The cottage was ripe with decay: flayed animal carcasses dangled from the ceiling, piles of bones littered the floor, and heaps of entrails steamed atop a stained wooden table. An old Ursine stood at the window. He turned to face the strangers sprawled bleeding on the packed dirt floor, and in a high, mocking voice said, “Wonderful job, heroes. We are surrounded.”
Though the recluse Asias had a reputation for madness, he did not exaggerate. Gretch pushed their way through the fanning ferns around the clearing, their shaman dancing before the hermit’s cottage, summoning fire elementals to further glut their numbers. From among the strangers, a powerful D’verg with a wickedly serrated sword tried to stand. Her wounds were too great, and she collapsed again. Gritting her teeth, she said, “Sarcasm later. We must fight.”
Asias surveyed the battered group and made a low, disgusted noise. “Sarcasm always. Now, stay here. I will handle this.”
The old Ursine stepped from the cottage, and the gretch laughed raucously in response, taunting him for his age. Asias half smiled and traced a sigil in the air, invoking the names of ancient spirits. Shadows pooled at his feet, and he locked eyes with the shaman. The gretch went curiously stiff as the Ursine approached. In a low, cruel voice, Asias whispered, “The Khan is gone. Your followers are gone. You are alone, and helpless. Why, you might as well just give up now.”
The gretch’s eyes suddenly went blank with terror and loneliness. He dropped to his knees and let out a high, broken wail. He tried to cast a spell at the Ursine, but doing so only caused nearby gretch to drop to their knees in pain as well. Before any others could react, Asias sent a wave of black malevolence toward them, snuffing the brightness of the forest clearing and dropping most of the gretch like flies. At the same time, he flashed all of the fire elementals with frozen water, reducing them to columns of steam.
The Ursine gestured, and currents of dark water ensnared the remaining gretch. Though they screamed, clawing at the earth, the waters dragged them toward the hermit. He traced a sigil in the air and placed it on the middle gretch. Releasing his waters, he drew back into the shadows of his cottage.
The marked gretch looked down at the dark symbol on his chest and then at his companions. After a few seconds, nothing had happened, and the gretch grinned cautiously. “Stupid no —” He was cut off, as dark matter ripped from beneath his skin, bursting his body and bringing down the remainder of his companions.
When this extermination was complete, the Ursine surveyed the field of bodies before him and cackled softly in delight. Glancing back at his cottage, he noticed the D’verg propped in the doorway, leaning on her sword. She regarded Asias with cautious admiration. “What side do you fight on?”
Asias narrowed his eyes. “My own.” He paused, and then added, “I do not wish to see the world die”
The D’verg nodded and disappeared back into the cottage. Asias knelt in the field of bodies and harvested his spoils.