Welcome to Stromdorf

Dawn is just tinging the sky and smoke drifting over the estate as the battle finally comes to a close, the last remnants of the attacking beastmen force vanishing into the dark trees of the Reikwald. Dead bodies lie scattered over the muddy ground. On the roof, Grudge pokes his head over the edge and waves to Torus below. The remaining cultists—four young, blubbering servants—huddle behind him in terror. Aschaffenberg looks shocked and bewildered at arising from a drugged sleep to discover the aftermath of a desperate battle which has virtually decimated his staff. After a brandy however, he begins to organise everyone in to the great hall for a head count.

Most of his main staff members were cultists and were killed on the roof by Grudge’s axe: Gregor Piersson, his steward, Vern Hendrick, his manservant, Dr Stefan Sieger, physician, Otto Giezhals, librarian, Bertholdt Granhof, his gardner. Even his cook Karla Wagner, who must have been responsible for drugging the evening’s meal, seems to have fled or been carried off into the forest. Olver Gand and his dogs and several of the guards are dead, though Captain Anders Blucher and another guard survive, battered and bleeding. Some of the staff had been drugged and were spared: two of the servants and the coachman, and of course the two wounded guards in the hospice, along with Sister Sonja and the mad dwarf Korden Kurgansson.

Klaus von Rothstein, almost the sacrificial victim of a mad cult, is dazed and confused, but can dimly recall being pushed off the roof and into the mud at one stage. He is grateful for his life however. As he whinges and moans, Aschaffenberg leans to whisper into Uri’s ear, “Perhaps you do a fellow a favour and take this von Rothstein character off my hands, what? Wouldn’t do for him to get lost in the forest after surviving this ruddy great drama! No doubt they’ll be a few shillings in it for you as well.”

Grudge retrieves Kurgan’s hammer from the Sigmar shrine and returns it to the hospice. Sister Sonja explains how she hid the hammer at Kurgan’s request when he was raving about ‘them’ getting their hands on it. Grudge returns it to Kurgan who clutches it desperately. Grudge then promises Sister Sonja to let his clan at Karak Asgaraz know about his plight.

After the head count, everyone shuffles wearily to their beds for a well-earned rest.

The next evening the adventurers are feeling better, and Aschaffenberg asks them into his sitting room and pours them all a brandy. While lamenting the loss of his manservant, he theorises that Hendrick must have thought the adventurers were incompetent, otherwise why would he have hired them? “You certainly showed him!” he guffaws good-naturedly.

Aschaffenberg explains that he must stay and repair the estate and replace the staff, but he invites the adventurers to visit him when he returns to his house in Ubersreik in a week or so, where he can talk to them about the possibility of a modest stipend while they do some odd jobs for him. In the meantime, he will pay each of them six shillings for the day’s work as agreed, and an extra six shillings each.

Von Rothstein is desperate to get home to his house in Stromdorf and hires the adventurers to escort and protect him on the journey. He offers each adventurer four silver per day, but is easily bargained up to five per day after a bit of intimidation by the dwarf. He also mentions that they will like Stromdorf, as “there are plenty of things to kill around there.”

The next morning at dawn, the adventurers climb onboard the coach—Grudge riding up front with the coachman, they other three on the roof, von Rothstein inside—and bid farewell to Ascheffenberg. After several hours travel along the rough roads, they come to a place where the road passes through low hillocks to other side, the trees are dense and almost bare, and the ground is covered with a damp layer of brown leaves. A tree trunk has fallen across the road. As the coach pulls up a somewhat raffish-looking man holding a bow pops up from behind the log and announces “My name is Dirk Kleber, and I—oh dear, you are all rather well-armed—”

Unfortunately the die has been cast, and two bands of four rogues each come running down the slopes to either side of the coach as several arrows thud into its sides. Kleber does not have time to withdraw his attack on a coach that is rather better protected than he’d hoped. As von Rothstein cries and whimpers from within the coach, the adventurers prepare to earn their shillings.

An arrow from Kleber’s bow pings off Grudge’s chainmail as he launches himself into the air and onto the log, simultaneously bringing his axe down in a reckless cleave. It seems that Kleber is destined to be immediately chopped in two like so much firewood, but at the last minute he manages to avoid the blow which plunges into the treetrunk. The two exchange blows, Grudge chopping out great chunks of the wood like an axeman on festival day. In the meantime, Immolatus channels the fiery winds of magic through his body and lets loose with a flameblast at the men running for his side of the coach, turning two of them instantly into charcoal. The other two reach the coach fired up on shear bloody-minded rage however, and manage to strike at him with their swords.

On the other side of the coach, Yuri and Torus are not faring too well. The adventurers, no doubt exhausted mentally and physically after the events at Grunewald Manor, seem to have difficulty landing a hit on the ruffians. Yuri especially, despite his attempts to kill the men, is pretty much ignored as Torus takes the brunt of the attack, dropping his bow and drawing his dagger as the combat becomes hand to hand.

Eventually however, Grudge fells their leader with a vicious riposte, Torus manages to stab one of Immolatus’s assailants and the other is felled with a magic dart, and the remaining two thugs run off into the forest screaming.

The journey continues and they arrive at the free market town of Ubersreik. Here they are put up for the night at Bridge House, and take the opportunity to buy a few items from the nearby shops and stalls. Grudge finds some Karak Azgaraz dwarves and lets them know about Kurgan back at Grunwald Manor. Von Rothstein does not socialise with the adventurers, but he does reveal that he had a letter waiting for him with the news that his wife’s cousin, a small-time merchant called Florian Wechsler, has gone missing on a visit to Stromdorf. Von Rothstein engages the adventurers to try to find Wechsler when they reach the town, but notes he is more concerned about the retrieval of Wechsler’s merchant guild signet ring—and avoiding any damage to his reputation that its loss may incur—than the missing man himself.

The next morning they continue their journey by boat. As the hours pass, the blue sky clouds over and darkness gathers, and before long rain begins to fall, intensifying as they sail further down the River Teufel. By late afternoon they are near the western bridge of Stromdorf and in the grip of a thunderstorm; the river has overflowed its banks and their small boat is tossing on the raging waters. The wooden bridge has been broken and smashed, and as they get closer a beam smashes into the side of the boat and the captain falls into the water with a scream and is swept away. One of the adventurers grabs the tiller but the boat keels over and everyone is thrown into the raging river. Immolatus and von Rothstein are swept towards the ruined bridge while Grudge, Yuri and Torus desperately scramble up the muddy banks. Torus immediately runs for the bridge and manages to grab von Rothstein, but Immolatus struggles vainly and almost reaches the confluence of the Teufel and Ober rivers before he manages to reach the shore, exhausted and close to drowning.

Wet, tired and on the verge of collapse, the party staggers down the muddy road to the walls of Stromdorf and finally enter the town, locals staring at these strange visitors. After stumbling through the thick muddy streets and to the main square—which is raised on wooden planks to avoid the mud—they eventually escort von Rothstein to his house and then find a room and a warm fire at the Thunderwater Inn.

The next day the adventurers begin their enquiries into the disappearance of Florian Wechsler. After learning where he was staying, they engage in a long discussion with the proprietress of the Stewport Tavern, a friendly halfling woman named Keila Cobblepot, and learn that two weeks ago Wechsler left early in the morning after paying his bill and she has not seen him since. They also learn he had a cart and a white pony with him.

After talking with the guards at the east gate, they learn that a farmer, Reiner Holtz, was seen leaving the gate around midnight with a cart and a white pony which no one on the gate recognised. The adventurers decide to visit the farm of the Holtzes.

There has been no lessening of the continual rain; in fact the thunder and rain has steadily increased. As the party leaves the city and heads south on a muddy track over grey, sodden fields to the edge of the swampy morass known as the Oberslecht, they notice flashes of lightning that seem to be striking one spot repeatedly deep in the swamp.

Close to the edge of the Oberslecht, they see a ruined and smoking group of farmhouses, and investigating, discover cloven footprints in the muck and all the signs of relatively recent devastation. On a low hill to the north is another farm, presumably that of the Holtz clan, and they head in that direction.

The party arrives in the middle of a heated argument. A tall, gangly, tattered and soot-stained figure is violently remonstrating with a shorter, darker figure with close-set eyes and a weak chin. Several other figures look on: a thick-necked, strong-armed man, a dark-haired woman, a grim-eyed, dark-haired small man, and a teenager; and there are others about the farmyard; all bear the unmistakable signs of inbreeding; the worst examples of Empire commonfolk.

Torus sneaks into the barn and discovers the cart and white pony within. The gangly figure is accusing the Holtz family of being responsible for the death of his family at the hands of beastmen, and eventually attempts to stab the other man, at which point Grudge and the other adventurers intervene. The shocked Holtz clan are quizzed about their involvement in the disappearance of Weschler, but deny everything. When confronted with the evidence of the pony and cart, Reiner Holtz says Wechsler sold them to him at a bargain price at the Stewpot, and that he “must have been planning to disappear.”

Eventually the dark-haired woman, her face lined with grief and worry, steps forward and asks the adventurers to come with her; there is someone she wishes them to meet. Accompanied by the hulking form of whom you guess to be her husband, she grabs a lantern from a hook by the barn door and begins to lead the adventurers past the farm buildings, past the fields and to the edge of the Oberslecht. By the lantern’s feeble light the figures climb onto a small hillock, a rise above the boggy ground, and to the north is a massive, squat, brooding tree. It is leafless, and festooned with fetishes and charms, the pelts of animals, and collections of feathers and bones. The knotty trunk is stained here and there with what looks to be old blood. The adventurers realise they are walking over old bones; a cow’s skull, a horse’s leg, and other—more disturbing—remains.

The woman calls into the twisted trees around you. “Are you there? I’ve brought people who might help.” There is a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. “Please, we don’t have much time.”

A hunched, cloaked figure shuffles out of the darkness, 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. The figure speaks in a voice that rasps and crackles.

“I hope you can help. She speaks true; 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 favour of the Dark Gods. You must steal the lightning stone.”

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