While her companions busied themselves with the affair of the starving ogre refugees, Mika chose a task better suited to both her ambitions and her dignity. She sought out Katarinya Snake-Eye, and asked the older witch to teach her the secrets of the hag amulet. During that time, she also asked about the name Lenya Burodovir, and heard the story of the Burodovir family. By old accounts, the Burodovirs were a well-to-do boyar family with holdings near what would eventually become Chernograv, and had actually married into the Miskan tsar’s family, but they lost much of their position when the tsar’s heir was charged with treason and several Burodovirs implicated in the plot. The name “Lenya” does not surface in the tale Mika hears, but she does wonder…
The other bogatyrs drag themselves back into town, exhausted and still in need of a warm drying-out, but awash in the praise of the Schukan townsfolk. Boyar Ulgradov and many of the other town leaders make a point of thanking Gena, Anfisa, and Kazimeer personally. Yerek joins in on the congratulations, as does Captain Brazel Ironjoy, who notes that the Winged Pike is ready to leave and at their disposal when they should need it. Holak, after the requisite courtesies, notes that it’s a new day, and inquires when he might be able to consult the whispering book. “How about now?” responds Kazimeer, and guides the warlock to their inn, where he brings the book downstairs.
Holak takes a deep breath, the book before him, and asks, “Who in Miska is the most knowledgable of the manse of Vilivin the Dreamer?” The book ruffles its pages, and a whisper arises from it: “Pelza Three-Toes.” Holak furrows his brow in contemplation, and then rises, excusing himself. “I apparently have more questions to ask elsewhere,” the warlock says, and then departs.
“Well,” says Mika, once again seeming to appear from nowhere, “I was going to use that question to learn more about Lenya. But whatever. Also, the chalice is somewhere to the northwest.”
Anfisa marks out five possible sites on the map — Briarthrone, the Crawling Tree, Raintowers, Ostagrav, and Chernograv. As she does so, Mika relates the story of the Burodovirs and their holdings around Chernograv, noting archly that she was doing something while the others were fishing. She blows off the idea that the reconciliation with the ogres was itself constructive, which provokes Kazimeer to state “You should have seen the one that got away.”
Two messengers arrive with invitations; the Blue Scar ogres would like their new friends to join them at their feast, while Boyar Ulgradov would also like to honor their peacemaking abilities at a fine dinner. The bogatyrs quibble over the options until they finally decide to accept the ogres and ask the boyar to put off the dinner a day. Then Gennadiy, Anfisa, and Kazimeer take a well-earned rest while Mika finds a place to brew a healing potion. That evening, their dinner with the ogres is much less eventful (in part thanks to the absence of Gullet). Gennadiy in particular mingles with the Blue Scars as though he’d spent months among ogre tribes in the past.
The next morning, one of the first things on the bogatyr’s minds is the whispering book. They debate for a moment, and then ask their next question: “Who protects Lenya Burodovir?”
The book ruffles again, and the whisper comes: “Ten Glass Teeth”. While it scarcely seems a name, Anfisa points out that it seems like the sort of thing a hag would call one of its pets, servants, or creations. It seems all the more likely that at least one of the women of the Burodovir family underwent the transformation into a hag — one of the Chalice Maidens.
One of the younger dockside workers arrives at the inn, bearing news from Captain Ironjoy. A harpy has been sighted across the river, and seems to be watching the boat. The curious bogatyrs investigate. When they reach the dock, they spot the harpy roosting in a tall pine on the far shore — and she seems to note them as well, and takes flight. As she draws near, they recognize her as one of the Witchfeather Canyon shriek, a tall harpy with familiar green in her plumage and green streaks in her dark hair.
“Ta!” she says as she lights before the bogatyrs. “I’m being Iazmina, most impressed-like with your bravery and competence and such. Was hoping I might go a-sky and be of service, help the witchslayers.” She grins. “Maybe bring home a treasure to the Sirin.”
It doesn’t take long for the bogatyrs to agree to the deal. Gena is sufficiently polite in his dealings that Mika out-and-out accuses him of flirting with the harpy. He ignores her, and asks Iazmina what sort of range she’s explored.
“As far south as the Four Sisters, ta. Mother went further, ‘cross the Jadesea, where she got my name. Been east to the coast, but not ‘cross the Yearswater.”
“All right,” muses Gennadiy. “Here’s your first job, then: Go scout out Briarthrone.”
The harpy cocks her head. “The briar ruin down-woods? Aye, I know it, ta.”
“Good. Look to see if there are any people there.”
“Human people or thorn people?” From the look on Iazmina’s face, the question is not rhetorical.
“…Human people. And don’t get seen.”
“No trouble, ta.” With that, Iazmina takes to the air, and with a wide spiral through the air currents, she vanishes to the northeast.
Mika vanishes again to brew another healing potion. Gena and Anfisa decide to pursue no ambition in particular, enjoying food and drink and a few hours of not being locked in dire physical contest. Kazimeer drops by Holak’s quarters again, to inquire about the name Pelza Three-Toes. Holak says that he’s learned she lives in the forest, and he’ll keep trying to make contact with her.
The bogatyrs attend the dinner with Boyar Ulgradov that evening, bringing a gift with them. Gennadiy socializes with a pair of unfamiliar faces before the meal: a giant-blood templar called Bralya the Oak, who speaks admiringly of Commander Anrikka Valyevna, and a halfling scout called Griever, who gives Gena a peculiar eye. The two have a short, cloaked conversation about Gennadiy’s relationship with the Iron Tsar, before Gena calls it to a close and says they can talk more about it later.
Anfisa sits with the Kos delegates, Vasil Vargavich and Korvoska Fenrovich, during the feast. Korvoska gives her an odd bottled draught as a sign of respect, explaining that it is a potion of beast speech that might be useful in helping her “train her bear.” Vasil adds that instead, the bear could drink it and be capable of speech for a time — and Kostya raises his head and gives her a meaningful eye.
Gena chats with Bralya about the force dispositions of the Knight’s volunteer militia, and later over drinks resumes a discreet conversation with Griever. The halfling is rather straightforward about the tales of Gena’s conflicting loyalties regarding Tsar Gorinstal, but Gennadiy points out that the business with the Blue Scars might well strengthen Tsaritsa Silverchild’s position, which is exactly what Gorinstal wouldn’t want. Griever admits that’s true, and then offers some new information. According to the scout, four of the Forgiven — Gorinstal’s elite Branded taken from the prisons — are on the river somewhere. He names Hosteler Kreyd, an innkeep turned trapper and torturer; Brother Fetter, a dapper iron-priest and former bandit; Belka the Looter, bonepicker and scavenger; and Kereskny Firetongue, a warlock rumored to have an infernal contract. Gena files away the names, and thanks Griever.
Not too long after that, a riverman arrives at the boyar’s, with the news that their harpy has returned. The social evening ends shortly thereafter, but not before Gennadiy thoroughly fails to woo Katarinya Snake-Eye into a liaison — apparently while Mika had been studying with the witch, she spent a little time “warning” Katarinya about Gena.
They find Iazmina by the Winged Pike, ignoring and being ignored by the kelpies aboard. She excitedly describes a conflict playing out around Briarthrone: the red versus the green and black. The knight-in-red had greater numbers, but the green and black champion and the sorcerer with him slew droves. The red lost about half her forces, but she fell back with a prisoner liberated from the green and black — a large woman with copper hair. It becomes clear that Iazmina is describing the Red Crusader Ruguta, and the captive must have been the Skinner Knight, robbed of her shapeshifting cloak. Ruguta and the Skinner Knight made for the river while her forces sacrificed themselves to hold off the green-and-blacks — unquestionably the Ruin’s warband.
Gennadiy thanks Iazmina and tells her this is the sort of thing they’ll ask her for again, in particular more accurate numbers. The bogatyrs make their preparations to leave first thing in the morning.