Sylrah, Corvus and Thelgar stood in the rigfennid’s presence. Abruptly, Simid thrusts another individual into the alcove that served as rigfennid MacDára’s office and quarters. They recognized him as Valgerd, whom they had seen previously in the Company. He is a nasty sort of fellow, always with his hand on his knives, eyeing everyone suspiciously. The unlucky bastard had a facial deformity: his nose was a slit of flesh, forming a single opening with his mouth. “This one wasn’t busy. Here you have him.” Simid shoves the guy forward.
The rigfennid finally looks up from his maps. “I’m giving you five an assignment. A Prophet came to us asking for help in recovering a relic from one of the ruined towns we helped evacuate last week. You are to meet with him in Saliem, in the Shalofields. He’ll be waiting near a shrine outside the village later today at nightfall. You shouldn’t meet any resistance, so it’s a retrieval mission only. Don’t engage in combat if you can avoid it. This relic is important, and I want you to speak with the master engineer first, because we are going to keep it.” The rigfennid pauses for a second, his stare as if boring holes in each of them. “Am I understood?”
The group acknowledges and are led by Simid to the master engineer, Gurne of Monadh Ru. His cave, the farthest from the main tunnels, had several warning signs on the outside, for “butterfingers to stay clear” and “mind you own business”. Inside, a dvergr works on some sort of device, sawing and cutting.
“Fennally, there ye are. Did za boss tell ye what ye’re avter?”
Gurne proceeds to explain this relic that the Prophet is after. “It’z like a big vweel, but it’s not sepposed te be used like that. I reco’nised za shape from somewhar: I zeen’s it aza part ova a Titan vweapon. A pew’rful one.” He draws another breath from his cigar. “Now ye havta be car’ful vwith it, vwe need it one peece. Vwe’ll be keepin’ it in our hands… fer thorough ztudy. Don’t vwant zhings like tha’ runnin’ round far anyone za make use o’ them. I zon’t trust in any o’ zhese random Prophets.”
Gurne pulls out a map of the surrounding region of the Crimswood. “I’ll be vwaiting in our depot near Pharlain. Take a cart to carry za zhing. Now ovff vwith ye!”
The small group rode out, led by Simid, half of them on a cart pulled by two mules. They reached Saliem by dusk.
After waiting in the outskirts of the villlage for a few minutes, they spot three figures. In front came an old man in a wheelchair, pushed by two young boys. When he approached, they realized the man was horribly scarred with burns, most of his hair missing in patches, and both his legs ended in charred stumps. He was dressed in a simple gray tunic, and bore a tattoo of a wheel on his forehead, as did both of the boys, who were dressed the same way. The children gave the appearance of grim resignation to their duty, and did not seem very cheerful. Quite the opposite was the old man.
“Hello hello!” he said with a wide grin, eying the group with curious interest. “So, you answered my call, thank you so much. Have you been explained what I need retrieved?” The group nodded, and Simid added “Where exactly should this ‘wheel’ of yours be in Omhain? Our fellow fennids came back from it telling it was a wreck. Earthquakes that ripped it in half.”
“Indeed, that much was also revealed to me. But without the occupation of Men, Omhain is ripe for the plunder. You must get there before anyone else. The relic is of great significance to our faith, and the great Earthshaker wishes it returned. It should be buried under an ancient temple, a stone circle. The central altar stone was placed on top of it, so you’ll know where to look. However, many things changed in that town over the centuries, so I’m not don’t think the temple’s stones still stand…” the old Prophet gives them an apologetic grin.
The fennids rolled their eyes and exchanged looks. “So you’re saying you have no idea where it is in the town?” snapped Valgerd.
“Where did it used to stand before the settlement grew as it is now?” inquired Sylrah.
“The very top of the hill. That should help you somewhat.” the Prophet revealed.
Corvus, still being unable to speak due to his injury, gesticulates towards the man with an accusing stare. Simid eyes the Prophet suspiciously “Why do you need us to get your own stuff? The town’s vampirs have been put down, what are you afraid of?”
“Well, one can never be too sure, and besides, I can’t possibly put the lives of these fine young lads in danger, can I?” The group noticed unconfortably that the old man was stroking the hand of one of the boys, who was showing everything but pleasure. “They have been so helpful to me.”
“So what do we get in return?” shot Valgerd in his raspy voice.
“The blessings of Taranis. I can perform miracles on behalf of your fianna: heal the sick and wounded so they’ll be as good as new, charms for warding off dangers… and maybe consecrate your champion’s weapon. I say it’s a fair bargain.” He then eyes Corvus. “And I can give you back your voice, as well.”
While the group thought about what to ask next, Valgerd approaches the man “Those are some nasty burns… what sort of accident were you in? What happened to your legs?”
The old man grins at Valgerd, and stares him for a moment. “There was this one time that I ran too fast.” Valgerd chuckles, and walks away.
Sylrah then remembers a story, which involves a creature that also has burned stumps for feet, called the wendigo. It’s said that a mortal may become a wendigo and if so, he will turn feral and murder everyone around, before running off into the wild so fast that his feet will burn off. Wendigos are spirits of the air, so they have no need for feet. She entertains the notion that this man may be more than he seems…
The group finishes up the meeting with the odd man, who cheerfully bids them goodbye and good luck. They ride north towards Omhain.
Dun Omhain is a hillfort, established more than 100 years before by Milesian conquerors. It was slowly turned from a military outpost to a central town that ruled the land around it. It rises over a vast plain, and was the center of that farming burgh. The town never lost any of its animosity for the Others, and aelfen and Small Folk caught in their borders were tortured, raped and eventually put to death. As they approached the hill, skulls set on pikes, some diminutive and others quite slender, made the fennids remember that fact. Nooses hung from some of the trees nearby.
All the while, Sylrah and Thelgar remembered of how there used to be an aelfen kingdom here, which was besieged during the Milesian ocupation, the last survivors buried alive in their homes when the conquerors sealed the entrances.
As they approached the hill, which bore great cracks along its length due to the earthquake, it became obvious they were not alone: a large camp has been set up on the far side. Simid spotted a Milesian standard with his spyglass.
“We have to be quiet. If they find you two, you can consider yourselves dead.” warned Simid to the aelfen. The group stealthily approached the town, walking low up the hill.
Near the ruined walls they start hearing voices. It seemed there were already some of them in the town. They hear bits and pieces of conversations, and it seemed like they were looking for something.
Carefully, they crossed the rubble into the town proper, and found most of the houses wrecked. The granite stones that made up the walls were strewn everywhere, and thatched roofs had completely collapsed. They could still hear them from afar.
“I’ll climb up and try to see if I can spot them. See how many they are.” Thelgar started to climb up a semi-intact wall.
When he was almost up, his foot slipped, he fell and several rocks got loose and made a bit of noise. The whole group froze, and tried to find a hiding spot. After a few tense moments, the voices still kept talking, and seemed unaware of the accident.
Thelgar finally scrambled up the wall and, keeping low against the roof, spotted five Milesian soldiers, a few houses away: one of them carrying what seemed like a broadsword too large for his size, and another carrying a staff and a double-barreled firearm. They seemed to be digging through rubble and searching, occasionally inspecting some objects. Thelgar noticed that some of the structures were not like the usual rough stone and mortar, but of a smooth black stone, from which some structures jutted out, seemingly made of a whitish material.
Similar objects were strewn here and there around the town, even hanging outside windows and doors. It was these objects that the Milesians were searching. The one bearing the big sword seemed to be the leader, and the one with the staff was gathering and inspecting the objects.
Thelgar came down and relayed his findings. “They’re probably Titan artifacts.” noted Sylrah, “Under this place are the remains of a Titan city. They must be scavenging for relics.”
“Well, we can’t afford the whole camp finding us out. We got two alfs with us, and we’re screwed if they do. Thelgar, take position up there to shoot. Sylrah, get ready to back us up.”
Corvus gesticulates wildy, telling him to wait. He then tries to explain that the aelfen can stay behind. Valgerd and Sylrah then convince Simid that the Men can go up to them and introduce themselves, so the Milesians won’t be startled and know that there are other people around. Just not that there are aelfen here.
While Thelgar and Sylrah hid and stayed behind, the rest went out to meet with them. The Milesians looked startled and drew out their weapons. “Who are you? What do you want here?”
“We’ve been hired by the refugees, to recover lost property. We want no trouble.” responds Simid, hand on his flail’s handle. Valgerd took hold of the opportunity: “And what are you doing here?”
The Milesians look at each other, and their leader says: “We’re looking for survivors. We got news of what happened a few days ago. This whole region is getting dangerous.”
“Yes, it is. But our fianna mates have already took care of the people, they’re safe. We’ll be on our way then. Good luck.” Simid nods them goodbye, and they respond in kind.
They walk away from the Milesians with a sigh of relief.
At the same time, on his perch, Thelgar noticed a dark shadow hovering over the Milesian camp. It looked like a cloud’s shadow, but somewhat darker so that he couldn’t distinguish details within. He looked up and noticed a slight eclipse of the sun, by another celestial object, but not the moon. Like what happened in the Forbiddance.
“I don’t know what it is, but it is coming this way. We’ll be under the shadow in a few minutes.” Thelgar relayed to his companions. “And the camp?” “I couldn’t see anything in it… Don’t know why.” They decide they must hurry towards the top and find the stone circle.
But it wasn’t fast enough. While they were still scrambling through the rubble, trying to find any sign of the temple, the shadow reached them. And all around them the world went dark.
They felt like they were falling down, and suddenly there was a chill that went up their spine and throughout their bodies. They looked around, and it was pitch black.
“What happened? Light something!”
When a lantern finally was lit, they saw the rubble around them, but the light was somehow dampened, as if it was weakened and didn’t spread. They found themselves feeling extremely uneasy and apathetic, with Thelgar and Valgerd seemingly freaking out somewhat.
“What is this? What happened to the sun?” they look up, and the only thing they see in the dark sky is a dark grey orb, like a dark moon. Looking at it brought a feeling of dread and cold. “Is that what’s blocking the sun?” they thought.
While gathering their thoughts, they start hearing sounds. Voices in the distance. “Are those the Milesians?” but before they could even think about it, they start hearing moans and rasping sounds. There is movement around them.
Horrified, they see a wretched creature dragging itself along the ground towards them. It moans in broken aelfish: “hungry… food…”. The disfigured face bore a few faint aelfen traces. Its atrophied legs dragged along the ground, while its spindly arms pulled its grossly bloated body along. Its mouth extended into a vertical slit down its chest, hiding a large salivating mouth. As they fennids draw their weapons, more of the horrors slither from adjacent alleyways.
Simid and Valgerd charge and tackle the creatures head on. Corvus raises his shield to defend Sylrah, while Thelgar takes aim and strikes true with his arrows. The creatures can be hurt. He draws out his sword and closes in for the kill. Screams of people and sounds of fighting were heard in the distance.
Dark blood gushed out of the creatures’ wounds, but becoming but shadows upon the ground where it landed, drained away by the darker recesses of the ground. But the horrors prove to be resilient, and they are hard pressed: Sylrah took a deep bite on her leg, and the men’s wounds start to weight down on them. Simid smashes two of them with his flail, and rushes to their aid.
Suddenly, the deep bellowing sound of a horn echoes throughout the town. The creatures shudder and scurry away, screeching, leaving them there standing. The group turns, wondering what new sort of thing was coming their way. As they stand there, frozen in uneasy expectation, a large creature, an amalgam of man, armor and weapons jumps into the walkway ahead of them. A distorted and mutilated composite of several bodies, patched together by sinew and armor, walking on several legs like a caterpillar. Its back was covered by wooden shields, spears pointing out along its length. Where a head should be was a humanoid torso, with its hands stuck behind its back and tied to a standart pole, a tattered banner billowing in the wind. They couldn't recognise the insignia. A great horn took the place of the humanoid’s mouth and throat, and its wild eyes fixed on the group, before screaming on the horn again. Then it charged them.
“Run! Hide!” Simid shoved them away, and charged the beast. Multiple spears bore down on him, but he maintained a defensive position. Is he crazy? thought Valgerd, before starting off. Corvus and Thelgar stood there for a moment, before running as well. Only Sylrah stood, puzzled and concerned by Simid’s action. I can’t let him kill himself for us like this! Damned Man-folk! She intoned the words of a spell, and as the magic took shape, she picked up a twig and broke it in twain: simultaneously one of the monster’s spears split in two. In that time though, Simid was already being hard pressed. I’m not going to to be of much help… thought Sylrah. Corvus waves his arms wildly from a distance, begging her to hurry. She starts running, casting one last glance at Simid’s brave stand…
They rush through pitch dark streets and rubble, trying to get some distance. Then they notice a brightness a few yards away, like a curtain of light, and decide to head towards it. As soon as they cross it, they are back in daylight. Beside them, the shadow of the eclipse was moving sluggishly across the town, and they had emerged from it.
Barely able to stand, they rest to tend their wounds. They wonder what had become of Simid, who stayed behind for them. Then they hear a familiar groan “Son of a bitch! Gods dammit!” Simid shows up, limping from behind the rubble, to the surprise of all. But he stumbles forwards, and they need to carry him on their shoulders.
Battered and out of action, the fennids watch as the eclipse’s shadows moves away from town, wondering what had just happened. What darkness could bring with it such horrors, and take them away just as quickly? Were they the living dead?
After a few hours, the shadow has completely passed and continued northeast, towards the Forbiddance. They were up on their feet now, and searching for the stone circle. Given their rather pitiful condition, Simid decides to send the carrier pidgeon he brought in the cart to send for aid from the Company. Simid still had to be carried though: he had broken a leg and suffered a nasty abdominal wound.
A few houses away, they find the mutilated corpses of the Milesian soldiers they talked to earlier. They proceeded to take hold of their equipment. Curious, Simid looks through his spyglass at the Milesian camp. He gasps in amazement "It's completely wrecked... that eclipse did a number on them too."
At the top of the hill, after half an hour of searching, they finally find the few remaining standing stones, delimiting an animal pen. The temple had turned into a corral in the back of one of the houses. They find the altar stone, a granite block now used for grinding grain. With time and effort, they manage to move the stone and dig out the wheel artifact. It was about 8ft in diameter, and made of the same materials as most Titan technology. The wheel itself was attached to another structure still buried by thin metallic wires, which they had to cut. Sylrah inspected closely the intricate details, the visible internal mechanisms. From the symbols she understood and the components that made it up, she could tell that it could bind powerful magic inside its circle.
They load the relic in the cart, and prepare to leave Omhain behind. When they were driving down the hill, they notice the eclipse had reached the Forbiddance. The whole earth shook then, and the earth was rent apart. They lost control of the cart, which rolled downhill, with Simid on it.
Horrified, the ground beneath them gives in and opens up intto a large fissure, and they stumble down into a bottlomless pit...