it was they were being heavy in their gait, not trying to hide their presence. Dieter spun around defensively and began to stand as he saw Tobias before him.
   The halfling stared at him in wonder, a look of surprise upon his face yet there was something else, like he wasn’t fully there. An awkward (for Dieter) moment passed and then Tobias seemed to snap out of it and spoke, “Goodness Death, what inspires you to be out at such an hour on a night like this?”
   Dieter replied, “I could ask you the same thing.” The shock of being disturbed overrode any thought of the doctor in training commenting on the wrong pronunciation of his name.
   The halfling thought about it for a good few moments, straining to come to an answer to that question himself.
   Dieter interrupted the thought process, “Oh let me see if it goes a little like this, you had gone to bed and believed you were having a dream. Next thing you knew you happened to find yourself all the way out here?”
   Tobias nodded, a little shocked that Dieter had actually gotten that information correct. Tobias then looked at the mutilated body of the man and back to Dieter with a look of disgust and enquired, “What has transpired here? The truth, tell me now.”
   Dieter did not like Tobias at the best of times, but his tone now compounded upon the animalistic state Dieter was already in was almost too much for him to take. He gritted his teeth and answered, “Watch your tone with me. This man is a rapist. I have intervened against a heinous crime against a woman’s good virtue this very night. He got what was coming to him. What he made me give him.”
   Tobias came back with, “That is normally for the courts to decide…”
   Dieter was riled at this but again did well to keep a handle on himself as he answered, “Yes, but don’t get petty with me Tobias, you know how many people we have all killed over the time of our travels. So I went a little too far with this one, so what? I don’t like rape – I had a moment where my emotions got the better of me.”
   Tobias’s eyes narrowed with suspicion and he said, “I do not believe I can recall a time ever when your emotions got the better of you Death. In fact you are as cold as that corpse you stand before.”
   Dieter thought to himself internally, and so will you be, you jumped up little runt, if you don’t shut up.
   Tobias folded his arms expectantly. That expression was on his face again, that smug one that Dieter always hated. Tobias always acted like he was better than everyone else. The halfling asked next, “Where is the woman you so boldly speak of? Where is the one who might counter claim any fingers that might point unfortunately at you?”
   Dieter’s chin rose and stuck out defiantly, remembering the supernatural affair he had gone through with her. The halfling would never believe it anyway he realised, so he went with, “She has run away, trusting not even her saviour. The girl is distraught.”
   Tobias shook his head slowly rocking his weight on and off of his right heel, “That is so very convenient isn’t it?”
   Dieter’s face went blank, he spoke with cold harsh unforgiving words, “Have you ever been raped?”
   Tobias’s face turned a little to the left as he considered why Dieter had spoke those words. “No” he offered as a response.
   Dieter replied, “Would you like to be?”
   Tobias did not dignify that comment with a response, as was normal for him when speaking to Dieter…

Many months ago…
The city of Altdorf
The party’s travel time: Day 0
A short curly haired man was sitting in a dark corner of the Two-Headed Goose establishment. A glass of wine sat before him and before the man sitting in the chair opposite him.
   The watch captain Edgar Houst was telling his table companion, the man he had arranged to meet, of a chaos threat within the sewers below the city. A new pawn had been found to pin everything on. Exterminating them too was of course in their interests. It would do no good having their homes and livelihoods disrupted by the city suffering chaos invasion.
   A plan was growing. A group of stooges, whoever the watch or witch hunters thought most likely would be the pawns in the stage show that would carry the authorities to reveal the threat and save the city. No one would be any the wiser. This is the plan the watch commander dreamed up, for even though Edgar Houst was indeed a man of a responsible position within the city, he was also a cultist of dark ambitions.
   Even the smaller man opposite him at the table did not realise this though. He merely thought the man was corrupted by a deep need of crimson revelation, like him. A problem that afflicted their kind but seemingly not a lot of other people – making them feel about as welcome as vampires might. However, this too was how vampires survived in urban society as long as they did – they remained inconspicuous in their gruesome activities.
   The plan was made. Houst had quickly left to make preparations from afar. The other man left too, a feeling of disgust in his stomach at the treatment of the shallyan lady inside the inn. The men would not leave her alone. Such men as these were superb candidates for his lust – and so he made his way around to the front, first hypnotising the serving wench so that she would not cause him trouble leaving through the back way. Outside the rain was pouring fast. A spell was cast upon his body to shield it from rainfall. It would matter not how big a torrent raged upon him, his clothing would not even get slightly wet. He could not promise the same for the other man though – and not just because he was out in a rainstorm…
   He had caught up with the man, collaring him in an alleyway and making the kill as quickly as possible, as was his manner, so that he was free to take his time with the body afterwards with no fear of it trying to escape. He was arranging everything to be right, when suddenly a light flashed upon him.
   A city watch guard stood there in a rain mac, with truncheon in one hand and a lantern in the other.
   The city watchman spoke, “What are you doing here sir?”
   The man did not look around, but started to get up slowly, explaining that he had found a body and was giving it a proper inspection before alerting the authorities.
   As the killer turned to face the watchman and squinted from the light in his eyes he was recognised, “Oh it’s you” said the guard, “I am sorry to have startled you. You have helped us with many of these killings indeed Sir, but I am most disturbed by the anonymous tip off the watch had to come arrest a killer in this district. This alleyway is my patrol.”
   The small man could hear footsteps of more city watch approaching from the street. He stumbled in trying to get back up and reached with feigned pretence for his walking stave so that it might better bear his weight. The guard instinctively helped him to his feet by taking the man by the arm and handing him his stave.
   As soon as it touched his hands he lunged it into an upwards thrust directly below the watchman’s nose, making his teeth and mouth bleed. That meant he would not be blowing any whistle for assistance. With his other hand he quickly brought the scalpel he had concealed from sight up and into the watchman’s eye. The blade went through and straight into the brain killing him outright.
   The killer quickly grabbed the lantern before it could drop to the ground and smash, turning the valve on it so that the light was killed and once again the alley was in peaceful darkness.
   The other guards ran by just at that moment, heading for their zones to patrol. Soon they were gone again, though not quite out of ear shot. The killer would have to work quickly he realised. He could not afford to hang around here long, even though he would leave no prints behind, not even footsteps in the rain – Dieter realised he had been betrayed by Houst – a betrayal that would ultimately lead to Dieter coincidentally becoming wrapped up in the murder investigation he was the cause of. He had killed so many other victims before and after this day, but meeting this group and getting stuck with them as he saw it was the changing point in his life, the marks on his chest were literally like a curse on his flesh.
   He did not truly know why he murdered people. He only knew that he needed to – a terrible urge that would overwhelm him, only settling down once the deed was done.
   Little did Dieter realise then and even now that Houst was serving an even larger cause, that of the red skinned Daemonic Lord who gave him his true orders – orders that conveyed quite strictly that Dieter should know no friendship. That only through constant betrayal and consequently a feeling of self-alienation would his heart become properly cold enough to carry the legacy intended for him…

   As Dieter stared at Tobias he realised that the halfling wasn’t going to back down easily from this.
   Tobias continued, “Why do you have blood around your mouth?”
   Dieter lied, “I had to taste it, to understand his motives. The other, the thing inside demands it.”
   Tobias snapped, “Listen, Rissandrea might have been sympathetic to this ‘other’ but I won’t stand for it. You’ve done more than taste it. you’ve been eating that body haven’t you?”
   Dieter snarled, “Just drop it right here and we can carry on with…”
   “We can’t carry anything on!” Came Tobias getting angry now, “You have gone too far. I warned you what would happen if I found out. I knew you were bad all along.”
   Dieter spoke with his temper rising, “If I am so bad, how terrible you must be for one such as I to find you so insufferable.”
   Tobias began to step forwards, unbuckling his crossbow from its strap, “Come, I am taking you into the watch – and I will personally vouch my distrust in your story. You will go down once and for all Death.”
   Dieter’s heart raced as he called aloud words of a magical nature. Tobias prepared himself for a magical attack that never came, instead, from the shadows in the trees formed a horse that raced quickly towards Dieter. Tobias recognised it as the magical mount he had ridden upon earlier in the trip. Dieter was trying to escape.
   Tobias quickly drew a bolt to shoot but stopped again to watch what seemed like thousands of ravens suddenly pouring down out of the sky, as if they were coming from Mannslieb itself towards the clearing.
   Dieter was saddened that he would have to leave. He would be an outlaw now – he would just have to accept it and live with it…yes live – and living was going to be uncertain now that he could not guarantee the others would survive. Leaving was the last thing he wanted to do, but he decided it was going to be the way of things.
   Just as Dieter’s magical horse reached the clearing, a mass of black flapping shapes tore down into its path forming a wall of feathers, clawed feet and beaks that so many ravens would.
   The horse smashed against the living shield, scattering some birds from the impact but none the less it was stopped as its speed made it tear apart and dissipate into the spirals of aethyr and shadow that it had originally been drawn from.
   Dieter cursed Morr. A whistling sound of a bolt coming through the air grabbed his attention again as Tobias had fired upon him. The shot had been aimed at his shoulder in an attempt at taking him down without killing him. Dieter had instinctively raised his beastman derived gauntlet and smacked the bolt aside with the bone plating on it. He had gotten lucky! He wasn’t going to try doing that again! But Tobias had already reloaded and was about to fire again. Dieter quickly dived through the partially splitting wall of birds as the shot was fired. It whizzed into the storm of black creatures and disappeared amongst it all. As the birds flew up and away back towards the moon, Dieter was nowhere to be seen.
   Tobias suddenly smelt hedge magic at work as Dieter had appeared at the halfling’s flank, stepping quickly from a shadow. He hurriedly jammed his stave up and through the gap in the crossbow rendering it momentarily useless. Dieter then quickly tugged on the stave which had remained entwined with the crossbow which was pulled out of Tobias’s hands. Just at that moment though, Tobias had landed a reaching punch into Dieter’s cheek impacting teeth which made the crossbow slip off and go flying away from either of their grasps.
   Dieter brought his stave about in a defensive manner. Tobias too readied his from his back.   The halfling spoke, “I did not want it to come to this, Death. I really didn’t.”
   Dieter licked his lips, “I did.”
   Tobias brought the stave up in defence as Dieter began to attack.
   For a short while the two of them battled with their staffs. Each of them got in a few good shots on the other, some blows to make them realise that things were turning ugly.
   Dieter had even tried magically quickened hypnosis on the halfling, but Tobias had shrugged that off too, the effects of the warpstone on his mind had even made him resistant to that now.
   After the halfling had backflip kicked Dieter onto his back, Tobias threw down his stave and pulled his robes off, revealing the black leathers underneath. Dieter knew what this meant. Tobias drew both of his boot daggers and made ready to come at Dieter again.
   Dieter spoke, “Can’t you see? You’re being used. The ravens coming like that. It’s a plan to set you against me.”
   Tobias answered, “I do not feel I am doing anything against my own nature. I am apprehending a dangerous felon.”
   Dieter came back with, “Good luck with that.”
   The trainee doctor threw down his stave and drew his hands into the shape to hold a weapon. In mere seconds the amethyst stave was in his hands again. He spun it purposely, each move looking dangerous enough to kill the halfling in one shot. Tobias though was now in a new frame of mind, one where he could access his most quickest of reactions.
   The halfling tore forward at a pace so fast that it did not suit his size. Dieter spun the weapon of death so fast that it looked like a concerto of scythe blades that whirred a dark minor key in unison.
   Dieter thrust with the blade storm, trying to envelop the halfling in it. Tobias though was too agile, leaping up and over the weapon and its wielder like a pole vaulter. He landed on the other side and lunged one blade into the back of Dieter’s leg. The man screamed in frustration and swung the weapon around again. Tobias easily ducked under it, his size helping with this task as he sliced a dagger up Dieter’s face, tearing into his ear and gouging  on through the hair into the scalp.
   The head wound was deep. Dieter was shaken up by the skill of his opponent. He touched his finger to the wound and tasted the blood. He realised that it at least was not poisoned, or else this battle would have already been over. Too hastily the halfling had come at him. Too quickly had Dieter underestimated him.
   He shook his head to clear his blurring vision, as two pictures of proceedings before him threatened to confuse his mind. At least both pictures agreed with the input they were receiving, as the vision of two Tobias’s charging him warned his senses that he needed to act now.
   Dieter swiped outwards and forward rolled through the attack. Had Tobias lunged with a dagger as he intended, the whirling blade would have taken his arm off. Dieter was impressed with the halfling’s quick decision making in battle. Tobias of course was impressed with himself, as usual.
   Dieter pulled the winds of magic about him like a cloak which expressed itself as the shadows come about him in protection. An aethyric armour was now in place. He had to shut out the pain to his leg and head.
   Tobias spoke, “It’s a risky business, relying on magic as much as you do.”
   Dieter replied, “Who said I was afraid of risk?”
   Dieter charged with his scythe, deciding that the two visions were almost close enough to being one that he might now be able to mount a counter offensive.
   As Dieter’s scythe came down, he realised his mistake. He should have attacked with a side arcing swipe. A foe with short ranged weapons such as daggers would be put at a bigger disadvantage from that.
   Tobias saw the scythe come at him and he saw his opportunity, trusting in his skill. He decided to not roll away from the attack. He raised both of his daggers quickly, having them nearly meet at their ends to catch the scythe as it came to him.
   Tobias dropped a dagger and grabbed Dieter’s arm, concentrating his force into it.
   The clandestine hedge wizard felt the magic that naturally lived in his body waver. The halfling’s anti-magical repulsion abilities! He remembered now. This one had learned how to use his natural talent of magical resistance outwardly by contact through skin.
   Dieter cursed as he felt the magic drain out of his body and the scythe he tried to swing at Tobias to cut him, no longer existed. Dieter ended up swinging thin air at the halfling instead. Tobias countered this with a jump kick into Dieter’s face. The man forced himself not to fall over. He told himself he wouldn’t, that he would be very cross with himself if he did.
   Dieter drew his kris blade in one hand and his scalpel in the other. He decided to play the halfling at his own game and seeing as he was ambidextrous it wasn’t too hard for him to do.
   Tobias drew another dagger, making Dieter wonder just how many of them he kept concealed on him.
   Then they clashed, weapon struck weapon with whirling bodies dancing this way and that. When people would see Dieter perform feats of great agility that defied his disabled reputation, they failed to understand a very important factor – Dieter wasn’t lying, he truly couldn’t perform these amazing feats with his body as bad as it was – but he wouldn’t ever catch himself saying that. It was because he didn’t think about it that he was able to do it. He defied his body and went through the pain – as one who had known mainly pain all of his life, this test meant very little to him.
    Tobias’s dagger sunk into Dieter’s arm, just below the gauntlet he wore. In response Dieter’s scalpel tore a chunk of flesh away from Tobias’s chin and chest. It lay on the floor and he began quickly bleeding from the wound. Dieter stabbed the kris blade forward but it did not make contact with the halfling.
   Tobias jumped backwards with a leap far beyond what a normal person would be capable of and while in mid-air he threw one of his many daggers at Dieter.
   It hit the physician in training, striking him to the chest, but the shadowy armour had formed up around it in a goop-like state, stopping its full entry into the man’s body. Dieter plucked it out, with only a minor wound. Had the otherworldly shield not been there, the dagger would have buried itself up to the hilt and it had been on target with the heart. Dieter was impressed again.
   Even though Tobias had robbed him of his magic, the other was still very active inside. He was drawing from this source of power instead.
   Dieter bared his scalpel at Tobias taunting him, “Come on then, we’ll finish this finally. The winner can say my name however they want.”
   Dieter’s dark humour was as always lost on the halfling, but Tobias did at least respond to the challenge element, bringing both of his daggers into attack positions and charging Dieter. This would be a killing move, he told himself. Dieter was too dangerous to apprehend in any other way. He knew exactly how he could do it too. A two dagger attack that Dieter would never see coming in time.
   As Tobias raced on, Dieter charged too, taking Tobias by surprise at the gap closing quicker than he had expected.
   As Tobias reached Dieter, he launched his first dagger downwards into the man’s foot. It impaled right on target. He wasn’t sure how far the dagger had gone in though, because of the magical barrier Dieter had about him. All Dieter could do was respond with his arm outwards towards Tobias.
   Tobias knew it was time for the killing blow. His other dagger would now sail with him loosely in his hand towards Dieter’s throat from his jump. The first dagger was merely misdirection.
   It was indeed a deadly killing blow, but not in the way it was intended. A blade that had shot out of the hand into a thrown velocity that impacted its target’s skull, going right through the head cleanly and killing him outright.
   As one of them dropped, the other remained standing.
   Tobias stared at Dieter, a look of remorse in his gaze. He hadn’t truly wanted to do this. He knew he had to though. That stare did not end, for it was Tobias’s deathly visage, the last expression that had been on his face as Dieter’s kris knife had left his hand. The thrown blade had reached the halfling before the jumping thrust could ever reach Dieter.
   Dieter looked down at the corpse and spoke quietly, “Actually you were right, my name is Death.”
   Within moments Dieter’s chest was ablaze with pain. He knew what this was. He pulled his shirt open and could see the Wilwart sigil burning away into his body. He refused to scream in pain, simply scrunching his eyes closed and gritting his teeth together.
   The hurt was terrible as he stumbled his way across to Tobias’s crossbow and bit on the wood, roaring with the torture.
   The pain eventually began to de-intensify and as Dieter looked at his smoking chest, he could see the area was now replaced by a scar. This though was a deep tissue scar that led all the way down to the bone, scarring the bone itself as well.
   All Dieter wanted to do was rest but he knew he couldn’t do that. He had to decide how he was going to handle things from here.
   He limped over to the halfling’s body and knelt down to it painfully, then gave a huge sigh of mixed feelings at how proceedings had unfolded. He yanked on his kris knife, pulling it free of the skull with some effort. As it came free Dieter saw that it had somehow pierced the piece of warpstone that was previously embedded into Tobias. Dieter also realised that this was too much of a coincidence to be purely by accident. He wondered what dark power was influencing this. With a handkerchief he quickly wrapped the warpstone shard up and put it in his pocket. He laughed to himself and spoke, “Hah, looks like I gave you that operation to remove the warpstone after all…”
   Dieter put a hand across Tobias’s face and brought his palm down across the eyelids bringing them to a close. He had gone too far. Just as he stood again, resting his weight upon the stave, the eyes of Tobias’s corpse opened! The eyes revealed were suddenly deathly white looking. The corpse spoke but not in Tobias’s voice, it was the voice of Morr, “Now you have your answer. Do not think to petition me with your prayer and desire. Be it for good or ill. It is now as you wished, you are another step closer to me, heh heh heh hah hah hah hah hah hah hah.”
   The voice faded away and Tobias’s eyes closed again.
   Dieter began to tremble a little, something deep inside of him, something primal now began to understand the trouble he was in. The very next thing Dieter did was to throw Tobias’s journal into the camp fire and watch it burn.

   Dieter took his time cutting select pieces from the body and carefully wrapping them to eat later. The rest he buried securely in the woods. No one would ever find him here, he knew.
   Later when he met the party, he told them that he wasn’t able to sleep last night so he went for a stroll to get some air. He explained that he had seen a horseback messenger come for Tobias while he was out on one of his night time “forays”. He told the group that the messenger had told Tobias that he was required back at the city of Altdorf immediately. Tobias had then taken a pony asking Dieter to tell the rest of the group that he had to leave in this way.
   Maestro had asked what sort of messenger it was. Dieter thought for a moment and worked more of his hypnosis to dumbfound the wizard’s already screwy mind. He then pretended that he had remembered that it was a man bearing the colours of the Celestial College, white and blue robes.
   Maestro considered this for a moment. Dieter could sense Maestro’s difficulty at taking this story in so he added, “I can’t imagine how they knew we were here though, right out in the middle of nowhere.”
   At that point Maestro unwittingly helped out by saying, “Oh I can. My College are a strange lot. If they’ve had a vision pertaining to a specific event they can sometimes really pinpoint the location of the event or those involved in the event. A sort of magical divination if you like. It’s because that person is part of the thread of fate and they can follow that thread wherever it goes once they have it – but that’s if the event lets them.”
   Dieter feigned surprise at Maestro’s answer. In truth he was only really surprised at how silly the wizard was, “Then I suppose this must have been quite important.”
   “I suppose so” came the wizard’s considered reply.
  
   The party of three made it back to the city without any other complications. It felt strange to them to be so few in number, but the trip had adjusted them to that. Once they had arrived back at the city of course, they were able to separate as much as they wanted. This was especially good for Tordrad who had been going crazy being forced to spend so much time with Maestro.

   Maestro’s first stop was Magnamus. He was terribly afraid for him suddenly, having a vision of his tower on fire. He ran all the way to the place his master lived and saw that it was standing just fine. Maestro let himself in and made his way upstairs only to be greeted by silence. That was unusual for Magnamus who normally would greet him with enthusiasm and warmth.
   A cold sinking feeling began to grow as Maestro made his way up, floor after floor all the way to Magnamus’s bedroom. There he knocked the door and heard no reply. He realised that he wouldn’t be disturbing anyone if no one was in there, so he opened the door and checked. What he saw made him wish he hadn’t…There on a bed lay Magnamus, his face as white as a sheet. He had died! Maestro could tell at once. As the wizard came closer, he saw Magnamus laying peacefully, his hands upon his own chest.
   Maestro didn’t know what to do…how he wondered, how could Magnamus just be dead? Suddenly the gem the wizard wore in his large red ring upon his finger glowed in response to the proximity of Maestro’s power-stone he kept bound to his stave. Maestro felt a spell go off yet saw nothing cast anywhere about him. He then realised, it had to have been a delayed response spell, configured to perfectly react to the presence of his staff. He wondered why Magnamus had done that.
   Suddenly as part of the spell, the wall began to burn. That is the spell that had been cast Maestro realised, a delayed fire writing spell. Magnamus had used aethyric energy to imprint an invisible written message into his own wallpaper. Only now the spell had been triggered, did the built up aethyric power respond and spend itself, becoming flame and burning the words into the wall. The message was so long that it ran to the floor and continued there.
   There before Maestro was Magnamus’s final instructions to his student. It read:

Maestro, do not fret that my illness has led to my death. I did not have to be a seer to know it was coming. I did not tell you about it because you are a young man, one who does not need the weight of problems on his mind while trying to survive the arduous conditions of the wilds. I’ve been there, I understand. But you must now take from me the legacy I hold. More than just this tower and my library, you must take from me the item that has been passed down from dying wizard to dying wizard, each understanding that it is a wholly important artefact that must alter the course of this world’s future. For each magister that held it, the knowledge was clear. Each could just feel it in their hearts. You must take from me the key of fate Maestro, and keep it as I did. You must find a lock that fits it and only then will it have completed its journey. I thought I would be the fated one for it, the key being the symbol of my order. I now hope that person will be you, but if it is not, be sure to give it to another wizard upon your death. The journey must continue as must yours, while mine alas ends here. Take from my hands the artefact and guard it well.
I am proud of what you achieved Maestro. You are now a superb wizard. I always knew you would be.

Good bye my friend.

Magnamus

   Maestro fought hard to keep his tears back as he read the last of the note and spun around to look to Magnamus. There in his open palm rested a larger silver key. In the centre of its handle was a blue precious stone. Maestro couldn’t discern what manner of gem this was nor whether or not it was magical. It was a mystery for him to gaze upon something that gave no readings of magic, but in a way that felt so unnatural that there could be some magic involved.
   He carefully took the key from his master’s palm. As he did so, Magnamus’s body immediately caught alight, making Maestro jump back in fright. Just like Magnamus to go too far thought Maestro, now what mess had he gotten him in?
   Maestro inspected the key and knew he had to fulfil this final wish from his master. He wanted to break down and cry there and then. He trembled and felt his feet might give away at any moment. Then he realised that he had one last thing to do before he could let his grief out…

   Anastasia had made it back to the city safely and she was waiting in the Celestial College as Maestro visited the place to give his report.
   Every security official saw the wizard coming and instantly opened the way for him without him having to say a word. He had gotten used to strange behaviour like this from the staff in this place.
   The way was clear for Maestro as he made his way to the Patriarch’s office. Around his neck on a silver chain he wore the key of fate, wondering if it might be in some way cursed, seeing as it was always passed on from dying wizards…
   Karl Franz had already taken a report from official mission notes that Tobias had passed to Anastasia before she’d left so he did not feel the need to meet with Maestro. This was for the better as he saw it.
   Maestro had come to speak about the issue of why he shouldn’t take an apprentice. It was explained to him that every master magister had to take an apprentice, that he would not be able to get out of it.
   Maestro got out of it. He had already done his homework on the subject and found that there was one and only one technical loop-hole to allow a wizard to avoid ever taking an apprentice: For him or her to become a master vigilant, a wizard who was specially trained in hunting “black magisters”, those wizards who disobeyed the laws and turned against the Empire, or even those who simply ran away to take advantage of their powers for their own ends. Such wizards were a danger to the Empire.
   Of course, this information confused the board of officials who heard his request. Their chief concern was that while Maestro had indeed grown powerful travelling in the wilds, a great deal of training was required to become a vigilant, but added to that was the problem that Maestro’s own wishes were to be something other than a wizard. The board’s concern was that he might end up sympathising and even aiding a rogue magister. A long period of training would be required, to prove himself worth to them.
   Maestro was certain that this was the route he wanted to take – well, it wasn’t, but it was better than having to have an apprentice on at him in his ear while he tried to design new schematics.
   While Maestro had thought he had come to the Patriarch and his staff to explain his request, the truth was, the college officials had wanted to talk to him. They explained that after careful observation of Anastasia’s future thread of fate, she was indeed going to play an important role in the ongoing wellbeing of the Old World itself. Now Maestro had heard it from the Patriarch he knew this was going to be bad. This was confirmed when they told him that he was going to have to look after the girl and undertake her thread of vision personally. They told Maestro as he spluttered in response, that while they too could see into the girl’s future, Maestro own vision was more keenly attuned to her particular fate than the rest of them. They said that because the matter was so important, they had to have the wizard with most attuned clarity working on the case. They too were not happy that that person happened to be Maestro…
   So it came to be, that the girl would be studied by the College, with Maestro leading the research team with his visions.
   Tordrad would often visit her, speaking of Kislev. She was amazed at how beautiful the place sounded when he had explained of his life there. He had told her that he’d formally been in the Tsarina’s royal bodyguard, but he had been kicked out, removed for attempting to kill his Guard Captain. The man had tried to force himself on Tordrad’s younger lady friend. They were only friends, but Tordrad had grown up with the girl and thought of her very much as a sister. There had never been enough proof to bring the man to justice and Tordrad had of course been exiled from his homeland. Now they spoke of returning her to Kislev, to understand what her roots truly meant. They also both realised that this might take a very long time indeed, due to the testing the wizards were doing all the time. Tordrad didn’t mind though, he was enjoying delaying that awkward return trip. They both found they enjoyed each other’s company a great deal and grew closer as the days and then months went on.
  
   A full Palace investigation into Tobias’s whereabouts was under way. The theory was that Tobias had fallen foul upon the roads somewhere or that a dark betrayer had posed as a city messenger that night, based on Dieter’s story, for the College had explained that they had sent no such messenger for him.
   For weeks, men searched the paths between those woods and the main road that led to Altdorf and no sign was ever found.
   Tobias’s wife mourned him as dead. She had warned him about going on those roads but he hadn’t listened.

   Frederick had waited at their usual meeting place but Tobias of course hadn’t come. Instead, Frederick was surprised to see Dieter appear. The trainee doctor had explained that he was the last person to see Tobias and that he had gone missing somewhere on the roads. Frederick knew that this probably meant his brother was dead. Dieter looked away so he did not have to see Frederick’s pained expression – that he probably would never see his brother again. Dieter explained that Tobias had shown him the note and that is why he knew he would be waiting for him here. He said that it was the least he could do, for his old travelling companion and friend…Dieter forced himself to be understanding and patted the halfling on the back with a serious demeanour. “I am sorry for your loss” he had told him. That was a lie.

   Dieter quickly got back to working at his medical clinic, studying the bodies of those who came his way for examination. Sometimes, just sometimes he had body on his slab where the cause of death was apparent without any need of investigation for the watch’s sake, for he had been the one to have murdered them. Of course, he had to file some sort of report, for appearances sake…Dieter loved being back in the big city. A city like this could swallow you up and hide all sorts of atrocities.
   Dieter had started experimenting on the piece of warpstone he had taken from Tobias. His plans were dark and cruel. He was scheming up an idea involving the chaotic organ that still lived inside the glass container and the warpstone…may Sigmar preserve us all…

   As Frederick turned to walk away after Dieter had left his company that day, a voice from the side caught his attention, “Hey, Frederick Wilwart.”
   The halfling looked around. He’d been discovered! No one should know his identity here. That meant the authorities could arrive at any moment. The black robed person who stood inside the alleyway saw that the halfling was worried and comforted him with, “I am not going to tell anyone you are here. Relax.”
   Frederick fought back his fear to make his way over to the alleyway where he looked at the man at last. He was tall and slim, his face obscured by the robes covering his head. The halfling asked, “How do you know of my name, stranger?”
   The robed man introduced himself, “I am Eiocholus. All of us know your name, because our God has visited upon our dreams and tasked us with a mission. We were told that your brother has been killed and that you have already mingled with his murderer. We are here to serve as justice against that which is unnatural.”
   Frederick’s head began to swirl as if he might pass out but he knew he couldn’t afford to let himself do that as he asked, his voice trembling, “Who, who has killed him? Who has done this thing? If you know, I will make you tell me.”
   The man hissed a laugh in response, “I offer it freely Herr Wilwart. The man who has just left your company, he is your brother’s killer.”
   Frederick’s mouth fell open and he quickly tried to sight the small curly-haired man but already he was gone, as if he had wanted to escape from sight fast. Frederick’s intuition told him that this stranger though unknown to him was telling the truth. He had learnt in his line of business to trust his instinct before anything, before his five senses even!
   Frederick began to growl with growing aggravation, “Why are you helping me in this?”
   Eiocholus’s smile was all the halfling could see, the lower part of the man’s face was the only part no obscured, he replied, “Because we now have a mutual enemy.”
   It was at about this time Frederick realised that he recognised the man’s robes. They were the colours of the Priests of Morr. The halfling asked, “What business does the priesthood of Morr have with this man?”
   The priest answered, “He has offended Morr himself. Worse still, this man is a doctor – not simply taking lives but saving them as he sees fit too. Anyone who would rescue a soul from Morr’s reach is our enemy. I also hear word that he is friends with a Shallyan priestess. They too cannot be abided, for they insult Morr with their every miracle cure.”
   Normally Frederick would have heard that these words were the rantings of a crazed zealot, but his grief blinded him to that.
   Eiocholus spoke, “We are the Doorkeepers, a sub-sect of Morr’s Priesthood. We are more pure in vision than the mainstream and we now selectively open our door to you Herr Wilwart.”
   With that the man stepped forward and put his hand around the halfling, leading him further down the alley, “I need to introduce you to Ingrid’s chosen…”

Epilogue

   Maestro had mourned and eventually got on with his work again as time passed. He had discovered that Anastasia’s future lay in Kislev, where a great battle against the forces of evil was due to happen. This battle would decide the fate of the world and she had to be present at the time. No more details of that moment in the time thread properly presented themselves, for now.
   Sometimes all the pieces of reality are firmly set about in such a way that something unbelievable happens. Maestro was magically aligned with Anastasia’s future path again, studying into the events to come and marking anything significant into a book. Much of it was jumbled and would need to be worked out later based on his writings. All of this of course held him up from working on his own book of daemon-related protection guidelines, but there was nothing that could be done about that. This was a most pressing business the College had set him upon.
   One such day as Maestro gazed through the focusing point, a telescope turned backwards. He reasoned that by having the lens show the world of here and now from a great distance away, he could concentrate his mind on what was closer than that, a place his eyes naturally tried to fixate. This was actually working though, helping him to see what should not be seen. On this day though a great but expected (amongst his College) thing happened in the cosmos. The moons in the sky above appeared to collide! Morrslieb eclipsed Mannslieb. It was considered a terrible omen upon the world, when the powers of chaos and evil were at their strongest, when the chaos moon was dominant and its balancing brother was nowhere to be seen. Maestro had forgotten that tonight was the start of Hexensnacht. A cursed time indeed. But if chaos was powerful now, all magic came from the realms of chaos and hence there was a sudden wave of aethyric flowing into the world, far stronger than was normal. This also coincided with one of the rare eldritch maelstrom’s that would glide over the old world – a storm of magic. At that very moment in time, one such fel storm surged through the magical pathways between the College and battlefield far away, where a blonde haired heroic human called Felix Jaeger and an orange crested dwarf named Gotrek Gurnisson stared in amazement as thousands of once dead bodies about them rose to walk again, in a mass magical spell of re-animation that caused the winds of magic to explode outwards in all directions. This surge of combined events had sudden drastic effects upon magical spellcasters everywhere. Only two wizards however were casting magical spells at the exact moment of the magical storm’s apex. One of the spell casters was a bright wizard, fighting for his life inside a forest against dark elves who caught up to him in their hundreds. This wizard had decided to go down fighting and cast a simple fireball, aimed for their leader. At the moment of the storm’s apex, his spell met a critical success the like of which had never been seen before in the old world’s recorded history. A simple fireball instead came out as a massive plume of flame so wide that it could have decimated an army. As it was, it burned every dark elf pursuer to a crisp as well as much of the forest too. The wizard stared at his hands in disbelief!
   One other wizard had been casting at that time too, one Maestro Rophel Illefescion. His magic had been a concentrated seer spell, to divine the future. At that moment in time, his spellcasting was met with a critical success and as he peered into a future strand before him, it felt as if the future vision itself became clearer than it ever had before. The wallpaper in his room unstuck itself, folding upwards from aethyric pressure, the furniture rattled, the nearby animals ran to escape, many of the breaks in the building shook themselves loose, as did the door from its hinges and the fireplace from the wall. As Maestro stared though, he was amazed at what he saw, as if he was looking at the vision with greater clarity than he had ever known. At that moment though, he realised he had looked too deep, gone too far, saw the future too clearly and wholly, for the future, at that moment in time, decided to stare back at him!
   Suddenly, with a cracking of lightning that came through the roof, piercing three floors to reach him, Maestro appeared to disintegrate from its contact.
   He opened his eyes again, believing he was dead from the sudden pain that jolted his body. Then he realised that he was very much alive and the vision he had seen was now even clearer still. In fact, his vision of the cold snowy land of Kislev after its destruction and the Tsarina’s fall and the consequential sacking of Altdorf was so real that he began to shiver. A snow flake dropped onto his nose. Then another glided down past his face, as his eyeball followed its descent all the way to the floor that was a carpet of white…he wasn’t in the College anymore…he was inside the vision, no wait, he realised, he was outside of the vision! He was in a place he shouldn’t be. He had travelled through time. His bones told him that the place he stood was wrong, that everything was out of sorts.
   He looked around him but no element of the room he had been standing in remained. His legs and hands were shaking. He could not tell if it was from the shock or the cold. Perhaps it was both he wondered. He quickly clutched for the key to check that it was still around his neck. Yes, the key had made it too. At least he had that on him, he reassured himself.
   There were no words he could think of though, to describe the fear inside him at this his darkest moment. He could only say one word, “Gosh”.
   He did not have Tordrad to protect him. He had no one. He wondered if anyone in the Empire was even alive now. Stranger still was the overwhelming urgency he felt in his stomach, as if he was falling yet his body wasn’t. Something in him knew he was wrongly placed in the natural order of things, and it felt like the natural order might soon try to hiccup him out of this place to another. He only hoped that it would send him home, “Hah, fat chance of that I suspect” he said aloud, “Fate always has me cleaning up its dirty mess. Well it looks like I’m up to my neck in it this time, mucking out its latrine.”
   Maestro wandered on through the snow, with his teeth chattering. He decided he might as well go have a look at how bad things are…and that is what he did…

…The End?