Mika spends a careful amount of time observing “Grebsky the Free-Handed” — or as she knows him, Grenetz, a former fixer and interrogator for the Black Snowflake who she often saw visiting the order’s head in Valgrad. Once she’s certain he isn’t up to anything that could immediately harm her, Mika sets out to catch up with the others. She arrives in Molinka in an early morning, and follows her companions’ trail to the Moon and Stars inn. She slips through the front door in time to see them dragging their captive upstairs, and follows afterwards. When the interrogation begins, the others are only somewhat surprised to see her appear as if she’d been present all along.
The captive is notably resilient. He shrugs off threats, claiming that the Black Snowflake will do far worse to him than anything the bogatyrs describe. When the bogatyrs offer to simply release him, he insists that he won’t be able to find safe harbor before his colleagues find him. “If it was that damn easy to outmaneuver them, you would have found the other informant in Volinka by now, wouldn’t you?”
They secure the captive and go to search the town for clues of the departure. Gennadiy asks after Grebsky’s caravan and discovers that they didn’t seem to have any unusual shifts in numbers while they were in Volinka. Mika manages to discover a man who saw something odd while he was slipping home from a neighbor’s wife. He says that there was a small group of people lowering large bundles from an upper-story window to the rear of the inn and carrying them to the northern gate. He found it disturbing, but didn’t mention it to anyone at the time as he didn’t want to admit where he was.
Anfisa finds the tracks, and follows them out of town. Eight sets of heavily burdened footprints become eleven less-burdened; she surmises that three captives were carried out, and then made to walk once they were in the open steppe.
They return to the inn and gather the false templar. They call on Hetman Gromundnya, who is happy to see the bogatyrs who hunted with Tarska the Slayer. He is a little less pleased that they ask him to take a former Black Snowflake agent into his care, but Gromundnya is a loyal ally to the Mountain of Steel. He promises to keep the agent safe and wishes the bogatyrs luck in rescuing the Hammer-Saint.
The four then set out in pursuit of the Goryadons’ abductors. The trail leads first to a lone farmstead on the steppe, where the farmer swears tight-lipped that he’s seen nothing of the travellers. The bogatyrs deduce the man is clearly lying, but from fear. After a casual ride around the farm’s perimeter to look for signs that the abductors are still present, Gena throws the farmers a few coins and they ride on.
It’s growing dark on the evening of the second day when they spot a fire a mile away on the steppe. They ride straight for it. The other party does not assume the best, and arrow fire greets the bogatyrs. Kazimeer conjures a slumber on some of the archers to halt the fire as they close, and soon they can see that the warriors around the fire have the piecemeal trappings common to the Ruin’s raiders.
Two lightly armored reavers lift blades in either hand, while a heavier orc-blood hefts a two-handed axe. As the riders draw near, they hear one of the reavers ask “Goryadons?”
“No,” snarls the larger one. “Kill ‘em.”
Gennadiy engages the big warrior with a shout of “For Goryador!” The two reavers move into a blade-dancing stance; one lunges at the bear-riding Anfisa while the other dashes at Kazimeer.
Mika conjures a vast spectral, skeletal hand that gleams in the dark before two of its fingers flick out and pierce a pair of the raiders. They falter, and the grievous wounds to their psyche leave them easy prey for the bogatyrs. As the lesser raiders start pulling themselves awake, one of them dashes over to the Goryadons who lie bound near the fire, knife drawn. Kazimeer repeats a second sleep spell, and the would-be hostage taker falls.
With the berserker and blade reavers dead, none of the Ruin’s raiders are left conscious. Anfisa and Mika begin walking among the sleeping warriors and finishing them off. Gennadiy, still cognizant of the code of Goryador, waits for one to wake up and take his feet. The ingrate lunges at Gena once he has his consciousness, only to die to a sorcerous bolt from Kazimeer. Gennadiy sighs.
The bogatyrs free the three Goryadons from their bonds, who immediately thank them. Hammer-Saint Vashtil is a powerful man, but with twisted legs; he walks slowly and is not much of a combatant. Anfisa advises the party to move away from the bodies, which are sure to attract predators. They set up a second camp not too far away, and in the morning they begin the trek back to Volinka.
With Vashtil able to ride, they make better time than the Ruin’s band did. But during the day, Anfisa sees a flying beast in the air behind them, keeping mostly in the same direction until it loops back. Though it’s too far away to properly identify, she spots what appears to be the body of a winged quadruped, something like a griffon.
That night during Anfisa’s watch, she learns its identity. A two-headed giant, draped in bits of piecemeal armor that echo the forges of Trakengrav, comes running out of the night to attack. As it does so, a flying beast swoops overhead, strafing the party with long iron darts — a manticore!
Gena and Kostya answer the ettin’s challenge. Anfisa fires a tripartite arrow at the manticore, but only one of the tripled arrows finds its mark. Mika calls on the spirits of the restless dead to aid the group. The scattered remnants of lost horsemen find their way to her spectral beacon, flooding the party with strength. As Kazimeer readies a spell to strike the manticore, another figure drops from the darkened sky — a gargoyle, scraping its stone claws against his metal skin.
One of the templars, Russun, moves to engage alongside the bogatyrs while the other stands guard over Vashtil. But the stars turn against him — Kazimeer conjures a chaos pulse of lightning, and it streaks into the templar’s back, striking him to the ground.
The gargoyle is the first enemy to fall when another spell of Kazimeer’s wipes away its mind. It stiffens up, freezing into an incongruous statue in the wild western steppe. The ettin and the manticore are not so easily felled. Gennadiy’s latest shield helps preserve him from the giant’s merciless blows even as they stagger him, while Anfisa is all but mauled by the manticore’s paws. Mika draws deeper than ever before, and sends a wave of power across the battlefield. A sudden cold seals the wounds of her companions, even stirring Russun back to wakefulness.
With that the bogatyrs exact their revenge on their attackers. A vicious slash from Gena’s saber cuts away the back of the ettin’s knee, forcing it to kneel before him. He puts all his might behind his next strike, cutting one head away entirely and nearly severing the next with the same strike. The ettin falls forward even as Kostya leaps onto the back of the manticore, dragging its wounded form low. Anfisa takes the opportunity to lash out with both sabers, and the manticore’s head rolls free of its body as well. When the silence falls after the battle, it is complete — not even an echo returns from the wide darkness of the open step.