The Duchy of Witzburg
Can we speak quite confidently regarding the limitations or the ranges of the activities of angels, demons, and discarnate human souls, notably the unbaptized, who, after all, form numerically the vast majority of the human race?
The Church and Spiritualism, Herbert Thurston, S.J.
The Duchy of Witzburg lies in southern Germany, tucked between the kingdoms of Bavaria and Württemberg, and is home to around 90,000 people. Its capital, the river port of Zweitürmeburg an der Donau (or just Zweitürmeburg), lies on the northern bank of the Danube river. The Duchy is predominantly rural and decidedly rustic; the city of Zweitürmeburg is the only settlement of any size, and what little industry the Duchy possesses is limited to a handful of textile factories in the capital. Otherwise, the population lives much as their ancestors did a hundred years ago. They work the land and tend their flocks, watching as the world around them moves by.
The recorded history of the Duchy goes back to the 2nd century A.D., when Roman legions clashed with the local Germanic tribe, the Marcomanni. A handful of Roman outposts were built in what is now the Duchy, and their remnants (including a few crumbling scrolls of unusual occult and mythological content) are collected in the History Museum in the capital. Archaeologists have uncovered traces of earlier, pre-Germanic inhabitants in the primeval forest known as the Kleinschwarzwald, but there is fierce disagreement about the nature of the older inhabitants; the general belief is that they were Celts, but some archaeologists believe they were an entirely unknown people.
Long after the Roman Empire collapsed, the Duchy itself began to evolve. It was originally a cluster of Danube villages with a shared charter modeled on that of the nearby city of Ulm, only becoming truly united under the Liebewitz family in the 14th century. The supposed founder of the House of Turmwitz was the legendary Jakob Liebewitz, a Swabian crusader who lost an eye in the Siege of Damascus during the Second Crusade, but the first recorded Duke was Wilhelm (1309-1372), who was also the first to bear the Turmwitz name. Other notable Dukes include Friedrich II (1394-1427), who accompanied the Bavarian Johann Schiltberger traveler to Siberia and Central Asia, and was later burnt at the stake by an angry mob, Albrecht (1474-1533), who buried his young wife Giselle alive, and Jakob III (1611-1650), who disappeared on a hunting trip in the Kleinschwarzwald. The Duchy somehow avoided the ravages of the Thirty Years War and is barely mentioned in the chronicles of the era, in fact.
Politically, the Duchy is dominated by the Donau Katholischen Verband (DKV), a Catholic conservative party organized along the ideals of church and hearth; the leftist SPD has grown in the city over the last ten years but is still a tiny minority in the Landtag, the Ducal legislature. The real power in the Duchy resides with the House of Turmwitz, as it has for centuries. The current duke is Lukas Turmwitz, an aging and increasingly confused man who fought against Napoleon's armies in his youth; his younger, but still elderly, wife Beatrix is the effective ruler of the Duchy and has been for almost a decade.
Aside from the capital, notable settlements include the outlying towns Kronedorf, Ulmenburg, Donaufeld, Glauburg, Eisen and Katharinafeld, clustered in the angle formed by the Ulmen (the river that forms the Duchy's eastern border) and the Danube. The rural villages are linked by rough, often unpaved roads; a railroad does run through the Duchy, but it only serves the capital, linking it to the city of Ulm in neighboring Württemberg. Most people who travel through the Duchy do so on foot, horseback or carriage.
While urban Witzburgers speak Standard German, most peasants and village dwellers still speak Witzburgdeutsch, an old Swabian sub-dialect. Witzburgdeutsch can be difficult for even native German speakers to understand at first, since quite a few words are different, to say nothing of pronunciation. Those who speak Witzburgdeutsch tend to take pride in that fact.
The heart of the Duchy is the city. Almost half the people in the Duchy live in the capital, and all the social life and political intrigue of the Duchy is concentrated within its boundaries. As of 1880, the population of the city was 41,800; it has risen slightly since then, but the next census is due in 1890 and there is some disagreement about the actual population at the moment. The mayor is Georg König, an ambitious man with a respectable military record and widely known dreams of ascending to national politics. His religious counterpart is the Catholic Bishop Gottfried Richter, a fairly young Dominican priest and theologian with a special interest in the supernatural. In this conservative and overwhelmingly Catholic city, Bishop Richter is often viewed as the real leader, a fact that endlessly annoying König.
Zweitürmeburg an der Donau was first settled almost 1900 years ago by Marcomanni tribesmen, but it was a minor village and soon abandoned in the face of Roman expansion. The Romans established a small fort under what is now the old city, but they withdraw after a decade or so, leaving the area to its Germanic natives. Centuries later, the town of Zweitürmeburg was built. It is first seen in the historical record in 1280 and was granted city status in 1333. The city prospered as a river port, avoiding the worst ravages of medieval and Renaissance plagues and wars, but never grew to rival nearby Ulm. Today, it is a small city and would be entirely unnoticed by outsiders if not for its rank as the capital of one of the member states of the German Empire.
Physically, the city is divided into the rambling old city which lies on the Hochberg, a high hill overlooking the Danube, and the new town, a neat grid of 19th century streets stretching west of the Hochberg before trailing out into scattered hamlets along the river. Two bridges span the Danube south of the city, the Hochbrücke and the Eisbrücke. There was a third, the Ulmenbrücke, but it was destroyed by Austrian troops during the Napoleonic Wars and was not rebuilt. The wooden structure that was once the northern end of the bridge can still be seen at the boundary between the old city and new town.
The famous two towers that give the city its name are the Weißturm and the Schwarzturm. One, the Weißturm, sits atop Hochberg, while the Schwarzturm is a half-mile away on a small island in the Danube. Both were built in the 16th century as strongholds for the Turmwitz family, and neither one has ever been seized by an enemy army. At three hundred and three feet in height, they are the tallest buildings in the Duchy, just eclipsing the cathedral of Zweitürmeburg. The Schwarzturm is now little more than a tourist attraction, but the Weißturm is still the headquarters of the Witzburg Battalion of the Royal Bavarian Army.
Not far from the Weißturm is the Karlsdom, Witzburg's Gothic cathedral. It was built between 1758 and 1802 (coincidentally the lifespan of Duke Lukas' father, Albrecht III) and now dominates the outer edge of the old city on the lower slopes of the Hochberg. The crypts beneath the cathedral are arrayed in a peculiar, apparently random fashion that often confuses visitors; the only way to reach the crypts is by getting a key from the rector of the cathedral and then descending a narrow, counterclockwise staircase. The plaza in front of the cathedral is one end of Ulmen Straße, the main avenue of the city. At the other end, one comes to Schloß Turmwitz, the residence of the Duke and his family. The Schloß is a 17th century castle built according to Jakob III's exacting and occasionally unusual blueprints. The outer courtyard is open to the public, but black-clad soldiers from the Ducal Guard keep intruders from passing through the main gateway. Inside the Schloß one can find both the famous Baroque chapel, the Weißkapelle, which houses the relics of St. Edward the Franconian and the hearts of all the previous dukes, and the largest collection of medieval alchemist manuals in southern Germany.
On the north end of the city, near where the city wall once stood, is the Old Synagogue that once belonged to the city's small Jewish population. It burnt down in 1754, consumed in the space of an hour by a white-hot inferno. Local anti-Semites said it was the wrath of God, local Jews whispered it was the work of the devil, and the Duke's investigator concluded it was arson. Whatever the cause, the site was considered tainted by all concerned and the ground remains empty to this day, the rubble surrounded by a thick wall of elm trees and rose bushes; the new synagogue is built down the street, out of sight of its predecessor.
The Sisters have been present in the Duchy since 1857, when a priory was built in Zweitürmeburg's new city. The Priorat den Aufnahme Mariens in den Himmel (Priory of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) was erected near the site of both a Celtic solar observatory and temple and a Roman era church of Mithras. In modern terms, it lies in the midst of the quiet residential neighborhood of Karlgarten.
The priory itself is a rather substantial complex (it takes up an entire city block), and was built in a decidedly Gothic style that matches the local cathedral. The first sign of the priory is a low hawthorn hedge that runs along the boundary just a few feet away from the street. Behind it is a tall stone wall which surrounds the main, outer courtyard. Life-sized statues of various saints are situated in the outer courtyard, positioned to keep watch on the wall and the world beyond it. Inside the protective ring of statues is the priory itself. It is a two-story square of granite and rose marble with an arched front entrance and smaller side doors near the kitchen and on the opposite side wall. The kitchen, dining room, a smaller (and more conventional) library and two reading rooms are on the first story, while the Sisters' rooms are on the upper floor, as is the main library. The priory building encloses an inner courtyard, which contains the priory's small chapel and a fountain with a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in its center.
The priory's main library boasts one of the largest collections of its type in southern Germany. In addition to every standard work on the occult and supernatural written in German, French, English or Italian over the past two hundred years, the library contains several rarer texts. Their prizes are a 16th century book claiming to be the diary of Dr. Faust and a medieval Egyptian book, presumably brought back to Europe by a crusader or merchant, that details many otherwise unknown rites of both Islamic and pagan Egypt. The library was willed to the priory by Karl Friedrich Sinzenhofen, a wealthy industrialist who died in 1875. Sinzenhofen was a devout Catholic whose sister Maria-Elizabeth was one of the first Red Sisters in Zweitürmeburg.
According to medieval chronicles, when the first, now vanished castle was built on the Hochberg by order of Jakob Liebewitz, the builders discovered several subterranean chambers. Most of the chambers were empty, but in the deepest room, a wooden box was found sealed inside a large iron casket. Inside the box was what seemed to be a human heart, but of gigantic proportions. Legend has it that Jakob placed the heart beneath the altar of his chapel in the castle when it was built... only for the entire structure to fall to ruin the very day the castle was finished. After consulting the local monks, Jakob returned the giant heart to its resting place and had the entire complex sealed with stone, dirt and lead. The location and nature of the heart, if it existed at all, is the frequent topic of conversation in the Duchy. Those who believe the Heart of Hochberg existed claim it was either an ordinary, if somewhat large, human heart, the heart of a Nephilim as in the Bible, or even the heart of an earth-bound angel. The fact that the castle and possibly Jakob himself may never have existed doesn't stop people from trying to dig up the heart now and then- the Ducal Guard stationed atop the peak of the Hochberg is a much more effective deterrent.
The story of the Hochdorf Vampire has been around for over two hundred years. It's said he was an inhabitant of the old village of Hochdorf (now split into the urban districts of Nordhochdorf and Osthochdorf), one Jakob Hensel, who dabbled in the black arts and rose from his grave on unconsecrated ground. Hensel's name surfaces every generation or so, whenever there's a mysterious disappearance or death in Nordhochdorf or Osthochdorf; most recently, he has been blamed for the 1888 disappearances of Karl Löwith, a local tanner, and Carolin Schäuble, a theater actress. A few Zweitürmeburgers have claimed to have seen Löwith walking the streets of Nordhochdorf by night after his disappearance, and some claim he was seen outside Schäuble's theater the night she disappeared.
Another bit of local occult color is the Phantom of Barnabaskirche. The Phantom is a very odd and ancient ghost, attested to as far back as Roman times (one of the surviving Roman scrolls in the city museum describes an encounter between the Phantom and a Roman patrol). Medieval folklore said it was the ghost of the Biblical Enoch, although why it was in southern Germany instead of the Holy Land was never made quite clear. Resides in and around a Baroque church in the fashionable Donaustraße neighborhood.
One item the Red Sisters have long sought is Johann Berenberg's Grimoire. Berenberg was a 15th century alchemist rumored to be the occult advisor to Duke Albrecht and also believed to have mastered the transmutation of base metals and to have discovered the Elixir of Youth during his travels in Egypt. The alchemist died in 1512, but all of his occult texts were missing when his home was searched soon afterwards. The Grimoire, reportedly a black book with red pages, is said to contain all of Berenberg's greatest secrets. Local rumor says the Grimoire is locked in a lead box under the altar in the Weißkapelle, or else buried with Duke Albretcht.
In German, the word Zweitürmeburg roughly means Town of Two Towers, but a persistent local legend says there was once a third tower. The stories connect this lost tower with Friedrich II, who was reportedly a black magician and devil worshipper (thus his execution-by-mob). Nobody agrees on where the third tower stands, but all the stories claim it is a treasure house of occult lore. Some stories add that the burnt bones of Friedrich II are actually buried under the tower, and that the bones in his tomb near the Schloß Turmwitz are those of an unlucky vagrant.
Thirteen miles east of Zweitürmeburg is the Kleinschwarzwald. It is a strange, almost dreamlike forest where the superstitious locals still leave offerings of milk and bread to the Kaminmann, a type of kobold or house goblin. The 1884 disappearance of young Giselle Buchholz, the much sought-after oldest daughter of the mayor of Walddorf, was widely blamed on her public denial of the existence of the Kaminmann. Others mutter about Old Sissi, the 18th century witch believed by some to still lurk in the heart of the forest, or Schwarzhand, an ancient wolf, possibly a survivor of ancient Germanic mythology.
Friends and Foes
The Turmwitzes have always had a slightly unsavory reputation and the present generation is no exception. Lukas has recently become a dabbler in spiritualism, and has arranged for séances to be held at the Schloß. Being invited to such events is a sign you've earned the Duke's favor - if not the Duchess'. Duchess Beatrix is a devout and old-fashioned Catholic, and she strongly disapproves of Lukas' new hobbies. Most Red Sisters believe Beatrix has ties to the Whites, especially in light of her numerous daughters and grand-daughters, Catholic, noble and thus prime candidates (or perhaps targets) for White schemes.
The Witzburger Astrologen-Verband (or WAV) is also involved in numerous schemes in the Duchy. Originally a brotherhood of amateur astronomers with a spiritualist bent, it soon became a full-fledged astrological society. The members of the WAV create horoscopes (freely for members and for a modest fee for non-members), publish a twice-yearly journal, and sometimes investigate the ruins of the ancient inhabitants of the Duchy for evidence of their astrological beliefs and practices. Lately, the WAV has become more and more overtly occultist, with a strong influence from Theosophy, as the founders have largely succumbed to old age. The ZAV is now run by Heinrich Seiterich, a Bavarian immigrant and spiritualist. Seiterich is also believed to be a practicing magician by the Red Sisters, and a few of them suspect he has ties to far more sinister groups than just Theosophists.
One such sinister group would be the local brotherhood of Satanists. The Red Sisters suspect such a group exists, but have yet to uncover decisive proof. There are always stories about blasphemous black masses carried out in the back alleys of the old city, and a few more zealous Sisters believe that every dog that disappears is because of Satanists. The many disappearances and unsolved murders that have plagued the city over the last half century are slightly more suggestive, especially given the bizarre ritual nature of more than a dozen of said murders. Satanic or not, the increasing pace of the ritual murders (three in the past year, and eight in the five years before it) is definitely cause for concern.
A possible ally of the Red Sisters in their work is the Ducal government (as opposed to the Ducal family). The government of Witzburg is believed to have some awareness of the oddities of the Duchy, although stories of secret policemen fighting ghosts and vampires in the back streets of the city are dismissed by most Red Sisters. On the other hand, the Red Sisters have noticed that strange crime scenes often tend to attract the attention of the same curiously open-minded investigators time and again.