“The Elder Bear? Hmm…. let me listen.”
The leshy closes his eyes, and a whisper edges out of his mouth. The wind moves through the trees for several minutes before he speaks again. “…I hear a tale of a shaggy night bear with a scar at his temple and silver at his jaws. A witch with an eye around her neck holds a collar and chain for him. To escape her eye, the bear fled to the mountain where his grandfather once hunted a bear of his own.”
Anfisa bows. “Thank you, grandfather,” she says. The leshy nods to her, unbends to his full height, and walks back into the woods. His sapling host retreats with him, but the treeline itself remains at its newer, closer distance.
The bogatyrs move as much of the ogres’ plunder as possible onto the barge, and then set off downriver. They drop off one of the captive girls at her home village, where they are treated to a feast of humble but filling peasant fare, and then return to Zelezka where they place the second captive with relatives.
Zilya and Korvo hit the Zelezkan taverns like conquering heroes, boasting of their battle against the ogres and sopping up drinks. The bogatyrs join them for the first round, and hear a rumor of a very distinct death. Apparently a woman was frozen into a statue of ice on one of the bridges, and although the attack seems very like Fair Mirinka’s capability, the rusalka reputedly doesn’t attack women. Gena turns to Mika to ask for clarification, but the young witch-priestess is already gone.
The bogatyrs then go their separate ways. Anfisa heads to a bathhouse, to wash away the grime of several battles. Gena takes charge of distributing the ogres’ plunder back to its rightful owners, gaining many friends among the merchants of Zelezka. Kazimeer takes an interest in the story of the frozen corpse, and finally finds a trio of children who claim to have witnessed the whole thing.
According to the children, the person responsible was a red-haired man in blue and white — a winter wizard, they claim. He was walking with an unarmed woman along the Bone Bridge when three people attacked them in broad daylight. The children say the woman killed two of the attackers with her bare hands — she just ran her fingertips against them, and they opened as if they were cut with blades. The wizard cast a spell and froze the last attacker solid, and then the two of them proceeded on their way.
Kazimeer’s next stop is to confer with the Maliokis. Belzec tells him that he heard about a man in blue and white staying at the Maiden’s Wet Hair. He also mentions that Iissa is holding a package for him. When Kazimeer inquires about the contents, the tiefling simply shrugs.
A quick trip to Iissa’s houseboat later, and the elven seer hands Kazimeer a small parcel. She says that it came directly from Alsvedun the Magnificent — the Vizier himself. He unwraps a small deck of cards, their faces marked clearly with icons of the various Trumps. Iissa explains that the cards aren’t a copy of the Mad Star’s original deck, but rather a deck of portals. She also passes on a message from the Vizier — Kazimeer is to go speak to a woman about an unknown sword. Kazimeer asks if there’s any more information about the woman, but all that Iissa can offer is the cryptic statement that “you’ve already heard of her.”
Kazimeer collects Anfisa and Gena once their business is done, tells them of his findings, and then the three pay a call on the Maiden’s Wet Hair. The tavern is one of the quieter sort of drinking houses — not expensive enough to attract people wanting to be seen, not cheap enough for easy drinking and brawling. There they see the red-haired man in blue and white, seated with a lean woman in leather. After a brief conversation with the bartender, they approach the pair and make introductions.
The mage names himself as Morska Morekevich, and Kazimeer notes he bears the trappings of one of the winter mages following the tradition of Queen Norevna, the holder of the Fates. The woman introduces herself as Saschka. Kazimeer tells them that he was asked to talk to her about an unknown sword — and in a halting dialect, Saschka explains that she is the sword. The woman they see was slain, for reasons she doesn’t understand, and a powerful magical blade from the Luskrin dynasty was used in an attempt to resurrect her. However, something went not as planned, and now — to the best of her knowledge — she is the soul of the sword, occupying the revived body of an adventurer. Her memories are one part those of the mortal woman and one part flashes to the time of the Luskrin tsars. But she doesn’t know why she was placed into this form. Kazimeer reassures her that it’s easy for him to relate.
As for the assassins, Morska Morekevich says he’s fairly certain he knows who they are. They were agents of the Black Snowflake, and as far as he knows, he wasn’t their target — Saschka was. Whether they were after the sword’s soul or the resurrected woman, neither of them know. (It takes a little convincing to assure Gennadiy that he’s remembering incorrectly, and the Black Snowflake is not the name of a long-ago band of legendary heroes.)
Morska instructs Saschka to travel with the others for a time; according to whatever cryptic instruction he isn’t sharing, his role in the affair is now done. With that, the bogatyrs return to the Prince’s Boot to get some well-deserved rest.
Gena spends the first portion of his morning dealing with Radenza, who’s appeared in search of news. He finally makes his apologies to his former comrade and has Saschka accompany him on a few errands.
Kazimeer returns to the Maliokis in search of more gossip, this time concerning the Black Snowflake. Belzec admits to knowing a few things about the former secret police. He mentions that the local name he’s heard is a pawnbroker, Gurivin “Uncle Guri” Slakotchka.
The bogatyrs discuss their options over lunch. None are particularly enthusiastic about taking the fight directly to the Black Snowflake, the problem of the Donjon’s delegation is ongoing, and they have yet to decide what to do with the deck of portals. A perturbed Gennadiy raises the additional question: Where the hell is Mika?