I arrived at the compound of The Hand with my entourage of Throalic bodyguards as well as Wheeler who volunteered to go with me. There were the usual pair of guards at the gate. They recognized me and greeted me warmly, which was a much different greeting than I had received the first time I had visited to have Roinak train me. This change in attitude could be accounted for in a number of ways. The rumors of our heroics, had travelled far in the Throalic kingdom. The Battle of Lake Pyros was well known, and with the recent troubles with the Therans, was being told by more and more bards around Barsaive. We had fought the Therans in the Twilight Peaks. We had now captured or destroyed four airships that were affiliated with Thera. Somehow, the rumor of my attempted assassination had gotten around, as had the word of my status as Rashomon’s only questor. Many were skeptical, and rightfully so. Other than the returned star in Rashomon’s constellation and my claim, there was no evidence other than the few who had seen my powers of Rashomon in play. Yet my legend and reputation had grown, as had that of all of the Unchained. That reputation, combined with the aid Suulin and I had given to Roinak, who was a high ranking member of The Hand, had earned me an honored place among them. I was glad to be considered an ally of The Hand, as would any warrior, they were truly a heroic order.
I entered the grounds and bade my entourage of heavily armed guards to stay back. Only Wheeler and the head guard, a slender human named Illidor, came with me. The grounds consisted of an open training yard surrounded by four barracks, and a great hall directly across from the gates. There were a few soldiers of The Hand in the training yard and they had ceased their activities to see what all the commotion was about. Mablung Valdimir came forward and greeted me with a handshake.
“Glad to see you return to us in one piece.” He said this with a smile. He was the head of the order and I had met him previously when I had been training with Roinak. Mablung came off as a man who fit the mold of Rashomon’s ideals. He was smart, capable, and led The Hand not by brute strength but by making smart decisions and being a good leader. He was an elf, while most members of The Hand were Orks or Humans. He was also one of the least imposing name-givers in the compound. Yet they all followed him unquestioningly, which was rare in the world at that time.
“So is it true all that they are saying? The Therans at lake Pyros? The slaver at the temple of Rashomon? Rashomon himself? “ His smile was warm but his questions were honest ones.
“Yes, we took part in the Battle of Lake Pyros along with the Crystal Raiders of the Stoneclaw Moot. We captured Trejack and his ship, and turned him over the king’s men this morning. As to Rashomon, we sanctified his temple, he has returned to the world, and I am his questor.” I said all of that flatly.
Mablung said nothing, but nodded thoughtfully. I saw the looks on the faces men next to him, and they were looks of awe. Which was good, I had expected more skepticism but saw little. One of those men was the Ork, Malthu The Scarred.
I told Mablung that I sought training, and he agreed to do it himself. He then explained to me that while he would train me, that The Hand had been commissioned to go to a village about a days walk from the city and investigate a horror who dwelt there. He thought they would leave in a couple of days, and told me that I was to go with them as part of my training. I had little choice but to agree. I did not relish the idea of leaving my men, my ship or my allies in The Unchained and the prospect of facing off against any kind of horror is not one that any name-giver relishes, outside of maybe Horror Stalker adepts like Urgral. Yet, I had become allies with many name-givers of the The Hand and if they needed my aid, I would give it. Plus, to decline their invitation would be bad for my reputation, and for me, reputation was all. So I would go because I had to.
I asked Mablung about the horrors we would be facing and he gave me little information, but it was at least something I could use. I agreed to go, and Mablung told me they would leave in a couple of days. In the meantime, I had much to do in Bartertown and Throal, so I wasted no time and went about my various affairs accompanied by Wheeler and my Thoralic royal guards. Later that night, I met with Fafnir aboard the ship and we found out valuable information about the horrors Mablung described. They were creatures who possessed the corpses of name-givers they had killed. Then they would horror mark other name-givers they encountered and attack them. If the marked name-givers hurt the horror in any way, the pain of the injury would be inflicted back upon them. We also learned that they typically worked in groups of six to ten. They were particularly terrible creatures, even for horrors… the task of saving the village would not be an easy one.
The next morning I had just finished up drills with the crew and I was busy supervising the work on the Dashing Stag when ten members of The Hand, including Mablung and Malthu arrived at the ship yard. Mablung was at their lead and all of them were dressed for war, wearing polished mail and laden with weapons. Mablung courteously asked for permission to come aboard, which I quickly granted. He flanked by two of the order came aboard leaving the others on the dock.
“Lord Stilicho,” He began; “We have been asked to leave immediately for the village. A sprit messenger arrived in the evening and told us that the villages was under heavy attack by the horrors. Even if we leave now, we may be too late. We must go now, will you still come with us? I also must ask if we may use your vessel, so that we may arrive their more quickly.”
“Yes, I will go with you.” I said. “As to the Dashing Stag, I’m afraid as you can see behind me, it is in no state to be flying anywhere with all of the work being done. So we will have to find other means.”
My words were quite true. Behind me dwarves were starting to work on reinforcing the hull of the ship, and in the process of their work had removed many of our hull planks on the port side. Thought the ship could still technically fly, it would have been foolhardy to do so in its state. I felt bad for the name-givers in the village, but the danger to my ship and my crew, of trying to fly the vessel in such as state, was too much.
“Very well.” Mablung sighed, clearly he had expected my response but had hoped for a different one. “We will give you a few minutes to get equipped then we’ll head to the stables to get our mounts.”
I gathered up my gear, Wheeler helped me put on my armor and we marched down to the stables. There the members of The Hand had a number of mounts, all horses. Few of their mounts were properly trained war horses, but all were good for riding. I was no stranger to horseback riding, having done quite a bit of it at Konigsberg during my time with the guard. I had also ridden Crest Wolves at The Reach and had become adept at riding mounts in an acrobatic fashion. We rode West, toward the village and unknown to us at the time, toward a nightmare.
The first place we came to was a farmstead, maybe a mile from the village. There we found a dwarf farmer and his family butchered. Their house was burned and still smoldering. The farmer had two pigs, each of which had been beheaded. The heads of the family were stuck onto the fence posts, their mouths open in gruesome expressions. The bodies were fresh, only hours old, but not an insect was upon them. Even the smallest and least intelligent life forms avoided the horrors. It was here we left a couple of men and our horses, for Mablung feared the horrors could use our mounts against us. He was probably right too… the horrors could possess horses and animals far easier than they could us.
There was nothing we could do for the mutilated corpses of the farmer and his family, so we made our way to the village itself. As we approached our scout was the first to see that there were people walking parallel to us. Shortly after he pointed them out we started seeing them around us, staying off in the distance. They stayed far enough out that chasing after them would have been folly. Instead we formed ranks and made our way into what was left of the village.
There were only a dozen or so dwellings and shops. Each made of wood, and a couple of those were burning. No living villagers were around, just mutilated bodies. We closed ranks a little tighter and gritted our teeth, men gripped their weapons a little harder and held their shields a little closer… these horrors must die, and it was going to be them or us. Mablung muttered to me. “Do you have any means of fighting a horror?”
“Yes.” I said grimly. “My friend Urgral taught me how to bear horror marks, and I have a horror fend.”
“Good.” Mablung replied. “None of us have anything of the sort, so you may need to take point.”
He did not jest, it only made sense given the horror’s capabilities that I be the focus of their attention if possible. I moved out in front of our ranks as we made our way to the far side of the village. There, we saw a site which made our hearts fall. Out in front of us on the hill were droves of dead villagers, each clearly a horror possessed corpse, carrying weapons and covered in the blood of their butchery. There were too many of them, even for adepts such as us to fight. But fight we must, for there was nowhere to run. I could tell the men were shaken by what they saw, all except Mablung who seemed oddly calm. Later I would learn why.
I looked back to the men, remembering how my father had addressed the Konigsberg Wolf Guard when we were surrounded by Bloodlore Crystal Raiders. “Men!” I shouted. “These beasts will target our will and try to mark us. Steel yourselves for this, and allow them no access to you! Remember that we control ourselves, not them! When they charge, hold fast and kill them! Kill them all!” I was shouting, but I was also using Rashomon’s power of Inspire Perseverance, and I felt that power wash over the rattled men like a wave of calm. Suddenly expressions of fear and worry turned into calm masks of determination. Men nodded to each other, reassuring one another.
The horrors charged. Mablung shouted for a shield wall, but I stepped forward. I heard the shields slam into a wall behind me, as I presented myself as a target to the mass of horrors. I held out my arms, challenging them and inviting their attack. I would make them target me with the hopes that I could prevent their marks and that it would get our men a chance slay them. The dead name-givers, horror all, howled as they came. Then suddenly, they all vanished.
I stood stunned, still braced for an attack that never came. After a few moments of warily looking around, I turned to look behind me and saw that everything, the horrors, the village, the corpses, all of it was gone. The men in the shield wall looked bewildered. Mablung Valdimir, however, was smiling.
He sheathed his sword. “Stilicho Alaricson, Lord of Konigsberg, you have passed the test of your circle advancement.”
The men in the shield wall slowly began to relax, having also understood the illusion created by Mablung for what it was. I sheathed my swords as well, my legs a little jittery from the sudden shock of battle. I smiled… Mablung was every bit the wise Warrior that I envisioned… and he was an illusionist too.
One day, Mablung Valdimir would make a powerful questor of Rashomon.