The Darkness of the Womb

Relic, Chapter 1

Winter, early January, in the year of our Lord 960

It is early afternoon in Sudleigh and there is feasting in Lord Leofric’s timber hall. Father Loryn, the new deacon at the local church, leads everyone in grace, taking a moment to chastise the butcher, Vercingetorix, for attempting to start before the blessing is finished.

As feasting begins, a lone monk staggers into the timber hall, calling for assistance. He speaks with an accent, though it is not immediately recognizable. A few rise to aid him crowd around him as he explains that he was traveling from Wealdminster to Caerloyw on assignment for Pope John XII, and he camped outside of Stanhurst. He was beset by bandits in the night, and his relics were stolen. He wishes to regain them, but he will require assistance. Lord Leofric pledges to help him, and asks who will go. Aethelwulf, Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, and Morwenna all volunteer. He instructs them to travel with this monk to Stanhurst and help recover his lost goods. Everyone agrees to ready themselves and leave immediately.

The group sets out on the forested path east, toward Stanhurst. A few miles outside of town, they pass an oxcart and proceed to hail it. While inquiring about their wares, predominantly skins and food, Father Loryn suspects that something is amiss. Listening carefully, he hears a light sigh or rustle from inside the cart. As the cart passes, Father Loryn alerts Aethelwulf to this fact, and Morwenna indicates that she similarly heard something. The group agrees and calls for the cart to halt. The merchants respond by pulling daggers and advancing. The battle is swift and bloody, with Aethelwulf and Vercingetorix making short work of the bandits. Only one manages to flee, having been shot in the shoulder with an arrow by Vercingetorix. Of the others, one dies when first aid is incorrectly administered, but the other two live, though they are unconscious. The group discovers that the oxcart contains skins, food, and some tools while also concealing weapons and a couple of unconscious humans in cages, ostensibly to be used as slaves. On the slavers themselves, they note that their daggers were covered in some greyish, foul-smelling goo, and that they have vials on their belts filled with the same. Morwenna cannot identify it, but takes some for later. The group decides to wait while Aethelwulf rides his horse back to Sudleigh to ask for assistance. Lord Leofric sends men with horses who will transport the oxcart, the slavers, and the prisoners to Sudleigh to determine what is happening. Aethelwulf, Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, and Morwenna are to continue accompanying the monk to Stanhurst.

Aethelwulf returns with two of Lord Leofric’s men, and the group continues to Stanhurst. They arrive in Stanhurst after dark, and find a rocky, muddy hill with a few scattered huts, scattered farmland, and a single, small timber hall atop the hill. Making their way to the timber hall, they enter and announce themselves to Lord Cuthbert, explaining their purpose there. Ever-suspicious, Father Loryn has reason to suspect that Lord Cuthbert is lying when he says he knows nothing of the monk’s relics, but cannot prove his suspicions. Everybody eats while Father Loryn asks if Lord Cuthbert should like to confess, and he and Cuthbert walk outside. Father Loryn signals to Aethelwulf to keep watch so that he is not attacked once the two leave.

Once outside, Father Loryn finds Cuthbert reluctant to talk, but finally motivates him to loosen his tongue. He tearfully explains that the villagers are the bandits, but that they have no choice. The land was tough and the crops were failing. When the Little People offered to make their crops grow in exchange for trinkets and slaves, the town agreed. Cuthbert does not know where they are, though, as the blacksmith Caedmon primarily deals with them now — he can ward them with his iron.

Father Loryn lets Lord Cuthbert go before gathering the others to explain what he learned. They all decide to pay Caedmon a visit. Knocking on his door, he answers and reluctantly lets them inside, asking what they want. They press him about the Little People, and he denies everything. Father Loryn then presses him to sell the iron trinkets hanging above the doorways and the iron pendant around his neck on the grounds that if there is no cult, then these things should have no significance. Caedmon lets them go for 10 deniers, and Father Loryn implores him to accompany the group so that he may minister to the town. Aethelwulf, however, just says to let him go, and the group decides to go to sleep, taking residence in the timber hall for the night. Father Loryn and Vercingetorix decide to hold vigil for an hour or two, and Aethelwulf instructs Vercingetorix to awaken him in a couple of hours.

Both hear rustling in the woods as the dark deepens, and Father Loryn awakens Aethelwulf while Vercingetorix goes to investigate. Vercingetorix tracks the source to Caedmon, walking through the woods. He silently follows, and Aethelwulf manages to catch up. They follow him to a thicket at the bottom of the hill, where he shouts wordlessly. The two wait, and then they begin to hear movement. They begin to return to Stanhurst when they hear a loud, quick thundering behind them. They are greeted by a diminutive man with reptilian features brandishing a tube with a curved end for holding. Despite the initial shock, they dispatch the thing before they start to flee. Vercingetorix goes ahead as Aethelwulf hears rustling in the woods, and goes to investigate. He pushes aside the brush to find another, larger reptilian thing. It screams and gestures, and he suddenly feels his skin peel, char, and blacken as if he were caught in a fire. Barely hanging onto consciousness, he dispatches the thing. He catches up with Vercingetorix, and the two carry one of the reptilian corpses as well as its tube to the timber hall.

Awakening everyone, they reveal the corpse, surprising Lord Cuthbert with the realization that the Little People bleed and can be killed. Morwenna sees to Aethelwulf, though she can do little for his wounds at the time. The monk recognizes the tube as one of the relics, a weapon of some sort, and is pleased to regain it; he incidentally seems to know how to use the weapon. Father Loryn and Vercingetorix rally the townsfolk to dispatch the Little People, and some accompany them. After testing the noxious goo that Morwenna retrieved earlier on a dog and determining it to be some form of knock-out potion, Vercingetorix smears some on his blades. Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, Morwenna, the monk, and a contingent of townsfolk travel down the hill to find a cave hidden in the brush. A few townsfolk are sent first, but then run out, screaming. Then, the things start to rush out, but the first few are easily dispatched by Vercingetorix’s arrows. The rest fall quickly as the assembled party attacks them.

The townsfolk stay outside while Father Loryn, Vercingetorix, Morwenna, and the monk enter the cave. They find that it widens to a larger burrow, filled with remains and offal. A ledge bears a strange, black, L-shaped object of unknown material, and a two-part glowing tablet. The monk recognizes these things as the relics, and takes them. When the others ask, he says that he cannot quite explain from where these relics come, only that they are power, divine artifacts, and that they belong to the Pope. Additionally, he offers to pay, granting 250 silver deniers to each person. He then leaves. The group quickly decides that Morwenna will remain to look after Aethelwulf, and Father Loryn and Vercingetorix will stealthily follow the monk.

The two follow the monk well into the night, following him most of the way to Sudleigh. A few miles away, however, he takes a turn into the woods and walks into a cavern. Father Loryn makes his presence known, and follows the monk into the cave. The monk then explains that he is not a monk and these are not relics. Instead, they come from another place entirely, one that lies on the other side of the cave wall. He is about to walk through when Father Loryn moves to stop him with his mace, but Vercingetorix, still following, grazes his arm with an arrow. The poison upon the tip causes him to lose consciousness instantly. Vercingetorix then steps forward, and the “monk” exclaims something in an unfamiliar language and jumps through the wall, simply disappearing through it as if it were not there. Vercingetorix then pokes at it before sticking his arm through, prompting him to be sucked through the other side.

Finding himself in the same cave, he shrugs and begins to walk out before finding his surroundings to be extremely strange. A clear barrier is before him, bearing hinges and a box as if it is some form of door. A white room with tables and suchlike lies beyond. He sees the “monk” and a few others on the other side. The “monk” steps to the barrier and manipulates it somehow, such that his voice emanates from the box on the barrier itself. He explains that this is the future, but that Vercingetorix should just go home anyway, because there is nothing for him here and no one will believe him. After some discussion, Vercingetorix retrieves his arrow and returns through the portal through whence he came.

Finding the unconscious Father Loryn still on the other side, he gathers him to return to Sudleigh.

The next day, he sends an oxcart to retrieve Morwenna and the grievously injured Aethelwulf. He explains a few things regarding what happened to Lord Leofric, but says to wait until everyone is gathered.

The following day, after Father Loryn has rested, and Aethelwulf and Morwenna have returned, Vercingetorix reveals the corpse of the Little Person, while also explaining some of what happened regarding the town. He then explains about the portal in the cave, and leads Lord Leofric and a contingent of men there. After investigating the portal, Lord Leofric says he will get men to seal the cave, as this is something which should not exist. The group then returns to Sudleigh.

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