CHAPTER 5.04 - KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS

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CHAPTER 5.04 - KNIGHTS OF THE CROSS

Post  Admin on Mon Apr 04, 2011 7:05 am

Wulfrum exits from the caves of the Corruptor and when he emerges among the rocks and woodland outside he can hear a rumbling sound coming from beneath the ground. It passes by him and then a short distance way (30') he sees the emaciated and degenerate forms of the Corruptor's minions leap out of the earth itself and he sees them chanting and gesturing in his direction. There are five of them. Two advance towards him with rusty sickles.

… Both swing and miss.

As they do so there is another overwhelming sensation, and Wulfrum feels that something else, something very powerful and evil is approaching. Suddenly he hears a louder chanting coming from deeper into the woodland and he sees the tall thin form of the Summoner rise up from the ground between a small stand of leafless and blighted trees.

The two minions that are advancing suddenly find themselves restrained as writhing vines burst out of the ground and wrap around them, engulfing their bodies completely and pulling them down shrieking and snarling into the earth.

The Summoner advances towards the other three and sweeps his arm in their direction wildly, pushing them away violently with an invisible force. They are thrown 100' and smash into rocks and trees where they lie unmoving from the impact.

He then advances towards Wulfrum, and he stops 20' away with his 9' stature towering above as he looks down upon him, glaring. Saying nothing, he stretches out his arm and holds a hand, with palm facing out and gnarled, dirt-encrusted fingers outstretched towards the warrior. Wulfrum feels himself being compelled to step forward. He wants to resist but finds he cannot do that. The Summoner is a potent force aligned with nature, a being consumed by rage and loathing and it is clear that he can manipulate the minds of any creature at will. Wulfrum finds his limbs will not move, he is effectively paralyzed.

… Wulfrum continues to try and defy the effect.

There is a brief moment during this where Wulfrum feels his mind and body 'separate' and he feels himself 'pulled' somewhere else. Then he finds himself lying on the cold frosted ground of an open field, in a slight depression and he instinctively knows he has been battered and broken. He immediately feels intense pain from his ankle and can see it is badly twisted. It is dawn and the light from the rising sun is streaming down in shafts through thick patches of mist that sit above the ground. He hears the loud and ravenous baying of wolf hounds and then, close by, the sound of an impatient horse snorting. He immediately realises he has returned to the large fields outside of Griefswulde, the village he was originally fleeing from along with its locals, before he found his way into the Woedenwood and Haastenmoord. And then he knows he is not alone. The horse has drawn closer, practically beside him. Its rider, tall, armoured and wearing a black horned helmet towers above where he lies injured on the ground and he can see the rider carries a wicked barbed iron flail. He hears the cries of the villagers being chased and tormented by the hounds and then the dark rider calls down to him, taunting and mocking … “Day Walker … you have joined us … the mistress is calling you now ...” It is Reisen Morgus, the dread lieutenant of Hel and her personal emissary, collector and harvester of souls. His skeletal visage is truly nightmarish and frightening.

… Wulfrum struggles and attempts to sweep the horse out from under Reisen Morgus by grasping and swing his axe at the feet of the mighty black steed. The horse rears up suddenly and the axe grazes the side of one of its fron legs as it does so. The flames singe the horse's leg slightly and it snarls and snorts wildly and Reisen Morgus maintains his control.

The baying of the hounds and the laughter of Reisen Morgus grows louder and Wulfrum again resists the calling. Angered, Reisen Morgus sets upon Wulfrum with the fail and he feels the barbs tear into him, ripping his skin. It is in this moment of excrutiating pain that he awakens and again finds himself on the ground among the rocks and the sand of the Haastenmoord lake's shoreline several hundred metres from the mossy rock cave where the Corruptor was located.

He is alone. The Summoner is nowhere to be seen.

From the lake itself, he soon hears low voices and a torch is suddenly illuminated. He sees the familiar faces of Friedheim and Hrothgaard standing on the raft and they call out to him.

“Wulfrum, we have returned for you. Quickly, come to the raft.”

The raft is 30' from shore and it moves in closer, keeping back from the rocks and they wait for Wulfrum to wade and swim out and climb on board.

… He does so, looking rather worse for wear.

On the raft, Wulfrum can see that Friedheim and Hrothgaard are agitated and concerned about something. “New strangers have joined us in Haastenmoord,” Friedheim tells him. “Men in metal suits with shiny swords. They wear the red cross on their overcoats and shields and they have sworn allegiance to Crosstenmarch. They have made preparations for battle. Viktor tells us all to remain calm, that we have nothing to fear. That we will all be well protected by his faith and these soldiers. He has welcomed them as our new saviours, sent to help us all in our time of need.”

“Hmmmmph,” Hrothgaard snorts. “I do not like them. They are cowards. They protect themselves with metal whereas we trust in our strength and power to be victorious when we fight our enemies. And I do not trust them. They have taken over the planning for the defence of the village. And you must be careful my brother … they have killed many wild wolves since their arrival and have strung them up as a warning to our enemies.”

… Wulfrum nods. “Let them deal to the defences. It is one less thing for us to worry about. We have other concerns.” He rests and recovers from his ordeal under the ground. He tells the others what he saw and encountered, also revealing the two small gold busts that depict Crosstenmarch. He talks of the Corruptor and the Summoner and speaks of evil beneath the dam, including an entire ruined city.

Friedheim and Hrothgaard listen intently and they take turns poling across the lake. The raft passes over shimmering lights deep below the water and make the journey back to the village. Wulfrum thinks that the lights may be associated in some way with the ruined city that he has seen underground.

“Did I tell you, Hrothgaard, that I also saw Fenris shackled in a vast cave, and we both sensed each other's presence. He was sleeping but was stirring slightly. Things must have changed in Asgaard again. It was Fenris alright.”

Hrothgaard looks shocked at the news. “This is serious, friend. If the wolf awakens then everything will be destroyed in the world of man. The release of mighty Fenris will bring Raknarok upon everyone. It would be the end of us all!”

“Look at it in another way; he is imprisoned by evil creatures who are not of our belief. You have Reisen Morgus serving Hel. One would think that Hel and Fenris are in this together. Perhaps this is what the Conjuror was perhaps in some way trying to intimate, that while Fenris remains chained then Hel cannot succeed in her quest. So even though that great evil resides below there is different beliefs and agendas among them. You can't claim what has been destroyed. But Fenris is stirring. He had one eye open.”

“Hmmmph,” Hrothgaard scowls. “Hel has a lot to answer for. The Dark Mistress will not be laughing when my mighty mattock crushes her skull. We will reclaim Asgaard and the Halls of Valhalla as champions to avenge our fallen brothers!”

“But first, we cannot fight without food and beer!” Wulfrum reminds him, half-heartedly.

On arriving at Haastenmoord, Wulfrum is greeted warmly by the families and he can see that there is a sense of anxiety and urgency that wasn't apparent before. Looking up towards Crosstenmarch's manor, he sees the flag of the cross has been erected outside and it is also flying from small parapets along the roofline of the building. He can see the bodies of dead wolves hanging from wooden crosses in the centre of the village and also on the docks, and at the entry and exit points of the village on the roads. It is disturbing and there is an awkward feeling for Wulfrum, a sickening feeling in his stomach. The empathy in him for these dead wolves has been triggered and a part of him feels angered by what he sees.

… The raft reaches the dock and Friedhieim, Hrothgaard and yourself go onshore. You are ushered to the meeting hall where food and drink is waiting. As you approach the meeting hall you can see that Dierk Einshaden is standing outside the smithy and furnance, sharpening swords and spears. With him are two of the armoured knights (Kanan and Serephos). They are inspecting the weapons, apparently assessing the quality and they appear to be very impressed. They notice Wulfrum observing their activity and wave out to him as a friendly gesture.

Wulfrum nods back and notes that the men look like the english, more noble than peasant so very much like Crosstenmarch and his ilk.

He enters the meeting hall and eats and drinks well, so much so that the toll of his endeavours catches up and he falls asleep beside the roaring fireplace, waking up much later when the evening meal is being prepared. The young women who are making the preparations laugh as he wakens, and Isolde (16) jokes about the loud snoring as having been fit to wake the gods from deep slumber themselves.

“I hope it did wake the gods,” Wulfrum smiles.

“Lord Crossenmarch has heard the news of your return and he looks forward to your briefing him on your discoveries,” she tells him. “He will be joiing us this evening in the hall because we are welcoming the new strangers. It is so good that you have returned safely to us. We had grown afraid because the village came under attack from wild wolves.”

Wulfrum returns to his cottage and freshens up so he feels more presentable. He then goes back to the meeting hall and finds that most of the villagers have gathered already.

Lord Crosstenmarch arrives a few minutes later, accompanied by Viktoria who looks very pale and slightly withdrawn from the activity around her. She doesn't look well at all. The six strangers also enter and they are wearing fine robes, rather than their suits of armour. All are still adorned with the symbol of the cross.

“Friends, welcome. Tonight is a night of fine celebration. Wulfrum has returned to us from across the lake and our new saviours have defeated wolves that were sent to plague us these past few days! It is in these times that our faith is being tested. But do not be afraid for there is one who watches over us all and ensures our safety. He is the one true god and it is in him and his grace that we are most truly thankful. So, please, everyone …. eat drink and be merry. For tonight is our reward.”

The room breaks out into clapping and cheering and the villagers approach Wulfrum, wondering how his ordeal has been and all say they have missed him. Tankards of mead and ale are pushed in his direction and steaming hot plates of food.

Viktor Crosstenmarch merely watches the interaction with an amused look on his face. After perhaps a couple of hours, the music starts and everyone starts dancing and drinks some more and basically have fun for the evening.

Viktoria remains very quiet and sits by Viktor all evening. At one part he does gesture for Wulfrum to join him.

“I am pleased to see you, Wulfrum. I had feared you met your demise on the far shoreline. There is much evil in the woods as I am sure you have witnessed for yourself. Tell me … what did you find over there?”

Wulfrum produces the two gold busts that depict the appearance of Lord Crosstenmarch. He reaches out and picks one up, studying it closely. “This is fascinating, where did you find it?”

“In the ruins of a large city, beneath the dam.” Wulfrum tells him.

“And this city … does it have a name?” Viktor asks him.

“No, but you ruled over it and it was destroyed in battle. In the centre of the plaza I found a statue of myself. And yes, I saw soldiers such as I see here now in your company. I found pictures, art and a library. There were denizens in the ruined city and around the city. In caves and other locations. Deep beneath the caves lies a creature. It is called The Corruptor. It has a number of servants in the caves around it. I also found – and you might not like this – another Otto. I have seen at least four of them now.”

“And this Otto … what did he reveal to you? Did he share knowledge?”

“Some … as did the Otto I met at Madenstadt's manor when I was there.”

“I see. It would be pointless in me telling you that I don't know what you mean. Because the simple fact of the matter is that Otto does exist in many places of this world at the same time.”

“Yes, they call themselves Legion.”

“Fascinating. I have not heard this name. Did they share it with you?”

“One did. He even showed me a place where there are a whole lot of coffins. That is where he mentioned they are Legion.”

“I know of them as Watchers. It is my understanding that they are waiting for a signal. They are waiting for the next time that destruction will come.”

“Do you know who they watch for?”

“I do not – do you?”

“Hel.”

“And what or who is Hel?”

“In our religion Hel is the Dark Mistress and it is she that the one you do not wish to speak of serves. Furthermore, it seems that my particular relion and its beliefs are very evident here as well because chained to the back of the underground city is Fenris.”

“Fenris? What is Fenris?” Viktor looks confused.

“Fenris for want of a better term is a gigantic wolf who is chained. Released, it is said that he will bring about the end of the world. Now … let's forget about your religion and look at my religion for the moment … the reason why Hrothgaard and myself are here is because in my god's home, Odin, our chief god was usurped by two others. One was Loki who is known as a trickster and I have felt his influence here and the second was Fenris. Now I find Fenris is not in god's home but is here, chained. So it would seem to me that amidst the evil that surrounds us there are many faces to it. The city, I believe, goes under the dam and into the lake. It seemed to be a fine city once with crosses representing your religion. These I saw in the library, together with a large silver box that I could not retrieve and the large statue of myself in the plaza of the city. That statue was attired and armed as you see me now.”

Viktor considers this and looks slightly taken aback by the description. “Then what you have seen must be a demon's lies! Of the fallen angel Satan himself. For he is a trickster and he has shown you what he thought you might believe. I know nothing of your pagan ways but find some reassurance in what you have said in knowing that the symbol of the cross exists down there which is prove that the one true god remains powerful, for the image of my faith has not been stamped out. “

“Two things you know; I do not question your faith and never will. You were defeated in that city. If you believe I saw the cross then you must believe in everything else. The truth is down there and I do not lie to anyone.” Wulfrum tells him.

“Then what defeated us? And I say 'us' because the statue you describe depicts you as my champion. What fate befell or overran us?”

Wulfrum looks at him “If I was to tell you this, then I need your word that you will not act upon it. For if you do then you could well be the one responsible for setting about the chain of events that the Legion are waiting for.”

Crosstenmarch looks shocked and pales. “You have my solemn word. I will listen and hold my tongue and action, so help me God. Please tell me what you have learned.”

“I have seen the evidence at two locations and I believe the event in the city occurred long ago. Now whether it was you or your family involved I do not know but this bust is you. Those that attacked your city were evil soldiers that bore the cross upside down and they wore black winged helmets. I believe they were servants of Madenstadt.”

Viktor gasps. “Are you certain of this?”

Wulfrum nods. “I am certain.”

“Then it is as I feared. My enemy is far older than I had ever imagined.”

“Your foe has been here far longer than you because in this village the cycle changes every twenty years. The only thing that remains is Otto. The only other thing that seems to be prevalent in the history between you both is Viktoria. It would seem to me that both you and Madenstadt were once good friends and served each others' cause. But that changed with Viktoria.”

Viktor nods and grows sad. He downs the remaining contents of his tankard of ale and calls for another. Then he fixes Wulfrum with a stern look and he says “You have my word. I will not act on this.”

“This would be the wrong time because I believe the Madenstadts are like yourself. I get the sense that the Legion are waiting for the signal and I believe that signal is going to be some confrontation between you and the Madenstadts. If that does not happen then the signal cannot be given.”

“But we are both proud men. Neither of us will give ground lightly. We each harbour deep resentment for one another and our faiths are truly opposite to what we once shared.”

“Be that as it may … even enemies have truces and such truces can hold for a long time. Madenstadt has promised he will not attack you if you promise the same. If you like I can deliver that message to him on your behalf. There are seemingly forces that are waiting for two small groups to evoke some sort of event. Now … from what I have seen below the dam, the forces and magical power are great. Why are they waiting? Let's not give them what they want.”

“I will sleep on this. I value your judgement, Wulfrum, I can see why my forbear considered you to be his champion, if indeed what you have seen below is what is represented.”

Wulfrum also gives Viktor the twelve sealed scroll cases he retrieved from the ruined cathedral in the Sunken City. They are each marked with the sign of the cross. Viktor accepts them graciously.

During this conversation, Viktoria simply sits there listening. She does not smile nor react to any of Wulfrum's descriptions or revelations. She looks at Wulfrum when he mentions Madenstadt but there is no hint of warmth or recognition in her eyes. It is like she is not really there. She is not herself.

Viktor explains “Viktoria simply hasn't been herself lately. I think it might be something to do with her previous disappearance. She has kept to herself, mostly in her room. Occasionally, usually at night, she does spend time in our courtyard garden with the black roses. I have Otto watch over her to make sure she remains in sight. But I think you can clearly see that she is behaving strangely. I do not know what this means.”

Suddenly the conversation is interrupted by the frivolous and happy spirited nature of Erika (19) and Anke Vorsachen (16) who get Wulfrum up for some drunken dancing. Wulfrum joins them and notices that Viktor and Viktoria retire from the meeting hall shortly afterward.
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