Trumps of Winter

41 - Green Woman Grotto

The pursuit of the Black Chalice begins.

The bogatyrs gather up the unconscious Wotanfel and his effects, and notify Reeki — who has been watching from a very comfortable distance — that the affair is resolved. Soon the dwarf seer is in the hands of the Miskan militia.

Huntmaster Koden calls the debriefing session in an intimidating manor within the city walls, which was the former meeting place for the Order of the Black Chalice while they were in High Miska. Aneska and Reeki accompany Koden to the debriefing, as does one of Queen Norevna’s knights, Zarach Icerazor. Koden reports that while Wotanfel’s recruiting activities weren’t dangerous enough to merit full attention, his role as support to Tsar Govroska has made him an accessory to many atrocities. The Ninth Wish has already fled Miska, presumably closer to Zelezka.

Koden inquires further into the bogatyr’s knowledge of the Ruin and Donjon movements. Gena asks where the Black Chalice might be, but Koden says there are far too many possibilities to tell for sure — when it was taken from Chernograv, it might have been moved to a former knight’s domain, or to a coven’s lair, if not somewhere completely unrelated. But with Anfisa’s need to travel to Schuka, Koden points out a pair of likely places: the cursed Fetterkeep, former home to the Shackled Knight, and the former coven lair called the Green Woman Grotto. He offers the bogatyrs a swift river vessel to take them on their way, and wishes them luck.

They meet the tiefling river-captain Brazel Ironjoy by his vessel, the Winged Pike. Ironjoy gladly makes arrangements to get the boat moving soon. A pair of young women in shapeless green dresses sit near the prow of the boat, and flirt with Gennadiy to draw him over. They claim that Captain Ironjoy is too harsh with them, too stingy. Gena has none of it, though, despite Mika offering encouragement — he is sure he recognizes river-spirit when he sees them. He is proven right when the Winged Pike is ready to leave, and the two girls dive into the water, transforming into green horses and swimming into the harnesses to draw the boat.

The Winged Pike is even swifter than the last riverboat, making excellent time even with stops to rest and feed the kelpies (who drink a portion of Ironjoy’s blood every evening). As it heads up the western river, the bogatyrs discuss the possibility of investigating the Green Woman Grotto before they reach Schuka. While the boat passes a giantess wading in the river, dragging a fishing net, the bogatyrs ask Ironjoy to drop them off at the stream inlet that leads from Green Woman Grotto. He does so once they reach it, and they promise to return within the day.

Along the march upstream into the Kosvodd, the bogatyrs notice that the animals and birds are acting strangely. They spot an elk near the stream, seeming sick and crazed. The elk charges them, and they put it down quickly. Anfisa deduces that the stream has been poisoned in some way, and that other animals may be similarly affected. They push on for Green Woman Grotto, with the exception of Gullet, who burrows into the new windfall of fresh elk and promises to be along later.

As they draw closer to the grotto, they encounter a lone Kos woodsman checking over the stream. He recognizes Anfisa’s trappings as an ally, and introduces himself as Vasil Vargavich. The young hunter says he heard gossip from a starling that there was a nasty fight at the Green Woman Grotto: the Skinner Knight and her retinue fought against a band of intruders, and the Skinner Knight lost. According to the starling, he says, the Knight escaped by transforming into a bird, but her vassals were not so lucky.

Vasil accompanies them to the grotto, where they find the Ruin’s band has left some of their number — a burly, deformed giant in Trakengrav-forged metal with an eye that blazes like dragon’s fire, and a howling chimera pet. But with the invocation of Namaluk to protect them, the bogatyrs make surprisingly swift work of the two beasts, astonishing Vasil.

They reconnoiter the former coven lair and find no other living residents. The central portion of the grotto, dominated by its moss-covered ancient statue, shows the marks of the battle between the two forces. The bodies themselves don’t offer many clues — the giant and his pet clearly had been gnawing on the fresh meat. But at the wellspring of the stream, the bogatyrs find the source of the poison — three severed likho heads, braided together by their hair and immersed in the water. If the Ruin’s band was responsible, they clearly were not afraid of the local covens.



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