Dark figures leap from the shadows, slashing at Kazimeer and Mika with knives that barely seem to reflect light. Kazimeer blinks away with the power of his cloak, and Gena charges in to intercept the shadowy attacker. From the other side of the street Kazimeer invokes a hasty incantation, and several of the Huntsmen collapse into magical slumber. But the bogatyrs’ numerical advantage is immediately negated as more of the lean, shadow-cloaked figures appear.
The apparent Huntsman leader, Havek, closes with Kazimeer while shouting at his companion Renyod to join in. Renyod shakes his head, stepping back; “This is not what I signed up for!” As one of the crossbow-wielding Huntsmen shakes himself awake, Havek takes a swing at Kazimeer, and receives a stinging blow from the sorcerer’s metal dodecahedron familiar for his trouble.
The dark-cloaked newcomers move with a strange and flowing grace, not quite like mortal humans.A glimpse at sharp and inhuman features with shade-grey skin reveals them as nocnitsa, a band of shadow fey — the sort of thing that might come through a shadow-marked gate. They mark Gennadiy, Anfisa, and Kostya with small strikes that flow almost like water, and the wounds sting with a cold ache that feels like poison.
As skilled as the bogatyrs are, the nocnitsa are not like anything they’d previously faced. The fey evade slash after slash, even the magical attacks, and switch targets with ease. A bolt of obfuscating dark strikes Kazimeer, who feels a terrible compulsion to strike out at one of his colleagues. He tries to minimize the damage by throwing a javelin, but the spear strikes Kostya with surprising force, and Havek takes the opportunity to mark the sorcerer’s metallic skin with a sword blow.
But the nocnitsa’s movements can’t protect them forever. Anfisa’s sabers strike the solid body under a cloak, badly wounding it. As the bogatyrs rally, the Huntsmen suffer dissention in their ranks as one of their number falls back into an ally and his comrade demands that he return. The rattled Renyod stays put. Mika channels power to mend Kazimeer’s wounds, and the sorcerer blinks away and injures another nocnitsa with a spell. Mika then mends her own wounds with an invocation that draws out a portion of her enemies’ life forces for her own.
Anfisa claims the first nocnitsa casualty, cutting her opponent down and charging into a second, Kostya right behind her. The second shadow fey drops to a bone javelin. The mercenary Havek assesses the situation, then bolts for the alleys in a stream of profanity. Gena mocks him as he goes, then returns his attention to his nocnitsa foes. Anfisa charges the recovering crossbowmen, concussing one, as the third nocnitsa falls.
The final nocnitsa chooses to flee. It races for the alley, throwing an obfuscating bolt at Gennadiy. It escapes in the confusion as Kazimeer subdues the last of the Huntsmen rank-and-file. The bogatyrs vainly search for some sign of the dark fey, but there are far too many shadows to conceal it. Then a shout rings out: “What in the FUCK is going on here?”
A golden-armored patrol of the Tsar’s guard appears on the site, and demands answers. The Huntsmen and bogatyrs offer entirely different accounts of the event, and the interrogation descends into furious argument after Gena spends a little time baiting the mercenaries with Havek’s cowardice. The guard march both parties to their district quarters and bring them below ground level, though they refrain from putting either side in cells before the matter is settled. The reluctant Huntsman Renyod mentions that the company’s captain, Yelgor Greencap, had recently taken a strange grimoire as a ransom payment from a captured sorcerer.
When the captain finally arrives, he speaks with both sides, and seems to lean toward the bogatyrs’ version of events. Their case is aided by the arrival of Otr Grimbrow, who vouches for their honesty. He then takes Kazimeer aside and says that the shadow gate is a problem, but should optimally be handled without the Golden Tsar learning of it.
As Gena exchanges more insults with the Huntsmen, Kazimeer rejoins his fellows and offers to demonstrate their proof. The mercenary guards are left in custody as a patrol of guards escorts the bogatyrs back into the streets.
The bogatyrs bring a light to the door that Havek and his partner had attended, and show the shadow mark to the captain. Mika translates the pictogram as “mind” crossed with “veil,” implying confusion or enchantment. The captain agrees to lock up the Huntsmen on the charge of drunken brawling, giving the bogatyrs time to assemble their case — and to get some rest.
The next day the bogatyrs work at devising their next move. Mika recalls a former Huntsman Company acquaintance who might still have contacts in the company. Gena focuses on the news that the Donjon is making the Huntsmen an offer, and suggests spreading the news around — it would be unlikely to make them many friends in Tyurin. Kazimeer focuses on the marks copied from the Summer Bridge, recognizing an astrological sigil for the new moon next to a glyph that might represent a waterfall.
They return to the bridge so that Kazimeer can examine it for further clues. While there, an elaborate horse-drawn sleigh passes through the streets, bearing a pallid woman wrapped in heavy furs. The noble-seeming woman ignores most of the gawking populace around her, but catches Mika’s eye — and winks at the young girl.
Mika slips through the crowd after the unusual woman. Once it stops at a tavern, and the lady’s footman vanishes inside, Mika draws near with the mannerisms of a street urchin hopefully trying to polish the sleigh. The lady’s servant returns holding a steaming mug, which stops steaming within moments of her taking it in a gloved hand. The elegant woman takes one sip from the newly cooled drink, then addresses Mika.
She names herself as Arimna the Ever-Cold, an ambassador from Queen Norevna. Though she has attended the tsar’s court, she also has an errand to speak with the local nocnitsa. Her interest is in the original pacts formed when the Summer Bridge was built, ensuring some peace between the mortal world and the denizens of the Gloaming. She has since learned that one of the darkling fey’s knights is acting beyond his usual borders, forging quiet pacts with humans — no doubt Yelgor Greencap of the Huntsmen.
The lady’s footman returns from a second trip into the tavern and hands Mika a hot, delicious-smelling game pie. “Come and speak with me later,” Arimna says as she gestures for her driver to move on. “Perhaps I can arrange for a diplomatic pass of your own.”