“You know what, Pontius? You have the constitution of a haddock.”
And so begun a night of heavy drinking. The others had retired, but the pirate and the dark elf, sharing little in common besides a corrupt sense of right and wrong, were intent on spending all the gold they had earned capturing the owl bear on booze.
“Here’s the ale and rum you ordered,” the opportunistic bartender says plopping them down on the table, “I can round up some whores if you like?”
“No thanks,” replies Pontius, whose mind was elsewhere, “not my kind of thing.”
“I can probably get your kind of thing, you know… they’re very accommodating around here, for the right price.”
“You can arrange a meeting with dark wizard willing to share eldritch knowledge?”
“Bring the wenches!” Grotto cut in, before downing an ale and selecting another.
A few drinks later two ladies of the night (and one gentlemen of the night) come into the otherwise empty tavern. They’ve all got very heavy makeup on and big curly wigs, except the gentleman is wearing an obviously improvised wizard costume.
“Grotto!” exclaims one of the prostitutes, “we haven’t seen you in a while!”
The man sits down next to Pontius and says “I’m the ‘twisted wizard’ you ordered, and I got all sorts of knowledge to share.” He winks.
“Ha!” snorts Grotto, “Ponty old boy, I should have known!”
Pontius’ obvious discomfort causes the two other whores to cackle incessantly.
Perhaps luckily, for Pontius, after a kegs worth of ale, a stranger who had snuck in earlier walks over after seeing a familiar face and shoos the whores away.
“Grotto? That you?”
“Aye, ’tis.” Grotto makes the effort to steady his swaying body enough to focus on the stranger. “Harry McCullock! It’s been too long!”
“Aye, it has, but listen, if you’re here you must be laying low too. I have to talk to you!”
“Nope,” an inebriated Pontius obnoxiously chimes in, “I… the… you… nope,” before passing out.
“What’s his deal?” says McCullock, turning to Grotto, but finds him equally incapacitated. “Great.”
Gideon looked up at the gently swinging sign, “Alchemy Acquisitions” as the light cool rain pecked at his face. The windows were dark with dust piled up on the inside – he’d have to go in to see if they had what he was after. The bell chimed as the door swung and let the unusually large man behind the counter know he was there. The man was content to just watch Gideon as he paced past the disorderly collection of objects that most likely contained more “magical-looking” items than actual magic items. Doesn’t matter. There’s magic here alright, he can feel it. Problem is, it’s coming from an odd shadow in the rafters. The shadow sneezes.
“Good day, the name’s Gideon, oh, and you can come out now, if you like.”
Guttrop, the burly man behind the bar takes a moment to look from side to side as if earnestly looking for someone else in the store. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“Forget it Guttrop!” comes a snarl from the rafters, “knew I should’ve shook this cold before I opened shop again!” A creature akin to a giant rat hops down to the floor. “Yes, yes,” it says in annoyance, “just don’t tell anyone, if people find out a gentleman of my… lineage, runs the place it’ll be bad for business. And I’ll pluck your eyes out, also.” A crooked grin runs up his long face.
Ratfolk. Gideon had met one before. Why rats were so susceptible to being magically uplifted for use by wizards as slaves was a mystery of no great significance, but give one of your uplifts too much power, and he might just be a powerful mage in his own right.
“The name’s Grin’d. You got pretty fancy clothes, sirrah, and you’re a wizard if I’m not mistaken. Don’t normally get ‘respectable’ gents in here. What is it you were after?”
“You’ve got a few things I need, but in particular, I was wondering if you had any information on creatures of shadow, Banderhobbs, to be exact.”
Saorise, sick of standing in the rain, chimes the bell as she walks into the dark shop, causing Grin’d to slink back into the shadows. Gideon gives her a frown. “Saorise.”
“What?” she says with those always-innocent eyes.
Gideon swings back around to Grin’d, “she’s with me.”
“Fine, but her eyes are no safer than yours if she tells.”
Saorise shrugs. She’d been threatened by uglier monsters.
“You were saying?” Gideon gets back on track.
“Children’s stories. That’s what I think, and I’ve known a dark wizard before. But there was a book I managed to buy in for a customer… it’s just that… well, I go revealing my clients, and what’s my reputation going to look like?”
“What’s it look like now,” smirks Saorise, “with a face like that?”
Grin’d purses his lips and squints in disapproval. He mutters something under his breath about a muzzle, and then just ignores her.
“I tell you what,” he says to Gideon, “it just so happens that this client of mine recently bought some stuff off me for credit. He’s usually pretty good with paying, but, well, I don’t want the money. I want the goods back. I’ll give you his address and you go get my stuff back, and you can ask convince him to let you look at the book.”
“You want us to be debt collectors?”
“It’s more like facilitating a refund.”
“What’s the catch?”
“He probably won’t be real excited about giving it back, tell him you work for me, and don’t accept any bribes, and there’s no price I’ll let him pay to keep them.”
Gideon takes a moment to deliberate with Saorise.
“Alright, Mr. Grin’d we’ll do it.”
“Excellent,” The ratfolk says with a glint in his grimy eye, “the guy’s name is Von Bismarch. Bit of a recluse. Buys a lot of books on dark magic. It’s all academic, I’m sure, he was a Blackwater Academy dropout after all. That where you went? Maybe you can play the alumni card.” He scribbles some directions on a piece of parchment. “The stuff I need back are three sealed jars of blood… stuff. Get that back for me an a great store discount is coming your way.”
Waking up with the dawn, Tsvolat wanders to a secluded spot in the alley behind the Inn to practice his martial forms and get his exercise in. With each thrust of his spear in front of him he unnerves himself. Looking at the strange colour of his skin won’t be easy to adjust to. Having a divine soul cohabiting his body has connected him to the world beyond his own, and in doing so, has made him feel less connected to the one he calls home. Despite the alluring feeling of being part of something bigger, Tsvolat steels his resolve and decides to do what he can to reverse his predicament. Maybe he is part of something bigger. Maybe his life has a greater purpose now. But is it really his life, or has someone hijacked it?
Asking around leads him to Baldersbalet’s temple of Pelor. The priest is in attendance, and when he catches sight of Tsvolat he’s momentarily taken aback, but quickly reverts to his welcoming demeanor. The priest, like Tsvolat is a deva, he’s about a head taller than the average human, was pupil-less eyes and mauve skin and is wearing well pressed, crisp white vestments.
“Welcome to the temple. I am Nehilim. What can Pelor’s servant do for you today?”
“Well,” Tsvolat says, scratching the back of his head, “I need help with my, uh, predicament.”
“Someone has cursed you with the visage of a dwarf, brother, and you wish to be returned to your former stature? Best to make reparations with the one who did it.”
“Wait, what? No! I am a dwarf, or at least I was. A creature, uh, implanted this soul in me.”
“Ahem…” He thinks for a moment. “When the gods bless the earth with an immortal soul, they typically give it a body with which to do their good work, but for whatever reason, they saw fit to put that soul into an inhabited body. I feel that there is only one way to divine their intention, and that would be to live a life of servitude, praying that when your purpose has been fulfilled that you know it in your heart.” He pauses for a moment. “Well, that or travel to the divine kingdoms and ask the gods yourself!” He laughs at his own incredulous idea.
“How exactly, am I supposed to serve their higher purpose as a weak and purple?” Tsvolat says, annoyed, “uh, no offence.”
“Well. I suppose that’s the mystery of life!” he snorts, turning up his nose, “If you are pious, you will find a way!”
Tsvolat thinks for a moment. “Just one more question. Who is the most powerful wizard you know? Are there any in Baldersbalet? Or any other towns in the region?”
“The most powerful wizards in the land come out of Blackwater Academy. It’s one of the most prestigious magical academies in the world, let alone ”/wikis/wintersbreach" class=“wiki-page-link”>Wintersbreach. Naturally it’s in Blackwater. Apart from that, Barren is where some of those wizards end up, but I’m not even sure Blackwater Academy alumni would be powerful enough to grant you an audience with a deity. A. Fools. Errand, Mr. Azarak. A fools errand. Make peace with your condition. That is my advice."
Gideon and Saorise
The rain’s not heavy, but it is constant, and it makes the ordinarily dreary streets of South Quarter Baldersbalet even drearier.
The house is sandwiched between two other dodgy looking houses, but this one is particularly run down. The tiles are patchy and the wood is rotten, if Von Bismarch is rich, he must spend all his money in Alchemy Acquisitions.
“Should we just knock?” Gideon says incredulously.
“Is it ever that simple?” Saorise says, before walking down the side of the house into the backyard.
Proof that this close to the coast and on the edge of the forest provides fertile land, the backyard is a grassy forest in it’s own right, that is, save for a large patch of freshly turned earth in the middle of it.
The wizard and the sorceress exchange suspicious glances. With a flick of his wrist, Gideon summons a spectral hand to find something worth unearthing in the mud, and lo, the tip of a pointed ear presents itself in the shallow grave.
“Just the tip, huh?” says Gideon with smirk.
Saorise gives into her juvenile side and lets out a giggle. “I’m not the least bit curious about what that’s attached to.”
With all the shutters closed, they try the backdoor which, perhaps ominously, was unlocked.
“After you,” Saorise says, inviting Gideon’s manly sense of bravery to kick in. He pushes the door open with a creak.
The place is a mess. There’s a table covered in books and scrolls, half-finished meals and a series of jars, jugs and a mortar and pestle, and there are stacks of books acting as furniture in the corners topped with burnt out candles. The walls are covered with unintelligible charcoal scrawls, save for a list of names, with the words “death list” at the top. All the names are crossed off in charcoal, save for the second-to-last one “Harry McCullock” which has been crossed off with blood, and the very last name “Grotto Ramage” which has yet to be crossed off.
“You see this, Gideon?”
“Classic,” he says, disappointed.
“Should we warn him?”
“Yes, of course!”
“I mean, posthaste, smart-arse,” Saorise quips folding her arms and looking left, like she always does when patronised.
Gideon pauses a moment to look around rubbing his chin (which always seemed to help him make decisions). “I don’t think so. There could be a lot of knowledge here – this Von Bismarch appears to be quite the collector of occult paraphernalia. I wouldn’t mind some time to look through his collection.”
“Fine,” Saorise says, closing the dusty tome she was casually flicking through, “I’ll look around a bit more.”
Gideon puts down his pack and grabs the necessary reagents for ritual to provide a glimpse at the past of the writings on the wall.
Saorise has a look around the other rooms. They’re equally messy and the upstairs has a cupboard full of quite nice clothes, all untouched for some time. She takes a moment to try on some of the spiffier items, giving a twirl in the dusty mirror before resolving to steal a dandy hat with a long feather in it, and a nice pocket-watch before heading down into the basement. She grabs one of the many candles from throughout the house, lights it up and steps into the dusty gloom of the cellar.
The old wine cellar is, unsurprisingly, in disrepair, but what catches her eye is the glint of iron at the end of the room. As she gets closer she sees a shovel sitting next to an iron cage door that leads into a room that appears to have been dug out as an annex long after the original cellar had been put in. Her pupil-less purple eyes scan the darkness, and thanks to her candle, and the light sneaking between the floor boards above from where Gideon is performing his ritual she sees an unnerving sight. The tiny caged room is full of pigs, but rather than sleeping, or milling about, or other things you might expect a pig to do, these pigs are standing bolt upright on their hind legs staring endlessly into the far corner of their dungeon. Saorise quickly snuffs the light, grabs the shovel and retreats back upstairs.
Following a hunch, she goes out into the garden with her shovel and unearths whatever that ear was attached to, and finds the quartered remains of yet another pig. Still not quite sure what to make of it all, she ditches the shovel and returns to Gideon.
“What did you see?” she asks.
“I saw Von Bismarch write this list,” Gideon says as he picks up his ritual gear, “and I saw him pick up demon blood from Grin’d at Alchemy Acquisitions, but the creature who crossed off this ‘Harry McCullock’ in blood was some kind of demonic abomination. I imagine Von Bismarch has summoned a demon of some sort, did you find his body in the dirt outside?”
“Nope. Someone’s dumped a pigs carcass in there.”
“A pig? Yes, I saw the demon creature with a pig, too.”
“And not only that, but beneath our feet right now are about a dozen of them, all standing on their hind legs and looking east.”
“Bizarre,” Gideon rubs his chin again.
“Bizarre doesn’t even come close. How about you find that book you’re looking for, and we get out of here.”
Gideon rubs Grotto’s name off the death list. “Agreed.”
Grotto and Pontius
Grotto’s eyes blink open one after the other. His head is pounding , but he knows he has to get up in order to find water do undo some of last night’s damage. When the room stops spinning, he begrudgingly rises, only to trip over Pontius’ unceremoniously collapsed form.
“No, Matriarch, no!” Pontius slurs before rolling over and realising where he is.
“You, uh, remember what happened last night?” Grotto says, rubbing his eyes.
Pontius shakes his head.
“Well, come on Ponty,” Grotto says summoning up the motivation to move, “we should go find McCullock.”
Pontius never experienced such affluent activities in his life under the rule of House Glaw in the feydark. The shock to his system was most unpleasant – one night and he was ready to swear off alcohol forever, but he had a feeling that keeping company with Captain Ramage made that a lofty goal.
Making their way listlessly down the stairs, there’s no sign of Gideon, Tsvolat, Saorise or McCullock.
“Barkeep,” Grotto says after drinking a pitcher of water off the bar, “there was a guy drinking with us last night…”
“Uh, yeah… Room next yours. Way past checkout actually, let’s go do some room service.”
The plump mustachioed man grabs his stereo-typically clunky iron keys and leads you upstairs.
“You smell that?” He says as he unlocks the door.
“BY THE NINE HELLS!”
The barkeep goes to chunder in the hallway somewhat quieter than Pontius did last night.
Peering into the room, the smell of soiled meat and the barnyard assaults your involuntarily flaring nostrils. Harry McCullock is most certainly dead. His body has been laid out like a map of Wintersbreach, that is, if Port Skarsgaard was his spleen, the Ytterst River was his small intestine and the great city of Barren was his severed head. It must have been raining blood, too.
The room is the scene of a horrendous barbarity. Good thing you were next door while it happened.
“Hold on!” Pontius says to the barkeep as he grabs Grotto and pulls him into the room, shutting the door behind them.
“Blow me down, Ponty!” Grotto says in annoyance as he straightens out his shirt, “by Melora’s tits, what are you doing?”
“I’m sorry for you loss, Grotto, but something bad happened here.”
“Well, blow me down again,” the pirate snaps, “how’d you figure that out? Because Harry’s HEAD is in the BEDPAN?!”
“Hush up and bring it to me!”
In a moment of begrudging trust, Grotto picks up McCullock’s sloppy head and holds it out for Pontius. Pontius closes his eyes and looks to the heavens, channeling the powers of the gods and reaches out with a mote of their power to reanimate the bloody face of Grotto’s old friend.
Grotto instinctively drops the head when he hears it groan, immediately apologising when it starts complaining.
“Grotto, you salty bastard, what’re ye done?”
“Sorry Harry, you startled me, is all.”
Pontius coughs to draw their attention. “Harry, what happened here?”
“The corpse looks around, as best he can without a neck, “I don’t know. It was dark, and the dead of night. All I heard was the door open, then squealing, and then I was torn to bits! But Grotto, I know who’s behind it! It was Von Bismarch! You remember him? We crossed him some months ago, taking him pig’s carcasses instead of the street urchins and homeless people he asked for. The sick bastard.”
“Eh,” Grotto sighs, “vaguely.”
“He’s hunting us Grotto, he’s been looking for a way to take his revenge, well, now he’s got it! I thought that’s why you’d be laying low here, no?”
“Nope. I’m here on account of Ponty here. He’s a wanted man too, apparently.”
“Where is this Von Bismarch?” Pontius chimes in.
“South quarter,” Harry replies, “just ask around for the creep, they’ll point his house out for you.”
“Thanks, Harry,” Grotto says solemnly, “don’t worry, we’ll avenge his, uh, revengeance.”
A small smile comes over the severed head’s mouth before the light fades from his eyes again, and his jaw hangs slack.
Exiting the room they see the very miserable looking inn keeper with mop and bucket at the ready.
“You’re not going to tell the authorities, are you?” Pontius says with a wince.
“Authorities?” the rotund man replies, “It probably was the authorities!”
“We should go check out this Von Bismarch’s place, I think,” Grotto says to Pontius as the descend into the bar again.
Saorise and Gideon
The temple of Pelor is a grand building with a beautiful stained-glass window on it’s front face depicting the sun shining it’s rays on verdant fields. The image is sullied somewhat by the rain, but it probably looks wonderful from the inside if the dawn rays can find their way through it.
Th inside is decorated with frescoes and reliefs and there are many candles set up with magnifying glasses and mirrors to ensure a warm light bathes every part of the room.
A woman wearing a white gown with golden trim is relighting some candles near the altar at the end of the central passage.
“And the barkeep said that this is where Tsvolat was headed?” Gideon was doubtful.
“Well, after they found their friend torn to shreds, we’ve got no clues to where Pontius and Grotto went so we may as well find Tsvolat and regroup.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman calls out as she scurries down the central passage to meet the visitors, “the next mass isn’t until dawn tomorrow.”
“Oh, uh, no,” Gideon stammers out, “we were looking for a friend of ours, a dwarf with purple skin.”
“Yes,” she says matter-of-factly, “he was here having some sort of… discussion, with the priest. It was civil, but the dwarf was getting quite frustrated about something.”
“I don’t suppose we could talk to him,” Gideon implored.
The woman pauses a moment to measure him with her eyes. “I could ask”, she says reluctantly, “but no promises.” She trots off down a hall to the side of the altar.
“Why on earth was Tsvolat here, do you think?” Gideon says, scratching his chin, “he never struck me as particularly pious.”
“It’s probably to do with his recent change,” Saorise mused, “perhaps he’s finding his faith.”
Their reverie is burst by a shriek from down the hall. Sprinting ‘round the corner they find the woman collapsed at the doorway to the priest’s room.
“That purple dwarf bastard!” she sobbs, “He killed him! I heard them argue… it seemed like nothing, but it put Father Nehilim in a poor mood, so I’ve been avoiding him all afternoon. Nine hells! He must have snuck back in to kill him!”
Peering round into the chamber Gideon and Saorise see a stately looking Deva slumped back in his chair. His chest has been opened and heart removed. It’s a grizzly sight.
“Why would he do this?” the woman looks up at them with eyes swollen with tears, meeting faces full of doubt.
The room has signs of a struggle. The scrolls and statues have been knocked from the priest’s desk, and it appears from the marks on his neck that he was held down by a strong arm whilst his chest was torn open. It doesn’t appear as though anything was stolen, however, just knocked around, as much of the room remains orderly.
“They were talking about something… about… souls,” she blubbers, “the dwarf wanted his soul, or something. By the gods! He took it! Took Father Nehilim’s soul! Who was he? You’re tracking him to stop his rampage, aren’t you? Tell me his name! I’ll tell the authorities!”
Gideon and Saorise exchange worried glances. “I’m sorry,” Gideon says pityingly, “but we have to go. We’ll do what we can.”
Letting the lady sob and sob, they march back out into the sleet.
“I doubt this is Tsvolat’s work,” Gideon says gloomily, “but it could be Pontius’s.”
“Our leads are drying up, Gideon,” Saorise points out, “perhaps we should pay a visit to Grin’d again, before the shop shuts.”
Grotto and Pontius
The house is dusty inside, and unkempt, there are occult books strewn all over the floor and a handful of smashed bottles. The walls are covered in unintelligible scraws and there are a few bloody hand-prints around as well.
Two things catch Pontius’ keen eyes particularly though, firstly, on a desk, all the items appear to have been swept onto the floor except a diary open to an entry for today, and secondly, on the wall is a list of names titled “Death List”. The names are in charcoal and have almost all been crossed off. None of them you recognise, except the third last one, “Harry McCullock” and the last name “Gilhrim”, written in blood. The second last name, also written in and crossed through with blood, is “Nehilim”.
“This can’t be good,” the pirate voices his thoughts.
“How come your name is on Von Bismarch’s list?” Pontius asks, “and surely that’s some other Gilhrim, right?”
“Grotto has no answers. “Let’s take a look around, eh?”
Grotto holds the diary up to the light sneaking between the shutters.
“I blacked out again today… I feel the demon almost has complete control. When I woke, I was standing over a deva priest in the temple of Pelor. His heart was beating in my hands. I’m a killer, and I’ve only got one left on my list – the double-crossing bastard Grotto Ramage, but I don’t even know this priest, I feel like the demon wanted his soul, although i’m not sure why. Incidentally someone has come into my house and scrubbed Grotto’s name off of my list… I had better not return here after this.
Anyway, whilst I was at the temple I saw another deva that looked like a dwarf, I only mention it because I felt the demon stir at the sight of him… I wonder who he is?”
The entry continues, but in a different handwriting, above it was cursive and refined, but this is jagged and unruly.
“His name is Gilhrim Azarak, you puny mortal! He may have shaven his beard, put on a few pounds of muscle, turned purple and got himself a divine soul, but his scent is familiar to me. I will eat that divine soul right out of his chest! Two reasons for me to kill him now! Tonight he dies!”
The writing returns to it’s normal cursive:
“I just blacked out again. I seemed to have scrawled in my journal and painted some names in blood on the wall. I suppose this will be my final entry. I only wanted my revenge. That’s all I wanted. In some cultures that’s a prized virtue. Hopefully I can kill Grotto before the demon takes control, otherwise this “Gilhrim” person is going to be dead before the sun rises again. No… The demon comes again…"
The rest is scrawls.
Pontius returns from the basement, gingerly closing the cellar door behind him.
“Grotto,” he whispers, “In the basement… there’s a pig.”
“Like, a demon possessed pig!”
“There’s something else…” Grotto holds the diary up for Pontius to read.
“We need to find Tsvolat.”
Nehilim had been helpful and unhelpful at the same time. Tsvolat had an inkling of what it might take to give him his old self again, but it certainly didn’t seem easily achievable. Tsvolat was a practical man. One thing at a time. So he spent the afternoon wandering the markets and stocking up on supplies, but at the end of the day, he needed to blow off some steam.
“What’s going on back there?” Tsvolat inquires of a burly man and a burly dwarf guarding a door at the back of a pub called Sailor Jerry’s.
“The name’s Darius and this is Ceasar,” the dwarf says with grin that glints with gold.
“We run a competitive arm-wrestling establishment in the back,” says Ceasar, “Draws a crowd. Good fun.”
“Good money!” pipes in Darius “cash prize for first place. What say you, Mr…. Uh…”
“Tsvolat,” he says with a smile, “I’m here to compete!”
Darius and Caesar share a glance. “We’ve got some regulars who compete, but new muscle is great for us, because no one bets on a newcomer. Oh, we let people gamble on this, so if you win, as a newcomer, we make plenty of gold too. Win-win!” Darius makes that slightly shifty smile again.
“Well, Mr. Tsvolat,” Caesar pipes in, “you’ll need an alias. You’re going up against The Boulder, Meatfist Johnson and Bone-Eater, so make it strong as your arm, eh?”
“They call me Stonefist,” he says with eager confidence.
Gideon and Saorise
“Please tell me it was you who smashed these jars,” Grin’d says with expectant dismay.
“Nope,” Gideon says as he hands over the only on of the jars they found intact at Von Bismarch’s house, “looks like he used them already.”
“I think you owe us an explanation,” Saorise says with sass.
One of the vials they found there had a familiar black substance on it. “You know what this is?”
“Damn,” the ratfolk shop owner says, “I didn’t sell him that, for the record, if that’s what I think it is.”
“Rumours. I heard about this stuff that could magnify magic power, or some such, and that some demon creature smashed up a couple of houses in Port Skarsgaard because of it. That was after I sold Von Bismarch this blood, because normally demon blood ain’t worth much to anyone but occult collectors, but now, with this black stuff on the market, they’ve started calling it “Mire” by the way, well, I didn’t want something I had sold tarnishing my name. Hence the recall."
“Too little, too late,” Saorise says intolerantly.
“Yeah, well, I tried,” Grin’d says stubbornly.
“Looks like we might have to clean up this mess before it gets our friend killed.”
“Avandra’s blessing on you then,” the rat man says insightfully, “sounds like you’ll need all the luck you can get.”
“It’s getting dark,” Saorise points out as she looks to the skies, “and a storm is rolling in. If the others have any sense, they’ll meet us back at the inn.”
Grotto, Pontius, Gideon and Saorise
The rain is pelting down now, and the sun has set. Minutes after a certain pirate and wanted dark elf take refuge from the coming storm in The Stock Pot Tavern, a certain wizard and a certain sorceress rush in shutting the wind out behind them and taking off their rain soaked hoods to see two of the individuals they had been looking for.
“Where the hell have you been?” Gideon asks angrily.
“You wouldn’t believe us if we told you,” Grotto retorts.
Piecing together the disparate clues, they start to see the whole picture.
“So Von Bismarch has been trying to infuse himself with demonic energy in order to take his revenge on Grotto, but inadvertently became possessed by the very demon, Naraash, that swore revenge on Gilhrim, and now thinks that Tsvolat is actually his dead cousin? What’s any of this got to do with pigs?”
“We think he was experimenting with the demon blood on the pigs, but must have decided a human trial was the way to go before using the Mire on himself.”
“We need to find Tsvolat.”
“If I may,” the barkeep interrupts, “some of my patrons said they saw a purple dwarf down at Sailor Jerry’s in the wrestling competition.”
“That sounds more like Tsvolat!”
“I’m the champion here, Stonefist, and I’ve squashed mightier men than you.”
The large goliath man called The Mountain, appears relaxed, even though his arm is straining.
“Well your mother doesn’t count as a man, even if she does have a mustache!”
The strain grows, and sweat appears on the wrestler’s brows, and the veins bulge in their arms, and after an intense moment of silence as the crowd hushes in anticipation, there is a cracking sound, the table gives way splintered in two by the force of their combined strength, but when the dust clears, it’s obvious that The Mountain has been defeated as he’s the one laying on the ground, with Stonefist Azarak standing over him, hands still gripped together.
The crowd goes silent.
The Mountain stands up, looming over him like the goliath he is, with a stern look on his face.
Not letting go of Tsvolat’s hand, he lifts his arm up above his head (lifting the dwarf right up off the ground) and laughing, says “Ladies and Gentlemen, your champion, STONEFIST.”
He laughs and laughs as the crowd cheers, and he puts him back on his feet.
“If you stick around, then maybe next time I will beat you, you think? Ha, ha! Well fought, dwarf. Well fought.”
He leaves to go drink with his friends.
It’s not long before the crowd is patting Tsvolat on the back and congratulating him, but the revelries are cut short before they can truly begin, as a scream from the back of the crowd cuts through the noise and the throngs suddenly begin to part, like torn paper.
From the darkness comes a booming demonic gurgling voice.
“Gilhrim Azarak! I COME FOR YOUR SOUL!”
Grotto, Gideon, Pontius, Saorise and Tsvolat
The four rain-soaked adventurers push through the fleeing crowds into the back of Sailor Jerry’s to see a sight they had been dreading. Between them and Tsvolat is a horde of demon-possessed pigs and a twelve-foot-tall monster, that only Gideon had so far seen. Von Bismarch’s corrupted body possessed by Naraash’s demon soul.
“The whole gang is here, perfect. I was hoping you’d show up. I’m here to collect Gilhrim’s souls, for his slight against me and your spells can’t fool me, and neither can your wiliness. I believe it was this host body’s last wish to see you dead Grotto, but I’ll only indulge him once the dwarf’s souls are mine. In the mean time, I have a question for you to ponder – how many souls of strangers is worth the soul of a friend?” He then barks a horrid hacking phrase in his home tongue, sending his pigs bounding towards the doors with bloodlust in their eyes.
“Quickly,” Pontius cries as he throws blinding flashes of divine energy among the escaping pigs, “we have to stop them!”
“No,” Gideon yells as he joins the fray, “it’s a distraction – the real threat is here!”
Pontius has known Gideon for a good long while, and despite giving him a doubtful look, he stays to fight Naraash. If you knew them, you might have expected it to be the other way around, but Pontius had acted on what he thought the others would do, but in this case, he had been wrong.
Naraash’s gamble hadn’t worked, and it cost him dearly. With the five of them attacking him, it did not take long to bring the beast down.
“The Azarak line will be severed,” Naraash spits between bloody coughs, “mark my words. We’ve claimed this land from your kind once before, and we’ll damn well do it again. Enough possession! Next we meet, you’ll see my true form.”
Tsvolat stands panting over Von Bismarch’s twisted form, with a look of total confusion.
“What on earth is going on?” he says, exasperated.
Before a reply can come, however, the screams of those being murdered by a horde of pigs cuts through the rain.
“Alright, split up,” Gideon barks, taking charge, “kill as many pigs as you can and we’ll meet back at The Stock Pot.”
By the time the mercenary guard showed up, the pigs were dealt with, but not without it’s toll. Twenty unsuspecting villagers gored in their homes while they slept. All the witnesses had to say, was that five strange folks were seen entering Sailor Jerry’s just before the carnage started, and that there was talk of something very similar happening in Port Skarsgaard a few short weeks before…