The Hour of the Wolf

 

Helnacht finds himself catching his breath within the courtyard of the Temple of Sigmar after being chased by a big brute of a man with a halfling attached to his waist in some sort of contraption. There is no sign of them, but Helnacht isn’t taking any chances and opts to head into the temple to look for the priest, Hadred, who he met earlier at the gates of the Ulrican Temple; the one that advised him to stop trying to enter the grounds of Ulric’s Temple lest he find himself at the mercy of the Ulricans.

Helnacht does indeed find the priest after hearing him shout at a young initiate about finding the courage to stand up to the Ulricans when challenged. He greets Haldred and wonders if that drink that was offered earlier is still on the table. Hadred says he’d be happy to have a drink, and suggests for him to accompany him to The Foolish Hunter, a tavern not far. Along the way, Helnacht is open and honest in discussing the events of the last few days, leading up to him entering Middenheim. Hadred seems confused at the ramblings of Helnacht, but says that if he is that concerned, he should speak with the lector, but that would be near impossible for an Altdorfian outsider. Hadred states however that he could perhaps arrange for a meeting, although he would have to speak with a lay priest who knows the lector personally and could perhaps pass on a message.

They make their way to the tavern, and as chance would have it, Helnacht finds the rest of the party sitting inside having their evening grub and some mead.

He heads over to their table and sits himself down; Gerhard, Jurgen, Sibillia, Michel and Gado are at the table. They’ve been discussing what to do. Jurgen is somewhat displeased at the presence of the priest, but Sister Sibillia manages to keep the peace between them. Hadred however, who is called over by Helnacht, takes notice of Jurgen; an Ulrican initiate. He hands Helnacht his tankard of mead and opts to lead, stating, “I’ve got some business to attend to back at the temple that I… forgot about. I will see you later brother.” He takes his leave. Helnacht is confused but shrugs, naive to the current tension.

So the party ponder what to do; do they investigate the warehouse further, despite the risks involved? Or do they wait a few hours and meet this mysterious person who wants to meet them near midnight at the Great Park. In the amidst of this discussion, Helnacht finds himself suddenly drenched in mead as a Ulrican crashes into his shoulder, plainly obvious that it was deliberate. “Sigmarite…” burps the Ulrican. Words are said, and an insult thrown at the table, of which Ser Gado stands up and says, “Excuse me Sir, I’ll have you take back what you said at once!”

More words are said; Jurgen sits back and orders another pint of mead as he enjoys himself watching this unfold. However things take a turn for the worse when Gado unsheathes his sword. The Ulrican chides him, as do the other patrons of the bar watching this, for his desire to draw steel against an unharmed Ulrican. “You foreigners are cowards, the lot of you!” Sibillia interjects with a call for calm between everyone, chiding both the Ulrican and Gado. Gado sheathes his sword, and the Ulrican spits, walking off when Helnacht offers him a drink; a final insult he cannot stand. He leaves the tavern.

Yet the party do not have time to relax; two palace guards enter the premises, and head over to their table. “You. All of you! You are hereby summoned by Law Lord Wasmeier. Come with me. It is not a request.”

Gado stands up immediately, declaring, “Finally!”, after the party had received knowledge of an impending summons when Reiner Ehrlich wrote of such in his letter.

They head outside to see a carriage bearing the coat of arms of the city; a guard asks them to surrender their weapons. A refusal from them is about to be uttered when a voice from within the carriage speaks, “That will not be necessary. They may approach.”

They enter the carriage to find themselves speaking with the man himself, Law Lord Karl Wasmeier.

– Law Lord Karl Wasmeier

Sibillia recognizes the man; she met him while she served in the palace under the tutelage of Luigi Pavarotti. “Lord Wasmeier, it is a pleasure. If you recall, we had met before.”

He looks at her for a moment, then realization dawns, “Ah yes, Sister Sibillia. A pleasure to see you again.”

The carriage starts moving.

Wasmeier speaks, “I thought a trip around the city in a carriage might be safer than having you summoned to the palace considering the threat that faces you. Now for introductions. I am Karl Wasmeier, Law Lord and advisor to his excellency, Graf Boris Todbringer. Lets discuss the matter of hand without wasting time. I received a letter from my good friend Reiner Ehrlich who penned a most urgent request for aid. He mentioned you, Ser Duval, and you my dear lady, but no mention was made of your friends here. Who might they be?”

Ser Gado, with very little room to move within the carriage, bends down awkwardly and introduces the rest of his companions.

Wasmeier continues, “Now that we are all acquainted, lets talk about this cult, the Purple Hand. Reiner has made mention of it, and he seems to think you could share some insight on the matter.”

One by one, they recount the troubles that they’ve faced at the hands of the cult. Ser Gado mentions the death of his beloved sister, and is still hunting the ones directly responsible for her death.  Jurgen mentions the death of his teacher and mentor, Klemet, and how the hand murdered him. Dieter being hypnotized and manipulated is also told, as is the affair concerning Gerhard’s former employer, Gotthard Goebbels.

Wasmeier appears alarmed at the extent of the cults influence. After they’ve finished speaking, he goes silent for a moment, then continues, “I must confess, I know more than I let on. I wanted to hear it from you first to corroborate what I know. Now that I’ve heard what you’ve said, I am disturbed. Sister Sibillia, if you recall, you came to me in the palace, warning me of a conspiracy against Prince Steffan. Captain Marius had also shared your worries. I dismissed you my dear woman, for at the time I considered your presence a distraction upon the prince after what happened with Pavarotti. I now know I am gravely mistaken, as the Prince misses you dearly.

“However, after you left, I had took upon myself to investigate the matter, and have come across information suggesting that there is indeed a cult at play here who seek to do the city and all us great harm.

“When I received Ehrlich’s letter, my fears were confirmed. Now that I have heard your story, I am more than worried about the fate of our dear city… Before I arrived here, I had spoken with the Graf about my fears.

“He was not convinced to say the least. However, if I was to approach him with this new information that you presented, I could make him see reason, and, pray, meet you all so that he can hear what you’ve got to say for himself. Would you agree too such a meeting?”

The party do not take long to reach an agreement.

“Excellent. Yet we cannot simply have you stride in the palace. Who knows how far this cult’s influence has spread. So we have made arrangements for a discreet meeting. About 2 miles out from the city, there is a farm that is unoccupied. It use to belong to the Graf’s second cousin, who I must say wasn’t much of a farmer, so the farm has been left in ruin. Yet it will suffice for your meeting with the Graf.

“You have one hour to settle your affairs in the city. When you are ready, come to the palace gates and my carriage will bring you to the farm. The Graf shall arrive shortly thereafter.”

Jurgen enquirers about the farm; he is aware of it, and the story that it once belonged to the Graf’s second cousin is indeed true.

“However gentlemen, secrecy is paramount. You must all swear to secrecy, not just for your own sake, but for the safety of the Graf. And I do not say this lightly; if I find that the security of the Graf has been compromised by loose lips, I will find out who is responsible and deal with them harshly.”

Jurgen looks straight over at Helnacht, who appears to be squirming and looking uncomfortable.

“Do we have a problem?” asks Wasmeier. Helnacht says that he is worried about the Grand Theogonist, and that word should get out concerning this.

“I am well aware of the danger,” says Wasmeier, “but we cannot compromise the security of this meeting by revealing what we know. However your concern is valid; Noffein, was it? Are you not a priest at the Ulrican Temple?”

“An initiate, and yes I am,” replies Jurgen.

“Then perhaps a compromise. We could use an ear and a set of eyes in the temple, especially now. May I suggest that you go there to alleviate the fears of the Sigmarite?”

Jurgen is not happy, but the suggestion is accepted.

“Well gentleman, I shall make the arrangements, and hope that the Graf will listen to what I have to say. The carriage will be at the gates in one hour. Do not be late.”

The carriage stops, letting the party out.

 

Jurgen wishes them luck in their meeting with the Graf, and proceeds to the Temple of Ulric.

The party head to a fairly expensive tavern across the road, opposite the palace gates.

An hour passes by; and just as the Law Lord said, a carriage shows up, the same one they saw earlier. Finishing their last tankards of ale, they stride over and proceed to make their way out of the city, towards the old farm.

Meanwhile, Jurgen is at the Temple of Ulric. Feeling concerned for his friends, he kneels at the base of Ulric’s statue in the courtyard, and prays for them; prays that the Wolf God watches over them and guides their path.

As he is praying, he hears a howling coming from the gardens around the back of the temple. A wolf howl.

Intrigued, and perhaps a good omen, or a bad one… he makes his way towards the garden. The hour is late, and the garden is devoid of anyone. Coming to the source of the howl, he sees a large white wolf; beautiful yet a fearsome sight.

He recognizes it immediately; Lupos. Sister of Fang. Both of whom belong to the Ar-Ulric. They prowl the temple, either at their masters side or relaxing in the gardens. Yet Fang is nowhere to be seen.

Jurgen immediately bows to show respect, laying down his weapons so as to not appear threatening.

The wolf’s eyes look at him, staring into his soul as he kneels in front of it, a good few feet away. Then, Lupos stands, and heads through a shade of trees, before stopping and looking back at Jurgen; then continuing on.

Jurgen suspects the wolf wants him to follow her; he does just that. Keeping 7 feet apart, he follows the wolf as she leads him to a rear wall at the back of the temple. Jurgen has to strain his eyes, despite the fact that its a clear night and the moon is in full, visibility is poor as the trees here provide a lot of shade.

Lupos kneels down, putting her head in between her paws as she looks on at the back of a wall behind some bushes. Jurgen, spurred on by the wolf, looks behind the bushes to see a hole in the wall. A small one, but a hole regardless. Big enough for a halfling to fit through, but no more than that.

He braces himself as he squeezes through. It’s a tight squeeze, but he manages it. Unfortunately, he now finds himself in a small chamber, darkness surrounds him. No light is getting through and the dimensions of the chamber can’t be no more than 4 by 4.

Not having anything on him that can cast light, he feels along the left wall until he feels something soft and powdery touching his fingers. Almost like salt, and its very fine to the touch. A peculiar acidic smell he’s not familiar with fills the chamber. As he continues in the darkness, he stumbles into a barrel. It falls to the ground.

He bends down to feel the barrel; a fairly large barrel that anyone would have a near impossible time fitting it through the small crack in the wall. He can also feel trace elements of the strange substance inside the barrel itself. Foolishly however he manages to cut himself on a wood splinter, drawing blood. He instinctively draws his hand back, taking a ripped parchment with him. Unable to see it in the darkness, he pockets it for now. He feels his way around the rest of the chamber and comes full circle. Odd, he thinks… Although he’s pretty sure this chamber is in the Temple of Ulric itself, but he has no idea as to the purpose of it; its bare and seems to serve no purpose, nor could he find any door or entrance other than the hole he crawled through.

Then suddenly he hears footsteps; at least two bodies approaching. Jurgen waits, getting ready to smack whoever comes through that small hole.

They get closer and closer; but to his horror, they’ve got no plans to crawl through, but are nailing the entrance shut!

Jurgen thinks for a moment, then decides he has no option now but to try and get out. He kicks the board they’ve put up against the hole, but the person on the other side is bracing against. Jurgen has alerted them now to his presence as they react in alarm, and flee at once. He kicks the board once again and climbs through.

He spots two men running, yet there is no sign of the wolf that led him here. A large muscular man whose appearance he does not recognize. He’s closer to Jurgen, while a much shorter and slimmer man is further away. Jurgen gives chase, going after the bigger man, shouting after him. His shout only alerts the fleeing man to turn around and drop an open satchel onto the ground.

Caltrops!

Jurgen is unable to avoid them in time and cuts his feet on them, giving the man an edge. It’s enough of an advantage that Jurgen loses sight of him as he darts around a corner. There is no sight of the pair. Deeply alarmed now and suspicious, he makes his way inside the temple to report to Wolf Lord Brunner. The hour is late, but he has no choice.

Meanwhile…

The party arrive at the old abandoned farm. They depart the carriage, and Kall, the coach driver, wishes them luck in their meeting. Ser Gado spots that the man appeared somewhat nervous, but nerves right now would appear natural.

The coach leaves as the party head towards a farmhouse that they were directed to by the driver.

The place is long abandoned; nothing but dust-mites live here now. As they enter, they cough violently and have cobwebs to deal with as they search the farmhouse. An old fireplace nearby seems somewhat usable, and Michel puts it to the test, throwing in some long rotting logs into the fireplace and tries to start a fire.

Light fills the room, and the comforting warm fire is certainly welcome.

They search the rest of the place; out back, Gerhard has found an old well; bricked up at the middle-section, no water to be had. A trapdoor on the side of the building seems to lead down to the basement, but opening it, that also appears bricked in. Helnacht comes out to take a look and ponders why someone would brick a well.

He gets curious however about the trapdoor. With his hammer in hand, he pounds away at it, but he only cracks a couple of bricks. It looks like it could be bricked a couple of feet down. Gado comes out to lend aid. Taking Helnacht’s hammer, he hammers away at the bricked cellar.

Gerhard however asks him to stop after a few swings, thinking he heard something. He did. It sounded like a chant of some sort, but in a foreign dialect none of them knew. Then, looking east, west and north, they saw figures in the dark wielding torches approaching the farmhouse.

The chant is getting louder as they get nearer. The party suddenly feel very betrayed…

Then, fire erupts around them. The chanting grows bolder, louder as the fire takes on the shape of a number.

Tzeentch’s holy number… And they are caught right in the middle of it, cut-off from all fronts.

The cultists gather now, circling on the outside of the flames. Gerhard reckoned he saw a dozen or so. He was wrong.

There was Nine of them.

“Everyone in the cellar!” The shout goes out.

With another hammering, they break through the bricks and forge a way into the cellar. They scramble and close the doors behind them. Before they do, they hear a wailing cry in the air.

Something approaches.

Something unnatural.

 

Jurgen is banging on the chamber door of Wolf Lord Brunner. He opens the door, alarmed to see Jurgen in the state he’s in.

Jurgen is rambling on like a madmen, telling Brunner how he came across the chamber, his suspicions, giving chase.

Brunner ushers him in and closes the door, locking it.

After catching his breath and pausing, Brunner says, “So you saw this chamber in the garden then?”

Jurgen suddenly reacts with alarm, “I never said it was in the garden…”

Brunner sighs… “Jurgen… Sit.” Jurgen clenches his fist, but sits down as Brunner takes out a bottle of mead, presenting jurgen the bottle. Jurgen doesn’t touch it.

“Jurgen, are you aware that the Ar-Ulric, is now meeting with the Grand Theogonist, Volkmar the Grim?”

“I am aware,” Jurgen answers.

“Tell me Jurgen, and speak frankly. How do you feel about Volkmar?”

“You know how I feel about him,” he answers with hostility.

“He is our enemy, Jurgen…”

“What are you planning Lord?”

Brunner sighs, “You are young. Far too young perhaps to see the truth of it. When I was your age Jurgen, I did not scurry amongst the halls in this temple. My time was spent on the field of battle. North is where I went, to fight the unclean, to fight heretics and to root out a poison that would have destroyed our cult, if it was allowed to continue. It was on that very field that I fought alongside Emil, as you know him now as the Ar-Ulric. We were brothers then. Shedding the blood of our enemies with our wolf-brothers by our side.

“Those times were easier. You knew who the enemy was. There was no politics. There was no intrigue. It was just battle, endless battle. And o how I miss those days…

“Jurgen. War is coming. I can feel it in these old bones of mine. A war to end all wars. And we are not ready. We squabble amongst ourselves while a weak emperor who can’t even be bothered to make an appearance rules in the shadows. We drag our feet in the mud while the false rule, while the empire that has stood for a thousand years, starts to tear itself apart.”

Brunner shows Jurgen a parchment that was lying on his table.

“Do you know what this is, Jurgen?”

“I know… its the mutant edict.”

“Yes. Proclaimed by our weak Emperor, repealed by his puppet, Volkmar. And repealed it he did, but he was slow in doing so. The damage was done. An empire ruled by Ulricans would not suffer such an outrage!

“But suffer we did. Sure, we shouted above the rooftops at our displeasure. The Ar-Ulric made his displeasure known. But we did not shout loud enough. We should have done something. We should have taken action. We should have seized the opportunity, for the Sigmarites showed weakness, showed that they cannot rule. But we squandered that moment.

“Jurgen… The Ar-Ulric, and The Grand Theogonist, are one and the same. Both were once great men, who stood for something. But now, they are children playing at politics. Action, not words. The Ar-Ulric, despite his proclamations, desires peace. At this very moment, he is breaking bread with Volkmar. Breaking bread with the enemy. How can we have peace, Jurgen, when men like that rule over us. And now look at us. Playing host to the enemy. Breaking bread with them!”

Jurgen stands up, raging at Brunner, “You are a disgrace to Ulric! To the Ar-Ulric, to the man he used to be! Klemet taught me that the meethods are as important as the intentions!”

Brunner hits back, “Good men must commit themselves to the possibility of committing foul deeds, evil deeds, so that men like you and I, can siphon the poison out of an infected wound. An infection that has, till now, been left to fester.”

“Then go march into the Temple of Ulric and challenge him! Challenge both of them if you dare! I’ll stand behind you, hell… I’ll even support you! But do not do this! Do not resort to deception! My friend died by poison because of you. I was nearly killed for your secrets!”

Brunner shakes his head, “Challenging the Ar-Ulric will accomplish nothing! Our enemy lives! The Ar-Ulric is weak! Volkmar judges us so from his position of power! I ask you Jurgen, by what right does the Hammer judge the Wolf! A time will come when you have to choose sides. I hope for your sake, you choose Ulric.”

Jurgen answers back, “I have chosen Ulric. You have abandoned him.”

The bells toll in the night from the Temple of Ulric. Brunner looks back out towards the temple from his window. “The hour is at hand. You are out of time pup. The strong shall no longer be led by the weak.”

Jurgen shouts out a challenge to Brunner to duel; Brunner’s answer to that is to open the door, “Leave now.”

“How could you ever hope to defeat the Ar-Ulric, if you can’t even accept a challenge from an initiate!” Jurgen shouts as he steps out.

“You are mistaken. I accept your challenge, but not here…”

“Then until we meet again,” Jurgen answers back as the door is slammed in his face.

He rushes down the corridor as the bells continue to ring. Something is about to happen.

Time is running out…

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