From the Journal of Jerath Adler Jr.
From our darkest moments we sometimes find the light that will lead us from that same darkness. The path is never easy, and I dare say, it is almost always unpredictable, because when you least expect it, there it is, before you, whether you want it or not.
I speak of the previous day and night, a night I am so glad to see for only hours ago the very place I’m writing from was attacked by the undead. Mad, you say? Drunk on Thunderwater Ale, perhaps? Perhaps not, says I. But again, I rush ahead. Let’s go back to the beginning.
After delivering the lightning stone to the Church of Sygmar for safekeeping, we exited to go our separate ways when confronted by Captain Arno Kessler and his men, demanding to know what’s been going on. My comrades and I looked at each other, tired after a long night, not wanting to have to deal with this now. So Furgil took it upon himself to chat up the Captain, telling him a small white lie – that the merchant we had been searching for fell into the hands of the beastmen on the outskirts of town (rather than being taken by the Holtz Clan, as we came to discover.) We had hoped to keep the Holtz Family out of any legal matters, telling them that as long as they behaved from here on out that this might disappear.
But that would not be the case. Kessler is a keener man than he seems. Arno figured that Copplepot poisoned the merchant and Raynor left with him that night. We played “dumb,” not filling in the gaps which we had learned about this very same night. Instead, Furgil turned the subject to Tarth, whose body still remained in the swamps. He insisted that we get a hunting party together to search and destroy the remaining beastmen while recovering the body in the process. Arno agreed, but insisted that the group go out first thing in the morning, when Franz Bieber would be back in town. Turns out that Bieber is a bit of an expert in the layout of the marshlands and would be an incredible asset.
Kessler finally leaves us for the night, and again, as we are about to depart, Schulman, the Wizard, approached, telling us that he has been looking for THAT very stone. He also revealed that there are many lightning stones that need to be recovered, and this is only the first. He asked Von Oppenheimer to go back and retrieve the stone from the Church so that he may study it in more detail. He agreed, and we finally all depart. I headed for a shave (and some healing) from Rolf, the local barber-surgeon, while Furgil agreed to return the cart and mule we had rented earlier.
However, Oppenheimer’s night would not be over. Not only would he recover the Stone for Schulman, but he would confide in Kessler the truth about Holtz and Copplebot. He figured that if he can keep the rest of us out of it that it will spare us any possible repercussions. He even agreed to be a witness in their trial. Seemed routine enough… but somehow, things never go as you plan.
The next morning, we all proceeded downstairs to find a guard already waiting for us. We believed that he would be taking us into the swamps, but to our utter surprise, he mentions that Bieber returned last night, and he brought back the body of a Dwarf. We assumed the worst, but he told us that the Dwarf was still alive! The silence following that statement was deafening, considering the last time we had seen Tarth, she was being struck down by Izka. But I feared that this might be some foul form of magic, and took my companions aside to reveal to them Tarth’s secret. I would usually never reveal secrets of my patients, but in a case like this, I needed them to know that Tarth was actually a female dwarf, and that if we discovered anything other than that, then we may be being duped.
But that’s just what we found at Hildet’s. A local midwife and spinster, Hildet was taking care of our friend, who had most certainly seen better days. Tarth was alive, and though it would be months before she would ever wield a weapon again, she was here with us. However, I will admit that this miracle still confounded me. How could she still be alive after everything we’d seen? The rest of the group didn’t seem to share my skepticism, however, and we proceeded to get her treated by the local doctor, Heitleib Schneider. Furgil remained to watch over her care as Oppenheimer and myself proceeded to the trial, arranged by Kessler for this afternoon.
Arno, acting as prosecutor, presented his case to Gerber, the affluent head of the Tanners Guild. When we arrived, the place was packed to see the Holtz Clan and Copplebot, shackled, on trial for their lives. I noticed that Marie was not there, and wondered if she somehow escaped the law when it came for them.
Oppenheimer is called to the stand, and the Holtz are very unhappy with him. In fact, as he presents his side of the case, Otto suddenly shouted, “I’d like a trail by combat!” Seeing as how Oppenheimer is a Wizard belonging to a very prestigious college, I couldn’t imagine he’d accept, but he does! Something about the Gods guiding his hands because the truth is on his side. It’s not that I doubt the Wizard’s abilities, but one on one against a man like Otto?? He’s smart enough to ask for a Champion, but no one steps forward, meaning that Oppenheimer is on his own.
We exit to the yard where Otto is given a sword, and Oppenheimer is permitted to use his staff. The first round doesn’t go so well as the Wizard seems to missed his shot and Otto took advantage, pummeling him to the ground. I dared not intervene, and tried to stay close, in the case that he went down and needed immediate medical attention. I did notice during the match that a young woman was attempting to help Oppenheimer with tips about where to strike Otto. I didn’t recognize her, but she seemed to want to help him, and he needed as much help as he could get at that moment.
And that’s when the Gods truly did guide his hand, because at that moment, from the crowd stepped Eduardo! He asked to be Oppenheimer’s champion, and Oppenheimer, seeing a message from the Heavens, accepted quickly, and removed himself from combat, seeking care from me. At first, I was a little worried about Eduardo’s vigor, seeing as he was stinking drunk at midday. But he held his own, lunging at Holtz with his rapier, hitting him! Oppenheimer recovered to watch, and cheered on this brash man who seemed to save his life without hesitation. He cheered even more when Eduardo’s blade penetrated Otto’s chest, impaling his heart. I could see the blood rush from his face as the metal pierced his torso. He knew as soon as the blade touched him that he was done for. The body fell silently. And then the crowd roared with approval.
Arno declared the trial over, and insisted that all the Holtz be hanged. Copplepot was also to be hanged, as they did indeed discover our merchant’s missing ring in the floorboards of her bakery. But before she hanged, she called out, in a voice so raspy and unearthly that even my skin stirred, “I’ll come back for you!”
With that out of the way, Oppenheimer and I returned to town, meeting up briefly with Furgil and Franz, who were planning to head out to the Holtz Farm to assess the beastmen situation. After our trying day, we decided to sit this one out, and return to the Thunderwater Inn for some rest. Oppenheimer, feeling rather pleased to be alive, afforded Eduardo a room at the Inn and a meal with all he could drink that night. Eduardo had never been happier.
If the night had ended here, it would have been an incredible day. But as I mentioned above, only in our darkest moments can we find the path into the light. And it was only with the night falling down upon Stromdorf that we would confront the fears that plagued our minds with their manifestation in our world.
After recovering the Ring from Kessler, I retired to my room to care for Oppenheimer (who was still ailing from his fight.) We figured Furgil and Franz would not be returning tonight, and that this would be a good opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep. As I closed my eyes and drifted away, a strange dream came to me. I heard a voice, and it said, “It wasn’t Tarth’s time, but it was time for the rest of the Holtz Clan!” I awake, but instead of being anxious and afraid, I am somehow comforted by these words, as if being guided by something greater than myself. My mind turns to Morr – the God of Death, Sleep, and Dreams – a God who has been on my mind in a growing capacity since my recent travels. Is this a sign? A vision? Something even deeper…?
Before I can spend too much time thinking about this, I heard a noise from outside the room, and threw on some clothes before exiting into the hallway. Oppenheimer was up as well, and went to awake Schulman. I traveled to the end of the hall, where to my surprise, I found the young woman from the trial kneeling down, peering into the main room of the Inn. She had a short bow, and seemed very comfortable with it. I went to introduce myself, and she shushed me as the front door of the Inn burst open, and before my very eyes, I watched as the dead walked the Earth.
The Holtz Family had returned, as Copplebot had promised. She was with them, swarming the Inn quickly. The keeper, Brenner, and his sons were there, trying to fight them off, but they seemed unstoppable. Lorelai (finally introducing herself) took a shot at Otto, hitting him right between the eyes. He fell over… dead… again?! If these are the living dead, then I knew something they would be susceptible to – FIRE. I raced back to my room, alerting Oppenheimer that the Holtz Clan had returned, and grabbed my medical supplies. With some quick alcohol and bandages, I could furnish Lorelai with burning arrows, which should eliminate the threat that much quicker.
But we were swarmed as these creatures seemed to take a lot more damage than our usual foes. They came up the stairs after us, and grabbed onto our limbs. Raynor Holtz, a man alive only hours before, had his re-animated flesh around my legs. I saw no other choice than to set him on fire.
As I did, he relinquished his grip, and both Lorelai and I were able to escape. Oppenheimer, from the end of the hall, used the winds to blow Raynor into the rest of the Zombie group, also setting them ablaze. It was a grand scheme, except that the Inn started to burn as well.
With little room left between us and them, we decided that a daring second story escape from the Inn may be in need, and both Lorelai and I gathered our things and leaped out, leaving Oppenheimer to deal with Schulman, who still had not come out of his room. But then, another thought had occurred to Oppenheimer – Elenore! She was also staying at the Inn, and in her weakened state, had also not come out of her room. He raced to her, barging into her room, dressing her quickly, and helping her out the window to my waiting arms below. I’d like to think that this was a Fairy Tale moment, but alas, no Fairy Tale I know has the re-animated dead hunting you down while it rains bloody hell outside and you can’t hear a thing because the thunder is SO deafening.
After situating Elenore in a barn nearby, Lorelai and I raced back to the entrance of the Inn where some of the town’s guard had shown up to assist in the fight. We watched as the remaining burning zombies, still moving down the hall towards Oppenheimer, were murmuring his name. With little hope left, Schulman suddenly dashed from his room, yelling for Oppenheimer to get out of the way. As he did, Schulman’s washtub was pushed out into the hallway, and on the force of the winds, it was propelled down the hallway, killing the remaining zombies, and putting out the fire which was beginning to spread throughout the Inn.
And just like that, the dead had fallen. Again.
Seeing only this, the town guard proclaimed, “Schulman! Zombie Hunter!” Lorelai and I exchanged glances, and feebly smiled at each other. I can only hope that Furgil and Franz had had a better night’s sleep, when we suddenly got word that this isn’t the only supernatural occurrence in town. We raced to a nearby Professor’s home to find that his medical skeleton had also come to life, meaning that this may only be the beginning of our undead problems. Oppenheimer pegs the skeleton with a magical dart, and it falls, lifeless. Professor Köpfchen, so overly pleased with us, asked us to stay for tea, and we accepted, cause after a long night of fighting the living dead, nothing is better than a cup of herbal tea.
With sugar and cream.
And so, from the darkness, the path has presented itself. And it looks like I must follow.
~ Adler, Jr.