Darkness gave way to blinding light, but it was not heaven that awaited any of the party: even the holy clerics of the Creator woke to the torturous red fires of Mammon’s domain. The great demon laughed at the slain creatures whose souls his servant had sent to him.
Yet their faith was not unrewarded. Father Greg, through his pain, found the will to defy the creature before him, and spat, “By God, you’ve gotten fat.” And though Mammon merely laughed once more, a fresh burst of fire, licking at the Father’s feet, was indication enough that Mammon had been rankled.
“You know,” the demon began, by way of retaliation, “the only reason I have chosen to appear to you worthless lot at all is because I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“Gratitude?” rasped Leo indignantly.
“Oh yes. It was the child, of course. I was growing concerned that the boy might actually be found out and executed; by bringing him south, you have alleviated that concern. I do appreciate the favor.” The malice in Mammon’s smile suggested that, appreciation or no, the group would be receiving no favor in return. Yet as the demon puffed on his cigar and outlined every way in which the travelers had been of great assistance to him, something curious happened. In a brilliant flash of white light, Father Greg vanished from the realm.
He was not the last. Over the next few moments, Leo and Raku also disappeared, followed shortly thereafter by Vir. With rage, and perhaps a tinge of fear, the great demon let loose a gout of flame, intent on torturing the remaining two; the blast drowned out even the flash of light which consumed Uni as she, too, finally disappeared.
Only Abdul remained. Too large to pace, Mammon instead took several more puffs of his cigar, thinking. His glare at the southerner then changed. “Mortal,” he began slowly, “as you may have realized, your… acquaintances seem to have been rescued. Doubtless, the humans of the north will wish to pursue young Dante and have him slain. Perhaps, then, it is merely my luck that an… honorable warrior such as yourself has been left to me. You seem like the sort who would not want to see a child slain. So allow me to… employ you. I will send you back to the world of the living, with the rest of them, where you will do your utmost to ensure the survival of the boy. You will, of course, be compensated fairly: wealth beyond imagining, each day in my service. What say you?”
Groggily, the various members of the party came to consciousness and life once again. They were lying in a row on the ground of the site of their losing battle, attended each by a cleric of the Holy Hand detachment that had been turned away from Nieheim. What healing that could be performed had been, atop the resuscitation. Glancing about, they noticed that a previously-sealed door had been flung open, and the contents of the small chamber beyond had been emptied.
Once they were all standing again, the captain of the group addressed them. “So you’re the lot that ‘rescued’ the devil-child from Himmelburg.” With a snort, the man continued, “You’ve caused us quite a bit of trouble, you know. Where is he?”
“Headed south, we believe,” Leo replied. “We did not realize our mistake until now, and I fear the boy may already be beyond your grasp.”
“No-one is beyond our grasp,” the Captain muttered. Then, decisively, “Sebastian Lionel. Father Gregory. If the two of you still hold to the Creator and his Church at all, you will go north to Himmelburg, bearing this letter to be delivered to the head priest of the church there. Your… friends,” he sneered, glancing first at the southerner Abdul, then at the elves and dwarf, “had best join you, having contributed equally to this nightmare. My men and I will go south after this child, and deal with him before he is in the hands of those heathens.” With that, the Holy Hand set out, leaving the weakened party to stumble back into Nieheim to prepare.
At the Temple of Mammon inquiring after Moritz, the group met the priest Von Sterben — by all appearances, a faithful and high priest of Mammon, perfectly human. And though the scar on his neck looked to have been gouged by a blade not unlike Abdul’s, and though his right arm appeared to have been seared off by intense flames, there was no hard evidence to the contrary. The halfling was still nowhere to be found, and unable to wait any longer, the group left word with the governor, and gathering up their things, set out on the road north.
It was perhaps an hour before nightfall when the group caught sight of a giant hulk of a man, standing beside the road next to a sloppy fire. They approached cautiously, before calling out to him. They were greeted in turn with, " Yuri is looking for dog. Have you seen dog?" The party had not. Greg, though, realizing the danger of travelling alone and the benefit of such a strong fighter, offered, “Would yo-Yuri like to travel with us? It’s safer with more people, and we can help you look for your dog.”
The man agreed, and as they set out north again, Uni muttered out of earshot of the giant, “Best not put him on watch. Not sure he’d understand the task.” And though none of the group thought this to be a particularly kind remark, when night fell, no-one suggested Yuri take any of the watches that night.