Of Wolves and Men

'Aye. To shreds. I care not for the lives of any greenskin mind you - Ulric demands his followers be merciless to their foes, but such wanton savagery can only be born from far darker places. The wolf is no murderer - a killer to be sure, but a wolf kills clean and kills well. This was butchery, even ritualised the hunters say. Those lost brothers at Redclaw may know something of it, tho I can't say they're particularly fond of outsiders.’
-Denfather Holst Kretschmer Temple of Ulric in Ubersreik

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The hills of southern Reikland


'The Creeping Death'

Miles south of Altdorf, in the shadows of the Grey Mountains, two figures leave Ubersreik on a path north. Both had been chosen for their knowledge of the woods of the Reikland, although they were very different. Ludolf is muscular beneath brown robes, a peculiarity for a graduate of the College of Wizards, and he leans on a runic wooden staff as he walks. His companion is a head taller still, fair skinned like most elves and light on his feet. Malahan had worked with their employer before and had a passing acquaintance with Ludolf when few months back when the pair tracked down a place of primordial power in the forests nearby.

They had been asked to travel north by the Temple of Ulric in Ubersreik and their journey hits its first hurdle in the form of a grotesquely bloody and deceased Priest of Ulric. The man who was meant to lead them north was dead with no wounds on him, his stomach and veins burst outwards as if filled with blackpowder. The pair put their enhanced senses to work, Malahan noting tracks leading towards the town of Geissbach while Ludolf smells a foul magical stench that leads him to a bag filled with goblin ears. Ludolf takes the time to bury the Priest while Malahan observes from afar, impartiality painted on his face. That night as they camp the pair hears the howling of wolves and although fearing the worst watch as the local pack mourn the death of the Ulrican.

A day later in Geissbach the two travellers visit the poorly named Daemon's Cellar and discover that a few local mercenaries had also fallen victim to a similar gruesome end. These men had recently had contact with a goblin tribe from the nearby hills known as the 'Creeping Death'. Although neither had taken wounds they too had died days later in a bloody and violent fashion. The Mercenary captain calls their cause of death "Blood Rot" although admits he had never seen it take such a violent form before. Ludolf suggests a visit to an old wisewoman who lives nearby and a few hours out of town they find the residence of Old Mam Shwali. A strange and confused old woman she suggests in order to solve their problems the pair should drink of her herbal tea. The pair never revealed exactly what they witnessed on the floor on Shwali's hut under the influence of the tea but Ludolf would in his later years, when he had enough ale, tell tales of an entire lifetime lived as a bear. Whatever the content of their dreams the source of the poison had become clear.

The nearby Creeping Death tribe had been poisoned by a visit to the fearsome Drachenfels Castle and, believing themselves blessed by some foul diety, had begun transferring this strain of Blood Rot intentionally to those they came into contact with. Tracking the tribe deep into the hills Malahan and Ludolf sneak through the unsuspecting camp, finding a heretical ritual place within an abandoned warpstone mine. Laying in wait they ambush the Shaman of the Creeping Death, cutting him down even as his ritual reaches its zenith and caving in the entrance to the mine with some long-abandoned blackpowder. As the tribe went into a frenzy outside the pair clambered through the abandoned mine, creeping through narrow passageways and climbing up long disused shafts. Eventually they found fresh air again and made their way back to Ubersreik to inform their employer about the fate of the Priest.


'Blood in the Loam'

After some weeks in the capital it is with relief that William, Dieter and Hanno head south, leaving the bloody cobblestones of Altdorf behind. Karl sees them off, his tabard resplendent with the sigil of the Knights Griffon and his armour polished to a sheen. He would travel east to war with his master, Sir Richter, and would not see the group again for some years. Leaving the zenith of summer behind they enjoy a relatively leisurely journey by barge, staying in the town adjacent to Castle Reikguard for a few nights. Stopping in Grunberg and Rottfurt they switch barges a number of time, working when needed to pay passage. At the town of Auerswald Hanno leaves the group. Still shocked by the events in Altdorf he takes up an apprenticeship with a local hunter and scout, eager to spend as much time away from the larger cities as he can. Some week later when they enter the Grand Duchy of Ubersreik aboard the Thirsty Maiden the young Helmut also leaves them. Having agreed to take him to Ubersreik William instead leaves him in the care of Father Angor of Buchesdorf, a retired Warrior Priest who agrees to mentor the boy and keep him out of trouble. William and Dieter continue alone in the last days of summer, leaving their barge and travelling on foot to the Duchy of Aschaffenberg.

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Travelling for the first time outside the Empire's roads the pair soon find themselves on the wrong end of the first storm of the year. Trudging trough mud and undergrowth they are wracked by howling winds and sweeping rains, huddling beneath fallen boughs at night with prayers to Sigmar for relief on their lips. And then, as if he heard, a fortress appeared out of the haze. Dark grey stone and covered in weeds and moss it is decrepit from misuse and yet lit by the promise of warmth from within. A knock on the door summons Abbot Hollesblut, a follower of Ulric with a long grey beard who welcomes the pair to the Redclaw Monastery. As they dry off the Abbot tells them of his brother monks, all followers of Ulric who retook this castle from bandits and declared it their own. They spend their time hunting the nearby forests for Goblins from a particularly nasty tribe known as the 'Creeping Death'. The monks are as varied a group as you can imagine, sharing only their long beards and general invidious attitude towards the newcomers. Despite this the Abbot is welcoming and the pair happily agree to wait out the storm with these devotees of the wolf god.

It takes a few days for the storm to pass and William and Dieter are glad for the break. Dieter spends his time boxing with a former soldier named Horst and fencing while William engages a young and loudmouthed monk named Andreas in scholarly theological debate. The pair find the group to be sullen and unpleasant for the most part but welcome the chance to rest and refresh away from the dangers of the forest. As the storm begins to subside discussions begin about a raid into the forest to take down a group of Creeping Death who had been seen nearby. William and Dieter agree to join the raid, eager as always to slay greenskins. That night two newcomers arrive at the monastery. Malahan and Ludolf are welcomed into the monastery as well but seem paranoid about the monks. Sitting with Dieter and William for dinner Ludolf reveals they were sent to the area by the Denfather of Ubersreik to investigate a wayward Ulrican sect known as the Redclaw Monks. William speaks to the hospitality of the monks but that night as the monks gather to drink ale Malahan sneaks away, finding strange bloody armour and a locked sacristy.

The next morning the whole Monastery marches out to find the nearby goblins, led by an arrogant but talented ex-hunter named Werner. Only a few hours from the monastery the monks find a warband of the greenskins, the same strange red-tattooed creatures that Ludolf and Malahan had found some week earlier. As the Redclaw Monks charge in with reckless abandon the rest battle a side force, moving in with precision as Malahan flings stones above their heads with expert precision. Dieter and William form the front line against the creatures, the sigmarite shield hammered with blows as hammer and sword fell goblin after goblin. Ludolf also joins the fray with his club, showing a deft skill uncommon in woodsmen. Soon the beasts are slain, their leader falling to a final thunderous blow from William's hammer. Nearby the Ulricans had utterly destroyed their foes, the goblins spread about like a disgusting painting across the forest floor.

Returning to the monastery the monks find their farm animals and mounts butchered, creatures having apparently dug under the fortress to attack. As the monks spread out to look for interlopers the Abbot opens up with the group about the ruined armour and empty bed. He reveals that one of the monks, Manfred, had been recently attacked by a giant white wolf, a creature that the Abbot believes has been corrupted by a forest spirit. It was the wolf who had slain the beasts and who, the Abbot believes, had been mutilating goblin corpses in the forest. Malahan, not believing a forest spirit could be responsible, slinks away from the monastery and back to the scene of the earlier massacre. Here he finds the white wolf not mutilating the bodies but howling, seemingly in mourning. Confused by the creatures behaviour he tracks it back to the monastery where it howls long into the night. Re-entering the keep he does a thorough search, his elegant elven steps not even registering to the drunk or sleeping Ulrican monks. In one abandoned chest he finds a red skull and in the forbidden sacristy five other locked chests. Meeting with Ludolf they agree to tell Dieter and William, informing them of their mission at Redclaw and receiving a promise from the Sigmarites to assist them if they can.


'Wayward Sons'

The following morning Ludolf meets the group with a set of jangling keys. He reveals to Dieter and William that far from a humble woodsman he is a recent graduate of the College of Magic in Altdorf. As an amber wizard he had used his beast magic to sneak into the private rooms of the monastery. He was most surprised to find that the Chapterhouse held Sigmarite iconography, worn down and disused after years of abandonment. In a sealed chamber he had procured the keys, intending for the rest of the group to search the room once the coast was clear. The group put a plan into motion to search the room during the midday training bouts and as contests of pugilism break out in the courtyard Dieter tries to open the locked door, surprised to find the keys unable to grant him passage. Meanwhile in the courtyard the fight between Horst and Klaus had become vicious. Horst had the other man's head in the mud, splashing his blood across the ground with blow after blow from his massive fists. William intervened and was himself set upon by Horst, a savage kick to the leg sending him sprawling to the ground. Eventually the Abbott breaks up the brawl but the newcomers to the monastery are left shocked by the savage display.

With the keys a bust, and driven by the strange ferocity of Horst, the group put a bolder plan into play. Dieter and Ludolf express a wish to visit a nearby village to ensure they are safe from recent bandit attacks and much to the Abbott's disappointment refuse the chance to join them on a hunt for the great white wolf. Malahan accompanies the group while William and Klaus both remain at the monastery to recover from their injuries. As the hunting party leaves, fully armoured and singing an Ulrican battle-hymn, Ludolf and Dieter slink back to Red Claw. Let in William they make their way to the sealed room, smashing it open with a simple blow from a borrowed crowbar. Inside they set about searching the room, opening the chests and reading the newly written vellum scrolls. Reading the scrolls Dieter and William find it to be a strange form of classic Ulrican tales. The tales are very similar to the ones William had learned, but for the overt emphasis on the bloody battles Ulric fought. In particular his naming as the "Flayer of Skulls" gives both men an unpleasant feeling in their stomachs. Meanwhile in the chests Ludolf reveals Sigmarite relics from the monastery's past life and a strange chest containing red-painted skulls. The skulls are a dozen hosts, featuring everything from goats and other animals to human and even what appears to be a thick dwarven skull. The box gives the entire group an unsettling feeling that is amplified by a howling cry from the chapel behind them.

Retreating out into the chapel they find Klaus, his face bloodied from Horst's attack and his torso covered in scars he never had before. Even as they watch he draws his own axe across his skin, smearing the flowing blood with his empty hand. With a scream of rage he leaps forward, burying his axe into William's chest before the young man can bring his shield up to protect himself. Crying in pain William pulls his warhammer up and smashes it down on Klaus' head, the frenzies Ulrican seemingly ignoring the blow as he pulls his bloody axe free. William ducks a second blow before Dieter and Ludolf get involved, sword and club smashing into the wounded Klaus and cutting him down once and for all. As Dieter tends to William's wounds the group sit in silence next to the bloody mess that was once Klaus, contemplating the ramifications of their actions.

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Hours later the group dash through the woods away from Redclaw. Unable to wait for the Ulricans to return they endeavoured to reach the nearest town and send word back to the Denfather of Ubersreik to send reinforcements. The winds and rain get worse and worse as they trek onwards, following what roads they can find as the in-climate weather reaches its howling zenith. As thunder crashes around them the storm suddenly recedes, the mist peeling back to reveal the great white wolf. Easily the size of a warhorse the storm seems to quiver at its presence. Eyes glowing with an internal fire the creature approaches, dozens of wolves following it out of the forest to surround the group. It is Dieter, remembering the comment William made earlier about the wolf being an avatar of Ulric, who kneels first. He is shortly followed by the others as the wolf pads slowly and methodically towards the group. In a moment that lasts a lifetime it sniffs all three of the travellers, snarling at the bag containing the stolen red-skull artefact. Eventually the wolf retreats and in a bloody display that would turn even the hardest stomach begins tearing off its own skin. White fur and blood litter the ground before finally in the mud stands a tall muscular man with a long blonde beard. Panting from the effort of his transformation he stands, wiping blood from his mouth, and states simply "I am Reichardt".


'Redclaw'

After a tense standoff the group find themselves rushing back to Redclaw Monastery, flanked by two dozen wolves and lead by Reichardt, once again in the form of a great white wolf. He had helped them to their feet, reinforcing tersely what they already suspected about the Redclaw Monks. True warriors and Ulricans all they had slowly, and without their knowledge, begun worshipping another much fouler god. A god that Reichardt referred to only as the 'Lord of Flayed Skulls'. Dieter and William shared a look then, neither mentioning the other far fouler name by which that God of Blood was known. Reichardt had entreated the group to help him kill the Ulrican Monks and they had agreed. In the hours following Dieter began to get sick, blood oozing from his body and a wheezing cough slowing his progress. As he fell behind William takes him aside with a simple message; either Sigmar will look to you, and the illness will pass, or he will not, and you will die. You are in his hands now.

Arriving at Redclaw some hours later the group dump the body of Klaus and William dons the fallen warriors chainmail armour. In the sacristy Ludolf begins a magical ritual, commenting that the beast winds are strong in this place. The wolves roam around the halls, ripping into the kitchen and consuming most of the supplies there. As they feast an ominous knocking at the door signals the Monks return. Armoured and covered in blood they look tired from the night's hunt, two deer lugged over bulky shoulders. The sickened Dieter greets them, giving Malahan a look of warning as the Elf enters the Chapel. As the Monks begin to walk out of the chapel the wolves pounce, dozens of them ripping one of the Monks apart in a flurry of chainmail, teeth and blood. Enraged, the rest of the Monks draw their axes and wade in. In the tight doorway the wolves are at a disadvantage and fighting two abreast begin to be hewn by the axes of the Redclaw Monks. One Monk falls as Malahan launches a stone from across the room and another when William charges from his hiding place nearby, his hammer smashing in the skull of the boxer, Horst. But the Abbott and his remaining men fight back, driving William and the still ill Dieter back into the chapel proper. As Reichardt begins to fight the Abbott one on one an ear shattering roar echoes through the chapel.

The walls of the chapel burst inwards as a gargantuan creature lumbers through them. Ancient stone and smashed pews shower the melee as a bear the size of a house lumbers forwards, taking a monk in his claws and ripping him into two in a shower of red viscera. Ludolf roars again as he lumbers into the Abbott, an axe wound deep in his flank not enough to stop his massive jaws from biting the old warrior cleanly in two. William, Dieter and Malahan simply stand back and watch as the giant bear slaughters the rest of the Redclaw Monks, smashing furniture and chandeliers each time he adjusts his massive bulk. When the dust settles Ludolf lies unconscious amidst the carnage, his terrified allies covering him in a blanket and coming to grips with the pure power he had shown.

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Over the next fews hours William and Malahan help Reichardt toss the broken bodies of the Monks onto a pyre in the central courtyard while Ludolf and Dieter recover from their injuries. Dieter sits quietly in the monastery, waiting for his fever to break, while Ludolf paces the sacristy as the massive magical power he manifested seeps away. The wolves continue their raid, ripping apart the larder and kitchen. Reichardt is a man possessed, tossing any signs or evidence of the Monks on the great pyre. It is Malahan who discovers the hidden basement beneath the great courtyard. Still sensing something wrong in this place he walks around for nearly an hour, muttering in elven and feeling the roots of the long grass before he summons the group to a hidden door behind the larder.

Behind a false door lies a room which the flickering lights of a lantern seem to be unable to pierce. Pushing through William and Dieter cast the light further to reveal a set of baroque armour. As black as coal it seems to be steel but reflects no light. It is not smooth like the armour of Imperial knights nor filligreed like that of the Bretonnians but jagged, spikes protruding seemingly at random and covered in runes sketched and filled with red paint. Ludolf comes forward and recoils even as William gives a prayer of protection and leaves, unable to stand the reek of evil that the suit seems to give off. Enthralled, Dieter moves closer, sketching feverously into his notebook. The sketch that he produces is foul beyond a mere drawing and soon even he leaves the chamber behind. When they inform Reichardt of the suit of armour he bundles it up, throwing it with a great heave onto the pyre still burning with the bodies and icons of the Monks. A two bladed axe follows it, the weapon made to match the armour but the steel stained red from seemingly endless bloody battles. Reichardt seems weakened by the process and no-one sleeps well that night- the armour haunting their dreams alongside the cacophonous howling of wolves.

The next morning the ashes of the pyre are turned to mud by a light rain. Some remnants of chainmail and bone remain alongside, at the centre of the pyre, an undamaged set of coal black plate armour.


Appendices

Map of the Grand Duchy of Ubersreik

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