(Beginning Chapter Four here)
"He's there," a strangled voice announced.
Tarsus Ord, Paladin of Osterin, looked up from the map he'd been studying. He glanced briefly at the others that stood with him. Prince Haldran, previously of Marsten, and King Roderick of Virinhaal, whose castle they were currently wintering at. Each of them looked as puzzled as Ord felt, and they all turned their attention to the man who had spoken.
If you could call him a man, and Ord wasn't certain you could. He was Haldran's mysterious adviser, a hunched figure swathed in layers of cloaking fabric who had folded himself into a chair off to one side of the room. He was clearly diseased, and Ord suspected the malady was one of the mind as well as the body.
"Who is where?" Ord demanded.
"Noman," the adviser's voice gurgled unpleasantly, and though his head was hidden by a hood they could hear the grin behind the single word.
"And the where?" Ord pressed.
"Marsten," another one word reply that sounded more like an attempt to clear phlegm from his throat.
"And who is this Noman?" Roderick asked, looking to Prince Haldran for answers. "A general? A mage? Someone who should be worried about?"
"Worried?" the adviser cackled. "Yes, highness. You should be worried. It was he who began the Incursion in Marsten, he who broke the wall between worlds and allowed the demon hosts to enter. It is he who wishes darkness upon us all."
"You said he died," Haldran accused, face reddening. "You said they killed him when they closed the rift and stopped the Incursion."
"And so he did," the adviser replied. "It was... undone."
"Undone?" Ord asked, not believing his ears. "You mean to imply necromancy?"
"I imply nothing, Paladin," the adviser spat. "I know it to be true."
Ord's reply stopped just short of passing his lips. It would do him no good to argue with the crazy old man, and the argument would only annoy Haldran. He caught Roderick's eye and gently tilted his head towards the door. The king nodded.
"Perhaps now would be a good time to wrap up," Roderick suggested. "We'll pick things up some other time. Prince Haldran," he nodded politely. "Heshraveth," he acknowledged the adviser with the bare minimum of politeness. Ord followed him from the room, sparing a moment to glare over his shoulder. The Prince and Heshraveth were already deep in conversation, oblivious to the world.
"So," Roderick asked when they were safely away from prying ears, "I take it you don't believe our dear Prince's advisor?"
"Hardly," Ord scoffed. "Necromancy? I don't doubt that it was possible, or that it happened, back in the days of the Old Gods. But those days are long behind is. There hasn't been a documented case of actual necromancy in hundreds of years. Not even those damned death cults have pulled one off, and Gods know they've been trying.
"And you don't think demons running rampant changes anything?"
"I doubt there's any such thing," he replied bluntly. For a moment Roderick looked surprised, but he nodded all the same.
"I thought as much," the king commented. "But that is the official reason for the Paladins involvement, isn't it?"
"Officially, aye," Ord acknowledged. "But you know as well as I that this is just another opportunity for the Regnant to take advantage of. A way to gain more influence for the Church, and for Osterin."
The king poured them each a drink, and Ord took the glass of amber liquid gratefully. "You sound bitter, Tarsus," he observed.
Ord contemplated his drink for a moment before answering. "I suppose I am. It's not easy to be a righteous man in Osterin anymore. The Church has been castrated. Has been since long before my time. No one believes in the Gods anymore, let alone wants the Regnant telling them what to do. And the Paladins... we stopped being holy warriors a long, long time ago. Now we're just the Regnant's personal army. We kill bandits and fight border wars instead of hunting demons or Summoners."
"And yet here we have word of an actual Incursion," Roderick pointed out. "Demons threaten the world again, and who but the Paladins are ready to lead the counterstrike? You should be quite happy about that."
Ord grunted and shook his head. "Something happened at Marsten, I'll grant you that. But we've had time to get people into the city. Whatever happened there was bad, but there's no sign of any demons. Prince Haldran claims they've taken over, but if they have they're doing a damn good job of acting like normal Princes trying to rebuild a damaged city. And his advisor, Heshraveth... they're mad, the both of them. Haldran for power, and his advisor just for the hell of it. And don't go pretending you actually believe that fool's claims," he gestured at Roderick with his glass. "I know better. You want your share of the Free Cities we conquer during the course of this campaign."
"Fair enough," Roderick held up a hand. "I imagine we'll see the truth of it when we get there, eh? With the forces Haldran has been able to muster, your Paladins, and my own armies, the Free Cities don't stand a chance."