From the Journal of Jerath Adler Jr.
In my time as a barber surgeon, I have seen many things. I have seen lives reclaimed by the living, and I have seen death taking that which is not his. I have seen medical miracles, and I have seen limbs lost for lack of cleanliness. I have seen the incredible love of a close family, and I have seen the mighty devastations of war. Still, nothing prepares you for the moment when someone close to you perishes, and there’s nothing you can do to save them…
Less than a day ago, I recall our meeting with the Celestial Wizard, Schulman. Von Oppenheimer and he shared, how shall I put it – pleasantries. I found myself mused by their posturing, that is, until Oppenheimer mentioned our missing merchant. Schulman suddenly got angry, suspiciously so in my eyes, though Oppenheimer promised us that he was only bitter at our interruption over such a matter of only one man’s life. The Celestial Wizards look at a larger world picture, as I understand it, though I don’t completely agree, as one man’s life should be as important as the next. As we were departing, Oppenheimer mentioned the lighting strikes to the Church of Sygmar, and Schulman took great interest, remarking that ancient and deadly magics are at work in this area.
After our meeting, we found Furgil downstairs, with a much cleaner Eduardo Castillo Rodriguez. With his mind a little more refreshed, he recalled hearing a cart leaving around midnight of the night that our merchant disappeared. Based on the sound, he seemed to think they may have been heading towards the East Gate. He told us that he knows the Guard at the East Gate, and would further inquire on the matter.
With the night in full effect, we then retired, hoping that tomorrow would bring us more clarity (and less rain.)
I did not sleep well, haunted still by dreams of the beastmen and the demon that we somehow banished from this world. Will these visions ever leave me?
The next morning, we gathered for breakfast, and Eduardo joined us shortly thereafter with news. He told us that the Guard at the East Gate never saw a cart or white horse leave. He only saw Raynor Holtz leave that night, on the way back to his farm south of Stromdorf. With no other leads, we decided to pursue Holtz by heading down to his farm. Elenore decided it would be best for her to stay as she was not feeling up to the weariness of travel in the rain, and we agreed that it might be good to have her stay and keep watch within the town.
With the rain even worse today than yesterday, we purchased a cart and mule, and headed out of the city with yours truly at the reigns. We travelled miserably, until Oppenheimer was able to his use magics to keep the rain off of us. The mule seemed happier by this as well, and responded by moving a little more quickly towards, what we realized at that very moment, was the smell of smoke.
Before long, we came to the first farmstead, belonging to the Eigle Family. What was left of it was burning, and no life remained in this place. If there had been people or animals, they had been taken, and based on the cloven footprints, we knew it had to be beastmen. Our suspicions were proven correct when we found an 8-pointed star dabbed in blood, left in dung. Oppenheimer made sure to destroy this symbol of chaos before we returned to the road and travelled up the hill to the next farm, belonging to the Holtz Family.
Their farm was still intact, but out front were two men fighting. The argument grew quickly, and we soon learned that the threatening man was Tristan, presumably of the Eigle Farm, and he was yelling at Fritz, of the Holtz homestead. Before we knew it, Tristan had pulled a knife, and Tarth charged in, disarming him quickly. Tristan was upset about something, blaming Fritz for what had happened, and without his blade, now broke down in tears. Out of the farmhouse, more of the Holtz family appeared to comfort Tristan and take him to the adjoining barn. Otto Holtz then came out, and welcomed us to stay with them for a meal to discuss what has happened.
Upon entering the house, a strange feeling passed down my spine and goosebumps covered my skin. It wasn’t that I feared our hosts, but… something was not right. There was Otto, the father, Marie, the mother, Cousin Klaus (huge, and a little on the slow side), Fritz (whom we’d already met out front), Emelda (who took a distinct interest in Von Oppenheimer right away), little Otto (playing his mandolin), and the rest of the cousins and brothers. We also met Raynor, the farmer rumored to leave the town the night our merchant disappeared. Something in my mind led me to believe that this family may be … too closely related. If you understand my meaning.
Tarth got right to the point, as he — er, she — usually does, and asked about the white horse. Raynor’s eyes widened at the question, and Furgil went on to explain the full situation. At first, we got the cold shoulder, with Raynor telling us that they didn’t know anything. When asked about Tristan, he told us that Tristan was blaming them for the beastmen attack, which they had nothing to do with it. The room was still tense, but with nothing else to go on, Furgil and I excused ourselves and returned to the barn.
It wasn’t long before we were joined by Marie with Tarth and Von Oppenheimer in tow. She wanted to help us, and I convinced her that if her family is somehow involved in this, then WE are the people she should speak to in order to help them. She agreed, and led us into the marsh. Otto soon joined us. We were suspicious, and kept an open eye out for beastmen. After some time, we reached a rotten tree, leafless, known simply as the Hag Tree, covered in bones, furs, charms, etc. A place where it seemed many sacrifices had been made.
We remained still, and silent, at which point we noticed movement next to the tree. Marie called to it, and something emerged, cloaked in the shadows of the marsh. It spoke slow and thoughtful, and told us of Izka the Madtooth, who was coming to destroy the works of man. By nightfall, Stromdorf would fall to the beastmen, led by this hulking creature. For some time, it seemed as though the Holtz Family had been making sacrifices to the beastmen to keep them at bay, but over time, it was slowly becoming not enough, and they were growing more and more aggressive. Now, this Izka, armed with an artifact known as the Lightning Stone, would lead siege to the world we called home.
This could not stand.
The plan was crazy. But we had no choice. Raynor would be sent to town to warn them of the possible attack while we went to retrieve the Lightning Stone, and with the shadowed creature’s help, turn the beastmen against Izka. With a cart in tow, the four of us travelled into the swamp, knowing that this plan had little chance of success.
During our travels, Von Oppenheimer once again tried to control the rain with the wind, and though he had shown us on many occasions that he’s capable of such feats, when he did so this time, his face distorted, growing long and grotesque. He assured us that this is sometimes the side effects associated to his craft, but this was not natural. It wasn’t long before his face returned to its original state, but it continues to make me question exactly what it is that he is practicing. Of course, it didn’t even look like we’d make it out of the swamp alive, so it didn’t really matter at that moment.
We finally reached the Herd Stone, where we found beastmen everywhere. Atop the tall Herd Stone was the Lightning Stone, strapped down and out of our reach. Also standing between us and the Lighting Stone was the massive, 8 foot tall Izka. My breathe escaped me momentarily. There was no way that our party would be able to take down such a mighty force. Tarth disagreed, and saw this as the perfect moment for us to strike. With no other options available to us, we concocted a plan, and set it into motion.
If only we could have foreseen the consequences of our actions…
With the advantage of surprise, Von Oppenheimer cursed the Izka, and then Tarth rushed in and buried her axe into Izka’s rib cage, slicing down through its horn, chopping it clean off! Blood poured from the mutilated beast, it screaming with such ferocity as to turn us all ghostly. We backed Tarth up with as much force as we could muster, taking out smaller Ungor in the surrounding area. But she was soon mobbed by over 10 more beastmen. It was an amazing sight to see as she continued to strike back at them with her mighty axe, fighting off blow after blow. I could almost sense a smile under her mask as she was doing exactly what she was meant to do. Here she was, taking on a beast almost twice her size, while all of its underlings sliced away at her, yet she did not care. She was an Ironbreaker. And the radiance she displayed at that moment was heavenly to see.
Tarth then ripped her axe from the rip cage of Izka, and lined up the killing blow. We all watched, too far to be of any immediate help, as the axe cleaved the creature in two. But in its deathly final moments, Izka struck out at Tarth. The sight was as grisly as anything I have ever seen. Izka ripped into Tarth’s armor, penetrating it, and tore into her neck. Blood was everywhere, and before we could even comprehend what had happened, Tarth was dead.
In all the confusion, I was attacked and injured by one of the Ungor, but Furgil quickly backstabbed the beast, leaving us to make a very quick decision: do we leave the body of our friend here to save ourselves and the town, or do we attempt to take on the beastmen ourselves in vengeance for our friend’s sacrifice? We all knew we would never be able to take down the group ourselves, and decided then that we would come back for Tarth’s body as soon as we could (assuming we made it out of the swamp alive.)
Still, the Lightning Stone sat atop the Herd Stone, and we had to get it before the beastmen re-organized. They had fallen into a state of disarray with the sight of their leader destroyed, so again, we pressed the advantage. Von Oppenheimer attempted to use a cantrip with a little bit of re-assurance and guidance from myself to move the Lightning Stone from its perch. For as many times as I question his methods and motivations, I do find that his abilities help us in ways that none of us could ever accomplish on our own. The stone moved, and simply flew through the air into our arms. Seeing how lighting seemed to strike the stone every so often, we made a quick exit back into the swamp, leaving our friend behind, her sacrifice keenly felt with every breath we took.
It was a long run back through the swamp, but the beastmen did not pursue at first, having not seen us remove the Lightning Stone. We made it back to the Hag Tree, and saw only a glimpse of the shadowed creature there (known later to us as Fouldeath), bowing his head at our accomplished task. We continued on, finally reaching the Holtz Farm.
Von Oppenheimer only stopped momentarily, still needing to keep the stone moving. Furgil and I gathered our mule and cart, and had some last words with Marie about our missing merchant. Turned out that the merchant had indeed been sacrificed to the beastmen. The Holtz Family had been working with Copplepot in town, finding suitable sacrifices, in the form of wayward travelers. It was possible she may have the ring, as his body did not have it on him when it was delivered to them not so long ago.
With the beastmen in disarray, the Holtz Family promised us that there would be no more sacrifices, and with that, we raced to catch up with our Wizard, who still carried the artifact. We made it back to town soon after that, where we delivered the stone to the Church of Sygmar, one of the few places where the lighting strikes could be handled by the massive structure. After explaining the tale to Magnus, he agreed to keep it there for safety, but saw it as a cursed object that needed to be destroyed. Von Oppenheimer did not agree, and after some discussion, though disgruntled, Magnus decided to keep it there.
By this time, my own injuries combined with the loss of Tarth overtook me, and I abandoned the group to find help in the medical district. I could feel the nightmares coming again, and I needed to rest. Even if we had saved a town from destruction, and also saved ourselves in the process, the loss of one life was too much for me to handle.
Tomorrow would be another day, whether we wanted to face it or not.
~ Adler Jr.