The company limped back, not so hurt physically as much as mentally. They had few injuries as the armored man’s sword had killed everyone it had touched. Mardan had a pit in his stomach. They had lost so many men, so quickly, to just one… thing. It had been pure evil and it had been really difficult for him to retreat instead of doing everything he could to defeat such a herald of darkness, but he had been thinking about the lives of the men. So they pressed on slowly through the night to return back to the barracks for rest, and to reequip. Mardan and Sigmar had to give their report to the Commander, which had been yet another drekstorm, having to explain how they lost so many with so little result. They had found the missing scouts, but had been able to do nothing to save them. In the morning they would formulate a plan for what was to be done. As Mardan left the Commander’s office and headed to the barracks he could feel a shockwave of air rush over the whole town. He looked towards the direction it had come from; south. The direction of the well. A massive column of green light shot into the air, into the clouds. It swirled with energy and pulsed, about fifteen times, before shrinking back down and disappearing. Mardan had no idea what was going on, but the hairs on the back of his neck still stood on end and he shivered briefly. That night, no number of soldiers or walls or buildings made him feel safe.
- * * * *
The next morning M’ut awoke early. He could barely sleep at all. Dreams about the armored man had haunted him, although he wasn’t necessarily afraid, but intrigued. A part of him desired such a presence, such power. Another part hated the brutal cruelty he had displayed. His sympathies went out to those prisoners, being tortured and terrified on a constant basis. They would have to go back and try to rescue them. Plans were discussed and it was decided that the best option was to send a small team to try to covertly rescue any survivors. The night before, the troop had been marching back and Bori had appeared out of nowhere and scared the life out of them. Apparently he had wandered back in the caves and found another back entrance, and unaware of the carnage, had simply exited and run into them as he tried to head back to the cave mouth. He was also really good at seeing in no light at all, which M’ut envied exceedingly. So the plan was to take this back exit and try to sneak the survivors out if at all possible.
So, M’ut, Bori, and two of the barracks’ best scouts made their way as fast as possible south until they reached the mountains. They secured their horses and headed towards the back entrance that Bori had located. They entered and worked their way through a number of tunnels, with Bori leading slowly since the others couldn’t see, and they didn’t want to risk any light. It seemed like an age in the darkness moving slowly and carefully, trying not to stumble, although in reality the trip took them little more than an hour. They finally approached the back end of the large room where the prisoners had been and Bori stopped them and moved in alone. In the dark he could see no signs of any life. The makeshift cage was empty and there were no bodies or body parts, only blood, lots of blood. The blood trailed as bodies had been dragged over the cave floor and out the mouth that they had used before. It was a gruesome sight. Bori went back and motioned that it was all clear. The others lit torches and took in the scene. One of the scouts choked, trying to hold back his vomit from the sheer amount of blood and skin that had been scraped off as dozens of bodies were dragged across the rocks. They followed the blood trail back out of the front of the cave, stopping to listen for any signs of trouble, but heard and saw none.
Outside the mouth of the cave was the same story. The bodies of the twenty or so men they had left to ‘guard’ the entrance had also disappeared, leaving behind only smears of blood, skin, hair, and clothing that worked its way up the hill and towards the small forest nearby. All signs headed in the direction of the well. The four decided they needed to go back and get their horses first, so they crested the hill and went to head east towards the back entrance when a mounted company approached them. It was Sigmar, with Mardan, Ren, and about ten soldiers in tow. They had around thirteen extra horses with them, including M’ut’s and Bori’s pony.
“What in the Eyes of the Priestess are you doing here?” M’ut said discourteously. This was supposed to be a covert mission and Sigmar just couldn’t leave well enough alone. A part of M’ut was glad to see some reinforcements, but Sigmar had a way of… screwing things up, and getting men killed.
“Watching your back, soldier,” Sigmar replied with renewed authority. He pulled rank whenever someone had a problem with anything he did. M’ut didn’t say any more. He and Bori just continued towards the forest and the well, and the others naturally followed. Following the tracks was easy as there were several rows of scrape marks in the dirt, although the boot prints were still hard to identify. The company moved through the forest back to the clearing. Sigmar and the troops moved up from the south while Bori circumvented the clearing to move in from the west and M’ut moved in from the east. They were all in position and stood at the end of the clearing, still in the cover of the trees and surveyed the scene. The well was now covered in thick, dried blood. On top of it lay an ornate, clean, silver-looking dagger. Beside the well lay a large pile of gore; bodies and body parts carelessly piled in a massive, bloody, fleshy heap. There was no sign of the armored man or any other life in the clearing. M’ut turned himself invisible and moved slowly into the clearing. Bori, on the other side, also moved in. As soon as stepped foot in the clearing, the voice of the armored man could be heard.
“Welcome back, heroes,” the sarcastic emphasis on the word was mocking in the utmost. “Because I am gracious, I will give you all one more opportunity to willingly serve me and my master. Great power awaits you, and I will give you a taste.” As the words finished, a surge of power fill the men. They felt stronger, more alive, more… everything. It was as if a great spirit had come upon them. “This is but a taste. There is so much more power to be had. If you desire this power, then simply take the dagger before you, plunge it into your heart and jump into the well. Join me, and together we will serve the great one!”
The voice stopped and no further words came. The men all looked around as if waiting for the armored man to burst out of the trees and attack, but it never came. Silence reigned. As they waited, Bori walked up to the well, and without a word, picked up the dagger. Looking over its shiny surface for a moment, he turned the blade towards himself and plunged it with great force into his left breast. Then, with his last ounce of strength, fell into the well and disappeared out of sight. M’ut, still invisible, rushed to the edge, but there was no sign of him in the infinite blackness. As he stood there, he looked to the side. The same dagger was back in its original place and staring at him taunting him to accept the greater power. The power surging through his body gave him a rush, and he couldn’t look away from the dagger, considering deeply. Picking it up, he said a quick prayer to the gods of nature and plunged it into his heart. The cold metal was more shocking at first, then the pain came quickly. His heart felt cold, as if it had begun to ice over, although it still beat slowly. He gasped for breath, panting quickly as his nerves shot pain signals through his entire body. He sat on the edge of the well almost instinctively before falling backwards. He fell for an eternity, and yet no time at all. When he hit the bottom, he was lying on sand, and it was impossibly hot. Hot wind poured over his face. Almost bleeding out, he looked over, only to see a massive armored boot near him. The armored man stood, looking down at him as the last inch of life leaked out of him…
- * * * *
Mardan stood, utterly shocked at what Bori had done. He had hardly known the guy, but it seemed so, irrational what he had done. Mardan could also feel the power in his veins, but for him it was a foreign entity, a poison. He held to his tenets and channeled divine powers enough to know a profane power source when he felt it. He felt like disrobing and scratching his skin off to get it out, it was so… itchy, and unnatural. Nevertheless he knew he could use its power if he so chose. He looked over at Sigmar. The cleric of Orien had a crazy look in his eye. He seemed to be… reveling in the power he’d been granted. Mardan had noticed a large shift in Sigmar’s devotion since they’d met again. He felt like he was slipping into darker things, asking questions that a holy cleric shouldn’t. Sigmar looked at the dagger almost longingly.
“I won’t kill myself oh great one, but is this sacrifice enough?” Sigmar said as he took his shortsword and stabbed forcefully at Ren, standing next to him. The warrior looked shocked, but the blow hadn’t been enough to kill him. There was no response from the armored man’s voice. Sigmar moved into the clearing as if to jump in the well and Ren drew his greathammer and followed, angrily bloodthirsty. Mardan ran after then, hoping to spare any more bloodshed. As he did, the pile of bodies stirred. They all stopped immediately to look. The pile stirred and rose up, the bodies holding together somehow, until a massive shape of flesh and gore stood before them. It had ‘arms’ made out of bodies and fashioned some sort of legs and moved towards them to attack. The company drew weapons and charged in. Sigmar instinctively raised his shield as a massive arm crashed down on him. The weight was almost unbearable. The creature proceeded to change shape adding new limbs and attacking the men. One arm pinned Ren and the flesh attacked him viciously. Heads bit him, arm clawed, legs kicked. Mardan regained his bearing and blessed his shortsword with holy energy and stabbed at the creature. It was strong thrust, right into the center of the creature. So strong was it that part of Mardan’s arm sunk into the the gore, and he quickly pulled it out, leaving the weapon inside. The creature, powered by dark energy, responded violently to the holy power that was not inside of it. It used its arms to claw and tear at its ‘chest’, tearing itself apart, but with each movement, the blade moved around more, cutting deeper. After almost a minute of this dance, the thing fell to the ground, a pile of gore, and ceased to move.
Mardan moved to Ren, who was hurt quite badly, but still alive. Some of the other men had taken quite a beating, but only one was found to have perished. Mardan ordered the others to arrest Sigmar for assaulting a member of his unit, and the cleric finally felt the weight of guilt for his past sins, and didn’t put up a fight. They felt the surge of profane power leave them as they left the forest and headed back to the horses.
“I’m sorry my old friend. I… desire power too much. I have failed Orien and the Light.” Sigmar hung his head in shame and said nothing the rest of the trip back. When they returned, Mardan gave the full report. Sigmar was sentenced to ten years in prison for his actions and stripped of all rank. Mardan went to visit him once, but he as a wreck and didn’t want to speak. This war had taken its toll on all of them.
- * * * *
Not long after the events of the well, Mardan resigned his post and moved to Farran to look after his family. The civil war was coming to an end, with the two halves becoming independent countries. The large wall that had been constructed to separate the two was guarded and maintain by both sides, and although all of the organized military action had ceased, some skirmishes still took place. Nyder and Eriwen were at odds and any hope of diplomatic solution was abandoned.