Gennadiy, Anfisa, and Kazimeer gather up the dead necromancer’s effects: a satchel with 319 gold coins; a pair of tarnished silver candlesticks with a fish-skeleton motif; a mummified, gilded, and bejeweled severed hand; and a knife with an ornate decoration on the blade. Kazimeer notes the peculiar pattern on the knife as reminiscent of an unfamiliar constellation. They gather wood from the forest, set a pyre in the stone tower for the body, and finally leave the hunting lodge.
The village of Honeythorn is still awake when they return, with nervous villagers on watch. Road-Warden Ironglove announces that the threat of the Shrike Knight’s return is ended. As the villagers begin to accept the news, the wedding celebration resumes and redoubles in fervor. Gennadiy stays up and regales the townsfolk with tales of the battle into the wee hours. He winds up staying the night in a fine guest room belonging to one of the better-off families, while Anfisa stays with a family that will accept Kostya.
Gena wakes up the next morning to find a note has been slipped under his door. It reads “I’ll catch up,” in handwriting he recognizes as Mika’s. He joins the others for breakfast, where they share information on the “minstrel” who passed through town. When the disguised necromancer visited Honeythorn, a local woman with a penchant for drink put him up for the evening. Nobody remembers the woman, Martya, attending the wedding.
The bogatyrs pay a call on Martya’s home to find the door latched and the fire out. They finesse the latch and enter to find her unconscious on the floor by a table, where a half-empty bottle of illyist and a pair of cups remain. Kazimeer discerns from her peculiar pallor that she was the victim of an enervating necromantic spell that struck her comatose.
After some quick medical attention restores her to consciousness, Martya tells the story of her guest. She admits that the two of them started drinking mead and his illyist. When she was properly inebriated, she started going through his things while he was out using the bathroom. She discovered a strange knife and a human skull in his backpack, and he returned while she was still trying to put them back. He spoke a word, she felt very cold, and then she remembers nothing more.
Gena examines the bottle of illyist on the table. The bottle itself has a fancy relief of an amphisbaena, which he recognizes as the mark of the Double Venom distillery. The bottle’s cork has an astrological glyph on the underside, which Gena shears off and passes to Kazimeer. The sorcerer studies the mark, and slips into a contemplative trance. He identifies the mark as a glyph of the Drowned Man, a hidden constellation which is reputed to eclipse traditional constellations in times of dire portent.
The bogatyrs spend the rest of the day and another night in Honeythorn. They leave the next morning, with Mika still absent. They accept Korgoslav Karkovich Ironglove’s offer of guidance to the next town, and the ogrinka regales them with various stories along the journey. The ride along the forest road is peaceful, though they do cross paths with another road-warden, a half-elf named Yosian. Yosian greets them peaceably and recognizes Anfisa as someone who’s done hunting along the river.
Ironglove and the others relate the story of the Shrike Knight’s ghost and the minstrel-clad necromancer who raised her. In return, Yosian tells them that there’s some rumors that a witch or even a coven has reached out to Ruguta the Red Crusader, potentially making a pact with the Black Chalice renegade. With the news that the bogatyrs are likely to fight against several enemies of the realm, the half-elf offers Anfisa six arrows enchanted with a lignifying effect. Gennadiy returns the favor, passing several of his deadliest arrows to the road-warden. With that, both parties bid each other farewell and continue.
Korgoslav Karkovich Ironglove explains about the Red Crusader as the forest thins and they pass through the fields on the outskirts of Perska. Ruguta Falkevna Trossotyr was knighted into the Black Chalice, and given Perska as her domain. She was openly pious, practicing a slightly warped philosophy that assumed loyalty and conviction would vindicate necessarily bloody deeds in the eyes of the Higher Nine. Ironglove points out the keep overlooking the southern portion of the town as her seat, and a freshly planted orchard as the former site of a tourney-field she established. The group also notices a number of weathervanes adorning the town, as well as the spectacular stone bridge crossing the river.
As they move into the town proper, Gena thanks the ogrinka road-warden for his assistance, and asks if he might be able to join them for a drink. “Drink!” The bogatyrs look down to see that the shout came from a thick-bodied wolverine that has fallen into step alongside the group. “Excellent idea! Drinks!”
Road-warden Ironglove greets the wolverine, Gullet, and politely bows out of the invitation. Gena tries to deflect the wolverine, but Gullet has none of it. “You think you’re tough because you’re so fuckin’ tall? I’ll tear your fuckin’ nuts off!”
Despite Gullet’s bloody-minded profanity, the beast doesn’t seem genuinely angry or malicious, and Gennadiy finally agrees to buy the wolverine a drink. They visit the finer establishment on the south riverside, the East Wind. The innkeeper is not initially glad to see Gullet entering with the strangers, but the color of the bogatyrs’ money, of course, alters his disposition. Gena purchases a drink for the wolverine, and says “You’ll have to earn the others.”
“What? No fuckin’ way. I’m not wearin’ a fuckin’ tutu for you. Not again!”
“I meant information,” smiles Gennadiy.
Gena buys drink after drink for Gullet, who talks garrulously about the uprising against Tsar Govroska. He describes the Perska uprising against Ruguta the Red Crusader, and how she fled the field rather than fighting until the end. As he tells of other battles (many of which feature “tearing their fuckin’ nuts off”), he mentions a creature that he describes the greatest and most powerful talking beast of Miska — the ancient owlbear Uncle Ripper, who taught the Tsar and his nobles that some woods were not for hunting. “He took their heads off as easy as tearin’ off a testicle!”
Gennadiy floats a number of topics of conversation as this continues, and watches the innkeeper’s reactions. The innkeeper doesn’t respond interestingly to the topic of the Double Venom or to other intimations of the Mad Star cult, but he does answer a few simple questions once asked. He describes the scholarly boyar of Perska and relates that Redshield Keep is now abandoned, save for a crafter that moved in to examine the Red Crusader’s forges and armories.
Partway through the conversation, a pair of familiar faces enter the East Wind. Kovor and Zilya, the mercenary cohorts last seen in Zelezka, greet the bogatyrs enthusiastically. They drop into conversation with Anfisa, telling her about the latest rumors about the Ruin’s movements, and that if any warband is in Miska, they likely are close to the southwest town of Schuka.
The bogatyrs pass the afternoon with food and drinks, and eventually prepare to rest for the evening. Gullet staggers out into the night, pausing only to slap a paw on Kostya’s shoulder. “You’re okay,” he says.
The next morning, the group goes to visit the boyar of Perska. The boyar’s page is somewhat alarmed to see the small band of armed individuals, but a guardsman recognizes them by reputation. They enter and meet Boyar Saanal Mothwise, an elf of gentle demeanor. They ask if they might use his library. Mothwise is obliging, though he does apologize in advance for its small size.
The boyar takes them to his office, with a library consisting of two large bookshelves. Though the pickings are not what the group had hoped, Kazimeer does notice that the boyar has three books on astrology. Two of them are simple texts, but one is fairly obscure: The Eightfold Firmament, which has a respectable section on hidden constellations. Kazimeer reads about the Drowned Man, a star-sign which carries cultic significance among superstitious riverfolk. He also learns that the sign features in certain rituals, in particular a grim rite to bind a drowned girl’s spirit as a rusalka.
While Kazimeer peruses The Eightfold Firmament, the others chat with the boyar. He talks with them about the crafter Tirafir, whom he seems to trust despite a few eccentricities. Tirafir is apparently responsible for making many of the town’s replacement weathervanes, which were confiscated and melted down in the time of Ruguta Falkevna Trossotyr. As for the Red Crusader herself, she has not raided the town since being deposed, though there have certainly been sightings of renegades wearing red armor. Boyar Mothwise notes that there seems to be little cause for concern that she would attack the town openly, given her limited resources. Gennadiy mentions the prospect of her allegiance with the Donjon, and in much more sober tones the elven boyar admits that would be a different, and much more dangerous situation.