Grunloh is part of the loan of Borculo, but ten years ago, the last Lord of Borculo died without having produced an heir. The loan reverted to the Bisshop of Munster (a personal friend of Rudbert, the priest of the Grunloh church), but Munster is far away... Grunloh was left to its own devices, and the three leaders (that the mages conversed with the previous session) seized the opportunity to make Grunloh a safe and prosperous village. Most of the credit is due to Hoede Schutte, the sherrif, who keeps the peace in the village and afield, and Baruch the Jew, who collects all the toll money and re-invests it in the upkeep of the infrastructure.
- Johannes van Goedenbergh, a studious Jerbiton magician from Marehuizen;
- Hoede Schutte, the sherrif of Grunloh;
- Le Montagne, a male turtoiseshell cat, familiar of Senex;
- Captain Gunther, master-at-arms of Marehuizen;
- Heinz, a spear-bearer at Marehuizen.
One day a messenger arrives at Marehuizen, bearing a letter from Hoede Schutte. Hoede announces that he wants to check up on the manor at Borculo, now that it has been vacated for ten years. He wants to make sure it hasn't turned into a robber's nest. He invites the mages to travel with him. The letter is delivered by a servant to Johannes, the most accessible of the mages. Johannes convenes a quick meeting with the others, and it is decided that he will travel with the sherrif. He will take Captain Gunther and one of his men along as bodyguard. Senex also offers to send one of his familiars, the cat Le Montagne, along with him. Dorkas and Kaspra will be 'scouting' in the direction of Borculo that day, so if there is anything amiss, they might be able to jump in...
At the appointed day, the group leaves Marehuizen one hour before sunrise. It being early spring, the air is chilly, and Johannes wraps Le Montagne in his cloak. After two hours of uneventful riding, the group arrives at Grunloh. They find Hoede and three of his men at the market square, waiting for them. The group falls in position: two of Hoede's men at the front, then Hoede next to Johannes, then Captain Gunther and Heinz, and then the remaining man to take up the back. They leave the village through the Beltrum Gate, and take the road towards Beltrum.
Near the village, things are ordered and neat. The farmers are starting to tend the land again, now that the frost has left the ground, and they look healthy and full of purpose. The lands look tended, the road is well maintained. People look up from their work when the group passes, and they greet Hoede friendly and by name. It is apparent that he is a popular figure.
Hoede and Johannes talk about all sorts of things. Hoede points out landmarks and tells anecdotes about the people who live there. But he is also curious about Marehuizen: he seems to know a lot of what goes on around Marehuizen, but not what happens behind its walls. He asks after the number of mages at Marehuizen, and Johannes tells him there are five of them. (He includes Matilda, Senex' apprentice, in the tally -- technically, she is a magician after all. And it won't do them harm to inflate their might a bit...) Hoede also asks how many mages there are in Europe, but Johannes explains that no-one really knows: the magicians are too loosely organised to keep an official count. Hoede seems to think this irresponsible (he knows that he would keep count!), but doesn't say anything about this. He is also surprised that Dorkas and Johannes are 'already' full mages: he had thought that only very old people could be full mages, and that it takes decades of study to become one.
The group crosses the brook at a toll bridge that is manned by Hoede's men and comes to the village of Beltrum. The people of Beltrum know and greet Hoede friendly: this is as far as Hoede's influence goes. After that, the group goes on west-wards. As they progress towards Borculo, the houses become smaller, the people filthier and more suspicious. Sometimes they greet the group, but they do not know Hoede or his men. The road turns into a path, and then kind of dissapears, leaving the group to pick their way through the wilderness. The area lacks a certain civilised influence...
Then they come to a brook with no obvious way to cross it. Two riders are sent north, upstream, to check for a potential crossing, and two others are sent south, downstream. If they haven't found anything promising, they have to come back after half an hour. The downstream group finds a ramshackle bridge that could be used to cross, but the horses have to be led to cross. While waiting for the others to get back, the group pauses and has a light lunch. Unfortunately, it has started raining, so the lunch is a bit of a miserable affair.
There are houses (or more correctly: hovels) across the bridge, but the inhabitants stay indoors when the group passes. Across the bridge, there is a clear path towards Borculo Manor, so it doesn't take long for the group to enter the courtyard. The manor is quite derelict: the gates have fallen out of their hinges, the courtyard is strewn with rubble. Large parts of the walls have collapsed and lots of stones have been hauled off to serve as building material elsewhere.
Hoede orders Gunther to stand guard, together with one of his own men, but Johannes prevents this. He needs Gunther with him as his body guard: Heinz can stand guard at the gate. Hoede doesn't seem pleased that his orders are second-guessed, but does not protest. The horses are stabled in the derelict shed, guarded by another two men. Hoede doesn't seem to be cautious: he simply walks into the manor with the air of someone who expects his authority to be obeyed under all circumstances. Johannes is more apprehensive and casts a couple of spells to detect the aura of the place. There is a faint Internal aura here, and he notifies Hoede and Le Montagne about this. Hoede lets out a nervous laugh, but it doesn't seem to slow down his exploration of the house. Le Montagne, who is an expert diviner, determines that there is little danger of being attacked. There seems to be something hidden in the (former) dining room, which is in shambles like most of the house.
Johannes takes a relatively intact chair, and sits down with Le Montagne in his lap, while the others search for something hidden in the floor or in the walls. It is Hoede who finds a part of the wall that sounds hollow when he knocks on it, and he orders one of his men to get 'the axe'... With a few hews, a secret door is revealed. There seems to be a mechanism to open it, but Hoede finishes hacking it down with the axe faster than the time required to investigate... Behind the door is a narrow stone staircase down.
A torch is fetched while Le Montagne sneaks downstairs. With the light source in tow, Hoede, Johannes and Gunther follow. They arrive in a room with a low ceiling, with corridors running off both left and right. In the room is a large stone slab that looks like an altar, with a large (seemingly ceremonial) dagger lying on top. The stone has grooves carved in it, perhaps for the blood to drain? Black smears all over the walls might be from blood. Hoede and Johannes were shaken, and Johannes used his Benedictine training to say a short prayer in order to protect them both. The Infernal aura was much stronger here as well.
There was not much else to see here, so Hoede ducked into the left corridor, carrying the torch. Not wanting to be left in the dark, Johannes (with Gunther right behind him) followed closely. They passed two holding cells: one on each side of the corridor. A bit behind that was another cavernous room. Here, lots of human bones had been stacked. It is as if someone disassembled human skeletons in parts, and sorted them according to some unholy ordering. There is one complete skeleton in the room: it is chained to the wall with a manacle on its right hand at the far right corner. The bones are clean: there are no remains of hair or clothing to be found. Le Montagne does not smell anything out of the ordinary: these bones have not been cooked in oil or vinegar to cook the flesh off of them. This must have been lying here for more than ten years, which means this has been here since before the last Lord of Borculo died...
Johannes tries to determine the cause of death, and walks to the complete skeleton to investigate it. When he gets closer, the skeleton starts to move! It slips its hand from the manacle and gets up. It starts to brawl with Johannes, hitting him in the face with its bony hands. Johannes is mortally frightened, recoils and clasps his arms in front of his face to protect himself, calling out for Gunther...