“What in heaven’s name have you done this time?! By the six curses…” The vein in Olsbrin’s neck was pulsing and his face was redder than a mallowfruit. “I don’t give a drek if you’re some member of the Church, you just involved four military personnel in this crazy quest of yours and you screwed it up…” Sigmar wanted to defend himself, but Olsbrin wasn’t letting him get a word in edge-wise. He had sat there for twenty minutes now, listening to Olsbrin’s lecture and was just looking for his chance to leave. “Go ahead, go report to you bishop or whatever. I can’t stand to look at you right now.” Sigmar stood and slipped out as quickly and quietly as he could. He didn’t mean to report to Olsbrin first, but the gate guards had apparently been looking out for him. There was no sign of Xa or Mardan yet. This was a colossal screwup, but it wasn’t his fault, it was those wicked townspeople. He headed back to the the Glorious Badger with both haste and reluctance.
- * * * *
“Tell it to me again, and don’t leave anything out,” the bishop said without looking at Sigmar. He was staring out the window over the city.
“Yes your grace,” Sigmar said trying to be as humble as he could. He felt odd without his armor, but there was no changing that now. He recounted their observations and their story, leaving out his act of punching the town guard. “And they tried to charge me for some false crime. I think they suspected I was a holy man. Mardan had the sword, and he must have lost it. I didn’t know where the others were, so fearing for my life, I ordered my man to break the stocks and we ran.” He couldn’t stomach the blame for this one. His moral compass slid a little as he convinced himself that the white lies where no big deal. As he opened his mouth to speak again, the door swung open, and in came Mardan, panting, dirty, and bearing the bishop’s sword.
“Sigmar, I… how did you…” he stopped, out of breath. Sigmar’s heart sank a little.
“Just in time, cleric. Thank you for retrieving the sword. Please sink, drink.” He motioned to his partner who fill a glass with fresh, expensive wine. Mardan drank politely, although he was clearly thirsty.
“I’m sorry your grace, I got lost in the countryside.”
“No matter. You’re here. Please, Sigmar has been telling me of your… adventures in Gripplin. Is the town as wicked as he says?”
Mardan gave a look over to Sigmar. Sigmar’s returned gaze was quite guilty. Mardan turned back to the bishop and recounted the true events of their trip, including Sigmar’s somewhat irrational behavior. Sigmar’s face sank, but didn’t dare to defend himself. “I did however find a quite strong presence of evil near the courthouse, although there were too many townsmen for me to investigate further. When I went back to the courtyard, I saw them ritualistically kill Xa. They cut his throat and offered his death up to ‘the master’. It gave me chills, so I left.” The bishop took it all in and didn’t speak for some time.
“Cleric Sigmar, I think I understand your reasons for lying directly to me. Although I understand, such profane behavior is not acceptable for a man of your position. You are on probation, for the time being. I see you have a great desire for justice, and Orien delights in justice. Perhaps you can join our inquistorial division. They might better suit your… methods.” Sigmar felt relieved at the bishop’s grace. “Thank you, your grace,” was all he could manage.
“I thank you, Cleric Mardan, for your report and your faithful recovery of this blade. I think I have decided what we must do. I will talk to your Captain, but I feel we must march on Gripplin, and quickly. Dark things are happening there, and this… master… could be quite dangerous. Please, report to him at once and inform him that I will require his assistance. I have further words for Sigmar here.” Mardan bowed and excused himself. He still couldn’t believe Sigmar making him a scapegoat in all of this.
- * * * *
The company marched north. It had taken a lot of convincing for Olsbrin to let his men be used for the bishop’s purposes. Sigmar and Mardan had had to watch the whole thing quietly on the side. Olsbrin had yelled while the bishop calmly and logically won the argument. Olsbrin couldn’t disagree that an entire town under some dark power was a threat to the country as a whole. Olsbrin still wasn’t happy, but then again, he never really was. The unit of fifty men marched for five long days to make it to the valley that held the small town. Sigmar had taken the bishop up on his offer to join the inquisitorial division of the Church. Apparently to this clandestine group the ethics of Orien could be bent slightly if it was for the greater good… just the sort methods that Sigmar was used to.
As the large unit made its way over the crest of the hill, Olsbrin held up his hand to stop them. Mardan was able to take in the scene from atop his horse. Before him, where once stood the town of Gripplin, was a smoldering wreckage. The land itself was rent in several places, like the claws of some impossibly-large beast had torn the earth. Buildings still smoked lightly, evidence of recent fires. No life or movement could be seen below. Olsbrin motioned for them to move forward and the company descended the steep valley hill.
Once they reached the town proper, the men split into groups of five to survey the town. Olsbrin, the bishop, Mardan, Sigmar, and Ren all went to the town square. Buildings had collapsed in piles of ash and there were large splatters of blood around the place, but there was no other evidence of people. No bodies or body parts. Nothing. No life could be found in the whole town. After some time the small groups of men came back to give their reports. All were the same. No life. Lots of blood. Burned and crushed buildings.
“We should look into the civil building, where you detected the evil,” the bishop said, looking at Mardan as he spoke. Mardan nodded and led the way. They approached the once-large building. It was now caved in, and most of it lay underground in the small chasm that had opened up under it. The bishop stood in concentration, taking in the scene while Olsbrin motioned for his men to be quiet. In the silence faint, muffled cries could be heard from under the rubble. “Get those beams out of the way!” Olsbrin began to bark orders and slowly the rubble was cleared away. Two men who had been chained, presumably in some sort of jail, were freed and brought up for questioning. In clearing the rubble, it could now be seen that this chasm was quite deep, and one side of it opened up into a pit, the depth of which couldn’t be determined.
“Who are you? What happened here? Tell us what you know,” the bishop said in a kind but commanding tone. One of the men was large, with an unforgiving expression. The other was thin, short, and twitchy. He didn’t answer any of the questions, but instead just muttered random nonsensical phrases to himself. Eventually the gruff-looking one answered their questions.. in some fashion. He apparently had killed a man after losing his temper and was being detained for sentencing. He said the others prisoners would disappear one at a time, and he was quite sure they weren’t being released. Perhaps 48 hours earlier, the earth shook and he heard screams and the sounds of battle before silence. He hadn’t seen anything, and that was all he could offer. The soldiers then fed the men and chained them to unit’s wagon until it could be decided what was to be done with them.
As Olsbrin and the bishop were discussing what this might have been, six large, dark shapes shot out of the pit under the building. Landing among the groups of men, these… creatures started to attack. Each was vaguely humanoid, although they each possessed wings, four sinewy arms, razor-sharp black claws, and most oddly, no faces. They had mouths, but no eyes or nose, just a large protruding skull. Their skin was purplish-black and thick. They attacked with great speed and ferocity, and it was clear they were quite strong and quite deadly. Several men dropped quickly before most could respond. The bishop immediately began to channel holy energy in the hopes that it would drive away such evil creatures. They hissed in response, but continued their attack. Ren joined the fray, sustaining some wounds, but crushing the skulls of the one the creatures. It’s lifeless body twitched at his feet. Mardan and Sigmar worked together to flank another and successfully wounded it for the bishop to finish it off with the holy sword. As quick as they came the remaining monsters took flight and flew back down the chasm they had come from. Olsbrin set the men about, using wooden beams to block the hole and set up a perimeter. Thirteen men had been killed, and many other wounded. Something evil had happened in Gripplin, but what that was, no one knew.