As the party made its way back to the Thunderwater Inn to retire, they find that the common room has cleared out some as many of the townsfolk and farmers have headed home.
Sitting around a rough-hewn table to discuss what they’ve found thus far, their chat is interrupted by a fairly well appointed dwarf whose keen ears pricked up at the mention of Beastmen. Introducing himself “Rom” Madhammer of Karak Azgaraz, he joins their discussion and shares some of the knowledge of Stromdorf that he has collected over the past few weeks. Before long the party discovers that Rom is one of the “Heroes of Grunvald Lodge” as he shares his tale, and over the next few jacks of ale the party gains a member.
Eventually, the party breaks up and retires for the evening.
Upon waking and breaking their fast, the party begins debating on the best course of action. The young apprentice wants to immediately seek out the reclusive burgomeister Phillip Adler and deliver the evidence found thus far. Tomke wants to go to the Temple of Shallya, but is informed that there isn’t a temple in the town, merely a small shrine on the northwest corner of the market square (a wooden platform several city blocks in size raised out of the mud like most of the public areas in town). So as Tomke pays a small homage to Shallya, Erland and the rest of the party gain directions to the Town Hall.
Upon leaving the Thunderwater Inn, Vauter’s keen senses detect the bite of smoke on the air, and to the south there is a ruddy orange glow reflected in the clouds. Somewhere south of town, something fairly large is burning…
Despite the fire to the south the party continues to the Town Hall. Easy to find, the Town Hall is a large three-storied, half-timbered mansion dominating the south side of the market square. A grand flight of colonnaded marble stairs leads up from the wooden platform of the market square and ends at a heavy oak door decorated with a gold, lion-headed knocker. Hanging above the door is a large blue shield sporting a rearing stag, the crest of the von Jugnfreud family.
A watchman leans on his halberd before the door. His posture is relaxed, but his uniform is neat and tidy.
When the party demands to meet with the burgomeister, the watchman politely but firmly informs the group that that will not be happening. The watchman tells the party that all business is handled by Captain Arno Kessler on behalf of the burgomeister. When asked he provides quick directions to the Captain’s office, but he warns the party that they are wasting their time as “..the Captain is a very busy man now that he is the Burgomeister’s steward.”
Still ignoring the burning hint to the south, the party travels the few blocks to what appears to be the Captain’s House. It’s an imposing, two-story, black and white townhouse with a high-pointed roof decorated with grotesques and gargoyles. What appears to be a door to his office is on the ground floor, and a queue of townsfolk and local farmers stretch from the door and down the block.
Brandishing his Imperial writ like a shield, Erland, in a loud voice, states: “Imperial business! Make way!” With looks of curiosity, reluctance, and outright dislike the townsfolk and farmers comply though not before some anonymous soul pelts the back of Erland’s robes with mud.
As the party enters sparsely furnished reception area, they see a rather large, smug, and officious looking secretary seated behind a desk covered with manuscripts of various sizes. Despite the official seal and strong voice of the apprentice wizard wielding it, the captain’s secretary is not impressed and politely informs the group that: “The captain is too busy at the moment with Stromdorf business to deal with mere travelers and their complaints, but he may be able to schedule a meeting with you in… ah, let’s see… next week is no good… how about next Backertag? The 15th? Does that work for you?”
Thwarted in their efforts to reach anyone in charge of the city, the party leaves captain’s home, and walks back toward the Market Square. Some sentiment is that it’s time to leave the city to its fate, but more adventurous heads prevail, and it is agreed upon that it is time to go against all human motivation and head toward the fire. Stopping briefly at the Thunderwater Inn to rent a mule, the party leaves Stromdorf by the eastern gate and follows the muddy road and their noses to the burned out remains of what looks to be a fairly large farm.
As the party enters the homestead gate, Vauter notices that the sign that once hung on the post beside the gate is torn down, broken, and trampled by what looks to be cloven hooves. The word “Eigel” can be seen carved into the cracked sign.
Every building, the homestead house, the barn, the grain silo, a small toolshed and an outbuilding has been set ablaze, and even the sullen rain has only managed to make the ruins a steaming, smoky mess. The chimney of the homestead house is still standing, and among the soot is an eight-pointed star daubed crudely on the stones in blood and ash.
Throughout the area, cloven-hoofed footprints lead back to the Oberslecht. It is obvious that the Madteeth herd took no steps to conceal themselves.
Aside from the crackle of flame and the sizzle of the rain becoming steam on the charred remains of the farm, there are no other sounds of wildlife. Even more unnerving is that while there is the occasional splash of blood and evidence of a struggle, there are no bodies. With a sinking feeling of despair the party realizes that the entire Eigel family and all their livestock have been taken by the beastherd to be eaten or sacrificed to their Dark Gods.
Occasionally, lightning flashes bright and fast further south and away to the west.
As the party moves through the ruins investigating, Vauter’s keen ears pick up faint yelling from nearby. Looking around, Vauter sees through a parting of the smoke and rain, another homestead farm in the distance several fields away and slightly up the hill from this slaughter.
Preparing themselves for the worst the party moves across the squelching muddy fields and up the grassy slope of the gentle hill to the next farm.
In the barnyard two young men are yelling at each other. One of the young men is tall and gangly, with too-long limp blond hair, and a pug nose. He is wearing tattered, soot-stained clothes and his soot and blood smeared face is twisted with anger, pain, and loss. The other is shorter, darker, and has close-set eyes and a weak chin, much like the rest of the people standing around the barnyard watching the argument.
“It’s all your,” screams the tall, blonde one. “They’re all dead because of you!”
“My fault?” roars the short, dark haired one. “I told you not to stop, Tristan! I warned you! But you never listen!”
As the party watches, the fight slowly begins to escalate. Tristan yells “Why my family and not yours?” as he pulls a knife. Watching from the porch, a middle-aged worried looking woman screams “Fritz! Look out!”
Fritz takes a step back from the now armed Tristan and yells back “What do you think would happen if you just stopped? Did you think that they would just go away?”
Before the fight can get out of hand, the party step forward and with strong arms and soothing words disarms the situation. Tristan drops the knife and falls to his knees, sobbing with his face buried in his hands. The mother and quite possibly the biggest man you’ve ever seen gently lift Tristan up and lead him away to the barn.
The party is approached by a thick-necked, strong-armed man with graying hair and a slight limp. He thanks the party and introduces himself as Otto Holtz. He gestures to the woman and large man and tell the party that’s his wife Marie, and his Cousin Klaus. He points to the young man in the argument and introduces Fritz.
Tomke is suddenly surprised when he feels a cold, wet, and clammy hand slip inside of his tattooed right hand. He looks down and sees a short young girl of no more than ten years with close-set eyes, a squat pig-like nose, and a soft, doughy face. No one is likely to ever call her lovely, or even plain. With a thin, reedy voice she tells Tomke that her name is Imelda, and she likes his tattoo and his scars. There is a dangerous look of infatuation on her homely face.
As the party asks what is going on, Otto explains that the beastmen raid out of the Oberslecht all the time. This time they chose the Eigel farm to attack. Otto confidently tells the party that the beastmen would never think to attack the Holtz farm “because we’re too strong!” It becomes obvious that Otto is lying and hiding something, but the party isn’t sure what.
Marie returns from the barn and places her hand on Otto’s arm. She share that the Eigels have been making sacrifices to the beastmen for years. They know it was wrong, but they had to do it to keep the farms and Stromdorf safe. The sacrifices they unwillingly participated in have been all the kept the Madteeth herd from sweeping out of the Oberslecht and destroying everything from the River Obel to the River Tranig. And since the head of the Eigel family died, things have gotten harder, and the Holtzes want out. Ever since the storm began, the beastherd has been completely out of control.
Marie goes onto tell the party that there is a plan, and she has someone she wants them to meet.
Listening carefully, it’s evident to cunning Vauter and Rom that Marie is trying to paint her family in the best light, while minimizing their involvement, but it’s also evident that she is genuinely worried about the beastherd threat, and that she does have a plan that might work.
Marie then walked to the farmhouse, took a lantern from its hook on the on the porch and gestured for her husband and the party to follow her down a trail into the Oberslecht. Twisted, stunted trees loomed overhead, and the misty rain conspires to sink the haunted marsh into a perpetual twilight. The lantern’s feeble light casts a weak glow through the mist as the party climbed a small hillock, resting above the boggy ground. Further to the south lightning strikes regularly in what looks to be the same place.
A small cart rests on the edge of a small clearing dominated in the north by a leafless tree, its evil-looking branches are festooned with fetishes and charms, the pelts of animals, collections of feathers, and bones. Strewn about the ground surrounding the tree is a golgothan scene of old bones, cow skulls, horse legs, and human remains. The twisted and knotty trunk of the hagtree is stained with blood, and what looks to be mixtures of skin, blood, and bone where sacrifices are dashed against it.
Searching the cart, Vauter draws a finger across the inner surface and is rewarded with a black, sooty residue. Coal dust. This is the cart of Florian Weschler.
Looking south, Erland focuses briefly and opens his magickal sight. A strong blue glow of Azyr streams like a beacon into the sky and as he watches lightning strikes twice right where the glow rests. Turning west, he is nearly blinded by the bright column of Azyr power reaching from the tops of the trees into the clouds themselves.
Shaking the brightness from his magickal sight, he continues to turn toward the north, and finally looking at the hagtree, he again is nearly blinded, only this time it is from the pitch black cloud of Dhar that swirls around the figure emerging from the woods behind the charnel tree. Closing his magickal sight, and about to call a warning to his companions, Marie assuages the party.
“Please. Please stay calm. You’ll frighten him off.” Then turning back to woods, she plaintively calls out, “Are you there? I’ve brought friends. They can help us. Please. We don’t have much time…”
Crackling through the undergrowth a figure takes shape in the dim twilight. It is hunched, and leaning on a wooden staff capped with an animal skull and festooned with feathers, teeth, and semi-precious stones. The figure’s torn robes are similarly decorated with a leather mantle worked with animal bones. His arms are bare and muscular, and his fingers end in grubby, claw-like nails. When the figure finally speaks it’s with a voice that rasps and crackles, as if unused to speaking at all.
The figure implores the party to help him steal what he calls The Lightning Stone. If they do this thing the beastherd will lose its source of power and the herd will believe that they have lost the favor of the Dark Gods. Izka Madteeth plans to destroy all the works of Man this very night, and without the stone, he will lose leadership of the herd.
Erland confronts the figure about its aura of Dhar, and the figure chuckles grimly. The hood hiding its features pulls back a little and the pale fur face of Foaldeath, an ungor shaman, peers from beneath the mantle. In his rusty voice, he says, “You do not trust me. You think I must be leading you into a trap. If I wanted you dead, this would be the trap, here and now.”
“The Cloven Ones are many, and they would need less than a word to descend upon you, tear you apart, and eat your bloody raw flesh.”
“And if they knew I was her, speaking with you, they would do the same to me. So worry less about whether you can trust me and hear what I have to say”
The plan is simple: the party will fight to the herdstone, steal The Lightning Stone, and flee the Oberslecht. If they can get the stone beyond the forest, Foaldeath can turn the herd against Izka Madteeth for his failure to protect the stone, and if they manage to kill the wargor, even better as all the gors will start fighting for dominance and leadership of the herd.
After a quick discussion, the party agrees to Foaldeath’s plan, and follows him deeper into the Oberslecht. Eventually, Foaldeath calls for the party to stop and tells them that he must leave them here. All would be for naught if he were seen with them by any of the patrols, but if they are careful and stealthy, they may be able to avoid the patrols and sneak close to the herdstone without alerting the herd.
“Follow the lightning.” is the last thing he says as he disappears into the swirling mists.
Taking the shaman’s advice and setting the lightning strikes before them, the party slowly makes its way quietly through the swamps following in the cautious footsteps of Vauter as he stealthily leads the party around several ambushes and beastman patrols.
Eventually, the party finds itself hunkered down on the wooded edge of a clearing. Beyond in the open space there are many gors and ungors moving about, and near the man-sized herdstone a massive wargor bellows his rage into the skies as lightning arcs from above to strike the herdstone repeatedly. The sizzling crack of lightning and immediate boom of thunder has acted as distractions for the party.
Now they ready their weapons…