Lokan, a vagabond from the south, has come to Malinka at nightfall. He had heard from some rough men living in the woods that Kochmak raiders have recently destroyed the village of Vladykino, though they left the village mill, its lifeblood, untouched. As they tell it, the archbishop's people from his summer estate at Malinka came afterward, and took the miller with them, for unknown reasons, but likely having to do with dark deeds.
Lokan stopped at the mill on his way to investigate the burnt out village, but found nothing save a suspicious bag of bones, a dead vasilisk, and some starving animals at the barn. He decided to continue on to Malinka, to see what he could learn about the miller's fate. But he arrived to after nightfall, and found the gate to the estate closed, so after finding a crabapple tree a short ways outside, he decides to spend the night in the tree.
* * *
In Malinka Yuri
looks to gather a party together to go off in pursuit of the Kochmaki, in order to recover his family and his paramour. He hears from Father Oleg that a curious traveler has arrived from the north - a huge man, standing over four arshins tall. As Fedor and Alden are busy running an errand for the brewer, and Kesha has private matters to discuss with the priests, Yuri decides to seek out the foreigner, as he seems like he would be a useful companion. Oleg recommends that he get his party together as fast as possible, seeming to suggest that their further presence in Malinka is troubling to the archbishop.
The billing lives up to the hype. The foreigner, Bjorg
, is indeed a huge man, who has come from the Land of Birma to seek out news of his kind living on the eastern edge of the Land of Nor'. He wears peculiar headgear, and carries a huge cudgel with a stone driven through it, but on the plus side, he is eager for adventure, and wishes to prove himself against the troublesome raiders. He and Yuri agree to leave early the following morning, and at his request, Father Oleg provides him with two days of food for seven people.
* * *
speaks to Father Oleg about the deed to the land that he has carried with him all these long years, since he left the Svora Mountains, and returned to the world of humans. Oleg confirms that the land mentioned in the document is the land upon which the mill in Vladykino now stands. He also confirms that Kesha's mother was the owner of the land, but that she was deeply indebted to the archbishop, for which reason Kesha was enslaved when he came to the village. The mill was built on the land at the archbishop's behest, but it is not covered by the deed. Kesha would technically be within his rights to attempt to recover the land, but his mother's debt is still outstanding. Moreover, Oleg adds, trying to recover it is not worth his trouble for other reasons. Now that the archbishop has granted him his freedom, Kesha should take advantage of it, and travel to all four corners of the world, and the sooner, the better.
Taking that under advisement, Kesha goes to speak to Zbigniev. The miller's bonds have been removed, though he is still in the same room at the rectory. Zbigniev seems to bear a grudge against Kesha and his companions, and accuses them of attacking him without provocation, and stealing wealth which he came by fairly, and without killing anyone. He also threatens that his father will kill Kesha and his friends. Not wishing to make enemies, Kesha returns his portion of the coins he took from the mill, but Zbigniev demands that the money taken by the others should be returned to him also.
* * *
Yuri and Bjorg leave Malinka the following morning. Kesha, who has slept in, is to meet them outside the gates, while Fedor and Alden, who are still preoccupied, will meet up with them on the road as best they can.
Outside the gate, they find a hirsute man, with a somewhat grisly visage, sleeping in a tree. Lokan awakes to the sounds of heavy stomping and hoofbeats. He sees the gate open up ahead, and watches a rider, along with a huge man, approaching him. He asks the travelers who they are, and as Yuri introduces himself and Bjorg, Lokan decides to fling one of the crabapples he gathered the previous evening at the volot's head, just to see his reaction. The big man is amused, or perhaps not, so he picks up the vagabond, and throws him back into the tree. Lokan misjudges the distance, misses grabbing the branch with his hands, and goes into it head first, before falling, unconscious, onto the ground. Both Bjorg and Yuri stand astounded at the sight of this man, who they have just met, bleeding out from his head. Yuri begins to furiously call for Kesha or the priests, and fortunately, the small man with the eye bandage just happens to be walking out the gate. Kesha runs up to the body, and, his hand glowing with light, applies aid to the man's head. The wound closes, and Lokan regains consciousness. Bjorg is chagrined at not knowing his own strength, and the rest are relieved at not bearing witness to a murder just outside Malinka's gates. Grateful to his savior, and hoping to return to Vladykino with some protection, Lokan happily joins the group.
* * *
The group travels south along the beaten path, and encounters no obstacles during the day. At night, while Yuri and Kesha are on watch, they hear a high-pitched whine approaching them. They awaken their companions, and while Kesha summons an arcane light onto his walking stick, Yuri peers into the darkness, to see what is coming for them. Soon, a huge swarm of mosquitoes flies into view. Yuri attempts to lead them away from the group on his horse, but the rest of the group runs at the swarm as it begins to follow. Lokan is surprisingly successful at swatting masses of the pesky gnats with his whip, but Bjorg has Kesha light a branch, and throws it at the insects. He overshoots, and hits Yuri's horse Vera in the rump, sending sparks all down its hide. The horse panics, and flees the scene of the battle, while Yuri attempts to calm it. In the meantime, Kesha attempts to zap the bugs with magical discharges. Masses of bugs are dispatched, but they have become enraged, and attack all they can reach. Bjorg continues flinging projectiles at the cloud, and is still not having much luck. He hits Kesha with a rock instead. Finally, weakened by zapping and whipping, the big man brings a rock down on top of what's left of the swarm, and raises his arms in triumph.
The party is covered by mosquito bites, and bruises caused by their big friend. They decide to take extra hours of rest before setting out, even if it means arriving in Vladykino under the cover of darkness. In trying to flee the fight, Vera lost a horseshoe, which slows movement even further. Finally, several hours after sunset, they arrive in Vladykino. It is no longer burning or even glowing, but wood smoke and the stench of burned flesh still hangs in the air. Otherwise, the place appears to be undisturbed.
Yuri goes back to what is left of his home, and searches the compound for any horseshoes that might have survived, and as his family were horse-breeders, he does succeed in finding three dozen. He then settles down with Bjorg to eat what's left of the priests' food, while Lokan, closely followed by Kesha, returns to the mill. Here, he releases the hungry animals, all of whom, except the fowl, run out of the barn. He succeeds in enticing the two pigs with his crabapples, and they follow him back to Vladykino, hoping they will be fed, and not food.
- Group returns to Vladykino
- A swarm of mosquitoes is subdued
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