The last six months had been awful for the unit. Because they had failed their mission, and the supply raids had not been effectively stopped, Commander Remorric assigned them as caravan babysitters. Escorting the wagons to and from the nearby towns, the men were getting sick of seeing the same road every few days. The time was miserable, but the raids had stopped and the caravans were able to successfully stock up Dresdnik throughout the harsh winter. Sigmar had a few days off and was trying to relax when a messenger came to the door. Without a word, he had the Lieutenant a sealed scroll parchment. He was used to receiving such scrolls, updating his orders, but as he went to open it, he noticed it wasn’t the Nyderiwen Army’s seal that was in the wax. It was actually the symbol of Orien, a ring of seven small circles outlined by a sunburst. This was a message from the Church. He opened it carefully and read. It was a summons to the Glorious Badger, one of the nicest inns in town. He was to meet a bishop there immediately to receive his orders in person.
- * * * *
The sitting room Sigmar was in was quite opulent. Gold and silver trimmed furniture was arranged around an expensively-carved table. One of his hosts sat tensely on a chair. He was dressed in the simple, traditional robes of a clergyman, although the gold trim on his sleeves and along his neckline indicated that he worked in some capacity under the Highfather himself, likely in The Dawning, the holy church-owned city nestled within Himbaden, Drachurst. He said nothing, but sat, watching Sigmar carefully. After some time, their host came in. He was clean-shaven, his hair well-kept, and he held himself quite proudly. His countenance was lofty as he slowly sat down to face Sigmar. His clothes were simple, but were purple with golden trim, demonstrating his authority as a bishop of the Church.
“Greetings cleric, may the Light of the Dawn shine on you. We have heard word of your work here in Dresdnik and we believe you are the man for a job that we must do. Can we count on you?”
“Of course, your holiness,” Sigmar said, squaring his shoulders and speaking with authority and confidence.
“Good. We have word that a dangerous cult has been gaining a presence in Nyderiwen, and of course the Church must oppose such things. We have word that a small town in the north, Gripplin I believe, is harboring these cultists. We need a man we can trust to go and investigate and see what is to be done.” The bishop sat back slightly, observing Sigmar. He only nodded his head. “Here are your orders,” the bishop said, sliding a scroll case across the table, “and this should help you if you run into trouble.” He placed a shortsword on the table. Sigmar picked it up tentatively and looked it over. He could feel blessed and holy energy flowing from the blade. This was a holy weapon of the church, a rare and expensive thing.
“I am honored, your holiness. I will do as you wish. We will leave as soon as possible.” Sigmar stood and bowed low before excusing himself. This was a big deal. If he could do this well, he would get even more approval from the Church and perhaps be bestowed with more authority. His mind was abuzz as he went to find the others.
- * * * *
Captain Olsbrin wasn’t happy with him, and he knew it, but as a member of the Church, Sigmar had a higher calling and this mission took precedence. Anyway, anything beat doing their escort patrols. There had been no sign of bandits for a long, long time and he wasn’t sure why their resources were being wasted on babysitting. He was taken only his trusted few to Gripplin. With fewer they’d travel faster and better be able to infiltrate the town. Besides, he still didn’t feel like he was a part of Olsbrin’s unit. The men were mostly northmen and were more sacrilegious than he would like. So he chose Xa, Ren, and Mardan to accompany him. He would have like M’ut to come, but the strange Makhoran had disappeared, doing who knows what.
They were getting near on the night of their third day of travel. Sigmar was sick of riding on horse, especially in his armor. In hindsight, maybe he should have left it, but he loved the presence his new set of full-plate gave him. People feared him in it and he felt invincible, although it was quite cumbersome. A small price to pay. They cleared the small hill and could see Gripplin before them in the valley. This region was quite mountainous and with the sun beginning to set, they were running out of time to safely navigate the slopes between them and the town. He spurred his horse on.
When they were just outside of the town, they all took off their armor, large weapons, and army insignias, preferring to enter disguised as mercenaries. They headed for the one inn in town, the Grassy Knoll, a pitiful excuse for an inn by Dresdnik standards. It would have to do. Perhaps they could gain some information here.
The four came in out of the cold night air into the inn’s dining room. It was quite packed and clearly a hotspot for the workmen of the town. Ale was being poured by the large, grumpy-looking barkeep and distributed by the equally-plump wenches. A few semi-attractive women wearing loose tops that easily exposed bare flesh whenever they bent over, made their way around, flirting with what could only be assumed to be their regular customers. Sigmar approached the barkeep while the others took a booth in the back and ordered some food and ale.
“My good man, we are new to this area and wondering if there’s any work to be had for four able bodies,” he said, indicating towards his friends at the table. The barkeep kept working and was giving nothing away. He seemed like he hated his life and everyone else. “No? Any problems you’ve had here? Rascals? Vagabonds?” Still nothing. After a few more minutes of attempted sweet-talking, Sigmar was ready to give up.
“If you’re looking for help, perhaps you should try this wine,” the barkeep finally said, holding a bottle of local wine. “It really helps you find what you’re looking for,” he said suggestively. Sigmar thought he caught the man’s meaning.
“100 gold coins.” Clearly that was an outrageous price for even the best of wines, and even moreso in this tiny town. Believing it to be the only way to get the barkeep’s help, Sigmar reluctantly handed a small bag of coins over the counter. Inspecting and seeming clearly pleased, the barkeep gave him the wine. “Nope, nothing out of the ordinary here,” he said with a cruel grin. “May you should Dapplin to the north.” Sigmar was at a loss for words. He’d been cheated, but there was nothing to do about it. Not here. Not now. As he took his wine and prepared to go back to his comrades he noticed a strange tattoo peeking out from under the man’s shirt. There was something sinister about it, and he’d seen something similar to it, but he couldn’t remember where. Instinctively he sent out a pulse detecting any evil nearby. He got reading from some back room behind the kitchen, and it was pretty strong. He would consult his friends before they did anything rash. He couldn’t screw this up. They had little to add to the situation. They all agreed that trying to do anything that night might be too much, they needed to scope out the rest of the town first.
The next morning the group woke up, refreshed and ready to find some cultists. They spent the morning separately, gathering what information they could from the local townsfolk before coming together around lunchtime. They shared what they’d learned. The people of Gripplin were slow to talk to outsiders, and everyone knew everyone else and what they were doing. Rumors were the main source of information, although they weren’t going to share those with strangers. Most people were simple tradesmen trying to scrape by and very few ever left the valley for any reason. They seemed ignorant of the goings-on outside their nearby area, and didn’t really care. They also had a sour disposition towards the Nyderiwen government and army, believing that they didn’t do anything for the town. The town was run by small council of older citizens, although getting a meeting with them was nigh-impossible. Sigmar had gotten a number of pings on his detect evil spell around the town, but hadn’t gotten any good opportunity to investigate them. Others had also reported seeing the same tattoo Sigmar had described on different people throughout the town.
The group had no plan to find these cultists. They had to ask the council, but there was no way to get a meeting with them. Sigmar, being rash and impatient, decided that he would do whatever it took to get that meeting. While the other three were discussing any plans, Sigmar walked up to a town guard and punched him hard in the face, dropping him to the ground. The other guard was speechless.
“Take me to the council.” The other guard regained his bearing and called over other guards to detain the large cleric. They handled him roughly even though he didn’t fight back. He was lead to the town square while guards were dispatched to gather the council members. Sigmar took it all in patiently. Maybe he could get information on the inside. Hopefully…