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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My little Old World: Chaos Without, Corruption Within #2

Mutants, madness, and more mysteries
Head bowed and supported by his hands, Father Ranulf, Priest of Ulric sat in his office in the Temple of Ulric in Middenheim. His mind nearly numb with horror at the fate that had befallen his old friend Father Odo, Ranulf struggled against the grief that threatened to overwhelm him. Maintaining a manly front wasn't Ranulf's concern. Not at all. Rather he knew that, if he were to be wracked with the sobs which roiled in his chest, then he would draw deep into his lungs the smell of the ichorous blood that still stained the floor of his office. Ranulf shuddered at the thought.

The smell wasn't unknown to Father Ranulf. He had grown familar with it when Archaon's army had besieged Middenheim earlier that year. And he could still remember how its unnatural sweetness had hung in the air for weeks after the siege had been broken.

When will it ever end Ranulf asked himself. He was too wise to believe that victory in a single military campaign, however great, could ever be enough to defeat Chaos. Yet he had allowed himself to believe that the victory against Archaon would bring a serious respite. It seemed he had been wrong because now, mere months after the breaking of the siege, it seemed that there was a plot afoot.

Ranulf's thoughts turned to their unlikely allies against this plot. Such a disparate bunch of no-marks, and yet they had proved their worth in recovering the brass skull from Kazron Gorespite's tomb. Captain Schutzmann clearly hadn't overestimated them.

Stirring himself, Father Ranulf prepared to return to his duties. First on his agenda was a service, something to soothe shattered nerves, to restore calm to the Temple. His thoughts turned again to the adventurers. Everyone had to hope that their resourcefulness hadn't exhausted itself, because if the mood in the Temple of Ulric was anything to go by, Middenheim was teetering on a knife-edge. A mass outbreak of the sort that had happened in the Temple might be just the thing to push the city over the edge.

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After 5 more days struggling through the Drakwald, the enlarged party found itself back on the Little Drakwald Road, heading east to Sotturm. The brass skull was strangely well behaved throughout this time, with the result that the PC's had little difficulty in keeping it hidden from the 3 Witch Hunters. Eventually they arrived back at Middenheim late in the evening of Konigstag, 27th Kaldezeit, a just waning Mannslieb lighting their way across the wasteland surrounding the city.

Approaching the city, the PC's were intent on delivering their burden to the Temple of Ulric without delay. The Witch Hunters were content to fade into the background, going so far as to ask the party to remain discreet about the Ordo Fidelis' role in the events in the Drakwald. This suited the PC's very nicely. Then they were struck by concern at the thought of traipsing through the streets of the city with such a dangerous artefact in their possession.

A solution quickly presented itself: Alane, their elvish wizard companion. Her knowledge of magic was a comforting thought in this situation. So it was that the party and the Witch Hunters parted company in the wasteland just south of Middenheim. The latter entered the city up the southern viaduct as per usual. The party chose to detour so as to enter the city via the eastern viaduct, from whence it was a short journey to the Frieburg- and the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists, where Alane was employed, and thence to the Temple of Ulric in the neighbouring Ulricsmund.

Alane was duly collected from her work at the Guild- Grundi waiting outside with the brass skull in case its powers were detected by the wizards inside; Berthold- still suffering from his Galloping Trots- was dropped off at the Temple of Sigmar; and the party were soon in Father Ranulf's office in the Temple of Ulric.

Father Ranulf was delighted to see the returned adventurers, and more delighted still to hear that they had successfully completed their mission. The brass skull was unveiled and a young initiate gingerly locked it in a brass-bound iron chest inscribed with runes. Father Ranulf assured the PC's that this would be sufficient to inhibit the skull's powers.

Siegfried then unveiled the long lost banner of the Knights of the White Wolf. The priest was very impressed by this, and decided that celebrations of the party's success were overdue. He offered the party wine, which was duly accepted by all the PC's. Father Odo asked for water. Father Ranulf poured wine for all, then watched while Siegfried guzzled down what was left in the jug. The initiate was sent for Odo's water, and for more wine.

Once everybody had their drinks, Father Ranulf proposed a toast to the party's success, going on to tell of how Deputy High Priest Liebnitz would be well pleased with their efforts. The priest had just moved on to the matter of a reward when his words were interrupted as Father Odo fell to the floor in violent convulsions. As everyone watched, the old priest's body began to twist and grow with a hideous cracking of bones and sinew. His face twisted, his arms elongated into 2 long clawed tentacles, his body covered in pustules and pink and purple scales: in moments something truly inhuman and the size of a small cow had replaced the wizened old priest on the floor.

So horrifying was the monstrosity that half the party stood stock still in fear as it lurched to its feet and attacked. Nonetheless the fight was short and swift, as the creature proved far less dangerous than its hideous appearance suggested. It was certainly no match for a party of seasoned adventurers. Soon the creature lay dead on the floor, oozing ichor from its gaping wounds.

Father Ranulf was horrified. The PC's immediately leapt to the conclusion that this was the brass skull's powers at work. Siegfreid insisted that Father Ranulf open the iron chest. The priest complied, and there the skull was, exactly where it had been left. Alane used her magical sense on both the remains of what had been Father Odo and on the chest. She confirmed that the emanations from the brass skull were effectively muffled by the chest. And she detected faint traces of magic from the dead creature which, she said, were of a different hue than those given off by the skull.

As these deliberations proceeded Mordin had been lugging the dead monstrosity out of the way of the door. The door freed, the young dwarf began to haul the corpse out of the door. Questioned as to his intentions he said that he was taking the thing off to be burned in the Sacred Flame of Ulric. Siegfried suggested that this might not be the best of ideas.

Siegfried had no sooner spoken than shouting and screaming was heard elsewhere in the temple. Mordrin immediately stepped into the corridor to see what was going on, quickly followed by Father Ranulf and the rest of the party. The priest headed off down the corridor, with the PC's hot on his heels.

Moments later everyone arrived in the temple kitchens, where they beheld a mass of temple staff. Some were running around in blind panic, others were fleeing, others still were pressing in on some unidentifiable victims in the centre of a large ruckus. As the party watched, a figure broke free of the melee and made for a door on the far side of the kitchen. The fleeing figure was human, although sticking out of its shoulders were a small pair of feathery wings which flapped feebly as the man ran through the door and out of sight.

Alane and Mordrin immediately set out in pursuit of the fleeing human. Back in the kitchen Grundi and Seigfried stood nonplussed for a moment or two before plunging into the press of bodies from which the winged human had appeared. Pulling bodies aside the pair reached the centre of the melee. Before them they beheld 2 temple servants. One had a kitchen knife fused to his right arm; the other's face was blotched with maroon sores oozing foul-smelling pus.

Out in the corridor the fleeing bewinged servant had disappeared round one of the many corners visible from the door of the kitchen. Realising that a temple servant would know his way around much better than themselves, Alane and Mordrin prepared themselves for a systematic search. They had barely begun before they heard the sound of screams off up a corridor. Running to the sound of the tumult, they saw the mutated servant disappear through a door.

Back in the kitchen the mutated servants and Grundi and Seigfried stood eyeing each other up for a few moments. Grundi felt a swell of pity for 2 hapless victims of forces beyond their ken. Siegfried felt only righteous rage at the sight of 2 abominations in the face of Ulric: he drew his sword and attacked. One mutant- he with the hideous face- dodged past the PC's and made for the door. He escaped despite Grundi's best efforts to stop him, running off faster than the dwarf could match. The other servant defended himself against Siegfried's attack.

Alane and Mordrin purued their quarry into a room where they saw him struggling to open a window on the far wall. Closing in, Grundi wrestled with him to bring him down, while Alane tried in vain to put him into a magical sleep. With surprising strength and dexterity, the hapless servant pushed his way past the PC's and disappeared back the way he'd come.

As Seigfried and the knife-handed mutant traded blows, Grundi tried to intervene to persuade the servant to surrender. Somehow Grundi's words prevailed, and Siegfried and the mutated servant paused in their exchange of blows. The servant looked the dwarf and his human assailant in the eye then, pausing only to aim a blow at Grundi on his way past, made for the door.

The bewinged servant put on a startling burst of speed as he fled and it was all Alane and Mordrin could do to keep up with him. Eventually though he tired, and Grundi tried to bring him down with a flying tackle. This failed, but the PC's were soon close enough to the servant to engage him in another wrestling match. Grappling and magical sleep spells again proved futile, so Grundi resorted to his fists while Alane tried her quarterstaff on the mutant. The servant still wouldn't give up: he broke free again, and ran off down the corridor, only to stop short when his way forward was blocked by a group of temple staff led by Father Ranulf.

Siegfried had no difficulty in catching up with the knife-handed mutant and their melee resumed. Even with his unusual weapon the servant was no match for a ruthless hardened fighter, and Seigfried soon lopped his right arm off at the shoulder. Knowing that the man didn't have long to live, Siegfried headed out the door to see where the 3rd mutant had gone. Sick at heart in the face of all this pointless violence, Grundi paused for a few moments, hoping perhaps to save the servant's life. The man tottered forward drunkenly for a moment or two, then collapsed. Grundi realised it was all over and followed Siegfried out into the corridor.

Hemmed-in on both sides, the bewinged mutant still wouldn't give up. He turned and wrestled his way past Alane and Mordin with another surprising display of strength and agility. Then he hot-footed it back the way he'd came. Alane tried to fell him with a magic dart to no avail.

Running through the temple corridors, Grundi and Siegfried came upon a small mob pummelling on the 3rd mutant, who hadn't got far. A look passed between the 2 PC's as if too ask, well then? The pair shrugged at each other and continued on their way, leaving the hapless servant to his fate. They turned a corner to see the bewinged mutant disappear through a door hotly pursued by the rest of the party, Father Ranulf, and other temple staff.

The servant's run of startling luck continued inside the room, perhaps because the window was half-open from his previous efforts. He was out the window and running into the night before anyone could stop him. In one fluid move Grundi pulled out and loaded his crossbow and sent a bolt after the fleeing figure. It missed. There was one last chance: Alane sent a magic dart after him. The firey dart hit him right in the back of his head. There was a small puff of light as his hair flared up in flames and he went flying to land on the ground, where he lay unmoving.

Father Ranulf sent a couple of servants out to bring the body in. The mutant who had tried so desperately to escape looked strangely pathetic lying there on the floor. Father Ranulf raised his hammer high above his head. A few voices were raised that keeping the servant alive to interrogate him might be sensible, but they lacked conviction, and the priest brought the hammer down on the mutant's head, crushing its face into a pulp of blood and bone fragments. The stumpy little wings twitched twice, then became still as the servant died.

The mayhem in the kitchen was beginning to calm down, so Father Ranulf and the party made for the priest's office. The PC's were still convinced that the brass skull had been responsible for this. Father Ranulf asked, if so, how was it that this hadn't happened through all the days in the Drakwald, but had instead happened when the skull was safely locked away? This question gave the party pause for thought.

The wisdom of the priest's words became clear once they had returned to his office. He had set to work tidying up the mess caused by the fight with the mutated Father Odo. Mordrin decided to help. When the dwarf went to pick up the jug from which Father Odo had drunk, he noticed the water that splashed out of the jug was giving off a faint green luminescence. Alane's magical sense confirmed that this was giving off a magical aura with the same hue as she had detected in the corpse of the monster Father Odo had become.

Events started to come together in people's minds at this point. Everyone made haste to the temple's well and sure enough, it too was giving off a magical emanation. By now the PC's were sure they knew what had happened, so, pausing only to explain where he was going, Mordrin headed off to get word to Captain Schutzmann about the poisoned well.

Father Ranulf realised that Deputy High Priest Liebnitz had to be informed of what had happened. An initiative was sent to the Liebnitz's rooms, returning shortly with a summons to see the Deputy High Priest. Ranulf left 2 temple guards with instructions to let no one drink from the well until explicit instructions were given otherwise, then off everyone went.

Once seated in Liebnitz's office, Siegfried began by bringing out the beastman-headed helmet that had been found in the tomb back in the Drakwald. Liebnitz identified this as the helmet of Graf Manfred von Torrlichelm, a Master of the Knights Panther killed in battle with the Chaos Champion Kazron Gorespittle some 2 centuries ago, in the days of Magnus the Pious. He was delighted with the recovery of this valuable relic, and thanked the PC's for returning it.

The Deputy High Priest then turned his attention to that night's events. Talk passed back and forth, with the normally voluble Siegfried strangely quiet, so awe-stricken was he to be in the presence of such a high-ranking member of the cult of Ulric. Liebnitz flinched visibly at the mention of the green glow found in the water Father Odo had drunk, and the conclusion that the well had been poisoned was soon confirmed.

The question then posed itself: who had poisoned the well, and to what end? The suspicion was soon raised that the events in the temple that night were part of a plan aimed at the city's wells in general. Noting the party's reputation with Commander Schutzmann, Liebnitz instructed the party to pursue the poisoners. He asked them not to spread word of their activities too widely among the City Watch.

At this point Siegfried piped up to inform the Deputy High Priest that their companion was already on his way to inform Commander Schutzmann about the night's events. If Liebnitz had started at the reference to the green glow, he positively blanched at this. losing his composure completely for a moment or two. Liebnitz quickly regained control of himself. Schutzmann was a good man he said, and could be relied upon not to spread news that might panic the populace. Other members of the Watch might not be so sensible the Deputy High Priest warned the PC's.

Liebnitz concluded by instructing the party to keep an inconspicuous watch on the city's wells, to act in the face of any suspicious action, and to deal with any perpetrators they might find, with all finality. The PC's once again felt the weight of the fate of Middenheim on their shoulders. As they took this on board, they wondered what might be the consequences of Mordrin's mission to alert the City Watch.

Related@RD/KA!
Chaos Without, Corruption Within
- #1 More by luck than judgement?
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim
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