Trumps of Winter

32 - Ice-Vocht and Vendettas

A day of sport, smuggling, and murder.

Gennadiy spends some of his free time socializing with Captain Miyar Byelnikov. Over tea and cards, they reminisce over time spent fighting together and the political demands of the present day. Gena puts forward the name of Boyaritsa Rovina Kurzkov as a potential ally of the Knight — having had the honor of assisting her in a difficult time, Gena says that she could prove a strong friend if allowed to grow into her power.

Uncle Brunya also invites Gennadiy to dinner, and makes a point of extending the invitation to Gena’s companions. Gena accepts, as does Anfisa (on the grounds that they feed her bear). Over a pleasant dinner, Brunya reveals that he was hoping to recruit the two of them into a game of ice-vocht. The ice is now thick enough for the first ice-vocht match of the season, which always involves the aristocratic families sponsoring a truly competitive match. This year the Blue team is sponsored by the older families of Tyurin (the Golikoy and Kyelvarin in particular), and the White team is largely bankrolled by newcomers (especially the Cheynakov and Reynitsy). Though Brunya would have liked to work his way onto the Blue, he has settled to try and make an impression among the White. If nothing else, the miserly Cheynakov are glad to have someone else offering to hire some of the players.

Gena and Anfisa both agree to the proposal. Gennadiy manages to recruit Miyar as well, figuring that the Knight’s captain will be both a strong physical candidate and an impressive local personality for the team.

Mika spends some time conversing with Slatejaw, learning a few things about the former ghoul’s unlife. When she meets Gena again, he lets her know about the ice-vocht game. Mika decides that even if magic isn’t permissible in the competition, she still deserves a spot on the team. She persuades her way into playing for the Whites. For the next day, the bogatyrs spend some time practicing their ice-skating. Gena cuts open a patch of ice well away from the match location and makes an offering to the spirits of the water, just in case.

The turnout is excellent on the morning of the match. There are many skilled athletes on both sides, especially with the recruitment of Miyar. Much to the group’s disgust, they note a familiar face wearing familiar green headwear — Yelgor Greencap, also a member of the Whites. Still, the bogatyrs help the Whites take an early lead. Both Anfisa and Gennadiy are forces to be reckoned with in the larger scrum, and Mika manages to steal away the chalice at a vital moment and score the first goal.

During a second scrum, Gennadiy takes a shoulder block from one of his own teammates and hits the ice. The blade of an ice skate descends, though he rolls aside before it can do more than break the skin. Yelgor Greencap smirks down at him, then offers a hand up. The Huntsmen’s captain offers a not-that-heartfelt apology. Gennadiy brushes it off as he stanches the bleeding, and then returns to the ice.

The bogatyrs’ presence continues to bolster the Whites all the same. They maintain their lead throughout the match, and claim victory. After the match, Gena hunts down Yelgor and offers him a hand. The Huntsman captain refuses the handshake and leaves while Gena has his neck wound treated by the presiding priestess of Lirsiv.

Uncle Brunya praises Gena and his friends. He says he managed to make an excellent sale to Vetsa Reynitsy, who was impressed by the performance of Brunya’s recruits. He then proposes a bit of light, nicely paid work: escorting a shipment into the city. He admits it’s a very small thing, but Tyurin’s daylight tariffs are crippling in winter, and the Ten Brothers — a local criminal element — are going to want a cut at night. The bogatyrs’ presence could see to the latter. Gena agrees to float the proposal, though he warns Brunya that he’ll still have to pay the others. Anfisa and Mika do end up agreeing, even though the job’s beneath them.

That evening the bogatyrs, still missing Kazimeer, bring the wagons through the Westhill sally-gate. The guards, likely paid off, pay them no real mind. They have less luck with the Ten Brothers. A pack of the “cousins,” low-ranking members of the Brothers, close off the wagons in a ropebraiders’ alley.

Gennadiy decides there’s no time for any of this. “Cousins,” he says, “this is not the night.” He throws them some coins. “Have some drinks on me.” The thugs stare into the eyes of a man who has fought alongside the Knight and the Comet, and stood against giants, a hydra, and the living dead. They scoop up the coins and fall back into the shadows.

Then they start screaming.

As the bogatyrs are drawing their blades, dark figures flit among them. Anfisa, Mika, and Gena all reel from sudden slashing wounds. Their assailants perch briefly in the dim light, revealed as… dressmaker’s dummies, mannequins with long scissor blades where their fingers should be. A third creature lurches out of the dark at them, a twisted, burly thing in oddly stitched black rags with its features shrouded under a hood.

Mika rolls under the wagon to evade one of the dummies. The hulking remnant tears into Anfisa and Kostya, badly pummeling both of them. The second dummy’s blades find gaps in Gena’s armor. Mika is forced to call on the power of her goddess to heal the band, keeping them in the fight.

Gena’s firebrass axe bursts into flame, and he chops smoldering wounds into the dummy facing him. Mika hurls a bone lance into its faceless head, and it crumples. The second dummy stabs Mika in retaliation and moves around to attack Gennadiy. While Anfisa and Kostya rally against the remnant, Gena finishes the second dummy. Mika throws a lance into the remnant, Gena joins the fight, and Anfisa and Kostya take the opening to tear it to shreds.

The bodies leak out shadowstuff, leaving behind wood and cloth. The bogatyrs throw the remains into a trash fire to dispose of them. Mika meditates on the scraps of the remnant, summoning the knowledge of ghosts. The dead tell her of a powerful creature of the Gloaming, stronger even than Lady Gloomsaddle — a figure called the Faceless Tailor.

The bogatyrs find the body of one of the Ten Brothers’ cousins, cut nearly in half by one of the dummies. Once they’ve ensured that the shipment of wines has safely reached Brunya’s storehouse, Gena returns to try bringing the cousin’s body to those who’d mourn him. He has no luck, though, as nobody willing to take responsibility for the corpse can be found in the middle of the night.

The bogatyrs finally get some well-earned rest. After they finally wake, as they gather the news of the morning, they hear that some sort of trouble has overtaken the Huntsmen.

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