12 Quintus 1668 (Veldi) — Starkbrunn
Our Heroes, after barely making it inside the gates of Starkbrunn after their harrowing ride through the fields outside the city, are faced with one of the Eisen soldiers on guard at the gate.
"Welcome to Starkbrunn," she says, with more than a little irony.
Rico smiles winningly and pulls a finger of one of the undead horrors off of his rapier and flings it away with disgust.
The guard looks the three up and down. "You're not merchants. Are you monster-hunters?"
The three admit that they are not merchants, but are noncommittal on the title of "monster-hunter." Ysabel asks for a suitable place to stay and the guard suggests that the closest inn is the Tavistock Inn—it is only a few blocks from the gates.
As the group prepares to enter the city, the guard warns them. "Stay out of trouble while you're in the city."
"Why?" Ysabel asks.
"Just a friendly warning. Old wounds run deep here," she says. The group figures she is referring to the recent War of the Cross. Rico knows that Starkbrunn was occupied by Castille during the war and was returned to Eisen as a peace offering during the armistice.
Before they ride off, Rico asks the guard what she is doing later. Suspiciously, the guard says that she'll be coming off of her shift in a couple of hours. "You'll know where to find me," Rico says with a wink as they continue through the inner gate and into the narrow streets of the city proper.
The Tavistock Inn is marked with a wooden sign painted with a green leaf pattern and the name emblazoned in the tongue of Eisen. It is a modest affair, homey and comfortable. The three travelers picket their horses outside and go into the inn.
They are met at a counter by a large man with a scruffy beard and clean apron. He greets them warmly in a slow, deep voice. "Wilkommen to the Tavistock. What can I do for you?" They arrange for rooms and a bath and a warm meal. The innkeep gives them information on a local livery in which to place their mounts, as well as information on a local doctor, "Herr Scherer," who can help them with the wounds they suffered on their ride.
The three follow the innkeep's directions to a narrow two-story house where with a sign out front indicating that Doktor Scherer practices here. They knock on the door and are greeted by a friendly older gentleman, a bit scattered, but amiable, who is more than willing to help them out. Rico translates for them until they determine that they all speak Old Theán. Once their wounds are suitably treated, the three thank the man, pay him, and make their way back to the Tavistock to take advantage of the baths and meal they had previously procured.
In the common room, they are offered "spring beer" and mead to drink, much to Fenneke's delight. Ysabel chats with the innkeep and gets some information. If they are looking for someone, they might try the Jägerviertel or "the Hunter's Quarter", a district in the city that caters to many of the foreign-born monster-hunters that come into Starkbrunn looking for glory. He also advises that, unless they are looking for trouble, that they avoid Donatella Rossi—the seamstress. She is reputed to be a witch. He also says to be careful—there are many sorcerers in the city that are desperate and dangerous.
Rico leaves the inn and goes to talk to the stableman at the livery. From him, the Castillian hears more about the Hunter's Quarter—and is advised to be careful there. It is a full of hard folk—monster-hunters tend to be a tough and touchy breed. Rico tells him not to worry, that their "favorite game is the blood game."
Fenneke quietly enjoys her mead and listens for gossip. She hears about a creature plaguing the outlying farms of the town of Stutzung, near the forest of Walder, at night. There is apparently a hunter in the Jägerviertel that is going after it. She hears more of this Donatella Rossi: It is an open secret that this Vodacce immigrant, who serves as the best seamstress in Starkbrunn, is also a Fate Witch allied with the Junges Blut ("Youngbloods"). The seamstress is rumored to know the location of every hidden sorcerer in the city, but no one has been foolish enough to try to make her talk. She has survived three assassination attempts already. Each time, her would-be murderers were found mysteriously outside the city walls after dark, where they met a gruesome fate. Fenneke also hears of a "tall dark-skinned woman dressed like a Vesten" who was asking for the Hunter's Quarter about a week and a half ago. For Fenneke, this reminds her of Yngvild.
After reconvening at their own table and comparing notes, the three decide to head out to the Hunter's Quarter on the following day and to see if they can find their contact.
13 Quintus 1668 (Amordi)
The weather is cool the next morning as the three Heroes set out for Hunter's Quarter. The obvious foreigners notice wary looks from the locals as they come out to open up their shops and begin their work days—not hostile, but not exactly welcoming either. They find their way, noting the large hospital that dominates the district. Soon they find a pub that is open—Zum Schwarzen Adler ("The Black Eagle").
The three walk inside, with Rico greeting everyone with hearty "Hallo!" A small group of grizzled monster-hunters look up briefly and then go back to their business. A man behind the bar, wearing the green jacket of the Eisen army open over a linen shirt on a prodigious beer gut asks them gruffly what their drinking. Fenneke asks if there is any mead or beer. "Eisen is the land of beer!" the man says enthusiastically before going back to eyeing the Castillians.
Ysabel asks "What do you drink?"
The man considers for a moment and nods. "The bock is good."
"Then I'll have that."
A barmaid is making the rounds and brings them their drinks. The barman continues to eye them warily. Fenneke and Ysabel decide to circulate about the room, working the "merchant" angle to gather some information and, hopefully, find this "Cordula" they are looking for.
They learn that one of the monster-hunters in this very room is Hans-Dieter Grimm, and he is the one heading out to Stutzung to find the horror that has been plaguing the outlying farms there. He is a large man with a double-bladed axe and a flintlock pistol. He has a vicious scar on his otherwise youthful face. There have apparently been recent tensions between Eisen and other countries concerning war reparations and the care of refugees. L'Empereur of Montaigne would not even see the Eisen envoy sent to discuss aid for the country and Castille, though they have sent aid, has done so grudgingly. And the Vendel League—well, they of course, make money from both ends. The dark-skinned Vesten woman was seen here as well, asking questions. She left a week and half ago. Everyone stayed clear of her—she gave off an aura of unease. No one saw a red-headed man with a scar with her, though Fenneke asked about this.
As the two women return to the table to share their information with Rico, the barmaid comes by and whispers, "You are looking for Cordula? I can help you. Come."
They three follow her out of the common room, down a hall, and into an office. There she tells them that she is, in fact, "Cordula". She eyes them with suspicion as Ysabel tells her the countersign "heiligtum." The three then explain that they are looking for information regarding the Explorer's Society's stronghold. The suspicion, it turns out, is because another person came through recently, looking for her, with the same countersign, looking for the same information. There is apparently a mole in the Society and "Cordula" doesn't know who to trust.
Rico shows her his Society medallion in hopes of earning her trust—but she says a mole would also have such a medallion. After a brief discussion of their impasse, "Cordula" finally relents, deciding to trust the three Heroes due to the fact that the first informant made her uneasy in the first place—it was the dark-skinned Vesten woman. She didn't get her name—names are seldom used in this business.
"Cordula" tells them that the stronghold is a day's journey north into the Dracheneisen mountains along a narrow pass. She helps liaise with the Master of the Chamber to get information and goods to the stronghold from the city. She knows that the stronghold holds various treasures from the Society that they do not want getting out.
The Heroes know that they want to get a move on to the stronghold—Yngvild already has a week and a half head start—but "Cordula" warns them that the pass itself is not safe—there are horrors between the city and the stronghold to be fought. Bearing that in mind, the troupe leave the pub and begin to make preparations to leave the city.