Baxter, a hired man of Strongwood Towne’s watch, is staying in the ramshackle riverside apartment of Arana Daux, the widow he’s shacking up with. The previous night after making love to the widow, he falls asleep listening to the gentle music of a music box; now he’s rudely awakened by some thugs from the local tanners guild led by a bald-pated, gap-toothed lackey named Dugall; the tanners claim she’s hiding money owed them by her late husband Lyol Daux, also a tanner. When Baxter attempts to calm them down, they challenge him and try to raid the apartment but Baxter thrashes them. The begrudged tanners blame the town watch for interfering in their business.
Pilgrim, a farmer who “found religion” one day while working in his field, and Jonathan Crisp, a whiskey swilling sea rat, meet on the road. Pilgrim has left behind his home, farm, and children to follow the calling of the strange power that now compels him, his previous life a separate thing from him now. He takes the drunken gypsy lying in the road for a sign in his journey and the two walk towards the mountains, believed to be a spiritual center for both; in Jonathan’s seafaring tribe, the ocean is the mother of all and the land is the father. After spending his youth at sea and listening to numerous conflicts with his estranged parents, he has decided to come inland to learn more of his spiritual father, the land. Crisp is also on his way to Strongwood Towne to visit an acquaintance named Kat whom he met on an ocean vessel one day when his sea rat tribe traded with her ship.
On their way to Strongwood, they encounter an odd man named Mercurio, a gentleman falconer and teacher at Strongwood’s private school. Mercurio escorts them to Strongwood town in the foothills of the mountains and they stop by an old stone shrine from an old religion dedicated to Turgrid the mountain king. Pilgrim recalls the folk tales of Turgrid from his youth and the legends of Stomra the first man and his struggle against the wicked and terrible Queen Gralfreya of the woodlands. When they arrive in Strongwood town, Crisp is told to surrender his dangerous-looking harpoon by Sergeant Gregor, acting captain of the watch.
As Jonathan argues with the sergeant, there is a disturbance in the southern section of the town near the docks. Out of the crowd comes Baxter all bruised up, reporting the disturbance with the tanners to Gregor. The acting sergeant, stressed by the growing burden of responsibility and lacking an effective number of quality men on the watch, tells Jonathan Crisp there’s a way he can hold on to his harpoon. Baxter recognizes the old farmer Pilgrim as a man he used to buy vegetables from on the road. Pilgrim recalls Baxter as well, remembering him as a laborer and hired man who occasionally passed by on the road as he worked his fields.
Gregor sizes up Jonathan Crisp and Pilgrim and asks if they would be interested in working for the watch while they reside in the town. He tells Crisp that while lethal weapons are not allowed by the watch, he would have access to his harpoon. Crisp and Pilgrim agree, and the two are taken to the Kassandara household where they are introduced to the young lady of the house, Katerina Alexandra Kassandara, Gregor’s companion and the daughter of the absent head captain of the watch, Helios Kassandara, who is away in a foreign land on a training mission.
Gregor tells Kat about the trouble with the tanners that has begun to spread to the other guilds as well. The guilds are used to being in control of the town, but under the rule of Strongwood’s reeve, Mortimer Schteck, a constabulary (town watch) has been created and the guilds do not yet fully recognize its authority. Kat tries to convince Gregor that the cudgels the watch uses aren’t enough to frighten the tanners into obedience, but Gregor refuses to take up lethal weaponry against the citizens as it violates the orders left him by the constabulary’s official captain. He leaves the Great House where the Kassandara family conducts business and goes out into the streets to put up a notice for the guilds, demanding that they set down their weapons and their threats or the watch shall be forced to act. As he puts up the edict, he is stabbed in the gut and a note is pinned to him challenging the cops to meet the tanners on the south side bridge at midnight. Men of other guilds such as the blacksmiths and stonemasons have been joining in the tanners’ cause. Gregor stumbles back to the Kassandara house bloody. Jonathan Crisp, a veteran of many battles at sea, rushes to treat the man’s injuries with some quick stitching. Gregor whispers to Kat that she was right and that she’s in charge now. Kat fills out a writ to bear arms for herself, Baxter, Pilgrim, and Jonathan Crisp and takes charge of the watch.
BLOOD IN THE RAIN
It’s raining when they meet the tanners on the bridge. The rain washes away some of the stink of that section of the town. There’s a huge blacksmith (Coll) and his brother (Anton) who have joined the mob. A big fight ensues. Though the watch is severely tested, they subdue the tanners. Coll gives his respect to Baxter who brought him down. The tanners grudgingly surrender. The watch questions guild leader Rennik, who admits that it was a tanner named Cade who stabbed Gregor. Cade is not among the tanners present, and is thought to have fled into the wood to seek protection from the hunters he often associates with. One tanner is killed in the brawl.
POLITICS AND MURDER
The following days, Baxter takes Coll the blacksmith up on an opportunity to raise a flagon. This is when Baxter learns of the guilds’ resentment towards Schteck, his police force, and raised taxes. He commissions Coll to make him a razor to replace one that he lost years ago and Coll agrees to do it. Meanwhile, Pilgrim uses the tin wire from an old waterskin to fashion a symbol for the watch. They had used a blue ribbon before, but Pilgrim fashions a star shape. Kat gets embroiled in an argument with her mother, who demands that she abandon the ridiculous, disgraceful armor she wears and act like a lady. Kat is summoned by Mortimer Schteck to report on the tanners guild situation. Schteck “punishes” Kat for dressing disgracefully by appointing her temporary head of the watch, pronouncing that this position will be her pillory, the wounds she takes in battle will be the stones that Strongwood throws at her. He pronounces this “doom” upon her and Kat does her best to hide her delight.
The watch decides to organize a feast, a “barbecue” they say, and begins to invite the leaders of different guilds to attend so they can establish their points of view and work together. While this is happening, a member of the watch is murdered on his way home on the outskirts of town. Investigation hints that the act may have been committed by hunters living in the hills outside of town. Jonathan Crisp and Pilgrim visit a hunters’ lodge in those hills. The hunters are generally unfriendly and distrustful of the watch. They don’t like Schteck or the men he sends. Rough words from Jonathan Crisp quickly incite a brawl. In the end, Jonathan Crisp and Pilgrim remain standing, albeit barely. When questioned, the hunters reveal that many of them serve under a man named Daper Dell, who lives further up in the hills. They learn that Daper is a hard man who lost his wife years ago and claim that Schteck’s men murdered his son.
The watch investigates this and learns that two constables nicknamed Bigs and Shakes were assigned to collect taxes from Daper’s hunters earlier in the year but that the order was later revoked by Lugyon, a councilman and administrator to Schteck, the reason being that the watch in the town was light enough in the first place, without sending members so far up into the hills for an entire day for very little money.
The watch travels into the hills to meet up with Daper and the hunters. They are ambushed by hunters with dogs with the intent to kill; the watch fights for their lives and as a result some hunters are killed, though they capture one, a hunter named Marshon. With the tanners as well as with the hunters, the watch begins to pay a price in blood for the peace they hope to establish.
Darkness falls and the watch become nervous that they’ll be outmatched on ground familiar to the hunters. Since they have captured a prisoner, they reconsider their mission and turn back to bring him into town, ask him questions, perhaps hold him as a means of leveraging the others. Along the road, they encounter a pack of hostile wolves led by a wolf far larger than any they have ever seen in their lives — impossibly large. Unlike most wolves, these don’t back down, but rather they advance threateningly. Something is wrong with these creatures. They attack. As the watch are savaged by the wolves in the darkness, they spot another figure with the wolves, a figure in ragged clothes with strange eyes that glint red in the moonlight. In a hollow, gutteral voice, the figure tells them that they are but creatures of the moment, that the Queen was here once and her children have come to take back the world. The figure is devastatingly powerful and shrugs off the blows of the watch until, laughing, it attempts to fly off into the woods when Baxter pins its leg to the ground with his sword. Trapped, it begins to panic when Jonathan Crisp impales it on his harpoon. The creature falls and they discover that it is none other than the tanner Cade, his form distorted into a lupine shape.
Wolves howl all over the hills and from everywhere packs begin to converge on the watch. They flee down the hillside, using a stream to hide their scent, though they lose their prisoner along the way. They arrive back in Strongwood in the early morning and consult with Mercurio at the academy. Mercurio is his debonair self at first, but when they show him the head and hands of Cade, his demeanor changes and he becomes concerned that “things are changing.” He does not believe in all the fairy tales about the Queen, but he does believe that such dangerous creatures as these existed and that they may come back. He offers his assistance and advice should they need it, and he offers them the skills of one of his pupils, Graefallow, who studies old sciences believed by the world at large to be “tainted arts” crafted by the Queen.
Kat and Pilgrim report to Schteck and show him Cade’s head first thing in the morning as the reeve is heading to work, but Schteck only sees “some monster” and asks if they did their job with the hunters. He seems unaffected by the head and doesn’t get what the watch is implying. The widow Arana Daux speaks with Baxter about their relationship, her son, and safety, but Baxter, never one for commitment, answers her nonchalantly.
When they wake at midday, Kat, Pilgrim, and Jonathan Crisp are affected by a sickness they seem to have caught from their wounds or from a chill in the woods. Jonathan Crisp goes to the academy where he asks Mercurio to introduce him to the student, Graefallow, who he spoke of last night. Graefallow is a tall, thin youth — learned, polite, and dreamy-eyed. He has studied more of Crisp’s tribe’s history than even Crisp knows, and begs Crisp to let him write an account of his lore. Crisp decides the youth is quite “green.”
The watch receives reports of infighting and disturbances amongst the tanners again, so they decide to speak with them about Cade. They pull aside guildmaster Rennick, however the conversation goes much like the one with Schteck. Rennick does not see “Cade” in the wolflike head, and resents the implication. While he seems to harbor superstitions about the Queen, he does not believe that a man he knew for years turned into a monster, nor does he believe that this is that man’s head. He once again turns hostile towards the watch. More angry words are exchanged. Just as it was with Jonathan Crisp and the hunters, the argument escalates and the rest of the guild comes out in challenge. One man, Gareth, is in a particularly violent state, and it comes clear that he has been this way for the past few days. The negotiations break down and a rock is hurled at Kat. Jonathan Crisp, always scrapping for a fight, jumps into the tanner crowd and begins swinging the blunt end of his harpoon. Another brawl ensues. At one point, Jonathan Crisp launches into a fury like the one affecting the tanner Gareth. He attacks Pilgrim until the rest of the watch are able to calm him. The watch takes guildmaster Rennick prisoner, while rumors rapidly begin to spread of Strongwood’s brawling watchmen.
CURING THE AFFLICTION
In order to calm the guilds, the constables call a town hall meeting. They learn that one of the leaders of the guilds is called ‘Chandler’ and that he was once a member of the watch who holds some bitterness toward the organization. The constables set up their long-planned “barbecue,” a feast for all the guilds, while they simultaneously quarantine the tanners guild and all who they believe have been infected by the “rage disease” that Cade appears to have carried—the very affliction that may have caused him to attack Gregor, perhaps. Jonathan Crisp visits Mercurio and Graefallow at the Strongwood Academy concerned that he shall transform into such a beast as Cade; Pilgrim and Kat share this concern. He is given an herbal tea for his malady and dismissed by Mercurio who tells him not to listen to so many fairy tales. Pilgrim goes to the church of Stomra in Strongwood to speak to the young priest who leads it and seek his counsel in eradicating the fever that has recently overcome him. As proof and demonstration of his own faith and the power that Stomra has given him, Pilgrim breaks and then simultaneously repairs his own staff as if by magic. But the priest is taken aback and suspects Pilgrim of black magic and witchcraft, so he arranges for Pilgrim to be cured in a ceremony where he is placed on an altar and chants are intoned over his body for hours, a kind of faith healing. It seems to work. After a fitful night, Jonathan, Kat, and Pilgrim manage shake the strange fever. With Baxter’s help they organize a meeting with the guilds.
The meeting goes well. The constables show even Chandler that they are merely common folk looking to help Strongwood. They agree to terms allowing for members of each guild to have regular posts in the watch. Amongst those who join is Dugall the tanner who joins out of his admiration for Baxter’s skill in a brawl. Since Gregor has begun to recover from the injuries dealt him by Cade, Kat puts him in charge of the meetings. Gregor concedes that he ought to be much better at this than trying to run the watch. Kat appeals to the women in the crowd, and they in turn help convince their men to think reasonably and agree to the terms of peace. An accord is signed and the guild strife ends. Though the watch are seen as roughnecks and brawlers, Kat is a strong role model and now all the guilds have some representation.
THE ARRIVAL OF SIR KARLAK, THE RED RIDER
Now that the laborers’ guilds have been appeased somewhat and the “rage” disease carried by the creature known as Cade have been quarantined and treated, Strongwood has settled into an autumnal quiet. The first week on the job was pretty rough for the new commander of the watch and her lieutenants, but they handled the civil affairs aptly and now they enjoy some needed rest. Weeks pass and Sir Karlak the Red Rider comes once again to Strongwood to take up residence in Stromvald’s Holdfast. The Red Rider is a knight much admired by the people of Strongwood, for he is the knight responsible for ruling their region. The other lands of Nulmoria are likewise ruled by knights of the Order of Maj-Hraegar, all of whom are subjects of the rebel Iron Lords who broke away from King Egtheand of Tantegal a century ago.
With the knights of the Red Rider in town, police work slows down. Yet rumor of the reputation of certain promising watchmen and their skill in hand to hand combat, passes to Stromvald’s Holdfast and one day the watch are approached by one of the Rider’s knights, Sir Kaeden, who offers Katerina and her men the opportunity to test their mettle by working out with him and his men. Our heroes accept the offer and meet Sir Kaeden in the dungeons of Stromvald’s Holdfast where they do indeed prove their worth in combat, fighting nearly to a standstill. They earn the respect of the knight.
A KNIGHT OUT ON THE TOWN
A month passes with no word from former head of the constabulary Helios Kassandara, away on a mission. His daughter Kat continues to lead the watch. The Red Rider has chosen to winter at Strongvald’s Holdfast. His advisor, Braedon Crownworth, gives a speech to a mass of cheering citizens on the walls of the keep while the Red Rider stands spurs on the crowd’s enthusiasm. They bring news of a faire coming to Strongwood in the coming year, which will bring much wealth to the merchants of the town and put Strongwood on the map. Braedon Crownworth is a large, silver-haired gentleman and is the one giving the speech.
During the speech, Jonathan Crisp and Baxter spot two sea rats (gypsies of the seafaring tribes Crisp himself hails from) pick-pocketing one of Strongwood’s noble council, Lord Kent Hollbarry. Hollbarry is a fat, wealthy old nobleman so they let it go… until they spot the sea rats robbing commoners. Baxter makes for them but, spotting him, they flit away in the crowd. Afterward, Kat and her lieutenants are reprimanded by Hollberry for failing to provide adequate security. He threatens to take the money he’s lost (one ruby-encrusted golden belt) from their pay.
Jonathan Crisp tracks down the sea rats and finds them squandering money at the Mapledown Inn, Crisp’s own current place of residence. The other constables hold back as Crisp speaks to them in their own tongue. The sea rats are a man and woman about his age—Will Brisk and Aneta Flit—former rope makers who have abandoned their old life due to their belief that the sea rats are merely becoming paid subjects of the king of Tantegal instead of remaining their own people. They are poor and wish to travel far and see the world. Jonathan Crisp explains that it’s fine with him whom they rob, but that this affects him personally. The sea rats call him “brother” and agree to yield up the jewels (minus three missing rubies they’ve already sold), but tell him he owes them.
The watch returns the jeweled belt to Hollbarry, who is outraged that some jewels remain stolen. From the shadows of his noble manor, Braedon Crownworth, advisor to the Red Rider, appears; he’s been speaking with Hollbarry about taxes. He says he has a possible remedy to the problem. Crownworth goes back the barracks with the watch. He confides in them that the Red Rider’s shameful brother, a man who answers to the name “Dogfellow,” has gotten away from the keep and is out embarrassing himself about town. He urges the watch to bring him home safe and unharmed. Crownworth does not want to send his knights to do this and make it a public affair. In return, he agrees to pay all debts and then some.
Dogfellow isn’t hard to find. In their search for him, the watch encounters one of the Red Rider’s scribes, Robin Sward, who seems embittered towards Crownworth. They also encounter the widow Arana, who tells Baxter she needs to speak with him in private about something. Everyone knows where that’s going… Finally, they meet the tanner-turned-watchman Dugall in the street. He has a black eye and says it was given to him by a brawler at “The Pit,” a rowdy den of vice on the south side of town. The watch go to the Pit, where they find a drunken, rowdy man standing on a platform daring people to brawl with him. He’s taking in a tidy sum in his bets. He challenges the watch—all of them at once—and they accept.
Dogfellow is a brawler of skill and strength. If he wasn’t drunk, he would be incredible. He gives the watch a hard beating before eventually tiring and agreeing to go with them. But he asks that they go back to the barracks or some inn first, and have a drink. The watch remind him of his duty, and Dogfellow laments duty and decorum and everything that goes with a life in politics away from the real people.
Suddenly Jonathan Crisp gets an idea. He brings Dogfellow back to the Mapledown and calls on his sea rat brethren. In their own tongue, he tells them to entertain this man and they shall have all they desire, and that is exactly what happens. In that room in the Mapledown, the pretty sea rat woman with the blond braids sings songs while her consort tells tales. They dice, drink, and play cards. Just before dawn, they escort the man back to Stromvald’s Holdfast through a private entrance.
In the afternoon, Braedon Crownworth calls on the watch and they appear before him. He informs them that all debts have been paid and gives them their reward. He says that the Red Rider would like to offer a brief thanks himself.
They are led to a room where a short but powerful man stands, dressed in finery, face covered in a concealing makeup. In halting words, he thanks them much for their service and assures them of his friendship. When the Red Rider walks away, walks slowly, cracking his neck and working out the kinks… as if he had been up all night fighting or drinking…
THE SEA RATS WILL BRISK AND ONITA FLIT
With Sir Karlak in town and the guilds at peace the Strongwood constabulary slows down. New recruits from the guilds are trained, including the gypsies Jonathan Crisp befriended. That dialogue goes like this (written by Greg, response by Steve):
Jonathan Crisp: Will, I fear that you and I are on the same journey going in opposite directions, but I want to discuss something with you that may be of interest.
I summarized this story earlier but let me tell you how I came to Strongwood. My parents were unfit to raise a child. They would bicker constantly about everything, and when they had too they would deflect blame on to me. And being a child I believed them. So one day I left. Went to Widow’s Point and lived on my own. My Grandfather who died earlier that year taught me how to live off my own wits, so survival came rather naturally. But after awhile, being self sufficient wasn’t enough. I craved the camaraderie I once had with my friends and clan. When I returned, my mother had left. My father, while happy to see me home was not a man I could respect. And the clan, well much like yours it had seen better days. The lively spirit was just missing. So I started on my path. Living at Widow’s Point I had gotten in touch with the mother, so it was time to find the father.
I went from town to town much like you and Onita, lightening purses and living like each day was my last with booze and women. And one sunny day I found myself laying in the road, and by found I mean I woke up with no memory of how I got there. A man named Pilgrim standing over me asking what I was doing. I told him I intended to climb the tallest mountain and he said “I’ll help you.” That came as a great shock to me since this was a complete stranger and really why would anyone want to help somebody climb a mountain? So we set off in this general direction and ended up in Strongwood.
Out of nessecity we were drafted into the Constabulary and Will let me tell you, it was the best thing thats happened too me. Our Captain, Katerina, is a women truely looking out for her companions and the town. Her heart is in the right place. Baxter, her second in command, is an elite fighter with skills I may not even be able to best. However he is humble and a calming voice. Pilgrim… well once you get past the crazy eye and fanatisism he’s a pretty good guy. And he’s backed me up in fights that I would not have backed myself up in.
What I’m saying is these people are a family. They’re a clan. And what we do has honor. Here in Strongwood I feel like a man. And I think that you could too.
I think there is opportunity for you here in Strongwood. If you ask me too I would put in a good word for you with our Captain. Your unique skills would be very useful around here, and lets face it, one Searat can’t change this town on his own. Onita could take this opportunity to study at the Academy, which I promise you is worth the bullshit the porter gives you at the door.
Will, their is a place for you and Onita in this clan. It’s up to you.
“Brother,” Will says, “your words are true as the cloudless sky. Your generosity is like the bounty of the seashore that gave you your living back home. But this cannot be. We’ve traveled far and long to escape the shackles of an occupation that would bind us to one place and our roving blood won’t abide it. We must to the east, through yonder forest and whatever lies there. Imagine the music we’ll play beneath those great branches! No disrespect to the clan you’ve come to embrace, but our sea rat life—”
Just then Aneta places her slender, tanned fingers upon his arm. He pauses. Her sea-green eyes drown his words to the silence of the sea at night. She says, “I e’nt a true lady like the ones at Whrotgate or any o’ them others; I’m a sea rat true, and I speak my tongue till the words are out:
“You forget yerself Will, sure as that sky ye speak of. Are ye so afeared of becoming our folks that ye forget what made them great?” She gestures at Jonathan, “Ye’ve asked him for succor, and he’s provided it sure, more’n any other. And me da, he says me once as he sits me on his knee, great beard an’ all, he says: a sea rat honors his debts with gratitude. She honors her debts wi’ grace so’s when all the ships meet at the time o’ waveturn, all come with smiles and embraces. There’s no scowlin’ when the sea rats keep their honor. Ye think on that now, and remember how it was…”
Will shakes his head, then smiles—his big boyish grin breaking his lips apart, white as the wavecaps. “By sea and land and stars, what a woman,” he says. “Brother forgive me if I’ve done you wrong. My consort, she had a father of the old stock and he brought her up well upon the sea. Ah well, I think your offer is good and she has won me. And the course agrees with my companion, we shall stay for a time and repay your generosity by staying with your clan for a time. Though in our hearts I think our path lies east, and to the east eventually we must go.”
“Aye indeed we must,” Aneta says, “for we be sea rats true, and the world is our home, mother and father alike. We’ll know our parents’ faces—the ones that made us from water and soil—before we return to ‘em. But a time we enjoy the company of our brother and the clan he’s come to. So may it be.”
And thus the sea rats join Jonathan’s “tribe.”
BOREDOM, BANDITRY, AND YET MORE BASHING
As the winter weeks pass, food supplies run short in the villages farther away from Strongwood. News of bandit raids, some reports that sound suspiciously like Strongwood’s hunters (who have never made peace with the constabulary), begin to surface. Since Strongwood itself is secure and work is slow, Strongwood’s reeve Mortimer Schteck sends our heroes out on an errand for the Red Rider: investigate the recent report of bandits in outer villages. Before they departed, the widow Arana Daux convinced Baxter to meet with her and told him that she had come into some money and her son Aliq was now attending the academy and thus would not be around as much. She invited Baxter to come back to her house and bed when he would, but that she would not pressure him to do so. Baxter asked if her late husband Lyol had indeed cheated the tanners guild back in the day, as they claimed. She told him that Lyol had once traveled for a long time away from her and come back with money from his travels though he never spoke of the places he had been. He brought her back the delightful music box she used to play for Aliq to put him to sleep. She implied that Lyol was also a good gambler.
Our heroes bought horses and took the river skiff the better part of a day’s journey down to the village of Clearbrook. When they arrived in town, they found dead bandits in the gallows… but the village’s old shrine to Stomra had been desecrated. This put Pilgrim in a foul mood. The villagers were all on alert, having adopted an almost paranoid watchful attitude. They acted more like sentries and soldiers than millers and farmers. Upon investigation, our heroes learned that a religious cult from a place far to the south had taken up residence in the village and, while they had helped the villagers with their bandit problem, they had also converted them to the religion of Meoth the Watcher. The western men of Tantegal follow Meoth, and for one hundred years their kings have attempted to reclaim Nulmoria and the lands of the Iron Lord but they have not prevailed; the religion of the Watcher is not the native religion of Nulmoria (Stomra is), so there is a certain amount of prejudice towards the followers of Meoth. To make matters more awkward, the head of this cult was Dera, a woman intimately connected with Baxter’s past.
The situation got ugly when Pilgrim and Dera, the leader, became embroiled in a religious argument, each accusing the other of blasphemy. One particular insult led to hands on swords and then Jonathan Crisp struck preemptively with his spear and a fight erupted (again; arguments tend to quickly lead to brawls when Pilgrim and Jonathan Crisp are around). Jonathan Crisp slew two of their number and the rest were bound by the constables, accused of sedition, and prepared for transport back to Strongwood. Baxter, who could not condone the fight, hung back for most of it, supporting his group but not overtly opposing the cult with violence.
But no sooner did our heroes bind and drag their captives back to the skiff than they found their captain had been replaced by a rogue demanding a far greater payment for transportation; the bandits had struck again, raiding the skiff and taking the captain prisoner. During the struggle for control of the skiff, Dera tried to escape, but Kat rode her down and recaptured her while her cohorts fled into the wild. The heroes won the skiff back for captain Cand and they began to sail upriver. Nevertheless, Dera worked her gag free and warned them that under the eye of the watcher god Meoth they would be judged; she swore/prophesied they would not make it back to Strongwood while they held her. She also made alluded to destiny’s hand working to bring her close to Baxter once again and implied that they once had a life together.
INTO THE COLD LANDS
The night became unusually chilly as the heroes went upriver. Dusk settled into evening and all the other river traffic eventually disappeared. It became colder and colder until the heroes could hardly bear it. The trees began to sheen with ice—great spiderwebs of ice crystal through the branches. Then the horses in the hull began to stamp and whinny and roll their eyes and the ice scratched and thumped against the ship. Then there was a terrible pounding. It seemed as though the river was freezing around the ship. They disembarked, but the captain wouldn’t leave his ship. Water rushed into the hull and froze immediately, trapping the captain below decks. The scratching commenced, and suddenly from the side of the ship a figure with cold blue eyes appeared, moving faster than any mortal man. A deeper chill came into the air as this thing came closer. It brought its heralds with it—dead things, and cold—and they thirsted for the blood of mortals. They all wore old garb, regalia of a bygone age that neither Kat nor Pilgrim recognized except in the hints of fables and stories of childhood… of a lost invading army of the king’s that had fallen near this place long ago on a march to attack Nulmoria, their camp intact but their bodies frozen and brutalized.
As the thing cackled and drank the blood of its fallen, the ship swarmed over with dead, manlike things. The being in control of them called itself Baron Frost, the name of a fairy tale villain from folklore. Kat staggered before the creature, and Jonathan Crisp became cornered by the dead, frozen things. With his last effort, Baxter stood before the Baron Frost on the ice-locked ship, covering his friends’ escape, but with icy hands it froze the blood of Baxter and he fell to the deck stiff and solid. There was no fighting those things. They watch fled out onto the dark, icy plain. But all the while, Dera was trying to free herself from her bonds. She begged for her freedom, swearing that she only wanted to help Baxter. As the others were trying to make their escape, Kat cut Dera’s bonds and she rode to Baxter. She shouted for the terrible things to obey her and swore that they would, by the cold moon they served. The creatures recoiled from her words and Dera helped Baxter up, and together they rode away as quickly as their horse would carry them. The Baron Frost sent its minions in pursuit of our heroes as it penetrated the hull and drank the blood of Captain Cand. The heroes fled into an unknown landscape of winter, but the relentless frozen dead were hard upon them.
Overhead, the clouds stretched like a long skeletal claw across the moon, and the heroes continued to flee. Kat’s horse gave out, gave up hope in the bitter cold, under the hard pace, and with the dead pursuing so close behind. It simply stopped heeding her commands and stopped. Pilgrim fell back to pull Kat onto his own horse, “Stolen,” as the vicious dead clawed down Kat’s horse and devoured it in minutes.
They pressed on. They came to a pine forest, and it seemed as though where they entered the branches were spaced just so, that it resembled a yawning skull. Into the wood they went. It smelled strongly of pine sap even in the cold. They took a winding route through the forest and did not stop for anything, hoping to lead the ghouls astray. They thought they heard a creature in pain, but they avoided it and pressed on still, just striving to put as much distance between themselves and the horrible things that pursued them.
At the other side of the wood was an icy ravine. Finding no way to cross, they set their horses loose—all but Stolen—as bait for the dead. Meanwhile, they searched the ravine for another possible route. They found a cave partway down the ravine. In order to cover their escape completely, Pilgrim pushed his horse Stolen off the cliff face to his death and the heroes took shelter in the ice cave; they broke the ice overhang on the cave, burying themselves inside after checking for air flow within.
Inside the cave, our heroes finally take a breath and make a small fire by burning anything of wood or cloth that they carry (bows, arrows, a blanket, paper, Pilgrim’s staff…). Exploration of the cave reveals a sequence of caverns leading under the ravine and back up again. They find that the caves lead up to the bottom of an old, decimated tower. There is a terrible, droning humming, a discordant lullaby, coming from the tower above. They quickly unbolt the doors to the tower and escape into the courtyard, making for the exit gates. The way is lined with sarcophagi; one of the lids flies off and a great skeletal steed emerges from within. The lullaby drones louder and a figure in old, frozen armor appears at the base of the tower, its beard an icicle, its face blue, its eyes open and bulging. The heroes flee from this thing, all but Baxter, who smashes the legs of the thing’s horse before running out beyond the gates… into the clutches of human-sized bipedal snow leopards carrying bows. Here is what followed of that exchange (by Steve and the players), but first an epitaph for Stolen, Pilgrim’s fallen steed, by Lowell Kempf:
The river washed by the barge as it made its way slowly upstream.
Pilgrim stood beside Stolen, the horse that he had purchased for his ‘duties’ in the Watch. In truth, there was no need for any member of the Watch to ever need a horse. Strongwood was simply not a large enough town for a constable to be riding around in. More than that, it sent the wrong message.
The citizens of Strongwood didn’t need to have the law sitting high on a horse above them. They needed to know that the guards and constables were down there on the ground with them.
However, an agent of the Red Rider, that was someone who needed a horse.
Pilgrim thought about this, not with very much pride or very much shame either. The Iron Duke had his knights and his nobles, his official ways of doing things. However, there were other people, unofficial people, who got things done that needed to be done but didn’t always get acknowledged.
Even in his past life, Pilgrim had seen men, rough men, in the market place who spent the Iron Duke’s coin.
The words plausible deniability ran through Pilgrim’s mind. He had never heard the phrase before. There little need for such things in his old world of plows and fields and manure. However, when he considered the work they had just done, those words passed through his mind.
A woman in armor, a mercenary, a sea rat and an insane farmer. Give them vague enough instructions and then let them go. If they exceeded what you had told them to do, even if it was what you really wanted them to do, it was easy enough to deny it. After all, what could you expect from them?
Pilgrim shrugged. If his musings were true, what did it matter? The games of kings were not his games. In the end, he sought a higher power than them and this journey did seem to be leading him to it.
IN LEOPARD LANDS
The creatures stop in the snowy wood once you have put a few miles’ distance between your party and the tower of the frozen knight. They surround you now, pressing in close. Their striped tails flicker tautly behind them, their clawed fingers have never left their bowstrings. The arrowheads glitter in the morning light with a silvery sheen.
One of the creatures approaches you, golden-eyed and grim. It thrusts its claw out, palm up, grunts. It continues to hold its palm out, waiting.
Pilgrim carefully unpins the four-pointed star that he has used as a focus for his faith and hands it to the creature, taking care not to accidentally prick it.
His faith is in his heart, not in a piece of tin.
The creature holds the star up, its slitted eyes narrowing as it gazes into the new morning light. The stained and tarnished tin star seems to gleam with a silvery radiance in this light as if all the wear of its former existence as the skeleton of an old waterskin has been cast off and shed and now it shines as if new-made. The creature nods, then its eyes meet yours again. It clutches the tin star in one claw, but then its grasps its forearm and hold out its palm to you, face up. Then it carefully takes your arm and extends your hand in the selfsame fashion, setting it before you with a curt grunt.
The creature then, in the claw grasping the star, extends a long, curving nail from its thick, padded finger. Such a nail could rend bark from a tree without effort. It carefully places its nail in the center of your palm and looks up again, locking its eyes with yours.
The star has accepted this strange being. Whatever it may be, Pilgrim does not believe it to be a creature of the queen. Whatever gift that it offers, even if it be blood and pain, it is a part of the path that he was set on. Even if he loses the use of his hand for his remaining days, it is a gift that must be accepted.
Pilgrim meets the strange being’s gaze and does not blink. He nods carefully and steels himself for what is to come.
Pilgrim assents and the feline being continues to meet his gaze, unblinking. The other creatures stand tense, poised. Their bowstrings yawn slightly in the early morning breeze. Their eyes are as much on Kat, Baxter, Dera, and Jonathan as they are on Pilgrim and their companion who stands with him. Their bodies are sleek and lean, betraying the power and ferocity stretched throughout each muscle upon their frame. With a single definitive stroke, the creature cuts a line across Pilgrim’s palm. It hurts no more than a clumsy scrape on a piece of broken glass, but blood wells up from the gash all the same. The creature wipes the blood away with the back of its claw and continues to gaze into Pilgrim’s palm. It moves the flesh on the palm silghtly apart and gazes still. Finally, after several moments of silence, the creature grunts quietly and motions to one of its companions who hands it a clean strip of linen. The creature wraps Pilgrim’s hand in linen before placing the tin star firmly back into Pilgrim’s weathered palm. To Baxter and Jonathan Crisp, it seems as though the bowstrings sigh in relief, and the creatures, though still tense, cautious, and wary, relax if just a little.
The creature turns away from Pilgrim now and looks at the rest of you. It grasps its forearm, holding the palm of its claw outward, and grunts. Then it waits.
Pilgrim calmly steps to one side, knowing that it another’s turn to play their part.
Kat steps up and mimics the creature’s stance, as Pilgrim did.
“Kat stood up straight and proud. Despite the cuts and bruises on her face and the mud on her armor, she was clearly a warrior of honor.
“Her father had been a man of the sword and a man of peace. He had led men in times of trouble and he had always done his best to make sure that every man who followed him would live to see his family again. Her father was a man who had never backed down from what had to be done and never shirked his duty in the face of danger.
“Kat was her father’s child and lived the same life under the same code. She calmly met the feline creature’s gaze and held up her hand. A child of her father’s blood could do no less.”
Johnathan steps towards the creatures. Thinking back on the legend of when Gypsy and Matthurbur first met, Johnathan slowly reached beneath his armor and grasped his flask.
At most it contained 3 shots of Octopus Ink Whiskey, which Johnathan had hoped to finish himself. Gypsy friendships usually always start over a drink, and hopefully this would be no exception. Sadly, most Gyspy friendships end after a few too many drinks.
Johnathan places the flask in the creatures paw and waits.
The creature takes your hand as it did Pilgrim’s. It gazes steadily into your eyes, as much reading as testing, weighing. Again the claw comes forth from its finger and it draws a steady line across the face of your palm. It stings.
Blood flows from the clean cut between your fingers and onto the ground. The creatures remain tense as the one holding your hand stares down into the cut. But after a long, tense silence it finally releases your hand and motions for a bandage. Once again, linen is brought and your hand is bound up to staunch the bleeding. It nods to you, motioning you to join our companions again. Then the creature turns to the remainder—to Baxter, Dera, and Jonathan Crisp.
The creature grasps the flask awkwardly, turning it around and around, inspecting it. Its companions watch. And yet, one by one as Pilgrim and Kat undergo this ritual, you sense the tension in the frigid air begin to dissipate. The creatures are no less alert, but something has left the atmosphere—a wary caution laced with ferocity. The creature takes your hand but pauses, its narrow pupils flickering back and forth across the tattoos on your forearm. At last it moves the nail across the palm of your hand, a simple slice, bloody, but what do you expect? At sea, a man bloodies himself on barnacles and harpoons, sharp rocks and splinters. This paltry cut is nothing to you. The creature gazes at the wound for some time, and then shrug and motions Jonathan forward. It wraps linen around the cut on Jonathan’s palm, then beckons Dera and Baxter forward.
It stands before Dera and extends its arm with the same gesture, but Dera shakes her head.
“I ain’t afraid of you,” she says. Her scarlet robe is in tatters from the violence of the past two days. There is a hardness to her now, and once again she wears the authoritative stone-faced demeanor of the woman you met in Clearbrook.
The creature grunts again and holds out its claw, palm upward. Its companions look on, stoic. Waiting.
Dera folds her arms across her chest. “I’m watched by Meoth, and beneath his eye or any otherwheres I shall not betray him. Now you just take your little ritual and leave it be, ‘cuz I’m with these folks but I ain’t gonna be part of this.”
The creature stares at her for a momet, but she stands firm. A low growl rumbles from the back of its throat. In a flash, it draws a long, slender hunting knife from a sheath at its side and waves it in front of Dera. The metal of the blade shines like silver. The creature growls again, but this time its threat is in earnest. Your skin crawls at the utter ferocity of the sound. It moves the knife in a snaking pattern before Dera. She blinks and stumbles backward, but catches herself and then, summoning all her inner strength and courage Dera stands straight up before the creature. It turns to its companions and motions. Once again their muscles tighten, their bowstrings flex. The leader ushers Jonathan Crisp, Kat, and Pilgrim away from Dera and Baxter. Meanwhile, its companions close in on Dera and bind her with a strange cord that glitters and sparkles in the morning light with the same sheen as the knife and and the arrowheads. They truss her hand and foot, but she does not cry out or ask for help, not from Baxter or anyone. They bind her mouth with the same cord, then tie her to a long, sturdy branch and lay her down in the snow. Then the leader of the creatures turns to Baxter and extends its arm, palm upwards as if nothing had happened. It grunts in askance and waits.
Baxter didn’t let the creature cut his hand. He did it himself with the razor sharp dagger the smith had made for him. The creature made sure it bled, then handed Baxter linen to bind the cut.
They were escorted to a place high in the mountains, a bent, ramshackle collection of huts surrounded by the skeletons of small, humanoid creatures. There was a ruckus in the village as a small man was being dragged off to torture by the feline creatures. The leader of the hunt group, taking Pilgrim for the leader of the party, directed him up to a rocky promontory. Pilgrim went as directed while the others were guarded in the camp/village below.
At the top of the promontory, Pilgrim met the shaman of the creatures who mixed a strange bread with some hallucinogenic brew and fed it to Pilgrim. Slowly Pilgrim gained the ability to understand the creature, who introduced itself as “Moon.” Moon explained that the realm beyond the ravine was the Queen’s dream for mankind, a frozen land of dead men, and that they had recently lost their own queen to the Baron Frost and its minions. Their race was dwindling in these mountains, due to wicked fey creatures, the children of the queen. Far worse than the Baron Frost was its master, the blue fey who was a direct subject of the Queen; such things as elves were the most wicked and powerful creatures in the world—a single elf could destroy a battalion of men. It explained that this was why the gnome, a herald of the Queen’s court, would be killed. Pilgrim remembered tales of lands like these from the folktales he learned in childhood. Moon explained that while dogs had wanted to be man’s closest companion, some—the lupins—had given up their souls to do so, exchanging their freedom for the ability to be like men, but these dog-men, were beholden to the Queen, although the leopans (the cat-people) were not, and this was because of a sacrifice their “cat lord” had made; though now he is the Queen’s pet, a prisoner. Moon taught Pilgrim some of his shamanistic concoctions—most notably the one that allows Pilgrim to understand their language.
In the village below, the gnome protested his innocence and Jonathan Crisp determined that he would not allow the little man to be killed by the savage cat creatures without weighing the man’s crimes himself, so Pilgrim made a deal with the leopans, sparing the gnome’s life but agreeing to be cautious of him. The chieftain of the leopans, Bear, acquiesced. He was an injured creature, leader of a dwindling people on border of the cold lands who bore numerous scars on his spotted pelt, but he wore the pointed blue ear of the blue fey of the cold lands on a thong around his neck, a small but significant trophy of his battle with the ruler of that place. Chief Bear told Pilgrim that if they were to have killed the gnome, vengeance would have been exacted upon them. Pilgrim also learned that the leopan names were given to them based on the patterns of certain distinguishing spots (i.e. Moon had a crescent-shaped spot, and there was Frog, the leader of the hunt group, and Bear and Cloud, the missing queen). The terrible frozen knight with the blue face and the bulging frozen eyes whose skeletal horse had been smashed was last guardian on the perimeter of the frozen lands, but he too was corrupted by the Queen’s servants in ancient days and now bears the name Frost Eye.
Pilgrim tells the tale that Moon told him (as written by Lowell Kempf):
Now, in the beginning days, after Stomra had married the daughter of the mountain king but before the age of man, Stomra had freed many of the animals from the twisted grasp of the queen.
Before Stomra had walked the lands, the queen’s hand had been strong. The queen longed to be like the gods of the heavens above but she could not be like them. The gods had created life and she longed to as well. However, such a gift was beyond her power. The closest that she had ever come was to either twist the living into new, terrible shapes or give the dead a false, half-life.
The queen had corrupted the animals and the birds of the field and forest, making them a mockery of what the gods from the sky above had created. However, the song of Stomra had set them free and brought them back to their true shapes.
Some of the animals were more grateful than others. The Lord of the Dogs asked his oldest son, Brother Dog to go and be Stomra’s boon companion and Brother Dog was more than eager to go.
The Lord of the Cats, although equally grateful, was more hesitant in his choice and his actions. Cats, you see, are cautious in love and no cat will ever truly give you all of their trust, although they will always remember if they betray their trust. Still, the Lord of Cats knew that Stomra was the only one who could stand against the queen and he knew which side he wished to be on.
Then, his youngest daughter, Sister Cat, came to him and told him that she would go to Stomra and his bride. The Lord of Cats did not ask her to do this.
“I will go to Stomra and Trinada. I will go and live in their home, although no cat before me has ever chosen to be a companion to another. I will be their aide and their friend. When mice or rats come to eat their grain, I will catch and kill them. When they are sad at heart, I will purr and give them comfort.”
Sister Cat was smaller than any of her sisters and brothers. Uncle Bobcat and Father Mountain Lion both towered above her in size and strength. However, no one else had chosen to step forward.
The Lord of Cats picked up Sister Cat. She was so small that he could hold her in his arms.
“You, alone among all of my children, have chosen to go to Stomra. Although you are small in size, you are the greatest of all my children in heart. For this, I shall give you this gift. You, alone among all my children, shall truly understand love. You shall sleep by Stomra’s hearth and you shall love both Stomra and his bride Trinada. You shall guard their home from all vermin and you shall guard their children as well. Yet, my daughter, you will always be a cat and choose your own place.”
And thus it was that Sister Cat joined Brother Dog in being the first who left the fields and the forests and became a part of Stomra’s family.
Much has happened since then, much that is terrible and tragic, for the queen does not lightly accept slights or let go of what she once thought was her own. The Lord of Dogs mourns his lost children as he howls at the moon. The Lord of Cats paces in the cage where the queen trapped him. However, Sister Cat is still among us, as is Brother Dog.
What follows is another Pilgrim tale. While the previous one can be considered canon, the one that follows is more Pilgrim’s speculation; some may be true, other parts not as much (also by Lowell Kempf).
When Stomra came down from the mountain and returned to the fields and forests where he had spent his childhood and youth, it was
through his song that he cleansed many of the animals of the taint of the Queen. For, you see, the Queen did not breathe life to any of the birds and animals of the green lands but she did corrupt them in her jealousy of the Gods.
The Queen, as you may know, comes from the realm of the fay. Nothing is truly real in that realm. It is nothing but the shadows and dreams of the living world. It is like the reflection on a pond that is gently rippling from the breeze. The beings of the fay realm are not fully alive. They live but a half life and they are fiercely envious of the living world and none more so than the Queen.
The very first among the animals to leave the field and forest behind to stand by Stomra’s side was Brother Dog. He was the eldest of all the children of the Lord of Dogs. Sister Cat went by his side but she, for all her love of Stomra and his wife Trinada, still kept a bit of the wildness that all cats have. Brother Dog gave himself fully over to Stomra and his loyalty and love had no end.
Brother Dog had the full blessing of the Lord of Dogs in this. He would travel ever by Stomra’s side. He would sleep at the foot of his bed and he would guard his door. When Stomra would hunt, Brother Dog was there as well, his keen nose and his sharp teeth his gift to Stomra.
Over time, Stomra and Trinada had children and these were the first men. Brother Dog had children as well and they were as loyal to the children of Stomra as Brother Dog was to Stomra.
Ah, never were there ever dogs in this world that were like the first generation of Brother Dog’s children! Each of them was as strong as their father, able to carry a full grown deer in their jaws through the woods without the deer ever once touching the ground. There was not a scent that any of them could not follow, even if it was over smooth rock or the running stream.
Yet more than anything else, they had been blessed with minds as keen as the north wind and as deep as the ocean. They were wise, these dogs were, and full of bright intellect. Anyone one of them was the equal to the men they followed in thought.
However, there was one gift that these dogs did not have, one gift that the Lord of Dogs was not able to give them. None of them had a voice. Unlike Brother Dog, they could not speak to their masters. Despite all of their wisdom, they were mute. They had such words to speak to man, such tales and thoughts that they longed to say. However, they were all silent.
Oh, how the dogs longed to have a voice so that they could speak to man. More than anything else, they longed to simply say the most simplest of sentences to their masters “I love you.” Yet, for all their strength and all their gifts, that simple act was beyond them. They would howl at the full moon in their sorrow.
And the full moon answered them.
The Queen had not left this world, even though Stomra had driven her influence back. She would never forget all of the slights that he did to her and she would never forgive him of that. Once, she had ruled all the lands beneath of mountains of Turgrid and she will never rest until they are her own again.
The moon belongs to the Queen. Stomra is a child of the Gods above and the sun and the stars are a part of him. However, the cold moon belongs to the Queen. The moon is the icy reflection of the sun and by its light is the fay realm lit. The light of the moon is the light of the fay.
When the dogs cried to the moon, the moon spoke to them. The moon made them such sweet promises, promises that their broken hearts could not resist.
The first born of Brother Dog loved man so much that they wanted nothing to separate them from man. They longed to walk beside man on two legs so that they could look men and women in the eye. More than anything else, they longed to speak, to express the love that they felt in words.
All this, the moon granted. The moon stretched their legs so that they could stand on their hind legs. She molded the paws of their fore legs until they had fingers and thumbs. The Queen pushed back their muzzles and changed their tongues so that they had speech.
The firstborn of Brother Dog no longer looked like their father. Now they looked very much like the children of Stomra. They were a bit more hairy and they were a touch shorter and more broad at the shoulder. However, they still looked as though they were the brothers and sisters of mankind.
In the days that followed the gift of the moon, both the children of Stomra and the firstborn of Brother Dog knew more joy than they had ever known. The dogs had ever been the closest companions to man and now they were like blood kin. Words that had waited years to be spoken were spoken at last.
Alas, there were very few of those days. The moon’s gift had a terrible price. The children of Sister Cat may have known this for none of them would go near the moon changed. They would lift their skin up and hiss at them. Every cat keeps a bit of wildness in them, no matter how much a part of the hearth and home they are. Perhaps
the cats could sense the wildness in the moon changed.
When the moon rose again, round and full, the price was revealed.
When the full moon shone down upon the world, the moon changed children of Father Dog were transformed. They had given their wild, animal nature to the moon and the moon returned it. They became a terrible amalgamation of man and dog. They were larger and stronger and more savage than either but they had become monsters.
Far more terrible than that, though, they had become the servants of the Queen. It had been by their own choice and no song of Stomra could save them from their fate.
In those moments, the sons and daughters of Stomra quaked in fear. In the moments that the firstborn of Brother Dog changed, they could have fallen upon every man, woman and child and wiped them out.
However, the love that the dogs had for the children of Stromra was even greater than the power of the Queen and the influence of the moon. The moon changed slew no one but ran out into the night, into the shadows of the forest. The last words that they spoke to the children of Stomra, before that gift was taken away from them, was “Ilove you.”
Of course, there have been other children of Brother Dog. However, none of them have been as strong or as wise or as gifted as that lost first generation. The Lord of Dogs still weeps for them and it is said that you can hear Brother Dog howling at the full moon from Turgrid’s mountain, calling for his lost children to come home.
Those lost children, the moon changed, they are still out there, in the service of the Queen. They are strong and savage and death to all whose path crosses theirs.
And, somewhere, deep inside their hearts, they can yet remember the love that once burned so bright for their human masters.
Our heroes set forth from the leopan village with the gnome (named Fatoozi) as their guide, a rambunctious character with no inhibitions and a libido on overdrive. Grateful for his life, he led the party away from the leopard lands to a mountain pass guarded by an ogre and its ilk, smaller ogrelike folk who, the gnome said, were failed creations of the Queen’s in her attempt to replicate humanity. Our heroes ask if this is the only way through the mountains and Fatoozi tells them they could walk several days beyond ogre lands and try to brave the forested slopes inhabited by the sadistic faeries that worship a tentacled worm god; they decide instead to brave the ogre folk. Legends tell of the avarice of ogres and their kin. Seeing a series of outposts and villages on the way up the mountainside, the heroes decide to try communicating with les ogres-petits. Since Fatoozi claimed to be a diplomat and speaks their language, they send him forward to do the talking, however Pilgrim chews some of the bread given to him by the leopin shaman Moon beforehand so he can eavesdrop on their conversation. He overhears Fatoozi agree to let the brutish folk rob the party once they get to the gate. Pilgrim pulls him aside and threatens him with death, should Fatoozi betray them. Fatoozi protests, arguing that they wanted to pass the guards and he will say anything to accomplish that goal. He says he doesn’t want to be left alone with these brutes—why would he sell them out?
At the next outpost, a grey-skinned brute of a tribal chief demands tribute for passage. Jonathan Crisp gives him the remnants of his flask of whiskey. Fatoozi translates that the chief appreciates the warrior’s gift but it is not enough to satisfy. He challenges Jonathan Crisp to a contest of blows, fighting to first blood. As he appears far stronger than Jonathan, the match looks terribly unbalanced. Jonathan, of course, accepts. The chieftain hammers Jonathan with a blow that nearly flattens him but Crisp maintains his footing and returns a lighter blow, but a solid one. They chieftain swings with raw power, uncoordinated blows that glance off Jonathan, while Crisp lands every blow solidly. In the end, the chieftain begins looking shaky, bewildered as though this has never happened to him before. He is about to lose when he lands another flattening blow on Jonathan, throwing him to the ground and winning the match. He demands tribute. With great difficulty and regret, Jonathan Crisp gives his harpoon to the chieftain—the weapon he has carried over land and sea. The chief, Rhogar, is pleased. He clasps hands with Jonathan Crisp, expressing his admiration for a true warrior. He rallies his people around Jonathan and they proceed to the gate at the pass where the other ogres-petits ask for their own bribe, threatening to call the ogre if they do not get an equal stake in the share. The chieftain, Rhogar, argues, but is talked down. Finally, Dera steps up and demands that they open the gate, else the wroth of Meoth will come upon them.
She is like a pillar, a piece of the rock itself, unmovable and resolute. The creatures are somehow overcome by her demand and, against all probability, they open the gates and allow her and her companions to pass. Rhogar runs back to his camp and fetches his own old notched axe to give to Jonathan as a warrior’s gift to replace his spear. And with that, our heroes march on down the mountainside, past other tribes of these strange, grey-skinned brutes.
Jonathan Crisp’s thoughts on giving up his old harpoon were like this (by Greg Inda):
Johnathan Crisp was surprised to see Rogar asking for a trophy. What did Crisp have to offer? He had only come on this mission with his bare essentials. In fact he made plans to be with his Gypsy friends when they returned to Strongwood. But that didn’t matter now.
Crisp looked down at his harpoon, laying in the grass much like where he found it discarded near the gypsy docks. It wasn’t by sailors standards a great harpoon. The metal shaft was rusted making it all but useless in a sea battle with a giant squid or whale. The wood was soft, white with sea salt, and splintery with a few notches representing the animals it had killed. It’s weight was slightly off, the pointed end being just a bit too heavy, requiring the use of both hands to wield it.
While this was just a hunk of crap to whomever tossed it away, to Crisp this was just what he needed. Not only was it a spear, but it was a totem. A piece as useful in fights as it was keeping Johnny out of fights. Even the toughest of men back down from a fight against a man and his rusty harpoon. And those that didn’t would often be added to the notches, added to the list of animals the harpoon had done in.
Crisp gripped the harpoon tightly for the last time and closed his eyes. He could hear the seagulls and smell the sea, and opening his eyes, he passed that on to the man who had bettered him. He knew Rogar couldn’t have known what this harpoon meant to him. He hoped Rogar could find a use for it, because by sailors standards it wasn’t much of a harpoon, but by Crisp’s standards it was the only one he’d ever need.
WILD AND BEAUTIFUL
The mountains gave way to rolling hills and deep, endless forests. Our heroes descended into the forested land to find a dark, lush realm beneath the treetops. Here small glowing wisps of light flickered around the boles, wound up into the branches. The forest was alive with intelligence. Deep in the wood, small branchlike creatures came to life and peered at them from the darkness until they were joined by other tiny sprites with leaves for hair. These creatures brought with them a monstrous worm that they worshiped and they called it “Gulgur.” It tried to devour Baxter, but he shoved his shield in its ganglia-filled maw and he and Jonathan Crisp put an end to it, driving off the aggressive forest folk. Dera called out for Meoth and the light of the watcher god shone down through the trees and burned a hole into the wood of one of the creatures. She seemed surprised by this.
Fatoozi did not contribute to the fight, but stuck close to the companions and took cover against the creatures. When he was reminded that the mountain gate with les ogres-petits was supposed to have helped them avoid these very forest creatures, Fatoozi protested that such creatures lurk in all forests in this land and it is impossible to avoid them all.
The group emerged from the forest into an idyllic meadow—lush, green, bursting with life, flowers, wild game, a stream. Here they took a rest. They asked Fatoozi how long it would take to get to a city, and he replied that there were many cities, but only one way back to their homeland that he knew about and it was in Daes Araine, thousands of miles away. When they expressed their disappointment, Fatoozi reminded them that he had flown on a bat, not on land, when he came this way as an emissary before he was shot down by the leopans. They debated what to do. Fatoozi told them that in the evening some wondrous fine horses inhabited this meadow, and they might wait for them.
In the meantime, a huge flying castle began making its way across the sky in the direction they were traveling. The heroes built a fire in the shape of an ancient symbol Jonathan Crisp remembered that the matthurbur race held sacred. When they burned the symbol, the flying castle stopped overhead as though it was waiting. However, there seemed no way to ascend to the castle.
As the sky grew dim, Baxter and Dera sat by the river. Baxter had constructed a rudimentary fishing rod and was having some luck when Dera gasped. Baxter looked down the stream in the twilight and there he saw a horse, pale and luminous as starlight, a single horn growing from its head. “Now that’s a thing to see,” Baxter said.
Then more appeared, gathering in this meadow and grazing on its lush grasses. Suddenly, one turned and galloped away. But as strode, it also began to ascend, high up into the sky until it was only a pinprick of glowing light, and there it stopped. Others followed in its path and soon the sky was scattered with stars.
Fatoozi told the tale of the sky lord who lived in the dark fields where the unicorns grazed. He once had a love who was mortal, whom he had lost, whose soul now floated in the frozen sea, the Queen’s prison. There was a song he made for her that allowed her to come to him when she was alive, and now the sky lord sits sadly in his realm in the benighted fields where the unicorns graze.
Jonathan Crisp approached one of the unicorns, talking calmly to it, and offering it some food. Slowly he walked toward it, then petted it on the muzzle and mane, assured it, and asked it if he could ride. The unicorn allowed it. Jonathan Crisp gathered others for his companions and put out the fire, and then all of them galloped away from the meadow and up into the sky to the place where the castle was. Jonathan thanked the unicorns and they continued their flight into the night sky, but before they left, they looked at him meaningfully and bid him, “Adieu, son of Stomra.”
CASTLE IN THE SKY
They stood in the courtyard of an enormous white castle, a jumble of spires and minarets of smooth stone. There was a path leading away from the edge of open sky, up to a series of doors on either side of a grassy sward, and a door set straight ahead. The companions chose the door ahead of them and entered a large, empty room with nothing in it but a single mosquito. The mosquito buzzed near Pilgrim and bit him, but Pilgrim shooed the thing away. All the while the companions called out to the lords of the castle but they received no answer. This large room had two doors, one on the left wall and one straight ahead. Jonathan Crisp felt the left door and it was cold to the touch. Assuming it was the way back to the sky, they went forward.
The door led to a room filled with treasures of all kinds—gold, jewels, weaponry—but Pilgrim warned everyone not to touch it, as it did not belong to them. Jonathan argued, but Kat backed Pilgrim and advised that the treasure be left. There were another two doors in the treasure room.
The door the companions chose opened up into an open grassy area with a fountain, and on each side of the square was another tower with another door. A glowing, faceless being hovered above the fountain, and it asked them, “Why did you not take the treasure?”
Pilgrim explained that the treasure did not belong to them. They asked the creature of the rulers of this place and what it meant, but the creature merely said that they were interesting and it disappeared. The companions chose another door.
The next door opened on a winter landscape of some kind. There was a huge, ugly beast like a warthog that was wounded, but it wore the clothes and tools of a man. There was also a merchant or minor nobleman lying injured in the snow. The companions woke him and the man urged them to slay the beast immediately. Pilgrim did not heed the man and he cautiously went to the beast and tried to awaken it. The creature came to, and it seemed afraid of, or angry at, the man.
Now, Jonathan Crisp heard a noise behind him, the sound of a door opening. He took Fatoozi and returned to the room with the mosquito to find that a door had been opened and a small snowdrift had piled up. Before he knew what was happening, a crossbow bolt grazed him. There, standing almost invisible against the white wall was a short being with a white-blue face and pointed ears, dressed in chainmail. It said it was hunting prey and that Jonathan Crisp would adorn his trophy room.
Meanwhile, Kat, Pilgrim, and Baxter tried to keep the man and the beast apart. Pilgrim soon came to the conclusion that the beast was the innocent, despite the man’s claims that the beast had killed his family. The strange tools the beast carried showed that it was civilized, even if it looked ugly and did not speak their language. The nobleman was restrained and Pilgrim helped the beast recover from its injuries.
The battle between Jonathan and what appeared to be one of the vicious elves, the servants of the Queen, escalated. It became bloody. Crisp pounced upon the creature and they traded blows while Fatoozi cowered in the treasure room. The elf sneered and gloated about what it would do to Jonathan. Then Kat joined the battle. In no time, she had pinned the elf against the wall and broken its nose. It dropped its pearl-adorned rapier and threatened death upon them all. Before Kat could do anything about it, Jonathan Crisp lunged forward and castrated the elf, threw its gonads in the treasure room. He said “An aggressive bull needs to be castrated.” It shrieked as its blood spilled out. Kat cut its throat to spare it a painful death. Fatoozi looked shocked and afraid.
The strange beings that inhabited the castle appeared then. In strange unearthly voices, the leader (if there was such a creature) told the companions that they had made interesting choices and that they would be permitted to stay aboard their castle for as long as they liked. The companions asked the being if it could take them anywhere, but it explained that its kind were bound on their own journey over and across the world and they did not often come back this way. They confirmed that they had heard of a portal of some kind in Daes Araine, but they did not know much about it, as such things did not concern them. They chronicled and observed within this realm, the “real” world. With a wave of its hand, the being sent the beast and the nobleman back to their own lands. Jonathan Crisp asked about the giant mountain he could see in the distance, its peak bursting up through the clouds and up to the sky itself, in the direction from which they had come. The being told them that it was the realm of Turgrid the mountain king, and Jonathan vowed to go there one day.
For many weeks, the castle floated over the land below. They saw impossible natural features, incredible beauty, strange cities and realms. However, perhaps the most disturbing thing they saw was a slow, creeping sheen of ice overtaking the leopin lands and the area east of the ravine they had crossed earlier; the Blue Fey was advancing upon the land. One of the beings implied that this was the “real” world, not their own, and that the Blue Fey’s influence upon this place would have an effect on theirs as well.
Dera and Pilgrim spoke one evening on the high towers and she confessed to him that she did not know why she had left her young son behind to follow this path, but that one day she had awakened “changed,” as if she was no longer the person she had been. It was the day her house had caught fire but neither she nor her infant son had been burned. She felt a disconnectedness with the rest of her people and she knew she must go out and preach of Meoth, however she did not wish to return to the village for, after Fand and her other companions had returned, chances are the elders would never let her leave again. She said her son was in the keeping of her sister, and alluded to some irony in that situation. She told Pilgrim that she most likely would not return with them, for the powers of evil here seemed great and she believed this was the place where Meoth had sent her; this was the place she had been reunited with Baxter, and she believed they had been married for a reason.
Meanwhile, Fatoozi also protested going to Daes Araine. He changed his story, and the once great and lovely Daes Araine seemed a place of fear and dread for him. He said that the elves, particularly the blue fey, would come for them, that they were already aware of the murder of the young one, and they would have their revenge. After a certain amount of wheedling and pleading, he was spared the trip to Daes Araine, although he told them they could contact his master, Rawlence, and that Rawlence could help them. Kat asked the beings if they could spare any of their goods or treasures, but they said that these things were theirs to study. However, they yielded up the pearl-hilted rapier of the elf and said that this was not theirs to keep as it had arrived here upon another. Kat took the rapier, and when they were ready, the companions were materialized instantly beneath the castle, on the path before the great white city of Daes Araine.
On the road to the city, the companions met a group of merry hunters. Each of them had a graceful curve to his ears and each seemed as though he possessed a strange kind of magic to him. Jonathan Crisp noted that in demeanor they were much like Mercurio. They showed the companions to the city, but warned them of the Beast of Burlog Wood, a terrible thing that killed with a glance, and the vicious trolls that lived in the dark tower beyond town, more vicious than any other creature. When they asked about the doorway back to their world, the hunters knew little, but they said they had heard of such a thing at the top of the dark tower. Suddenly the heroes realized that they had been duped by Fatoozi.
The hunters showed them to an inn, where they stayed the night before going off to look for Rawlence. In the dark of night, Jonathan Crisp spied glowing figures in the streets—elves—carrying about some business. All seemed to part before them, and they radiated power and strength.
The following day, after asking around, the companions found their way to the gambling den that Rawlence ran. His quiet bodyguards, Andel and Drend, flanked the door to his office and they held guard dogs at bay that seemed to quiet immediately when given the slightest suggestion. Rawlence was a silver-bearded man who sat in a great office with strange papers of all kinds tacked to the walls and stacks upon his desk. He spoke in low, steady voice. The companions told him their situation, and he confessed that he shared the same interest. He said that there was a key—a box with a combination to open the gate—but this thing was won from him by a sinking gambler named Lyol Daux, who stole it and betrayed him and who disappeared. Rawlence said that his home was the same place the companions called home, that he had cousins and family there and wished to return. Since the companions had come from the place he wished to return to, he grilled them with questions and then offered to take them on in his employ while sheltering them from any complications from the elves.
The companions stayed in Rawlence’s employ in the gambling hall while they tried to figure out their plan of action. How could they open the door if they did not have the box with the key? Then suddenly it dawned on Baxter that the widow Arana Daux had once had a box that played music, that that must be the combination to the door, and that her late husband Lyol Daux had been a tanner (“stinky man”) who had allegedly had amazing luck with dice. However, when put to the task, Baxter could not recall the exact tune.
They spoke with Rawlence about their home, and he said he was from a place called “Strongwood,” however when asked about Strongwood he did not seem to know anyone currently there; however when asked about Schteck, Rawlence said he was from a minor wealthy family, a loser whose elder brothers had inherited the family fortune leaving him with nothing. When asked about a man named Kassandara, Rawlence said he had heard of him, that he had come this way some time ago but had not been able to help, and that he was headed east for a place called Alia. Upon further conversation, the companions told Rawlence about the troubles with Strongwood and their encounter with Cade. Rawlence seemed very keen on this, said he was amazed. He told them of another place such a beast could be found in the woods outside of town, and asked them if they would slay this one as well. He said he would pay them thousands in gold. They agreed, and he sent them off in the woods with his lieutenants Andel, Drend, some hunting dogs, and a party.
However, after four hours walk through the woods, they came to a box canyon filled with bones. Andel and Drend suddenly transformed into monstrous wolfmen in the same way that Cade had, and set the hounds loose. The rest of the hunting party fled, and Rawlence’s lieutenants jumped upon the companions, swearing vengeance for their fallen kin. In a tough battle, Jonathan used the silver-tipped arrows the leopans had given him to ward off the “lupins.” In an act of desperation, the lupins tried to flee, Andel jumping down into the box canyon. Baxter leaped down after him and impaled him on his sword. The companions then stood in front of a large, dark cave strewn with bones at the bottom of the box canyon.
BAXTER JONAS AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS
They approached the cave. It was shaped like an archway almost. The floor of the box canyon was littered with bones of all kinds, mostly humanoid. There were old ruined walls there too, as though this place had once been part of a larger structure. There were wolf howls in the distance and a whispering coming from the cave. Occasionally, snatches of words and phrases could be heard. The companions debated entering the cave, but Baxter said “Come on; no point in turnin’ around now.” He led them into the darkness and pushed on forward, out of the light of the full moon. Kat observed that the moon had been full the time they had fought Cade and the evening they had entered this strange world in the realm of the Baron Frost. Pilgrim remarked that the sign of the Queen was the moon and her creatures were powerful beneath it, and her influence was great in the light of the full moon.
In the cave the whispers became stronger. Skeletons decorated the cave at intervals, their frames warped into shapes parodying the stained glass figures and gargoyles and sculpted panels of other religions. At a forking branch in the tunnels, the companions chose the right-hand cave. They nearly trod on some poisonous fungus before Baxter stopped them. Jonathan Crisp pulled up some of the fungus and spores exploded around them, clouding the air, although short of giving some a fit of coughing, they did not seem to have an adverse effect.
The tunnel led to a den of wolves, growling and fierce. Jonathan Crisp thought of the unicorn. He approached the wolves with some jerky and spoke softly while Pilgrim told everyone to remain still and calm. The wolves smelled the scent of the werewolves upon them, and Jonathan Crisp let them take all of this in. Then he fed them. The wolves went for the pieces of jerky and Jonathan led his companions through.
There was rough-worked stone here and there. At the end of the tunnel, a room opened up before them. It looked to be an ancient shrine much like the shrine to Turgrid outside of Strongwood that Pilgrim and Jonathan Crisp had visited after meeting Mercurio on their first trip into the town. There were sculpted panels on the walls depicting something—just like in the shrine to Turgrid—but they had been defaced and broken. In their places, human skeletons were mounted warped into parodies of the figures that had once occupied the panels. There was a table and a bookshelf in the room, but the most evident feature was a large oak door limned with light in the darkness of the cave—light coming in from under the door. Beside this was the source of the whispering, a tree-like figure trapped up to her arms in a block of ice; the wood was dead and rotten mostly, and she was missing most of her left arm. A woman’s face appeared sometimes across its wooden plant face, and it seemed she was in pain. “Help me,” she said.
The companions approached her and asked what she was, and she said her name was Elorea, that once she had dwelt with her sisters, but she had been taken by the master to this place where he held her until she told him the secret of opening the door. But, she said, he had not given her a secret of equal weight in exchange and so he kept her here, sending fools to go solve the riddle of how to open the door, and when they failed he devoured them. She warned them that they were doomed, that their bones would soon join the rest of the bones that were here. The companions defied that prognostication and after asking her questions to assure themselves that she was not secretly working for Rawlence, asked how they could free her.
“Alas, that you cannot do,” she said, “for I was trapped here by an enchantment of the Blue Fey’s magic, and only the blood of the Blue Fey may free me; and none but one have drawn the Blue Fey’s blood and lived.”
They tried to crack the ice, but to no avail. Nothing would burst it. Then Kat, who had cut the throat of the young elf in the sky castle after his castration by Jonathan Crisp, touched the ice with her own blade and the ice burst apart. The blood of the father ran in the son.
Pilgrim asked Elorea of the secret of the door and she whispered to him that he must give her a mighty secret of equal weight. Pilgrim did so, and Elorea shared the secret. Then Kat came to her and asked her for another mighty secret, and one was asked in return. And they traded. Finally Jonathan Crisp stepped up, the man who has no secrets. He gave Elorea what he could, and in return for this, she gave him scattered clues and hints that she knew. As for Baxter, he said, “I ain’t got no secrets.” Then Rawlence came, howling through the corridors and swearing death upon them all.
He stood before him in his doublet, a silver-haired man with a vicious look in his eye. He said, “You have two choices. You either open the door or you get eaten. You will get eaten anyway, but at least if you open the door you have a chance.”
They exchanged threats with him, and Baxter said “We spoke to this woman here—we already know how you’ll be defeated,” but Rawlence only laughed and said with confidence, “I cannot be defeated.” Jonathan Crisp decided to put that to the test, and in true form he charged Rawlence.
Rawlence grew into the form of a monstrous bipedal wolf and he and Jonathan Crisp clashed together. Kat and Baxter joined the fray and Elorea moved upon old wooden legs across the room toward her former captor, whispering “I know the secret of your fate, Rawlence, even if you do not.” Pilgrim reached out to the stones of the old shrine, gathering the ancient spirit of the place that once had been loyal to Turgrid, and pushing it toward Rawlence, while Dera called upon Meoth to burn the foul creature. When Elorea whispered to Rawlence of his fate, he was petrified. He knew that whatever she said would likely come to pass. The companions beat upon him, but the Elorea’s ill words had taken much of the fight from him. Jonathan Crisp fired the silver-tipped arrows the leopins had given him for warding against the lupins, and after taking hits from these, Rawlence limped off, retreating behind his pack of cave wolves.
Elorea began to sing the tune that had been inside the box, the tune that only she knew, that had once belonged to the Lord of the Sky. The door clicked open and the interior of the old shrine of Turgrid outside of Strongwood was on the other side.
Now Dera stepped away from them. “I cannot go,” she said, “for if I return there I will be forced to be a woman of my people and all my work will be lost. Even if I die in the cave, I will die fighting evil for Meoth. But I will not die, for Meoth will continue to watch over me.”
Baxter told her, “Do want you feel is right. That’s what I always did.”
She said, “I think we were meant to meet again like this. You’ve taught me so much I needed to know,” and she kissed him on the cheek and bid him farewell. The others wished Elorea well on her journey, and she told them she would go down the other tunnel with Dera and escape while they had the chance. With that, the companions stepped through the door into the shrine of Turgrid, leaving Dera and Elorea behind in the cave in that other place. But before he stepped through the door, Pilgrim spotted a box sitting on the table in the room that he had not noticed before. It had symbols of Turgrid upon it, just like his old ritual stones. He lifted the box and brought it through the door with him, then closed the door behind him. In the shrine on the other side, he opened the box. He smiled. Inside was a worn leather strap and an old sculpture of a horse—one of the three animals that had been given loyalty to Stomra—crafted from stone, the Mountain Lord’s element. Even better, it was a horse that Pilgrim had stolen.
The heroes left the shrine to Turgrid. The small stone horse Pilgrim carried looked similar to some of the strange mechanical animals of stone and metal he had seen in Daes Araine. They crossed the bridge over the Rush River and walked to the gates of Strongwood. The trees were full of green summer leaves and the sun was bright, although there was a distinct chill in the air. Farmers carried summer vegetables up the road to Strongwood. It seemed as though more time had passed than the time they had spent in the other world.
At the gate they encountered the heavyset guardsman Bigs, who stared at them awestruck and asked if they were ghosts. He told them they had not been gone six weeks, but six months. He alluded to several problems the town had had, especially the harsh winter, the food shortages, some guild uprisings, and increased bandit activity—bandits looking for the ones who had slain their companions, led by a cunning new chief. The heroes asked after Gregor and Bigs pointed them in the direction of the guild hall where Gregor managed relations between the watch and the guilds.
Gregor was also amazed to see them. He filled them in on the problems of the past, and warned them that Chandler was now captain of the watch. This was a controversial appointment, as Chandler had been on the watch as a young man, but had been kicked off when he used unauthorized torture against a citizen and burned another’s house down for revenge. Chandler had long been an adversary of Kassandara and the watch, and had been an outspoken guild member in the negotiations that tied the guilds and the watch together in the autumn, before the heroes’ departure. Apparently, Chandler had acted unselfishly in his duties on the watch, and had acted admirably during the food shortages and the deep freeze, finding and supplying the most needy. At the time of his appointment, Schteck and Tilden Redwheel (the voice of the guilds and laborers on the town council) had spoken against making Chandler the captain of the watch, but the laborers had rallied for him and Schteck had been forced to compromise. Gregor told Kat she should see her mother as soon as possible; he said he had been spending a lot of time with her lately, and that her mother was distraught. Kat reluctantly agreed. Gregor tells them that the bandit uprisings have been bad, that many of the hunters from the hills have joined the bandits as well.
The heroes paid a visit to Mortimer Schteck, also surprised to see them. He berated them for their absence, but Pilgrim claimed that they had been on the run from bandits for many months now, and were forced to winter elsewhere. Schteck told them about their positions, said he could not offer the same positions, but something lower. He seemed to imply that if they served low enough positions they would be at his disposal more. The heroes asked to be his personal squad, but Schteck rejected the idea; when they had last worked on the watch, Schteck had been accused of having a personal brute squad. He told them that with the faire occurring in less than a month, he needs a good, strong watch and he can’t make any changes right now. Pilgrim suggests that since the faire will be held outside the town, that Chandler’s watch be kept guarding the town while they can guard the faire. They also agree to hunt down and destroy the bandits. The heroes learn that their roles have been adopted by Dugal, Will Brisk and Aneta Flit, and one of the clergy from the church of Stomra who is trying to bring Stomra to the people through both guild and watch.
The heroes visit Mercurio, who has just finished a hawking class. Jonathan Crisp tells him everything of their adventures except for the parts about the music box that opens gates between worlds. Mercurio listens, fascinated. He pulls out books, showing them parts of different faerie tales, folk tales, and stories that illustrate exactly the places they’ve been. He tells them he has long suspected, in fact known, about another world beyond this, but much of what they have told him confirms it. He examines the stone horse and says words that activate it, transforming it into a full size horse and crushing his desk. He says that the old belt they found seems to be made for warriors. The heroes ask about his apprentice Graefallow, and Mercurio says he shoud be kept in the dark; he says he took Graefallow on as an apprentice to watch him… he says Graefallow dreams often, and he thinks he dreams of places in the other world. Jonathan Crisp has some private words with Mercurio, and Mercurio advises Jonathan; he reflects on the reasons he came to Strongwood from Kaelund, especially the rich folklore, and says that Nulmoria is a special place. He gives Jonathan a holy book of Meoth to help him find his answers.
The heroes go to the Kassandara house. Rege, the acting guard, does not recognize Kat at first, but then is shocked when she brings up a detail about how he used to be late to his posts. He runs to get her mother. The Lady Kassandara embraces her daughter, overjoyed at her return. A dinner is called for, and Schteck and Gregor are invited. At the dinner, the state of Strongwood is discussed, with Lady Kassandara pushing against Schteck for promotion of her daughter onto the town council. The heroes do not speak of the places they have been, but volunteer to protect the faire and hunt the bandits. They reach an understanding with Schteck, Gregor, and Lady Kassandara, that they will—for a time—act as watchmen, but take their assignments from Schteck… though still under the authority of Chandler. Privately, Baxter discusses the possibility of moving on and getting employ amongst the Red Rider’s men, but there are some obligations to Strongwood that ought to be fulfilled, and some immediate opportunities for the time being.
At the dinner, Gregor mentions Helios Kassandara’s notebook, and says that he found a strange coin within. He presents it to the companions, who notice that it is a coin from Daes Araine. They recall that Helios Kassandara did not come from Strongwood originally, and this brings to mind the story of the otherworld “traitor” who came to this place with Rawlence, and who banished him back through the door long ago. They recall that Rawlence casually mentioned having heard of him, passing through at one time. They all gaze upon Gregor’s coin and exchange secret, surreptitious glances. The mystery deepens.