Conall’s infantry flanked the priests of Beordin on either side of the hard packed, dirt road. Protecting them from any earthly foes, allowing Alrik’s wolves to concentrate on what they called disturbances of nature-- disturbances they were sure would be caused by unearthly forces.
Macdrust admired the priests' discipline as the orderly column turned east, off the main road, onto a trail marked only by wagon ruts. The brush obscuring the path had been hacked away by Skorri and his outriders. On either side of the leaf-littered trail, the trees grew thicker, and overhung the trail in places, before widening a short ways up.
"Smugglers' road," commented Conall, walking in front of the column with Alrik Kloengr. "Probably branches off a hundred times, most of em leadin' nowhere." This led credence to Talorg’s theory that they were dealing with bandits, who had perhaps fallen in with a renegade battle mage, or crazed wizard. But Alrik’s warning of supernatural foes nagged at the back of Conall’s brain.
Thunder still rumbled in the west, moving closer, as the morning grew more humid, adding to the tension that seemed to hang all around them. As the road sloped upward, they paused briefly to study a fork in the road. Conall mopped his sweaty forehead, and was about to comment on the lack of insects, which should have been plaguing them, when they all felt a hot wind crest the hill before them. It washed over them like a thick wave and carried the smell of burnt, putrefied corpses and sulphur.
It was Alrik Kloengr who recognized it for what it was.
"What the Hell…" Conall’s question was cut off by Alrik’s answer.
"A tear in the earth's fabric!" the priest yelled above the wind, as his Wolves of Beordin dragged heavy war swords from sheaths and spears from their backs. "It's a rift between earth's material plane of existence and another, dark, foul plane!"
Alrik strode among his wolves, reassuring the warrior priests with his confident demeanor and shouts of encouragement. Conall’s flanking soldiers waited for orders, and scouts began to filter in, Talorg among them. The Gaelged’s usual devil may care attitude was replaced by the hardened professionalism of an experienced fighter. Before he could give any reports, the thundering of hooves reached their ears from beyond the brow of the hill.
"Must be the outriders!" commented Talorg, as the horses crested the hill from the east.
Most of the animals were riderless, large eyes wide and rolling with terror, their flanks lathered with sweat as they ran at breakneck speed out of the valley, scattering the assembled scouts and priests. Two were dragging their hapless riders behind them.
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