Hochnor Half-Hand, paladin and Imperial Inquisitor, arrived in Blackmarch from the capital city of Axis. He met his superior, tribunal head Brother Lucas, who told Hochnor that he was to become the new Sergeant — the local tribunal’s field representative. The last person to hold this position, Brother James, had been missing for some time and prior to disappearing, displayed erratic behavior and went off on his own for weeks or months at a time. Before vanishing completely he burned the records of his investigations.
Hochnor will be supported in his efforts by a retinue of free companions:
- Elanesse, an elven sorcerer (secretly a fugitive fleeing servants of the Archmage who performed msgical experiments on her)
- Khash, a half-orc cleric of the goddess of home (secretly a double agent spying for both the Emperor and the Orc Lord)
- Nureddin Wolf-Father, an Imperial Raner and deadly foe of orcs
As they gathered for the first time at the Wretched Hovel inn, the party immediately found themselves in a wild tavern brawl. Elanesse looted an unconscious wizard and found:
- 30 gold pieces
- 1 key
- small knife
- Clear vial sealed with cork & wax full of rusty-looking fluid
- A map of the nearby forest with an X drawn on it alongside a dragon head, a symbol of an Imperial gold piece, and an exclamation point
The next day Hochnor received his first assignment: to investigate charges of diabolism against Maksim Gold Finder, a wealthy and powerful dwarf who owns the Thunder Falls mine. Accusations include:
- Weird livestock births near the mine: a three-headed calf was born near the mine, that sang an unearthly song before it died. Of the people who heard it, one died, one went mad, and a third has founded his own religion.
- Pigeons kept by Colonel Silvershield laid eggs that hatched deadly vipers. He and Maksim had a recent dispute over their respective property lines, during which Maksim called Slvershield a “snake.”
- A granary was infested with rats bearing the faces of evil dwarves. Maksim has been trying unsuccessfully to purchase his land for months.
- An unprecedented series of dire but non-fatal accidents have occurred at logging operations owned by Nikolai Tree Feller: tools breaking, people losing fingers and toes, broken arms and legs, perfectly good high wheel loaders falling apart. Lumberjacks report that they now get a “dire feeling” in the woods. Lucas said Nikolai is “some sot of relative” of Maksim, but that “all dwarves seem to be related somehow.”
- A servant in Maksim’s house reported that he glimpsed Emery Whitethorn, a rival mine owner who died ten years ago, shrunk down to the size of a doll and trapped alive in a glass bottle on a shelf, begging for help.
The party began their investigation at Nikolai’s lumber camp. Nikolai was excited to see the party, and eager that Maksim be brought to justice. He pledged his full cooperation with the investigation, and the party began searching the nearby woods for signs of supernatural activity.
Suddenly, they heard cries for help: a dwarf lumberjack ran back to camp saying that he’d found another logger dead in a clearing, killed horribly by slashes all over his body. The party ran to the clearing and were attacked by a tree animated by demonic power. The party slew the creature, which then split open and disgorged the body of Brother James.
They brought the body back to town, and Brother Lucas gave Hochnor James’ magic helmet: The Helm of the Relentless Inquisitor, which contains a servitor spirit named Brother Theobald who can answer questions about the Empire, druidism and diabolism.