N.S. Wednesday, December 23, 1610 / O.S. Wednesday, December 11, 1610
Goffhilf, Konrad, and Ross slowly awaken. As they prepare for their days, they awaken their comrade, Nicholas Schlender. Nicholas was otherwise engaged the previous night, and so missed their escapades in the Emperor’s Wunderkammer. They inform him of the previous night’s activities and suggest that it may be prudent to leave Prague as soon as possible.
As they are eating breakfast in the common room of the inn, they are approached by a man who seems to know who they are. He indicates that he was sent to meet them by a man named Tiedemann Fürst. This man Tiedemann indicated that he has a job for them, and that they can meet him if they travel to Würzburg. When they ask where to find him, the man indicates that he was told Tiedemann would find them. He also says he knows no more than that; he was merely hired to deliver the message and be on his way.
The group assembles their things and tells the innkeeper that they will be staying another day, going so far as to pay for the room. Then, under the pretense of completing business in the town, they take their things and leave.
The trek to Würzburg is relatively uneventful. On the second night on the road, they hear some wolves in the distance; in the morning, they attempt to hunt them for their pelts, but have no such luck.
It is roughly ten days, or January 2, when they arrive in Eger. As Konrad and Ross are still injured from their experiences beneath the Wunderkammer, they decide to stay in Eger to recuperate. They send Konrad and Ross to receive medical attention, while Nicholas takes a job as an accountant and Goffhilf tries to find odd jobs around the city. From what the doctors say, it will likely be about a month before Konrad and Ross should really travel again.
On January 16, Goffhilf marks an increased military presence in Eger. They are definitely Imperial soldiers, and they definitely appear to be looking for something. Goffhilf tells the others, and heedless of doctors’ warnings, the group gathers their things and prepares to depart. However, they are found by the military first. A middle-aged man with the detachment of soldiers introduces himself as Jan Mydlář — the Emperor’s master executioner — and indicates he is here to arrest Goffhilf. He lets the others go about their business. The soldiers begin escorting Goffhilf to a nearby guard station.
Nicholas and Ross — or Rosaria, as she is wearing the feminine garb she usually avoids while traveling on the road — take the cart and begin hatching a plan to retrieve Goffhilf. They decide to assault the guards by surprise and take him in the confusion.
They manage to catch up with the soldiers just as they are entering the guard outpost. Nicholas and Rosaria take positions; Rosaria prepares to hand loaded guns to Nicholas as he fires.
A shot rings out. Several of the guards take cover, while some drop to the ground and throw Goffhilf down with them. Mydlář takes the opportunity to attempt to kill Goffhilf; Goffhilf responds by rolling out of the way and focusing his will to wipe Mydlář’s face off. In the confusion, something happens and Goffhilf’s facial features are erased.
Nicholas and Rosaria notice that some commotion is happening among the group of soldiers and take the opportunity to take another shot. It hits Mydlář in the shoulder, forcing him to retreat. The other soldiers take aim and fire, peppering Nicholas with a volley of shots. He collapses to the ground, barely moving, three crimson eyes opening on his torso.
While this is happening, Goffhilf focuses his will to alter his face so that he does not look as he did before. As some of the guards try to manhandle him, they see that it is a different man and toss him back onto the street.
Rosaria jumps into the cart and tries to usher it to ram the guard station. The horses, however, have a different idea, and veer onto the street. Several soldiers give chase. Goffhilf takes the opportunity afforded by the confusion to try to resuscitate Nicholas, but to no avail. He grabs his fallen comrade’s coin purse and fades into the crowd.
Rosaria manages to lose her persuers and quickly leave the city gates before the soldiers close Eger to search for the interlopers. Goffhilf similarly manages to escape, and Konrad fortunately sumbles out of whatever watering hole in which he found himself. Rosaria hides herself and the cart alongside of the road, and manages to find both Konrad and a stranger wearing Goffhilf’s clothing, drawing their attentions to her hiding place. Reunited, they take to the road once again.
It is early morning on January 26, 1611, and the group only has a couple more hours before they should hit Würzburg. As they continue along the road, they see a cart and horses by the side of the road. A man, sitting on a barrel and smoking a pipe, sits by the side of the road. Two other men stand near him.
The man on the barrel introduces himself as Tiedemann Fürst. He indicates that his associate just arrived, and that he was expecting all of them. He also expresses his condolences for the losses of Mannfried Handel and Nicholas Schlender.
Tiedemann proceeds to explain that he needs them to perform a task for him. In twenty years, he will meet them at this spot, and ask them to deliver something on his behalf. He apologizes, as it is a little confusing, but he tells them that it will make more sense as they proceed. He suggests that they are destined to do these things.
When Tiedemann’s companion asks for clarification, saying all they have to do is return here in twenty years, Tiedemann says that it is not quite accurate. He takes a slender wooden dowel and shoves it in his pipe. As the end catches fire, he uncorks the barrel — enough for a fine, black powder to begin spilling out — and shoves the lit dowel into it.
The barrel explodes. The assembled party feels the heat from the explosion, and —
They are back by the side of the road. It appears to be shortly after dawn. Rosaria’s cart is gone. She notices slight differences in the treeline — a tree that was just a sapling a moment ago is taller here, another tree has been cut down there.
It is also a little warmer.
While the group tries to determine what just happened, they make introductions to the two newcomers. A scrawny man in a large ushanka introduces himself as Maksymilian Rusnak. He further introduces his man as Aleksy.
As they determine what they will do next, they spot a cart coming up the road. As it approaches, they realize that the cart is being driven by none other than Tiedemann Fürst. Unlike the landscape, he appears not to have aged at all. He greets them as he approaches, and begins explaining things. It is currently dawn on October 8, 1631. War has been raging across the Holy Roman Empire for roughly thirteen years, and there is no end in sight. Word has it that the Swedish army is on its way south, and is headed to march on Würzburg. They will likely hit Würzburg in roughly a week.
In the midst of this chaos, Tiedemann has something he requests of them. If they follow the River Main north to Karlstadt, and then travel a couple of miles south, they should reach a mound with a circle of standing stones. A man by the name of Willibald Schwartz resides in this mound, and he will ask the group to perform a task. Despite his eccentricities, the group should take his offer. When they do what he asks, that will lead them to an area roughly ten miles northeast of Karlstadt, where they will find a hidden lair in the swamp, an open cave covered by vegetation. Tiedemann tells them that they should replace the vegetation they disturb, so that no one knows of their passing.
Tiedemann continues, telling them that they should follow Schwartz’s directions. While doing so, they should use the map that Tiedemann gives them to navigate the place. In addition to Schwartz’s request, Tiedemann requests that they find the cages where prisoners are kept. In one of the cages will be a man who is not missing any limbs. They are to give that man a second note, which Tiedemann gives them. Once they give the man the note, they are discharged of their duties.
Fürst indicates that he has nothing to pay them, although given the current chaos, they are more than welcome to keep whatever they find in the course of their investigations. When they ask, he indicates that he expects they will take whatever they find back to their own time with them. He also indicates that the ritual will likely return them to their own time once the Swedish army rolls through — at that point, it will be too difficult for them to complete their goals.
He further indicates that if they do not do as he asked, then he will be forced to fix the situation himself, something he assures them they will not want. He also warns that they may want to avoid hanging around Karlstadt too much, for reasons he suspects will become obvious.
As he is about to leave, they ask him what to do about food. He asks if they have money, to which they reply that they do, but he throws them a pack filled with food. He says that should last them a couple of days, certainly long enough for them to resupply.
Fürst continues down the road on his cart, leaving the group to contemplate its next move.