The return of Graf Todbringer and the army to Middenheim 2 days after the foiling of Liebnitz's evil scheme had brought to the city the sort of nervous calm that is enforced by a strong military presence in the streets. The PC's had been kept under wraps while the rulers of the city conferred on how best to deal with the situation. In the end the story had been put out that Liebnitz had suffered a breakdown due to the trauma he'd suffered during Archaon's seige, and that he'd had to leave the city to be looked after in a remote hospital under the care of the cult of Shallya.
And so life's course resumed a certain tranquil normality for the PC's after their decisive but unheralded role in saving the city of the White Wolf from the machinations of one of its most elevated citizens. Grundi made contact with Doddy Farthingale's friend Merkel Trachsel and went off to learn the lore of the Scout. Mordrin took work as a jobbing smith but hadn't been seen much, because- the others assumed- he was spending a lot of time in the company of his young brother Snorri.
Our other 3 PC's found themselves rooms in the Gilded Swallow inn in the Southern Westgate district, and settled down to winter in Middenheim. Alane and Berthold resumed their jobs at the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists and the Temple of Sigmar, respectively. Siegfried was confronted with the choice between the life of a hired thug or working as a bouncer in the Wolf's Teeth tavern- where his mum worked, and plumped in the end for the life of leisure that 75 gold crowns in his purse allowed him.
A week and a half later Berthold received word that Professor Zweistein at the Collegium Theologica wanted to see him. Off the young scribe went.
Greeting Berthold in his office, Zweistein made some thinly veiled remarks making it quite clear that he was well aware that Berthold had pilfered the pamphlet from his office. Expecting the worst, Berthold was pleasantly surprised to be offered a job by the Professor. Zweistein explained that curiosity and a talent for survival were important attributes of a good scholar, and that Berthold had demonstrated a knack for both. Still reeling from surprise, Berthold accepted Professor Zweistein's offer.
Two nights later Berthold's nightmares began. Beginning at the moment during the fight in the Great Hall of the Temple of Ulric when the Brass Skull started drinking Liebnitz's blood, the dreams would run through to the moment when the blood red light started to flow out of the Skull's eyes and coalesce into a daemon. Unlike in the real fight the coalescing daemon would turn round and stare into Berthold's eyes- as if reading the depths of his very soul, at which point Berthold would wake up.
The nightmares had been troubling Berthold for several nights when he received a visitor at the Collegium Theologica- Bartomar, a messenger from the Temple of Shallya. Bartomar carried a request from Sister Delfholt- who the party had met when they'd visited Father Ranulf at the Temple during the insurrection- that Berthold and his companions visit her at the Temple as soon as they could.
With the dwarfs unavailable Berthold could only round up Alane and Seigfried. And so, later that day, the 3 PC's headed off to the Temple.
Settling the PC's in with a cup of tea, Sister Delfholt explained that she had asked them to visit her because of her worries about the state of Father Ranulf. The poor priest's condition, it turned out, wasn't responding to treatment. So, knowing that the fate of Ranulf's old friend Father Odo had proved a significant factor in Ranulf's descent into madness, and being aware of the party's presence at the decisive moment, Sister Delfholt had decided to speak to the PC's to see if they could provide any helpful information.
Displaying tact that would've made the absent dwarfs proud, Seigfried promptly told the priestess that Father Odo had turned into a hideous chaos spawn before their very eyes. The Shallyan sister was patently horrified at this. She tried to continue her account of how much of a strain caring for Father Odo was putting on the Temple, but eventually she told the PC's that they should just come along and see for themselves.
Father Ranulf was muttering to himself when Sister Delfholt entered his cell, and the PC's could see him start nervously at her arrival. The priestess explained that she had brought some friends to see him. Father Ranulf looked at the 3 PC's as they filed into his room. Then he asked Sister Delfholt for some more water. The priestess' dismayed reaction at Ranulf's request was out of all proportion to its simple nature. She grabbed hold of his water jug and made a hasty exit.
The PC's looked at Father Ranulf expectantly. He looked under his bed and in every other nook and cranny of his tiny room before speaking. As he spoke Ranulf was constantly looking under his fingernails or rubbing his hands. The PC's soon realised that he was still very disturbed about both Father Odo and about Deputy High Priest Liebnitz. In another display of remarkable tact Siegfried promptly told Ranulf that Liebnitz was dead. This news failed to calm the priest. Amid Ranulf's guilty ramblings about Odo and Liebnitz 2 things stood out: his references to 'eyes that glitter in the night'; and his talk about rats wandering the Temple corridors as if exploring. The sound of Sister Delfholt's return put paid to any further discussion of these matters.
Everyone talked for a bit longer after Sister Delfholt returned. Father Ranulf asked about the fate of Father Odo's remains. The priestess promised to look into the matter. There wasn't much more to say and they soon left Ranulf to his own devices. Sister Delfholt turned out to be pleased at how the visit had gone, and she was filled with renewed optimism for the future of the suffering priest. She hoped that there would be no need to send Ranulf to the Great Hospice at Frederheim, but she was at least confident that the PC's were the right people to accompany the priest should such a journey prove necessary.
The PC's had mixed feelings as they left the Temple, fearing perhaps that the madness of Father Ranulf was a fate that might await them. Alane was sufficiently moved by the experience to make a startlingly generous donation of 20 gold crowns to the Temple. Sister Delfholt was suitably impressed.
As the PC's headed off back towards the Ulricsmund, one of them noticed something out of the corner of their eye. Across the street they saw the hem of a cloak as someone disappeared up an alley across the road. Little heed was paid to this incident at the time, but it would later prove telling.
A few more days passed. Berthold was by now thorougly gloomy because of his recurring nightmares, about which he had as yet told no one. And all 3 of our PC's were getting slightly paranoid because they had the distinct feeling they were being watched. Little incidents like that outside the Temple of Shallya kept occuring, but nobody was able to pin down anything specific that was happening.
Then one night Berthold's nightmares took a new turn. Beginning as before, this time the daemon grabbed hold of Berthold and dragged him into the Brass Skull. Inside the Skull Berthold could feel an overwhelming bitterness and a rage and a desire to wreak a terrible vengance- emotions so extreme that they were matched in Berthold's experience only by the calm power of the voice that echoed through his bones as he had been washed by the white fire of the Sacred Flame of Ulric.
As the nightmare continued Berthold found himself watching the last moments of the fight from inside the Brass Skull itself. At the moment when the Skull entered the Sacred Flame everything went black and the torrent of overwhelming emotions stilled. Moments later Berthold again found himself drowned in the inhumanly intense emotions and looking out of the eye sockets of a skull. This time though the skull was the hilt of a knife blade carven with terrible runes, one of which Berthold recognised- he'd seen it on the Brass Skull.
Berthold watched through the eyes of this new skull as the wielder of the dagger snuck up on some unsuspecting victim. He watched the dagger rise, saw it fall, and felt it cut through the victim's flesh. He tasted the deep, deep shivers of satisfaction run through the raging spirit of the skull as the blood filled the runes on the blade. Then he watched as the victim of the attack was flipped over onto its back to reveal- himself.
Berthold woke up. Filled with horror he slept no more that night.
Berthold had had enough. At the Collegium Theologica the next day he finally spoke up about his nightmares to Professor Zweistein. The genial scholar's reaction to Berthold's account of the strange symbols that had haunted his dreams was unexpected, and abrupt- he stalked off leaving Berthold wondering what he had done wrong.
Zweistein returned a short while later, bringing with him a huge pile of work for Berthold. He told the young scribe that it was very important that this work be finished as quickly as possible, and explained that he should work every hour he could stay awake until he was done. Berthold was briefly nonplussed- feeling such punishment was undeserved- but he quickly realised that the crafty scholar had given him the excuse he needed to spend as much time as he wanted in the Collegium's library pursuing his own researches.
As Berthold set to work in the Collegium, Seigfried decided that what was called for an outing to a charitable performance of a classic Detlief Sierck drama. Alane decided to accompany him. Arrayed in his best finery Seigfried was on top form that night as he sought a better class of romantic conquest than the ladies of low virtue with whom he had been keeping company in recent weeks.
It may be said that our dashing young hero felt that he received nothing more than his due when a well-dressed footman furtively pressed a note into his hand later that evening. But it cannot be doubted that even Seigfried was astonished when it turned out that the note was a promise of an assignation from a certain Lisa Ingwald, none other than the daughter of Sigismund Ingwald, owner of Castle Rock Coaches. The date of the promised assignation was 2 nights hence.
Flushed with his success, Siegfried decided to repair to the Wolf's Teeth tavern. As he and Alane sat back with a drink a familiar face made an appearance. It was the apprentice wizard Jocelin Herzog, without her usual male companion. Also unusual that night was Herzog's behaviour- she made a beeline for Alane and told the elf that she had some news for her, important news about her future. Asked to explain, Herzog told the elf that she had overheard Bright Magister Nellie Eschlimann talking with Celestial Magister Valdric Gebauer about Alane's fate. The pair had agreed that Alane wasn't yet suitable for elevation to the rank of journeyman wizard. Herzog's delivered her news in a spiteful tone that was insufficient to mask a certain nervousness.
Curious at this unexpected intrusion from a woman who had hitherto only shown lofty disdain for her, Alane invited Herzog to take a seat and offered her some wine. A bit put out at the elf's calm response to her supposedly devestating news, Herzog accepted. As the night went on and Herzog was plied with both wine and questions by Alane, it turned out that the mystery of the woman whose attitude had plagued Alane since the party's arrival in Middenheim was reassuringly mundane.
Herzog had been sent out by her master back in Altdorf to experience a bit more of the world by her master back in Altdorf. Arriving in Middenheim with Zumwald- who she had fallen in with on the road- almost the first person she had seen had been Alane, who she recognised from back in Altdorf. The young woman had immediately been annoyed at the elf who had turned up to trump her own big adventure.
The night continued. Alane made sure that the wine flowed freely, while Seigfried couldn't resist laying it on thick with stories of the party's adventures. Herzog relaxed and became ever more admiring of the pair. As each drink went down though, she became more and more maudlin. Zumwald had left her and headed off to puruse his own goals. She had seen no great adventures, even during the insurrection, and certainly wasn't feeling very much the wordly-wise type she was sent out to become. All the same, she was taking new heart from spending an evening in the company of Alane and Seigfried, and was even more than holding her own when it came to the drinking.
And there it might've ended, if Alane hadn't plied the young woman with just one wine too many. Sure enough, eventually she just couldn't take any more, with the inevitable result that her first really big night out ended in a pool of slavers and vomit.
To their credit Alane and Siegfried showed compassion for the lonely young woman. They didn't leave her to her own devices in the tavern. Herzog being too far gone to tell our PC's where she stayed by the time they realised how drunk she actually was, they carried her back to the Gilded Swallow. There Seigfried did the gentlemanly thing and let Herzog have his bed to herself.
The poor woman's embarrasment on waking up in a stranger's bed the following morning is easy to imagine and need not be detailed. We can be sure though that the embarrasment was sufficient to stave off her stinking hangover at least until she had beat her hasty retreat from Seigfried's room.
The Madness of Father Ranulf
- #2... Oh, the madness!
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim