NB: First of all, I apologize for the delay in this entry. Second, as this entry contains a fair bit of dialouge, inaccuracies as to the specifics of conversation are inevitable. Therefore if you recall something that is not included or drastically different than that which is recorded and feel that this is important enough to mention, please don’t hesitate to detail it in the comments and I will include it.
Brandescar Prison, a vast Bastille of torture and mortal horror, was once thought inescapable. It stood as a shameful, greasy spot on the fabric of a society which claimed itself as holy and righteous and who constructed the huge complex which sought to imprison and dispose of evil by becoming a nest of corruption and suffering itself. But now thick plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky, the sound of men and hound alike screamed as flames cooked their flesh until it boiled and spat and Mitra himself caused the sea to roar and churn bellow as it tore at the cliff holding the burning prison aloft, yet the Villains now breathed the free air. The heat of the inferno was at their backs, the night beckoned them hither and the prospect of power and purpose lay on the horizon for each of them.
Several hours through rough scrub-land, the first people to ever escape the inescapable bastion headed downhill into a valley and as time went on, the ground gradually became softer underfoot and the “free air” became fouler as the stench of stagnant, foetid water and muck rose from the earth itself like a bad case of flatulence. It stank to the point a few of the prouder individuals could barely stomach the idea of venturing through it for long, even with the prospect of being re-captured looming behind them. Trees clung securely into the thick ooze, appearing to be totally dead as they either leant in angled positions or hung their branches limply and lifelessly like winter skeletons. There was no leaf or bud or blossom in this place. Wild grasses sprouted up in great tufts and various mosses, fungi and herbs were the only things either hardy or desperate enough to be able to draw any sustenance from the mire. The sound of frogs, crickets and mosquitoes could be heard through the night, but no owls, no wolves, no scurrying of mice or voles or weasels. This was a wilderness, but it was not one that any of them found comfort in. Indeed one would find far more cheer in a graveyard in winter than this place. The mud was also treacherous and deceptive. Sometimes it would feel fairly firm and stable for several hundred paces, ones boot would feel almost solid ground and then another step would suddenly prove differently and had the leg plunge into icy water to the knee. Once there, mobility suddenly slowed as the Villain would try to free himself from the ooze. The group found that it was futile to try and cut straight across the swamp as they had planned because a route had to be discovered that did not sacrifice speed. They twisted and turned through the swamp, each dreading the point when they would inevitably come across a patch that was practically open water which rose just above the waist, forcing the group to wade through the filth. When this happened and they found better ground, they would rise from the water each covered with fat, black leeches. All struggled through this terrain save for Grumblejack, who’s long legs and vast strength had little problem traversing the mud at most points. However, when the water grew deeper and the mud softer, then Grumblejack discovered that even he would not find rest tonight. His vast weight began to work against him as the softer mud attempted to root his feet firmly and at certain points, the entire party had to stop to wait for Grumblejack to catch up and pull himself free. The night was growing old yet the morning was still slumbering when the relative tranquillity of the landscape was disturbed.
Through the night’s dark veil, a strange sound emanated across the murk. A rapid set of trilling hums, similar to certain toad calls which they’d heard during their seemingly endless trek, rolled towards them, only much louder, comparable to the bellowing of cattle. Suddenly, with no more warning, a huge toad the size of a horse lunged from the darkness, striking Lucian hard across the face with a great swipe of its massive head. Lucian’s vision spun, flashes of light sparking across his vision but in the dim light of the party torches, he charged his hands with the corruption of Asmodeus and lashed out, unable to see properly but eager to retaliate through a touch. Indeed, his grip met slimy skin but only glanced across the toads flesh, grazing it slightly with pain. Grumblejack who stood nearby, suddenly turned and saw the creature. He roared a terrifying howl that echoed across the swamp as he brought round his miniature club, smashing the toad’s back and wounding it horrifically. Using the ogre as his reference point, Vaelus’ half-elf eyes penetrated the gloom and found the great amphibian. Vaelus’ legs pistoned through the thick mud, throwing him towards the toad’s right flank and with a great swing from his claymore, he opened up a great hole in the beast’s flank. Blood poured out and into the mire and the creature staggered, alive and hungry not simply for sweet flesh, but now for revenge as well. Rythern however was faster. Though drained from the escape, the sorcerer called from his being reserves of power and with an outstretched palm, fingers hard and rigid, a ray of green acid lanced out like an arrow and thanks to his superior, undeathly sight, the ray found its mark straight into the wound Vaelus had just opened. The corrosive, arcane chemical, once past the outer exterior of the warty flesh, found no difficulty invading into the animal’s body, burning through arteries and through organ walls. The toad spasmed and began to scream a horrible sound as it thrashed. The acid then found its way into the toad’s blood stream and before the eyes of all who could see through the gloom, they saw the destructive liquid work into the veins just beneath the skin, melting through from the inside out, bearing the terrible death to torchlight. As the skin receded and the eyes slowly drooled into bloody puddles, the toad’s core was revealed, the heart, lungs and other vital systems could be seen and were gradually eaten away. The animal collapsed well before the hissing escape of foul smelling gasses had subsided and died down and while the main form of the body remained in tact, it was a hideous mass of blood and gore as it began to sink into the swamp, the liquid remains staining the black mud into new colours of agony.
But another trill rolled towards them, there was one more creature! Called into fury for the cruel dispatching of its beloved mate, the male moved towards the group. Grumblejack charged through the mud, following the path of Lucien’s arrow that bit into the toads flank. The ogre roared as it attempted to charge forward but his weight only acted against him. As he moved in for a blow, the toad, who commanded no such difficulty in this terrain, counter-charged and sent a crashing blow from its head into Grumblejack’s face, the hardened skull of the toad delivering a devastating strike across Grumblejack’s temple. The ogre crashed with a great tsunami of dark water as he landed face down in the swamp, his muscles twitching at first but apparently unable to do anything more.
Zerran’s wolf, Shadow, then bounded forward. With a great leap it landed on Grumblejack’s back and launched itself towards the great toad, its razor teeth dripping and shining with silver hunger. But to the toad, the wolf was merely a large cricket. With astounding reflexes it flashed its extended tongue and instantly had Shadow in its maw. Shadow yelped wildly as the jaws of death literally closed around him, but Shadow was no mere cricket. He clawed and bit at the softer flesh of the toad’s inner maw. Blood welled up in the great pit as mammal and amphibian grappled furiously with the other, the toad looking for a meal as well as revenge, the wolf for its life. As this desperate struggle continued, Grakas had been circumventing the battlefield, using his darkvision to track the most efficient means overland and submerging himself into the stretches of water with only his eyes just shy of the surface like some fiendish crocodile. Suddenly, he erupted in a great fountain of water and filth behind the toad and brought a terrible claw straight across its flank. Surprised, the toad screamed its horrible trilling scream and dropped Shadow. The toad turned and released its tongue once more at the pit-fiend but Grakas anticipated and ducked under it. With the scent of the kill now on his senses, devilish adrenalin coursing through his unholy form, Grakas cast off the last vestment of civility he had held onto until this point. Calling forth the horrors of his lineage, he let out a great cry of pain and fury as his very body shifted. A great malevolence washed through the immediate area as Grakas called upon the deep reservoir of hate that ran through his heart. As everyone watched dumbfounded, the barbarian’s once stubby horns suddenly erupted from his skull in a shower of blood and curved into great bloody twelve inch protrusions, their vicious points gleaming as bone in the moonlight as the gore dripped from them. With an enraged howl, Grakas rammed his new weapons into the toad’s flesh; in and out, he found new, unspoilt places to destroy with every thrust, ravaging the animal and tearing at anything his claws and teeth could reach. Bile and blood cascaded from the creature in great torrents and it was well and truly dead before Grakas had stopped ripping, cutting and tearing at the body.
The quiet from the swamp was absolute and unspoilt. Every living creature dared not call out and break the silence and mortal agony drenched the area in great pools.
Soon however, options had to be discussed. Grumblejack was lying unconscious not far from the second toad and the Villains debated as to what to do; should they leave Grumblejack to be discovered by whatever search parties from Talingarde and/or Brandescar were out there or should they rest and risk wasting precious time and potential discovery in order to regain their healing resources? As the debate went on, Zerran and Shadow discovered the tell-tale markings and tracks of the toads and it was suggested that such creatures would no doubt have a lair nearby to hunt from. More debate ensued as to whether they could rest there or if more toads may lay in wait for them. After almost half an hour, the Villains set out to check the security of the lair which was only a few minutes travel from their position. What they found was a covered hollow in the earth which naturally kept the water out. The dark hollow stank of rotten meat and faeces but as well as the skweltch of soft mud and the crunch of undigested bone, the torchlight managed to reveal rarer treasures, no use to a hungry predator but of great appreciation to the Villains. Amongst the bones and half digested bodies, several dozen gold pieces were discovered as well as a golden medallion and a simple healing potion. With this find in hand, Grumblejack was brought back into service from unconsciousness and the Villains came to the agreement that should they be ambushed by further wildlife in these swamps, they’d rather have as many daily resources as possible, even if it meant risking recapture. With the risk being deemed acceptable, each of the Villains found whatever corner of the lair he found most satisfactory and quickly slept their first rest they had been offered since their escape, the sky just beginning to grey into morning as darkness came upon their senses and minds.
Eight hours later, weary eyes began to stir as the morning light began to intrude into the hollow’s entrance. The sky was a beautiful periwinkle blue and the faint form of a thinly bladed crescent moon hung in the sky as the sun blearily shone at its mid-morning strength. Outside, all was calm and tranquil once again. The sound of baying hounds was satisfactorily absent and if one were to look back from where they had come, a gentle yet continuous wisp of cloud rose up from the horizon where the smouldering ruin of Brandescar sat perched on the edge of the sea like a distant funeral pyre.
Travel through the rest of the swamp was good. There were no further attacks from the local wildlife and the combination of a good night’s rest and the stout marching song Shivani began to pipe up made going fairly easy. Spirits raised even further as they felt the ground slowly slope upwards again, the great pools of rancid open water became rarer, the mud slowly becoming firmer and wild grass went from patches to carpeting their footfalls. They were out of that sodden hell! As they quickly devoured the miles across the scrub-land, there was an active sigh of relief as they found Manor Road just beyond it. With maintained paving beneath their boot heels now, the going was much faster.
As the sun passed its zenith, the great shape of a solitary house advanced towards them. As they drew to the front gate, they each saw the vast mansion was well maintained yet appeared nonetheless to hold a dour air about it, as if the house was once the residence of power and authority yet had grown to accommodate additional darker purposes. Standing at the open front door, Tiadora looked on patiently as the Villains passed through the great cast iron gates and travelled up the sweeping path towards her.
Rythern lead the pack and Tiadora’s neutral expression suddenly broke into a smile.
‘Hello again, Rythern-dearest’ she said politely and fairly cheerfully ‘I expected you far earlier’
Rythern bowed a sweeping and foppish bow of respect, like a lord or gentleman would to greet his patron.
‘Sadly’ he answered ‘I travel with relative fools and simpletons and they struggle to keep pace.’ Upon sensing the immediate reaction of tension emanating from the others behind him he added: ‘but they make excellent and exquisite bodyguards, so one cannot speak of them too harshly. We apologise for the late hour’.
Tiadora seemed to accept this with a brief smiling sigh and invited each of them in save for Grumblejack whom she cast a weary and distasteful eye over.
‘We will have to chain him in the grounds, the Master would not appreciate such a creature to venture through his halls.’
In the coming hours, each man and woman had half a dozen servants fawn over them at Tiadora’s express command. Each of the Villains were provided lavish rooms and were bathed, fed and provided with a clean set of fresh clothes as their prison garments were washed in soap, pressed and their armour repaired and oiled. It was in this process that Rythern recognised the blank yet flawlessly obedient nature of the servants, similar to the enchantment he suspected Tiadora commanded over Sargent Blackerly. Clearly she was formidable and Rythern noted mentally not to mistake the kindness she had shown to them as weakness.
In the late afternoon, with a clean composure, full belly and a cornucopia of servants to attend to him, Rythern began strolling through the halls of the manor, attempting to get a small sense of the one Tiadora had always referred to as: “The Master”. As he rounded a corner and ambled towards the wide, sweeping staircase that connected the ground floor with the first, the dhampir came across Vealus leaning casually against the banister, surveying the floor below like a sniper from his birds-nest. It was only the fact that the half-elf still bore his Brandescar chain-shirt stained not only with mud and blood but also the Talingardian and Mitran crests that caused Rythern pause.
’Weren’t you given fresh clothing?’ Rythern asked
‘Yes, but I didn’t care for it’ Vaelus replied as casually as he leant.
Rythern’s eyebrows shot up at this reply. Surely Vaelus understood the importance this first meeting with the Master would be and that openly rejecting the finery offered and attending the audience in filthy armour and clothing was beyond contemptible?
‘We have too much riding on this’ Rythern warned. ‘Please, just put on the clothes.’
‘Why should I?’
‘Because’ Rythern began, attempting to suppress his frustration ‘it may well insult our host that you deem it acceptable to appear before him dressed like you’ve just broken free of a prison and marched through a swamp despite the fact he’s offered you a more civilized alternative.’
Vaelus shrugged his shoulders ‘That doesn’t concern me’ he said simply
‘Look’ Rythern said gritting his teeth ‘put on the clothes or we may all well regret it —you’ll certainly regret it!’
With that, Vaelus slowly turned to face the sorcerer, his face a mixture of defiance and amusement. Automatically his instincts instantly informed him over the results of a potential fight. The huntsman knew all too well that even without a blade as he currently was, the first swift jab into the dhapir’s nose would probably shatter the cartilage in the bridge, the second driving the chunks into his frontal lobe. He remained silent although his body language spoke in volumes the next few words: “Try it, little man”.
At that precise moment, Tiadora rounded the same corner Rythern had come from and stopped at the sight of these two men exchanging heated glances.
‘Gentleman’ she said ‘what seems to be the problem? Vaelus, why are you dressed that way, are the clothes the servants offered you unsatisfactory?’
‘I just prefer to wear what I have now, I do not accept charity’ he said without taking his eyes from Rythern.
Tiadora’s smile disappeared as she took several steps forward. She drew close to the two men and issued a gaze that seemed hard yet polite.
‘The Master is a man who demands polite company as well as gratitude for the efforts he spares to others. He has spared a great deal of effort in securing your escape and he offers you far more besides. Refusing his kindness by means of insult would be a very… courageous course of action. It is not advised.’
Vaelus looked at Tiadora as if he wanted to challenge her words, but realised that the issue wasn’t worth damaging a potentially beneficial relationship over.
‘Very well’ he relented.
As the evening descended and the lamps and fires were lit around the house, allowing a new warmth to slowly waft through the corridors and rooms, each of the Villains were summoned to the great hall. When the large mahogany double doors were opened, and the Villains stepped into the grand room, they were presented with a man of clear power, distinction and authority who sat upon a high backed chair and wore a smile that was filled with hidden ulterior motives. His presence dominated the room, just as the doubtless power behind that smile could dominate the souls and fates of billions.
‘May I present his Grace Adrastus Thorn, First Cardinal of the Church of Asmodeus in Talengarde and High Priest of his Immanence Asmodeus.’ Tiadora announced.
Upon the realisation of what had just been said, Rythern threw himself to the floor; it was almost as if he collapsed.
‘Oh, Rythern’ Thorn continued to smile ‘Who could ever doubt your faith to Asmodeus? Your devotion will carry you through to places you have yet to dream of.’
The Cardinal nonchalantly sent a gloved hand over his smooth, bald head as if to caress his mind in a congratulatory manner. As he sat back in his chair, totally at ease now that his Villains stood before him (save for Rythern who had not moved from his grovelling, bowed position on the floor) he fixed his black eyes on each individual with a gaze which spoke of secrets and Hell-fire all at once.
‘I have summoned you here for the glory of our Father-Below, Asmodeus. He, through I, has looked out over Talingarde and seen naught of any value. All must be re-born into the glory of Asmodeus! To do this, you shall be the tip of the spear, the frontal assault in a campaign with many fronts. Each of you is known to me and all you bare as well, even that which you yourselves would attempt to conceal. All is laid bare before the sight of the Prince of the Ninth Circle and therefore all is laid before me.’ He turns his gaze to Chase.
‘You use the Master for your own lusts but your loyalty is in question. You gain your power over women as a gift from Asmodeus. Did you actually think Zyphus could grant you such desires? The god you serve is nothing but a pawn. Asmodeus takes offence that you should serve one of his mere followers rather than him directly. Will you continue to serve petty demons and your own desires or will you serve the Master?’
Chase stood there, his faith having just been openly ridiculed as false and misguided.
‘I was not aware of…’
‘Of what?’ Thorn cut in ‘of Asmodeus’ superiority? The Father-Below oversees all and commands servants far more powerful than beings such as Zyphus. Show him the respect he deserves and your power can be fathomless… but only if you tap into the powers Asmodeus offers to his devoted ones.’
Chase frowned deeply, pondering the gravity of the facts. After a few moments of silence he visibly came to a conclusion with himself and spoke.
‘From this day forth, I so renounce my allegiance to Zyphus. Let all vestiges of his presence within my being be exorcised like a stain from a garment. I renounce him and all his teachings so that I might seek Asmodeus and sit and learn at his feet as a humble and dedicated servant!’
The effect was instant and immediate. No sooner had the echo of the words faded into the past, the cleric suddenly staggered and fell to one knee as if he had just been struck in the stomach. He attempted to rise but he faltered again and slumped heavily. As he pulled himself up straight, he suddenly clutched his heart as he felt a great and powerful presence flee from him in seconds, as if he were a great jug that had suffered a fatal crack and all that lay within cascaded out from its confinement. With all his strength, he pulled himself back to his feet and as he did, the silver chain of Zyphus that bore his emblem around Chase’s neck miraculously fragmented of its own volition and clattered to the floor. Chase was left there, shocked and disturbed at the sensation of emptiness that now washed over him. It was a bizarre numbness that permeated every fibre of his being, like a leg that had been rendered numb and asleep for many hours suddenly being forced to stand again. The cold sensation of soul-bound pins and needles, of deific abandonment, caused him to smart as he breathed through it like the afterglow of labour-pains.
Thorn’s gaze left Chase to bare this new sensation alone as he turned it now to the pit-born, Grakas.
’It’s time you spread your rage for a purpose. Your acts of destruction are impressive but they are self serving. A way of getting your kicks. I nor the the Master will bare this further. You are to commit yourself to the Master’s plan or go your own way. What will it be?’
‘Every man needs a family,’ Grakas spoke out in the voice of a black cloud ready to commit its deluge, ‘and I have always been given a family. They were fragile humans, but they knew Mitra is a god of delusion, as you obviously know as well. You, sir, are offering me a family, and from what I have seen, it is a strong family. I shall accept your offer.’
Now Thorn’s smile widened slightly at Rythern. ‘Stand on your feet, my son.’
Rythern rose to his knees but did not move from the position further.
‘Oh Rythern, what can I say? You are a beacon of evil and your desires are true to the Master’s plan. You shall see your wishes fulfilled. This is why it is you I have contacted through Tiadora. This is why it is you who has been chosen. What have you to say for yourself?’
‘Your Grace’ Rythern began solemnly ‘I have waited long for a call from Asmodeus and now I see my prayers have been answered. I pledge myself to you and your ways, master. Let none ever doubt that my recognition of your confidence and authority granted by our Lord Asmodeus is anything less than absolute. Please, I beg you to let me serve under you so that I may witness first hand the splendour of our Under-Father’s return! I shall serve you until the stars themselves fade into non-existence and the Outer Planes recede into the eternal void!’
‘Well said’ Thorn nodded ‘but we shall get to the formalities in a moment.’
Now it was Shivani’s turn under the microscopic gaze.
‘You look to the Master for help with your worldly problems but are you ready to help and serve the Master? Telling stupid jokes to distract the foolish while your people rob them? Admirable yes, but to what end? Aren’t you ready for a life of purpose and devotion to a bigger plan?You tell the others you shouldn’t be here but I think it’s quite clear you belong as much as the rest. Killing that guard and his dogs by locking the door to the shed and torching it…’ he paused as the image floated back through his mind and for a brief moment, he almost visibly basked in the personal ray of sunshine it provided him which warmed the cockles of his dark heart. ‘If you are to continue on with us you must be ready to find meaning in the evil acts that you do.’
Now the gaze moved to Vaelus who stared back at Thorn with none of the insight, but all of the confidence, almost challenging Thorn to search his past.
‘I feel your power and know your deepest desires. You worship the Master well, but you are a fool for making it obvious. That little outburst of yours in the prison could ruin my whole plan. Do we want the good people of Talingarde to know that evil is on the rise? Do you want them to know there is a cult of Asmodeus planning to take over their fair land?’ The questions were of course rhetorical and Vaelus only met them with a narrowed gaze. He never liked being spoken down to and until now, he was all too happy to offer a devastating lash of the tongue before offering a slice of a blade. Evidently seeing this in his eyes, Rythern spoke up:
‘Happiness comes from ignorance, so let us shed the towns-people’s ignorance together.’
’I’ll shed your mum’s ignorance’ Vaelus quipped, relieved that his instinct to redirect the tension could be sated without risking his life.
Before Rythern really knew what he was doing, he leapt to his feet in a flash, his teeth gritted, his fists clenched and his brain desperately wishing he knew some arcane secret to force an apology from the lips of this intolerable half-elf. But before anything else could be said, Cardinal Thorn calmly held his hand up which silently commanded all to be still.
‘The Lord Asmodeus is a dedicated patron and possesses superior foresight across all the Planes and thus he commands that his most devoted submit to him and his favoured vassals in writing.’ He motioned with his gloved hand towards Tiadora who now stood behind the Villains, holding a silver sacrificial knife in her right hand. To her immediate left, a translucent, magical disc of force hovered at chest height to her left, upon which lay several scrolls bound in a red satin ribbon and a pile of quills. A quick glance stated that there was a scroll and quill for each of the Villains. As each individual unfurled the scroll, they each discovered the same contract:
“Behold on this day __________ in the eighth age of this world a perpetual Compact is made between Cardinal Adrastus Thorn (hereafter the Master) and those who would be bound to him as his acolytes (hereafter the Bound). Both the Master and the Bound shall hold fast and true to this Compact through all trial and tribulation. By blood and soul the Bound commit to the Compact and swear that it shall never be undone. The Bound shall know and understand the Four Loyalties.
The First Loyalty is to their patron and god – mighty Asmodeus, first among the fallen, prince of the nine hells, our father below. They shall do all that can be done to further his worship and his glory.
The Second Loyalty is to their master – He who is called the Cardinal Adrastus Thorn, High Priest of Asmodeus in Talingarde. They shall do the Master no harm and obey his every commandment as long as those commandments do not clash with their First Loyalty.
The Third Loyalty is to their companions – the other Bound who serve alongside them. The Bound shall deal with each other fairly and honourably as long as doing so does not clash with their first or second loyalties. All treasure, wealth and reward garnered in their exploits will be equally shared with all of the Bound who aided in its acquisition.
The Fourth Loyalty is to themselves – for Asmodeus is the Lord of Ambition and all who serve him should strive to become great and powerful in his service as long as doing so does not clash with their first, second or third loyalties. By their weakness, ye shall know the unworthy.
The Bound swear that they cleave to and uphold the Four Loyalties even in the face of death and damnation. The Master swears that as long as the Four Loyalties are upheld, he shall reward the Bound as they deserve for their deeds. Thus it is written, and thus it shall be. We being of sound mind and free will do so swear and let they who violates this Compact know all the wrath of Hell unending. Signed _________________________”
‘Who shall be first?’ Tiadora asked in her usual sweet yet oddly authoritative voice.
‘I shall’ Vaelus said confidently, ignoring the scowl Rythern threw him for claiming the honour of being the first to sign the Compact. He took the knife, which was entirely wrought in silver from the pommel to the tip of the scabbard, from Tiadora and unsheathed it. The blade itself was only seven inches long, similar to a letter opener, but the edge was so thin it looked akin to a surgeons scalpel, capable of opening flesh effortlessly with its practically molecule-width edge. Vaelus slowly and purposefully opened up his palm and drew the blade across, revealing a thin red line in the knife’s wake. He loaded his quill’s nib with his blood and penned his signature, stark and bold, mirroring its its owner.
‘Who is next?’ Tiadora now asked.
‘I am!’ Rythern said sternly and quickly pulled the blade over his palm forcefully without taking his eyes off Vaelus. His gaze was one of defiance, irritation and subtle jealousy. Soon, Rythern’s own looped signature marked his dedication to Asmodeus.
Each of the Villains received the silver knife and signed their contracts sternly but when the knife came to Chase, the cleric frowned gravely. The burden of what he was about to do obviously weighed heavily on him.
‘Think about it, dear’ Tiadora said softly, pleased that this decision to abandon the final remnants of his faith was being offered the consideration it deserved.
Seeing his struggle, Cardinal Thorn spoke.
‘I understand your desire to be greatest of all, but I tell you this, side with us or burn with the rest!’
The cleric’s gaze rose from the contemplative position at the floor to meet the steely focus of the cardinal’s. Almost a full fifteen seconds elapsed in utter silence as the two men stared at each other. Perhaps they conversed telepathically, perhaps words were not required at all but after this time, Chase signed the document without a sound and then suddenly gasped as he felt something familiar yet totally new wash back into his being. It was as if boiling water were being poured back into the vessel, powerful, steaming elements as old as time itself. It flowed through his limbs and crackled internally as if an electric current charged through it. Chase Western was now re-born with all the power he had lost as well as so much more besides.
Thorn stood from his chair, his dark clothes and cloak pulling light into their facets like a bottomless chasm. We opened his arms wide and smiled widely.
‘Welcome my children to the beginning of the re-birth of the cosmos.’
Three days went past reasonably uneventfully to allow the Villains the opportunity to adjust to their new lives and to provide time for the search parties from Brandescar to give up their search and to declare to Talingarde that their prey was ether dead or missing. Within the opening of the second day, three guards did in fact discover the strange but nonetheless stately manor on Manor Road. Tiadora of course stated that she hadn’t seen anyone of the descriptions they offered and while that would have been enough for the guards, it was the inconvenient yet sudden and loud ministrations of boredom from Grumblejack who still stood chained in the grounds behind the house that piqued the guards curiosity. None were left alive after that and Grumblejack was delighted at the new meat he was presented minutes later, his sadistic and malign ogre instincts calling him to revel in the bodies in ways that would disgust all but the hardest hearts .
During these triad of sunrises and sunsets, the servants of the manor were commanded to dedicate their attentions to the Villains and Tiadora each provided them with 200 gold pieces. Each Villain composed a list of items they felt they would require to best serve their purposes and just before the sun set on the same day, the servants returned from the city market with weapons, equipment and alchemical substances.
On the third day, Adrastus Thorn summoned the Villains to assemble before him again and it was there that he revealed their initiation.
‘Below this domicile, lies a network of nine chambers. Each camber holds a test of your worthiness, your cunning and your skills. Somewhere within this network is a medallion of silver and sapphire. Conquer each test as they present themselves to you, acquire the medallion and let nothing stand in your way in delivering it to me!’