Sigmar scrambled to climb out of the well, using gaps between the stones for leverage. He cleared the top and drew two daggers instinctively, quickly scanning the scene. A few soldiers remained near the well, swords drawn and waiting, clearly not sure what they were looking out for. Sigmar could be heard trampling through the part of the forest just south of the clearing, so M’ut moved in that direction. He didn’t hear the sounds of fighting, just men trudging around, cutting at bushes and circling trees. M’ut training kicked in, and he found his own cover and stood completely still, and from there began to observe his surroundings. That’s when he spotted it, the smallest edge of a book poking out from underneath some foliage. He slowly moved towards it, daggers ready. Suddenly, a broad, squat figure burst out of the small hiding place and bolted. M’ut yelled to the men and around twenty men began to pursue. It wasn’t hard to catch up to the smaller figure, and the men quickly had him surrounded. He was dressed in travel greens and browns, allowing him to blend in well with the forest. He had a black beard and short black hair, except for a small ponytail in the back. He wore a bow on his back and had two battleaxes in loops on each side. He made no move for his weapons.
“What is your name? What were you doing spying on us? Where do you hail from? Speak quickly,” Sigmar said in a menacing tone, leveling his hammer. The squat man looked at the men, then straight back at Sigmar with a look that suggested he was confident he could take on so many and so large a group.
“Bori, Bori Once-tossed. Who’s asking? Any why are ye scaring away me prey?” Hergr entered the area, having been on scouting patrol.
“I know where he’s from. He’s a bloody Vaen!” Hergr said with unmistakable contempt. He drew his own axe and walked right up Bori and stood close, looking down at him. The stark contrast between the six and a half foot man and the four foot man was laughable, although the looks they gave each other could temper iron.
“I’m surprised they let you off your leash,” Bori said returning the sneer and the attitude. Hergr raised his axe as if to strike.
“NO!” Sigmar barked. “Stay your weapon soldier. Do you two… know each other?” Hergr lowered his axe and stormed off.
“So, still on his leash,” Bori muttered loudly enough that Hergr should have been able to hear. “No… um, sir. But I know a Thimondian when I see one, and our people have been at odds for, well, forever. Those big dumb brutes stole our land, and they’re abominations! They…” Sigmar cut him off.
“What did you mean, ‘scare away your prey’, what is it you hunt?” Bori didn’t say anything but instead held up a finger and moved back to the clearing. From there, he showed the faint impressions of bootprints, the same as M’ut had found earlier. They found a few sets of tracks coming and going to and from the well. North, west, east. Bori explained that he hunted big game for a living, and that in all his days he’s never seen a print that big. Curiosity got the better of him and he tracked it east, whatever it was, across the river and into the forest when they so rudely interrupted his trap.
“And what worries me most is that its clearly a boot, not a footprint… this person or whatever it may be, is armored, and should weigh a ton but barely leaves any tracks. Too mysterious!” Bori narrated, whether or not anyone was listening. Sigmar was lost in his thoughts about what to do with this situation, but he had a feeling that the large bootprint had a connection with his missing scouts…
- * * * *
Although the track was incredibly difficult to follow through the forest undergrowth, the group now had two trackers working the detail, meaning that the going was a lot faster than before. Bori had agreed to help out since they apparently were after the same creature. Bori had come from the west, not finding much else while the company had come from the north, so by elimination they followed the trail that headed east, towards the mountains. It wasn’t long before they were outside of the forest and climbing quickly. The terrain grew rockier and the tracks became more and more obscure, if that was even possible. Soon, they lost the trail altogether and there was no hope of finding more tracks, so they tried continuing in the same trajectory the trail had been going. They crested a small peak and on the other side, down in the valley below, saw the mouth of a cave. That was good news. It fit with the general direction the tracks had been going, so the company slowly moved in that direction. M’ut and Bori scoped it out first. Usually Hergr would have been up in the front with them, but he was still hot under the collar about them allowing a ‘dirty Vaen’ with them. The two moved to the mouth of cave slowly and carefully, and without hearing or seeing anything of danger, signaled to the unit before proceeding in. Somehow, Bori could see clearly without torches, or at least he claimed he did. It wasn’t long before the light of the day was lost to the deepening darkness of the cave. The two slowly and quietly made their way down the curving passage at the back of the cave.
Bori stopped, and held out a hand to stop M’ut. In the complete stillness, they heard whimpering and crying from several voices. Bori moved around another corner and the cave opened up into a larger room. Across the room, in a makeshift cage of iron bars, sat huddled around eleven men. The room stank of urine and feces, apparently days worth from the potent odor. Otherwise, the room was empty. Bori moved in very slowly and surveyed the room while M’ut worked his way back to the company outside the cave. He explained the situation, and Sigmar made a decision to move it. He assigned twenty men to stay outside the cave and guard while the rest moved in and began to fix torches to light the passage. M’ut moved back in at his own pace and went back to the room. Bori was nowhere near, but M’ut was able to feel his way along and discover the passage continued down the back of the room. He moved his way in, checking for any threats from behind.
Sigmar and the unit moved into the large room and the men in the cage cowered and screamed, and they shied away from the light. Sigmar had to hold a hand to his nose to try to block the strong odor, but it did little to help. He ordered some of his men to free the prisoners and had one of them brought for questioning. When the man was brought closer, he was clearly one of the missing scouts.
“Who did this to you? Where is he? Tell us what you can,” Sigmar said in his usual authoritative tone. The man didn’t respond but try to back away from the men. He didn’t seem to recognize them as friends and whimpered and muttered, begging for his life. He was obviously traumatized and of no use for information. Sigmar was about to question the others, seeing if he could get anything when they heard the sound of men’s screams coming from the mouth of the cave. The men were ready to go out and join the fight, but Sigmar stopped them. There was an incredibly-strong presence of evil at the mouth of cave, and the men’s screams died off quickly. The men tried to prepare themselves for whatever was coming, but a strong sense of dread and helplessness came over them. Sigmar tried to inspire his men and give them courage, but it did little against the sheer weight of hopelessness that invaded their minds and gave them pits in their stomachs. The prisoners cried loudly and screamed, many of them clambering back into the cage and closing the door, huddling in the corner. Sigmar and Mardan stood at the mouth of the room. M’ut, hearing the commotion, began to make his way back to the room. They stood tensely and waited as the sound of clanking armor came from the direction of the cave mouth. The clanks were thick and deep, as if the armor was large and thick. The footsteps were slow and deliberate.
“Welcome, strangers. Thank you for bringing me more prisoners,” the voice was deep, gritty, and incredibly menacing. “Are you so eager to die as well?” No one dared speak, except Sigmar.
“Who or what are you, evil thing? Show yourself!” The figure stepped around the corner and the sheer sight of him filled the men with renewed dread. Before them stood a nearly nine-foot tall humanoid clad in full plate and brandishing a greatsword with a blade around five feet long. The armor he wore was of exquisite make, and was made out of some dark metal that couldn’t be iron, steel, or mithril. It had cruel designs over it, with a large embossed emblem on the breastplate of a horned skull that was covered in ice and menacing. The trim of the armor was a deep, blood red, and the helm’s face was also that of a skull. The sword was thick, and looked quite heavy, although the figure held it with apparent ease. It was also made of the dark metal and had runes carved into its length. It was of a wicked and cruel shape.
“Ha ha, cleric. So bold. Would the powers of the light save you from my hand? I think not. I will show you all how merciful I can be, if you join me right now I will grant you power beyond what you will ever know and your death will be quick. If not, then I will find… creative ways to make you suffer.” It was everything they had in their minds to resist the urge to flee this man’s presence, but they held fast. M’ut dropped to one knee, tempted by the offer of greater power, and seeing little way out of this. Sigmar however, drew one of his throwing axes, blessed it with a spell for accuracy, and hurled it at the man. The axe hit, but dinged uselessly off the armor. Sigmar threw another, but it fell short.
“So that is your answer? You wish to die? So be it. I will grant you your request.” The figure walked towards them slowly. Many of the men dropped their weapons and backed away. Sigmar and Mardan readied their weapons. M’ut talked himself out of it and stood up to help. The large man swung his sword and with a single blow, hewed three men in half. As they screamed and died, the runes on the sword glowed with a faint green and a faint vapor could be seen coming out of the men and being absorbed into the blade. Some very dark and evil magic was present. Many men regained their courage and stepped up to swing their swords at the dark figure, but it was beyond useless. His armor was impossibly-thick and no weak spots could be found. He continued to slice, each time decimating their ranks. Even Sigmar and Mardan were able to do little against such a foe. Since Sigmar’s pride would have them all killed, Mardan took the situation into his own hands. Blowing the magical horn he had looted from one of the enemy generals during a skirmish, he produced a cloud of fog that filled most of the room.
“RETREAT!” he yelled, and the men were more than happy to comply. Those that were able rushed back to the mouth of the cave, Sigmar leading the way. Screams continued behind them as men still died. Out of the cave and up the hill they ran, past the bodies of the twenty or so slain men that had been outside. Mardan was sick to his stomach from the sight, but still ran, for his very life. He looked back as they climbed the hill. The figure was standing at the mouth of the cave watching them, but making no attempt to pursue them. His presence was still fixed in Mardan’s mind and that despair filled him again. What could be done against such an enemy?