My companion enemy
Stands in the gathering shadows,
I draw my weapon
And sing of Death
Windsday Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season to Fireday, Disorder Week
It is difficult to find any privacy in the Blue Starling stead, but Fastulv, Neela and Orvald manage to get some moments together to talk secretly about the mission Malta has given them.
They are all unhappy about the task before them, to escort a troll herald across Elkenvale, Kendring and Frithan lands to Jonstown. They are instructed to deliver him to the Gilded Beard Inn in the city where he will be met by a representative from the Grey Sages.
Fastulv, Neela and Orvald resolve not to let this mission be known by the clan for fear it will jeopardise their standing with the clansmen and in particular the Night Brothers.
The troll herald will be waiting for them on Elkenvale land near Geo’s Ridge Inn. He will arrive in the next day or two, if he’s not already there. The meeting point is an old stone circle called Sixfinger not far from the King’s Road. Fastulv knows the place. It has a reputation for being haunted, so few people go there. However, if players make the warding sign against spirits, they should not be disturbed.
The following morning the friends rise early in the cold, clear dawn. The face of the Red Moon can be seen hanging low in the sky to the northwest. Carrying light packs they make their way to the south and east, towards the meeting spot. They decide to travel across country rather than take the King’s Road, but just as they march away from the road they see three figures, clearly armed and armoured, marching along it. Even from this distance the party can see they are all Humakti warriors. Suddenly they feel nervous.
They say that Humakti embody the Death rune. Their role is to separate the living from the dead. Many people hide from them. To look upon a Humakti brings death to a community. Babies miscarry and the old die and plants wilt in their presence. These worshipper of Humakt wear bronze splint armour and carry sacred swords. Their faces are chalked with white to make visages of skulls.
As the Humakti turn towards the Blue Starling stead, Neela wonders what has brought them there. Are they mercenaries in the pay of the Lunars? Are they searching for them? Or merely visiting the Humakt shrine at First Sword? Whatever the Living Death are up to, the party cannot go back now.
Crossing into Elkenvale land, Fastulv leads them along the safe ways. The Elkenvale clan are not strong in war and their patrols can be avoided easily. If found, Orvald’s face is familiar to the Elk men’s thanes and he would be allowed passage.
There is a curious encounter along the route to Geo’s Ridge Inn. The group see a gaily-painted wagon halted away from the road. The traces are empty and there is a camp beside it. The players recognise the wagon as that of the puppeteers who were at the clan moot. The back of the wagon had formed the puppet stage.
In the camp a group of figures sit around a fire. Even from this distance Fastulv can smell cooking. Then one of the figures seems to see the group and picks itself up and begins to scurry towards them. It is a middle-aged woman with a prominent illusion rune tattooed on her face. In one arm she cradles a puppet, a little man made of painted wood with a huge head and leering red-rimmed mouth with a tongue made of felt. He has staring eyes, red dots for cheeks and is very ugly.
The woman approaches Orvald and introduces herself as Huba. Her head seems a little unsteady on her shoulders, as if she was a doll herself. She tells Orvald that her puppet, Little Pu, wants to talk to them. Orvald tries to disengage from the conversation but the woman seems very insistent.
Then the puppet speaks. The group is unsure if the puppet is actually speaking or the woman is throwing her voice, but the effect is very creepy.
“I have words for each of you,” it says. “If you’re smart you’ll listen.”
Orvald is not sure he wants to listen, and asks why he should care.
“Because I’m the Puppet Prophet,” Little Pu sneers. “I’ll tell your fortune.”
Before the thane can respond that he doesn’t want to hear his fortune, the puppet continues: “You are going to meet the Shadow Broker. He is a wily one. I wouldn’t trust his mistress. But the survival of your loved ones rests on his mission. There is a Lunar Witch on the hunt for him. Watch for the red and the blue. She is very strong. Be careful not to kill her. She is a favourite of a most powerful magician.”
Orvald doesn’t believe any of this. He tries to disengage from the mad puppeteer woman by telling the leering marionette that he’ll keep an eye out for trouble. Fastulv joins in with something dismissive, but this only seems to make the puppet round on him.
“The dancing woman told you something important!” the puppet tells the shepherd. “But she’s a daft old brush who cannot read the tea leaves. She sees days or weeks instead of months or years. Cherish what you have while you can still hold it. You have more than a year, but not much more, and then it will be gone. And it will be your fault.”
Fastulv shuts up at this. Huba apologises for Little Pu’s behaviour and at this begins to take leave of the group. As they part they hear the puppet shout again:
“This is the first time you’ve spoken to me. The third time you see me the sky will fall!”
Orvald wonders what that was all about. Neela dismisses the puppeteer woman as being highly strung, but then again, Little Pu had said that stuff about the ‘Shadow Broker’ and the Lunar Witch. The group wonder if there is any truth to the puppet’s words.
Before reaching the Ridge Inn, the group peel off towards the old stone circle where they were due to meet the Troll herald. Neela, as spokesperson for the party, approaches the circle with the others behind. She can seem someone sitting there, a massive figure dressed in dark-coloured but rich robes. The tip of a troll snout seems to project from the hood.
Neela gives her name and asks if it is the herald. The figure replies that it is, and that it accepts her ‘open-handed and unarmed’. The troll’s voice is deep and throaty but not unfriendly. He gives his name as Kragar.
Relaxing her guard a little, Neela asks if Kragar knows the name ‘The Shadow Broker’. Kragar thinks a moment and says that it is one of his many names. He also goes by the title ‘Speaker to Light’, as he is a priest of Argan Argar, the troll god of communications and trade. However, he would prefer to be called Kragar.
The troll is ready to travel if the party are. But first he asks if they will permit him to bring along his slaves as bearers for his things. He indicates two pitiful-looking trollkin nearby: they are introduced with the names Noser and Beater. Kragar offers to eat them if they are a burden. Slightly shocked, Neela agrees that it would be fine to bring them so long as they keep up and do not cause trouble. Kragar agrees to this.
The troll notes that if they run into any danger he has a weapon, a club named ‘Smiler’. Neela suggests the troll hide it if he can, and so he slips the great club into his robes, where it disappears.
With that the group sets off, with Fastulv in the vanguard, leading them along the safe paths, while Orvald brings up the rear. It is left to Neela to walk with the troll and although she is has no intention of making friends with the clan’s ancient enemy, her curiosity overcomes her disgust and she manages to strike up a conversation with him.
She asks Kragar what the mission is about. The troll carefully admits that he is the herald of the great Queen Pika of Tarpit, who controls the path to the Underworld on the Shadow Plateau. He travels with an offer to ally with Minaryth Purple and the Sartar rebels.
As Neela digs deeper she discovers a frightening plot. Kragar tell her that the Following Dark clan that live near the Curled Horn are being seduced by the Lunars. Missionaries have penetrated the Curled Horn community and preach a new way: troll deities who seem to resemble some gods of the Lunar pantheon.
The missionaries have been preaching that the red goddess can heal the troll curse that spawns mainly trollkin, and allow the Uz to give birth to true trolls. Apparently a miracle was performed that proved this was possible and it gained the cults many converts, particularly amongst the troll nobles.
Neela wonders whether this was why the Curled Horn trolls rejected Malta and Brena’s overtures from the rebels. Kragar suspects that is true. It seems that Uddaga, the Queen of the Following Dark clan, denies charges of consorting with Chaos, but nevertheless she ate half the troll emissaries sent to treat with her.
Kragar tells Neela that Uddaga seems intent on extending the forests down from the Brambleberry Hills into the Kendring Lands and beyond; something the Lunars appear to assent to. The intention of his mistress, Queen Pika, is to exterminate the Chaos heresy spreading amongst the Quivin trolls. She will ally with the rebels to achieve this. This is why he travels to Jonstown to speak with Minaryth Purple.
So Kragar must move fast, and avoid attempts by the Following Dark trolls to kill him. When Neela asks about the Lunar Witch that Little Pu prophesied about, Kragar says he is unsurprised. The Lunars have every reason to stop him too.
Avoiding the Elkenvale patrols, the group soon make it back to Kendring Land. Orvald makes the prayer to the wyter that allows them to escort an enemy across friendly land without raising the alarm. At a rest stop in the cover of the woods, Neela explains Kragar’s story to Orvald and Fastulv. They are impressed and they resolve to complete the mission even if it means consorting with a troll enemy. It’s clear that the threat of the Following Dark clan is now too great to be ignored.
As night falls the group tries to get some rest. But as they bed down they are awoken by yipping sounds from the dark. Orvald asks Kragar what the sounds is and the troll replies that it is an Uz warband out hunting them. He recommends they run.
It is dark and the group tries to rush through the woods. With his spirit eye Fastulv can see well enough to set a good pace, but Orvald cannot see well and stumbles in the dark or careens off trees. Neela makes a magic light, a low glow that helps illuminate the way, but she is aware of the unwelcome attention the light will bring.
What’s more the two trollkin slaves are slowing the group down. The yips appear to be getting nearer and Fastulv can make out the eerie spirit light of distant figures in the trees. Kragar agrees that his slaves are a hindrance and simply slaughters them on the spot with a sweep of his club. Shouldering his pack the troll continues forward, away from the pursuit. Astonished, the others follow.
Now the group are crashing through the night. Neela’s light is just adequate enough for her and Orvald to keep their footing. But now the pack of pursuers is gathering behind and on either side. Fasulv can see a dozen or so—too many to fight. Orvald draws on the power of the Movement run and they lose some of the pursuit. The group tries to use their magic to deflect or draw away some of the chasers and each time one or two go, but still four or five figures keep pace with them.
Neela, Fastulv, Orvald and Kragar break from the forest. They are in more open country now, unhindered by trees and undergrowth, but they are starting to tire and it’s clear that they can no longer lose all the pursuers. The group stops and ready themselves for battle. Amazingly, Kragar seems to disappear, concealing himself in the darknesss. Then Neela turns to face the oncoming enemies of the Following Dark and yells: “Charge!”