Once out of the Temple of Ulric, the party's immediate objective was to get Hoffer to the Temple of Sigmar. Close as the 2 temples are, the PC's soon became aware of the din of a mob ahead. Leaving the area of the Temple of Ulric the party bumped into Grundi, who was returning to the temple in the hope of making a rendezvous with his companions [player back again]. Meanwhile, Alane explained that she had to go to the Guild of Wizards and Alchemists, and would rejoin everyone later [player absent].
Coming round the edge of the Freiburg district into the square in which the Temple of Sigmar is located, the party beheld a mob besieging the Temple, baying for the blood of a heretic. A stake and pyre were being prepared nearby and people were looting nearby houses and shops to build the pyre ever higher. Small groups of watchmen lurked here and there, but they were powerless to control the mob.
The PC's didn't pause to ask anyone what was going on; they just asked Hoffer if there was a back door to the temple that might be unknown to the mob. Fortunately there was and, skirting the mob, the party reached the back of the temple in a few minutes. There, it was easy to persuade the nervous guards to let them in.
Once inside the temple the PC's found themselves waiting around for a while while Hoffer was taken off to have his wounds tended to. Soon enough though they received a summons to the office of High Capitular Werner Stolz, the High Priest of Sigmar in Middenheim. There they found Hoffer- looking much healthier, and his Witch Hunter companion Ulrich Fischer, who they all remembered from the Drakwald a few days ago.
The High Capitular cast a searching glance across the PC's and spoke about their adventures showing that their reputation had preceded them again. He then initiated a discussion of the turn of events which had led to Witch Hunter Fischer seeking sanctuary in the Temple of Sigmar. Stolz had barely started speaking on the subject before Siegfried blurted out an announcement that Deputy High Priest Liebnitz was an agent of chaos.
Stolz, Hoffer and Ulrich all looked shocked at this suggestion. The PC's grounds for this suspicion were explained. Stolz's reply to this was strangely cautious. He explained that the tensions of the aftermath of the Storm of Chaos were bringing the longstanding rivalry between the Imperial cults of Ulric and Sigmar to the fore. In this context, if Deputy High Priest Liebnitz was able to prove that a Sigmarite Witch Hunter was a servant of chaos, then it would be a tremendous embarrasment for the cult of Sigmar, one capable of destroying the Temple of Sigmar in the city of Middenheim and thus unleashing another civil war in which the followers of Ulric and Sigmar turned on each other.
As Stolz outlined the situation the PC's began to consider that Liebnitz just might not be a chaos cultist after all. The fact that he had betrayed them and threw them into his dungeons wasn't proof of that much. The man might just be trying to exploit a bad situation to his own advantage, and they had somehow or other become some kind of threat to his scheme. Either way, if there was to be a reckoning, our heroes wanted to be a part of it.
In other words, reiterated Stolz, the situation emerging around Bauer's arrest was so delicate and so explosive that, even if the PC's suspicions about Liebnitz were true, wildly making such an accusation public would rebound against the cult of Sigmar and probably provoke the outbreak Stolz was committed to avoiding. Evidence, above all evidence, would be needed before any action could be taken. To emphasise this he explained that his own and Commander Schutzmann's hands were tied in this situation. They both had to go through with the trial- Schutzmann would in fact be one of the judges- and make sure that Bauer was found innocent. Otherwise, Hoffer and Fischer would have to be handed over for trial, and they would probably share Bauer's fate.
As Stolz reached his conclusion, the PC's quickly became aware of what was coming: they had the reputation of doing what needed to be done; the experience to get it done; and the anonymity to do it without been seen as obvious agents of the Temple of Sigmar, and so perhaps inflaming the tense situation beyond control. Hoffer might have been frustrated at being prohibited from coming to the aid of his companion Bauer, but High Capitular Stolz was gratified that the party was willing to help.
The party's assent to his request granted, Stolz reminded them once more of the magnitude of what was at stake, and that they only had a day and a half in which to find the evidence that would prove Bauer's innocence. Then he asked if any of the PC's were injured. For those who were the High Capitular invoked the Grace of Sigmar and laid his Healing Hands upon them. Then he bid the party good fortune.
Our heroes left the Temple of Sigmar by the back door. They were still carrying all their travelling gear. So they decided to return to the Untergard party's warehouse to leave that safely behind. Mordrin said that he had to make an important visit to the Chapel of Grungni, and that he would catch up with everyone else at the warehouse.
At the warehouse in the Southgate the PC's were met by a worried looking Captain Schiller. Schiller told them that Hans Baumer had been murdered. The PC's remembered Baumer as the woodsman who had accompanied them from Untergard. Schiller explained that Baumer's death was doubly peculiar. The man had hated the city and refused to enter it at all, preferring to pass messages through Otwin of the Watch if he needed to communicate with the Untergard party for any reason. And yet Baumer's body had been found inside the city- in the Grunpark, at the edge of the Sudgarten district just north of the Ostwald. Schiller found this incomprehensible.
The party's return to the warehouse had also forced an unpleasant duty on the aging leader of the survivors of Untergard. The warehouse was put aside for the refugees of Untergard he explained. The PC's had been able to lodge with the Untergard party in their capacity as guards. Now that they'd all found jobs in the city, the ordinances regarding the refugee influx meant that the PC's were no longer eligible to lodge with the Untergard refugees.
Schiller was embarrassed to have to tell this to people who had been so helpful to his charges, and was apologetic as he explained that this was a course that had been forced upon him by the city's ordinances. He told the PC's that there was no question of them simply being turfed out onto the streets, but that they would have to act soon. The PC's largely understood the difficulties of Schiller's situation, although Grundi grumbled a bit, feeling that this was a fine show of gratitude for what they had done for the people of Untergard.
Meanwhile Mordrin had made his way to the Chapel of Grungi, were he met with Chief Priest Hargund. He explained to Hargund the news about the threat of conflict between the Sigmarites and the Ulricians. The dwarfs of the Empire, Mordrin told the old priest, would do well to prepare to look after themselves should the worst happen. Hargund thanked the young runebearer for his news and his concerns, adding that the dwarfs of the Empire would play their part as loyal citizens of the Empire in the event of any such crisis. Feeling that perhaps the old priest hadn't grasped the full import of his words, Mordrin reiterated his warning, but Hargund reassured him that the dwarfs would do what was right by themselves and by the Empire.
Then Mordrin showed Hargund the broken stone hammer that he had found in Kazron Gorespite's tomb deep in the Drakwald. He asked the priest if he could identify it. Hargund told Mordrin that it was an ancestral treasure belonging to the Dwarf-Kings of the Black Mountains, to the very south of the Empire. Mordrin asked if there were any representatives of the Black Mountains' dwarfs in Middenheim to whom he could return the relic. Hargund told him that there were none, and asked Mordrin if he would not prefer to return it himself. Mordrin replied that at the moment he preferred to leave the relic in the care of the chapel. He thanked Hargund for his time, and left to rejoin his companions.
With Mordrin's arrival the party completed their preparations for their mission and left the Untergard party's warehouse to head northwards to the Sword and Flail. Siegfried was sure he knew where it was. He certainly knew it by reputation, as a rough place popular with mercenaries, the sort of place where a misplaced glance could provoke a fight.
It was early afternoon by the time the PC's headed out to make their way to the Neumarket to find the Sword and Flail. The streets were still tense and edgy, but the everyday activities of a thriving city had settled across the city like a blanket, muffling the underlying sense of incipient panic somewhat. Hopes were of an uneventful journey, but those hopes were dashed.
A small crowd was spotted ahead, thronging around someone whose ranting voice became clear as the party got nearer. They heard someone declaiming about the revelations following upon the death of Valten, then a gap in the crowd revealed to them the bedraggled and crazed looking figure responsible for these ravings.
At just that moment the figure shouted out that there is one of them, and the party realised that the zealot was none other than Karl, the librarian at the Collegium Theologica who they had questioned while investigating the Morten murder not long after arriving in Middenheim many months ago. Everyone in the party knew that something strange and disturbing had happened between young Karl and Grundi that day, but only Grundi and Alane knew the truth about the dwarf's vicious and unprovoked attack.
Yes, there is one of them the febrile voice repeated, going up a notch or two in pitch. The party stood gaping at the untoward sight. Karl's rant against the Sigmarite cult's laxity on the matter of dwarfs continued: the time has come to lift the veil from our eyes, to see these monsters for the chaos-deformed horrors that they are, and to drive them from our lands. Otherwise the taste of ashes that we know today will be as nothing to the bitterness the future will visit upon us.
As Karl continued in this vein the crowd listening to him began to get restless, and started casting angry glances towards Grundi and Mordrin. Siegfried chose this moment to intervene. His precise words weren't important. All he had to do was to instill in Karl's audience a sense of the danger inherent in taking heed of the young zealot's words, to break his spell over them so as to defuse their desire to find- in the young man's chosen objects of hatred- suitable scapegoats for their own fears and frustrations. Fortunately he managed, and the party was able quietly to leave unmolested.
None of our heroes felt comfortable after this unexpected encounter, although Mordrin felt somewhat vindicated in his fears for the future of the dwarfs in the event of the civil war the chances of which so exercised High Capitular Stolz. Grundi felt a cold hand clutch his heart. But only young Berthold realised the dizzying depths of the heart of darkness the former librarian's zealous rantings represented. Only Berthold, because as the sole follower of Sigmar in the party only he fully understood that Karl's call for a 'return' to the 'pure faith' at the expense of dwarfs represented a heresy that struck at the very foundations of the Empire as laid by Sigmar himself.
Soon thereafter our heroes arrived at the Sword and Flail, a small 2-storeyed building tucked away in a seedy corner of east Neumarket. The silence that fell and the understated hostility of the stares cast at strangers as the PC's entered the taproom confirmed the place's reputation. Perhaps Alane's absence was fortuitous, because she might've encouraged a more threatening curiosity on the part of the off-duty watchmen and other hardened-looking types congregated in the half-empty tavern that afternoon.
A heavy-set man presided over the bar. His face was covered with scars, some relatively fresh, and his missing teeth confirmed the impression that he was a man familiar with violence. He served the PC's without making any small talk. Mordrin looked round for tables, selecting one with a view of both the entrance and the only other door in the place, which was located behind the bar. The party sat down. They sipped at their drunks and began to wonder what they were going to do.
- Index:- My little Old World: Ashes of Middenheim