Kellion's Hold lay days behind the company, and with it lay all of the lands of the People of the White Tower. Before them are the lands of their enemies, the mutants and barbarians that raid and despoil the fields of the People, and the demon-summoning sorcerers that dominate them. Progress slowed as they took the time to explore these strange lands, time taking in making maps and scribing notes, as James heeded the urge to beware of ambushes or other subterfuge while dealing with the unknown.
The lands became truly wild, untamed and barely showing signs of anything more than the beasts of the field or the birds of the air passing through the loose canopy of the tree-covered hills that housed the barbaric mutant tribes beyond the People's lands. Torquil already found markers signifying the claimed boundaries of one such tribe, and soon other tribal markers and tokens became commonplace encounters as they penetrated further into enemy territory.
A week into enemy territory passed before the company met with resistance. Aware that they'd been watched, James organized the company into going along with a plan meant to draw out their pursuers. Torquil baited the enemy into attacking too soon, and he led the enemy warband back towards James and the others. Thomas enthralled a huge beastman amongst them, while Cavil and James skewered many others with their spears. The other men bloodied the rest of the warband, slaying them without mercy, until only a few remained. These few the men brought down and dragged back, bound hand and foot, before the heaped corpses of their fellow tribesmen.
Cavil gripped one by his scarred, bald head and swung the captive about before James. With a short sword in the other hand, Cavil looked up at his leader. James turned to Thomas, who held forth the talisman carried close to his heart, and nodded. It glowed, and the captive trembled. James then glared at the captive.
"You know who we are, don't you?" James said, "Who sent you, and why?"
The captive hesitated, and Cavil slapped the flat of his blade against the barbarian's shoulder.
"You know what powers my man here wields." James said, indicating Thomas, "He has the means to know if you lie or not. My man behind you is not a kind man; he obeys me, but right now he would rather run you through, for your people slaughtered his kin and he's hot for revenge."
The Hamilton twins, standing beside Thomas, whisper into his ears.
"James," Thomas said, "I think he's been cursed."
James nodded to Cavil, and the brute pulled the captive's head back so that James could look long at the captive's face. He saw the captive's face contorting, trying to speak, but somehow restrained- as if someone seized hold of the man's flesh and worked it like a bizarre puppet.
"The sorcerers, no doubt." Thomas said, "Allow me."
Thomas stepped forward, dropped his voice low and invoked some power in a tongue only he knew, and then he slapped the captive across the mouth with his free hand- a free hand covered in a blue-white aura.
"That should fix him." Thomas said, moving back.
The captive, realizing that the grip on his tongue no longer existed, locked his eyes on Thomas.
"The Brotherhood knows well of the Eight Masters!" he said, "If not for them, your fathers would've already butchered our people and seized our lands. The Six know of your mission, and the One blesses their every action."
Cavil looked over at James, his eyes betraying his desire, but James shook his head.
"I see." James said, "I see quite clearly now."
Thomas, Cavil and the Hamilton twins all looked at each other, confused. James did not acknowledge their bewilderment, but instead waived Torquil over.
"They were a score in total, master." Torquil said, "All young warriors, save for the one slumbering beastman. That thing, and this one, are all that remains of the party now."
"Torquil, relieve Cavil. Cavil, walk with me." James said.
James took Cavil away from the others, and in hushed tones he grasped the hot-blooded brute by the shoulders.
"I have need of your brawn, for I think I see the purpose for them sending warriors equal to ourselves."
"Another party, distant from here and well-hidden, watched. Their elders knew that these youths would likely fail. The beastman isn't here so much to aid them as to ensure their doom."
"I don't see yet your need."
"How would you like to walk right into this tribe's stead, where you can get at all of them at once, with ease?"
"I thought so. First, we need to get away from those distant watchers. Then, when we're certain, we follow the beastman back. Once he's close, we slay him; Thomas's magic conceals you in its guise, and you enter unchallenged. You keep their eyes on you long enough for Torquil and a few others to take the portal, and then when the attack comes you take on all about you. The confusion will ensure our swift victory- and many of their warriors will be close at hand."
Cavil's smirk heightened to a malicious grin.
"But, there is a catch, and that catch is that you must hold your rage in check- stay your hand until you receive the command. Only then may you unleash your rage upon them."
Cavil glared at James, but relented. "As you command, master."
As Cavil and James walked back to the captive, Thomas looked up from the barbarian and over to James.
"He's talks a lot, but says little." Thomas said, "But, he's confirmed what we thought on the sorcerers."
James looked over to Cavil, who had relieved Torquil.
"Show him our gratitude." James said, and Cavil slew the barbarian in one blow.