I’m sure all of our Freystadtian readers are familiar with Stromberg. It’s a large fishing town on the South coast, well-known for its almost constant rains. Having heard rumors of something unnatural happening, my team and I arrived in Stromberg at the end of last week, just in time to see the end of a most extraordinary incident.
At first it seemed like interviewing the townspeople would be an exercise in futility. No-one seemed to have much memory of the past few weeks, and many people complained of a “red mist” or “crimson fog” that seemed to cloud their minds for that time. However, after a great deal of research and legwork, I was able to piece together what happened.
Everything started about two weeks ago, when the mining company responsible for excavating the sea caves just east of Stromberg uncovered a large natural cavern deep underneath the town. For reasons none of them could adequately explain, the miners deduced that this hollow was filled with great riches, and immediately reported to the mine’s head surveyor, Reto Brodbeck.
Brodbeck himself declined my requests for an interview, but from his workers I was able to glean that Reto wasted no time in gathering up the leaders of the town for a semi-ceremonial opening of this cavern. In this case, this included the head priest, Isiodore Bach, the candy-monger Grommet Sugarbud Jellystar, and Luther Leonhardt, who was present in place of the town’s renowned researcher Atlas Mason. Although the workers claimed that Brodbeck gathered the town’s leaders, the fact that he did not attempt to include the mayor speaks a wealth about the political situation in Stromberg.
Later, at the opening of the cavern, all of the aforementioned were present, as well as Emilia Stumpf, the mayor’s daughter, who had, by her own account, followed them out of boredom. After Brodbeck had driven open the crevice leading to the supposed riches, however, the party was med with a cloud of thick, red mist that, for lack of a better word, ‘infected’ them, transforming all present into something similar to the common Vampire.
Once the town’s leaders were infected, things escalated quickly. Now under the control of a mysterious ‘being’ from beneath Stromberg, the team set about organizing a systematic offering of the townspeople as sacrifices to the ‘Bleeding Skull’. Each night, a red mist would drop over the houses and, unaware of their actions, the victims would file into the chapel at the center of Stromberg, to be offered by Isiodore Bach to the Bleeding Skull for sacrifice.
According to some more harrowing reports I received later, this ‘sacrifice’ involved the victim’s blood being drawn out of their eyes and into a ceremonial skull prepared for the purpose. Unsurprisingly, it was described as a very painful and draining experience, with those who experienced it appearing pale and weak for days afterward.
This system of domination and sacrifice was the status quo for approximately a week, those orchestrating it aware of their actions but unable to resist the Skull’s influence. A few days ago, however, help arrived in the form of Major Hannah Köhler and her self-proclaimed ‘Unicorn Brigade’, the very same elite squad that is currently the talk of Freystadt.
We’ve featured the Unicorn Brigade (an inaccurate name, as the team is officially a Squad under Freystadt military organization, but Major Köhler insisted) many times in this publication, but this was the first time we were able to meet with its members. Upon learning they were still in town, I sought out each individual and requested an interview to further determine exactly what happened in the few days before our arrival.
The first member of Köhler’s squad that agreed to an interview with me was Captain Rirorsorchalwen, a pretty Elven woman who serves as one of the team’s front-line fighters, as well as a magic consultant. When asked about the ‘Bleeding Skull’, the being responsible for infecting the townspeople, she replied that it was a “Scarlet Walker”, an evil-being from another Plane that feeds on its victim’s blood. The Captain also assured us that her squad defeated the monster, and there don’t appear to be any more of them.
Rirorsorchalwen also mentioned, however, that while the majority of those town leaders infected by the Walker made a full recovery afterwards, one of them, namely Luther Leonhardt, was still a ‘vampire’ and still at large. She also mentioned that he had a large amount of îr, the Elven word for sexual promiscuity, and cautioned women of the area, especially young women, to be cautious if approached by him.
Next, I was able to speak with Warrant Officer Nyrik, the very same Nyrik who has become something of a celebrity recently in Freystadt City. In person he was just as described – tall, chiseled, and devilishly handsome – but Nyrik had a much more disturbing tale to tell of events.
Upon their arrival at Stromberg, Major Köhler’s squad first staged an assault on the chapel during one of its sacrificial ceremonies, successfully shattering the skull fetish responsible for draining the townspeople’s blood. During this, however, Nyrik tells a harrowing description of the vampires’ retaliation, and how he was, by his own account, “pinned down” and repeatedly “violated” by Luther himself. Exactly what brought on this brutal experience was unknown, but Nyrik seemed emotionally scarred by the event, and was noticeably pale throughout the interview.
Although we asked Nyrik if he had any comments for his fans, he once again displayed that humble kindness that’s making the women of Fryestadt swoon, claiming: “I’m only a traveling Paladin, I like to help out whenever I can.”
After we met with Nyrik, I tried to get an interview with his partner. Warrant Officer Commsenko, previously thought to be named Tenskyo, was unable to speak with me after being afflicted with a condition Major Köhler could only describe as “poobrain”. His pet toad, Milton, however, was willing to speak on his behalf.
“Well missy, it’s a nasty business, that’s certain.” Milton said in his deep, boisterous bass, little wings flapping as he hovered in front of me, “Folks wakin’ up in the middle of the night and havin’ their blood sucked out by a big ol’ skull, spider demons… Gives me the willies!”
When asked about his master’s condition, Milton referenced the aforementioned Scarlet Walker, and said that it did some “dark magic” that transformed Commsenko’s brain into the equivalent of “tapioca pudding”.
“I expect we’ll get him patched up sooner or later but until then it’s ol’ Milton in the driver’s seat!” he added, wiggling his tiny toad fingers in what he surely considered a ‘magicky’ way.
Finally, Major Hannah Köhler herself agreed to answer a few of my questions, and I met with the somewhat infamous Sidhe for the first time. The tiny Major confirmed what I had been told before regarding the events of the past few days, and included that all of the individuals that her Unicorn Brigade rescued from the Walker’s lair were unharmed and recovering. She did have a specific message for Luther Leonhardt, the one missing victim, wishing to tell him: “You need to come back, you slacker, you have a job to do.”
When I asked about her view on her subordinates’ performance during this incident, Major Köhler lauded the members of her squad, stating: “All members of the Unicorn Brigade conducted their duties with the integrity and dedication the Freystadt Army demands.”
We attempted to secure interviews with the last two members, Captain Gilbert Barkwin and Lieutenant Elowyn Eberhardt, but the former was nowhere to be found, and the Lieutenant declined to comment.
While Köhler and her ‘Unicorn Brigade’ undeniably saved the town, however, there is a darker side to this tale that lies with the fate of Stromberg’s beloved priest Isiodore Bach. Isiodore is the only one of the original victims to remain deceased, and several townspeople admit to having seen the disturbing circumstances surrounding his death. That is, this squad of ‘heroes’ surrounding the elderly Bach and mercilessly beating him to death as he tried to escape.
When questioned about this, each member of the squad denied the event ever occurred, with many of them professing not to remember any such thing, but Major Köhler instead claiming that the witnesses were in an altered state of mind and could not be trusted. While the townspeople were indeed under an outside influence, it is the discrepancies between accounts which deeply disturbs us at the Golden Herald.
Although the Major insists that they are taking measures to fully restore Isiodore Bach and return him to work in Stromberg, is it really that simple? What really happened in that chapel? Will the Scarlet Walker’s influence have any effect on the normal methods of resurrection? Can Bach really be “restored”? We’ll report again next issue with these answers and more.