The Chronicles of 'Team B' - Chapter 10 - The Demiurge of the Raid
Before the companions take leave of Zinovii, he introduces them to one of his servitors - a rooster-headed man called Anatoly Frolyn. Anatoly was a captive who grew up with the Kochmaki on the steppe after having himself been taken captive on a raid from a Norik village. Along with his sister, he grew up among the nomads, learning their customs and language. On a trip to the Khan's court with Grand Prince Vasilii, Zinovii met him, and purchased his freedom. Now, he sends Anatoly along with the other companions to serve as a translator and protector. Anatoly - a person of martial disposition, tells them that he would like to serve his benefactor and learn what befell those whose fate is similar to his own. The best use of his talents at present, Yuri and Lokan decide, would be to visit the Kochmak encampment just outside of town, and to ask them about the Vladykino captives. Yaakov has personal and family matters to attend to in the main city, so he excuses himself, and says he will meet the group at the cemetery, where they are to hold their vigil again tonight. Agapia also runs off, apparently in search of a new cauldron. Anatoly, not wanting to attract unwanted attention, prepares himself by changing into the form of a tall, muscular human. The party then rides outside of the Nart Quarter, and heads through the rain toward the field dotted with multicolored yurts. Upon coming to the perimeter, they are immediately surrounded by four Kochmak riders, who, ignoring Anatoly's entreaties, order the group to dismount and disarm, and conduct them to one of the tents. The riders look very similar to those that confronted Yuri when he was following the raiders several weeks ago. Inside the tent, they find Nygmet, a white-bearded clan elder of some sort. Unlike the camp guards, Nygmet treats the visitors cordially, inviting each to sit down on the cushions, and enjoy a bowl of broth (which Anatoly, who eschews meat, politely sets aside at an opportune moment). When Anatoly explains that they would like to speak to the bey about the whereabouts of the captives taken from Vladykino, Nygmet replies that the bey would in turn like information about who the guests are, who they work for, and what their interest in the matter is. After negotiation, it is decided that the spirits will determine the matter by having the two sides cast knucklebones, and the winner of the throw will be required to divulge their secrets first. The knucklebones are cast, but the spirits remain silent on the matter - the throw is judged to be a draw. To resolve the draw, Nygmet offers a tie-breaker contest - a test of skill in archery. Anatoly makes his own counteroffer - he knows that the highest honor among the Kochmaki is held by those who demonstrate feats of physical prowess, so he suggests a wrestling contest. Nygmet agrees, and brings Aibek - one of the clan's best wrestlers, as well as Zhuldyz - the daughter of Sholpan Bey. Zhuldyz is conversant in the Noriki tongue, which will ease communication with the whole group, and relieve Anatoly of having to translate. Anatoly offers the group his services as their champion against the strongman. His forelock stands upon end as he feels the power of the Earth flow through his body. He locks arms with Aibek, catches the Kochmak in a reverse hold, and quicker than one can blink, throws the strongman over his back. Clearly impressed with his strength, Zhuldyz asks if he would like to join the clan as a wrestling champion. When he replies that he is currently engaged, but will consider the offer, the bey's daughter fulfills the promise of the wager. She tells them what they have already heard from Berke: that the bulk of the prisoners are warehoused on Slave Island in a caravanserai owned by a man named Hassan, but the young women in the group were transported across the river. She does add that they are now in the possession of a powerful lord named Yaqub, who owns land across the river, and who paid for the raid in the first place. The raiders keep the proceeds for the sale of the other captives, but the young women were sent to Yaqub immediately upon the expedition's return. Zhuldyz then asks the companions to tell them about herself, as a courtesy, and Yuri reveals his story, as well as the group's relationship with Zinovii. Zhudyz ends the meeting by wishing the companions luck in buying back the captives, and invites Anatoly to return at any time, asking whether his prowess at wrestling is matched in other areas. The party leaves the raider camp, and returns to the city. Now that they have some answers, which seem to absolve the Grand Prince of any responsibility, they hope to receive Zinovii's promised princely protection. But the ailing boyar, though he praises the group for the results so far, objects that the people of the Ladeisk prince who would blame his master would require more concrete legal proof of the raiders' collusion with this Yaqub, preferably in writing. Anatoly promises that he will return to the encampment to obtain the proof, especially as he seems to have a standing invitation from the bey's daughter. But now, as the day heads toward evening, it is time to return to the cemetery, and this time, Anatoly would like to accompany the rest of the group, in all his rooster glory. At the cemetery, the watchman is closing up as Yuri, Lokan, and Anatoly arrive. He hasn't seen any disturbing activity since the previous night, but remains nervous - the grave robbers might come back! The companions ask for a few candles - they'd like to have a closer look around for tracks and disturbed graves. Searching around, Lokan finds disturbed dirt on top of a stone slab, which Yuri shoves aside, finding another staircase down into the darkness. Around this time, Yaakov shows up. He informs the rest of the group that his contacts in the main city have revealed to him that the grave robbers are Banu Tabar that operate out of an apothecary shop, where they sell the stolen water as a cure-all remedy. Perhaps one of the tunnels leads to this shop. Lokan heads down into yesterday's tunnel with Anatoly, and after entering the long hallway, finds the passage blocked with a newly constructed brick wall. A careful look around reveals that some of the mortar hasn't set, or is perhaps of lower quality. Lokan easily removes the bricks adhering to the bad mortar, revealing a hole that a person can crawl through. Looks like the grave robbers have left themselves a back door, and likely intend to return. Meanwhile, Yuri finds an identical wall, with an identical "back door" in the new tunnel. Both tunnels continue for quite a ways, and then begin to branch off into side passages. Perhaps tonight is not the time to find out where they lead, and to confront whoever waits on the other side - these are tasks best left for another day. The group returns to the cemetery, and completes their nightly vigil. Nothing transpires, and at sunrise, they all go back to their resting places - Yaakov to his home in the main city, Anatoly to the Nikonov mansion, and Yuri and Lokan - to Hegumen Mitrofan's monastery, to sleep, and reconvene at Nikonov's in the early evening. The following day, Anatoly rises to meet his new companions at the monastery. Alden and Agapia are still nowhere to be seen, Yakov is likely preoccupied with his affairs, and Anatoly returns, in human form, to the nomad encampment to speak to Zhuldyz, to see if he can wrangle a confirmation of what she told him the previous day in writing, and perhaps to have a bit of fun. The bey's daughter seems preoccupied and dismissive in comparison to the previous day, says that she does not write, and invites Anatoly to return another time. In the meantime, Yuri and Lokan decide to head into the main city to see if anything more can be learned about Yaqub. The most promising place to go seems to be the docks from where captives were ferried to Slave Island, because here they might find the ferryman who took the young women across the river, and on to Yaqub. Yuri leaves his weapons behind - he doesn't want want trouble with the guardians at the West Gate. Lokan, however, tries to sneak a dagger and his whip into the city. The guards don't like how he looks, so they demand that he hand his purse over. Lokan toys with the idea of pulling a little sleight of hand, but a dirty look from Yuri dissuade him. The guards are thorough, find the weapons, and confiscate them, giving the vagabond a token so he can redeem them later. After arriving at the docks and asking around, they find the dockmaster, Kardysh, who directs them to a man named Mamoun - the transporter of the slaves. The arrival of the captives was obviously big news, and hard to cover up. When they ask him where the young women were taken, who Yaqub is, and where he lives, Mamoun takes them aside and demands three gold dinars as payment - a hefty sum. There is nothing to it, so Yuri pays up, and in return, Mamoun tells them that Yaqub is in fact a firebreathing zilant - a winged, two-legged serpent, who lives under a hill a couple of hours upstream on the other side. It seems he has lived there for a while, and is sometimes seen to take flight at night. His hunting grounds are elsewhere - perhaps on the steppe, as he has been seen carrying horses back to his lair. But this is not the first time he has received contingents of young women taken on raids. What he does with them is unclear, but Mamoun took the women there shortly after they arrived, turned them over to people who are presumably Yaqub's agents, and they took it from there, while he returned. There is no indication that the man is lying, but he refuses to set any of this down in writing. Yuri's heart sinks - can it be that his beloved Svetlana has already been devoured by a monstrous serpent? Whatever the case, the monster must die, but he and his companion must return to the Nart Quarter to at least wait out the downpour, which threatens to wash out the rest of the day, and collect their weapons and the rest of their companions. At Nikonov's, they meet Anatoly, back from his foray to the encampment with little to show for it, though the rooster-man is eager to join in the expedition to hunt down a serpent - it is just the thing to prove his heroic mettle. Yaakov is there as well - he has returned to give Zinovii another blood-letting. He had spent the day watching his nephews and nieces after his nightly escapades, and is now trying to give a skeptical Zinovii a diagnosis of his malady. It seems that the boyar is a little too indulgent a drinker - an explanation the latter dismisses as outlandish before agreeing to cut back his mealtime consumption from five drinks to three. As the four stand outside the mansion discussing the diagnosis and their next steps, Agapia appears, happily skipping by. Yesterday, she tried to replace her missing cauldron by lifting one from a local bazaar, and was promptly caught and escorted back to her uncle for punishment - her relationship and special status do give her some leeway. Mitrofan promptly punished her by locking her in her room for a day, but now she has been set free, and is skipping along merrily - she just found a clay jar in an alley, and used magic to clean it from sediment, so she is elated.
A clay jar
- Learned that Yaqub paid for the raid and had female slaves brought to him
- Learned that grave robbers may be Banu Tabar who operate out of an apothecary shop
- Learned that grave robbers built a wall with a "back door" in the tunnel
- Learned that Yaqub may be a zilant