To The Farm!
Something was burning in the distance. Thunder crashed, and lightning struck the temple of Sigmar behind the party. The tracks toward the farm were deep mud. There was no way Kraft could get her cart out to the farm. She stayed behind while the others went to investigate.
Rain continued to pour off their wide-brimmed hats and well-used ponchos. It seemed the rain hadn’t stopped this farm from burning to the ground. Every building had been set ablaze, with little more than a steaming, smoky mess remaining.
Feet squelched into mud. Slippery mud. The smell was nauseating. The scene was carnage. Carnage without bodies.
The party searched the scene, looking for victims…but also looking for Florian Wechsler’s missing cart. Rolf checked the remains of the barn. Nim used his spear to move rubble and look for bodies. Everyone could see the cloven-hoofed footprints leading directly east toward the Oberslecht Swamp. A single set of human-sized boot walked south east toward the road. Zarkon decided to keep an eye on the perimeter and started a walk-around.
Caius found an eight-pointed star daubed in blood and dung painted on the remains of the farmhouse chimney. He also found a cracked, wooden sign with the name EIGEL. Back up the driveway to the main road, Zarkon was waving to get everyone’s attention. As the sky lit up with lightning, he could see two shapes standing in the front yard of the farmhouse across the road. It looked like two men were arguing as a number of other figures looked on.
To The Other Farmhouse!
Standing in the rain in the middle of the muddy barnyard, two young men were screaming at one another. One of them was tall and gangly, with too-long, limp blonde hair and a pug nose. His clothes were torn and he was smeared with soot, mud, and blood. The other was shorter and darker, with close-set eyes and a weak chin. Those watching had similar features.
“It’s all your fault,” screamed the tall one. “They’re dead because of you!”
“My fault?” roared the short one. “I told you not to stop, Tristan! I warned you! But you never listen!”
Two large men, a woman, and another man watched from the barnyard. Multiple others had stopped their chores at various other points around the farm to watch the confrontation.
The group walked up the second driveway toward the barnyard. “What, exactly, is going on here?” Caius stepped forward to ask. The confrontation stopped for a moment all heads turned toward the party. Nobody moved or said anything. The two men looked back at each other. The short one shouted.
“What did you think would happen? Did you think they’d just go away?” He pointed toward the east.
“Why my family and not yours?” The tall one replied. Then he drew a knife. “It’s time to even the score.”
The party was unsure about getting into the middle of the scrap. Tristan lunged at the shorter man, and slashed him across the ribs. That’s when the large onlookers jumped in. It didn’t take long for the big men to subdue Tristan. The woman ran to the injured man. There was no less tension, but the altercation was apparently over.
From the farmhouse, an adolescent girl with close-set eyes, a squat pig-like nose, and a doughy face ran straight to Rolf. “Aren’t you just the most handsome man I ever did see! Come in! Come in!” She pulled Rolf toward the house. “Mama! We’re going to have a tea party!” Rolf didn’t fight her as she led him inside. Zarkon and Hektor followed.
The two large men tied Tristan up and led him to the barn. Nim and Caius didn’t trust their intentions, so they followed the men. As Tristan was tied to a chair, Caius tried to ask the men questions. “You don’t look like a witch-hunter; you don’t have a gun” the older man stated.
Hektor assured the man, “we’re in the process of acquiring one.” The man saw through the two’s bravado and invited them in to talk things over with Marie. It seemed Marie was the one in the know.
Inside, the young girl, Imelda, had set Rolf on the floor for their tea party. Many other presumed family members had followed everyone inside. Marie had someone pressing a cloth against the cut man’s ribs. Another she identified as Reiner was called into the kitchen with her to start the hot water.
Zarkon could see Marie pouring ale out of a small cask and into a mug. She looked at the mug, then at the cask, the shrugged and took both out the back door with her. Zarkon made and excuse to go into the kitchen, nodding for Hektor to follow.
Zarkon acquainted himself with Reiner, to the point where Reiner offered to head to the basement for some Thunderwater Ale. Zarkon and Hektor immediately slipped out the back door. Marie was heading for the barn.
Out front, Caius and Nim followed the two large men inside.
in the barn, Zarkon tried to put Marie to the question about the events in the yard…and the missing merchant Florian Wechsler. She fired back some probing questions. “Do you plan on staying in Hobbly/Stormdorf? Are you close to your hometown? Your family? What would you do to protect your family?” Caius’ answers seem to satisfy Marie. She invited them back inside to talk to everyone at once. Caius was worried about Tristan, tied to the chair in the barn. Marie assured they wouldn’t harm him. He was her nephew.
At first, the large man, Otto, started denying Reiner saw anything out of the ordinary on the night of Florian Wechsler’s disappearance. Then he grudgingly admitted that Reiner had bought the pony from Wechsler for a bargain price, as long as he took the pony out of town and didn’t tell anyone about it. He floated the theory that Wechsler had wanted to disappear. At no time in the story did Reiner speak for himself.
Marie admitted that beastmen in the swamp had burned the Eigel farm. But there wasn’t anything to worry about; the Holtzes were tougher than the Eigels and could take care of themselves. Caius offered to help with the beastman problem, if Marie helped with his investigation. After thinking for a bit, Marie answered “There’s someone I want you to meet. Please come with me.” She picked up a lantern, and all the Holtz family grabbed their rain cloaks. It seems everyone was heading back out into the storm.
To the Swamp!
The rain had not slowed. And Marie was leading the party into the swamp. The party didn’t hesitate to follow. Otto still slipped them all suspicious looks on the way.
As the twisted, stunted trees loomed overhead, the misty rain conspired to sink the swamp in perpetual twilight, though it was still technically daytime. The lantern’s feeble light helped, as they climbed onto a small hillock, rising above the boggy ground. A small cart rested on the edge of the clearing, but what caught the party’s eye was the massive, squat, brooding tree to the north.
Leafless, the tree’s evil-looking branches were festooned with fetishes and charms, the pelts of animals, collections of feathers, and bones. The knotty trunk was stained here and there with old blood (probably), and they realized they were walking over a collection of old bones. There was a cow’s skull, a horse’s leg, and other, more recent – and more disturbing – remains…including, possibly, parts of a white pony hide.
Nobody tried to turn back.
“Are you there?” Marie called into the forest around them. “I’ve brought friends. They can help us.” There was silence, then a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder sounded overhead. The lightning struck somewhere to the east, deeper into the swamp. “Please,” Marie called. “We don’t have much time!”
Cracking out of the undergrowth, a figure loomed in the twilight. He was hunched, and leaning on a wooden staff capped with an animal skull and festooned with feathers, teeth, and semi-precious stones. Those caught Hektor’s eye.
The figure’s torn robes were similarly decorated, with a leather mantle worked with animal bones. His arms were muscular, his fingers ending in grubby, claw-like nails. When he spoke, it was a raspy voice, unused to speaking at all.
“I hope you can help us. She is correct; time is running out. This very night, Izka the Madtooth comes to destroy the works of Man. He will not stop until no stone stands on another, until all the gods of Man are cast down and destroyed. You must take the source of his power and strip from him the favor of Khorne. You must steal the lightning stone.”
The party was agreeable to those terms, considering all the “works of Man” were at risk. The robed man had a plan: fight the beastman herdstone, steal the lightning stone on top of it, and escape the swamp. Was it too complicated to work? Lightning flashed, and thunder filled the air.
The group wanted to take the abandoned cart. As the muscle man, they made Rolf navigate the cart through the paths in the swamp. They also wanted a guide, after the robed man told them the swamp was dangerous without one. He agreed to take them to the herdstone, then he had to leave them to prepare to disrupt the herd once their totem went missing.
Using Hektor’s silent moving skills, and using Rolf’s strength to force the cart into submission, the group successfully snuck up on the beastman herdstone. The stone was in the center of a clearing. A large beastman, presumably Izka Madtooth, knelt in front of the stone, gathering the favor of Khorne as lightning repeatedly struck the top. There were also 3 gors and 5 ungors stationed around the clearing. Unless they wanted a large-scale battle, the party needed a plan. There were other beastmen in the swamp that could show up at any minute
Quickly (in the grand scheme of things) a plan was hatched, and Hektor picked up a heavy clod of dirt and stone to create a distraction. He tactfully threw the heavy clod overhead to the other side of the clearing. Seven out of 8 beastmen were distracted and rushed the far end of the clearing. The party attacked.
The Crossbro’s fired at Izka Madtooth. Someone threw a spear. Rolf and Caius charged the large Wargor, while Hektor headed for the lightning stone.
The robed man had said they only needed to remove the lightning stone from the swamp, and then he could turn the herd against Izka for his failure to protect it. Another option was to kill the beastman leader and let chaos ensue. The group went for the second option.
The party had a surprise round to fire missiles at Izka and get Hektor to the stone. Then the wargor started attacking back, and the rest of the beastmen charged back to the herdstone to defend it.
Caius and Rolf attacked Izka with one hand, while fighting off a beastman each with the other hand. Hektor slowly cut through the ropes lashing the lightning stone to the herdstone. The other beastmen surrounded him just as he finished. He started running back to the cart, as close to Caius as he could get.
The Crossbro’s shot at Hektor’s pursuers, as the rallying beastmen closed on the fleeing burglar…just as the two fighters slew the Madtooth. The beastmen stopped as Izka fell. Zarkon chose that moment to speak to them in their dark language using Gift of Tongues.
“Khorne has forsaken you. You are not good enough. He has used us to show you his disfavor.” Hektor dropped the stone into the cart, and the party headed out. Behind them, beastmen bleated battle cries and set upon each other in a frenzy for dominance.
They met individual beastmen on the way back to the farm, but none who wanted to challenge the group. They all seemed to be heading to the clearing to fight for dominance of the herd. Also, lighting occasionally hit the trail where the lightning stone had been the moment before, until the party finally exited the swamp. Then the storm calmed down for the first time in days.
Back at the Holtz farm, Marie was waiting on word of their success…and on the status of the robed man. They told her the man was alive and well the last time they had seen him. She smiled and thanked them for her help. Imelda was glad to see her new boyfriend Rolf and Cousin Zarkon.
They did not remain long at the farm, but Zarkon did toss Marie a couple silver. He knew her family had been through rough times, and the party might need allies in the future.
In Stromdorf, the head of the Watch stopped the party to ask what they discovered in the ashes of the Eigel farm. He wanted to know if he should be expecting an attack from the swamp.
“It’s all taken care of,” the party assured.