Hafwyn, Thorne, and Kukla go to the Watchers’ House to get Kukla and Thorne treatment for their wounds. Ollonni tells them of an uproar in the encampment of the Followers of Techiuan. It seems that several powerful Sidhe are involving themselves in the matter.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.Martin Luther King, Jr.
While the others are getting treated by the staff. Hafwyn draws Ollonni aside and demands an answer. He tells her that he was one of the first of the True Elf that followed Ellowyn. Just as he was one of the first volunteers to side with Mardac and accept the warrior spirit. It was difficult for the first as Mardac had no understanding of exactly what it would do to the elves, but he had to do something to stop the slaughter by the Orgundi. When Mardac left he stayed behind, his idea of penitence.
Ollonni would have said more, but the temperature dropped from chilly to near frozen. She sheet of ice forms on the stairs and climbs up the walls. Hafwyn steps towards the parlor where her friends are resting and looks up. A dazzling and powerful High Lady of the Sidhe comes down the stairs escorted by Warden. She demands that everyone leave as she has business with the proprietor of this inn, but Ollonni has already rabbited.
Tunnels of Misery
Thorne, Hafwyn, and Kukla promptly exit the inn. When they leave the inn it feels different and when they step out of the door it is in a dark cellar. The only exit is through the wall where somebody uses a pickax or other tool to break into this cellar. The door they came through is made of ice and melts away to the sounds of laughter. With no other choice they go into the hallway beyond.
The hallway beyond is fashioned in dressed stone, nearly twenty feet high, and five could walk abreast with no difficulty. Immediately outside is a desiccated body pinned to the wall with a wooden spear as thick as their forearm. It is covered in a thin layer of ice capturing the horrific moment when he was killed. He is dressed in the tattered remains of patchwork clothes.
Thorne calls up some faerie light and they continue down the hallway eventually reaching a large chamber. A big pile of furs are piled up in one corner, a stack of discarded and broken spears nearby. In the center of the room is a large firepit with the remains of a human body spit-roasted over the hot embers. Its right arm and both legs have already been torn off.
They hear soft whistling and before they can hide a women enters the room dragging a mauled body behind her. She is terrified to find someone in the room of her master and tries to shoo them away, but they wants answers to their questions. She explains the body was mauled by the Dark Keepers and if they do not leave soon they will meet the same fate. The creatures hunt in packs and seek the flesh of the living – they will not eat anything once it has died.
Thorne tells the woman that if she knows where they might be safe to lead on. She takes them to a well concealed door in an unremarkable hallway. After pushing a few stones she pushes a very small door in. Just as Kukla slips inside a large roar can be heard echoing through the tunnels. She shuts the door and lights a very small lantern. The only thing inside this cramped room is a large bell – no possible way it go in through the door. She rings the bell five times and tells them to wait. She must leave or her husband will come searching.
It is nearly an hour after the woman left that the sounds of chipping and sliding stones can be heard. A light is cast from the ceiling and Vitorii’s head pokes down. He knows Hafwyn, and sort of knows Thorne, so he takes her word that they are safe. He drops them a rope ladder and guides them past a hidden door into a storage room in at the Pestilence Pustule.
He tells them they were in the Tunnels of Misery beneath the Grand Temple. It is those tunnels where the condemned are thrown. He comes down to find if any bodies can be found intact. He avoids the Keepers, Darkspawn, and Master of the Tunnels. It is dangerous work, but usually yields more bodies that just waiting for someone to die.
Thorne discovers the purpose of this special brothel and decides that it could be an interesting experience. He takes the coin he lifted from the King’s Guard and pays for a few hours of entertainment. Given that Thorne is a “special guest” he explains to his how the spirit is decanted into the body, while his assistants prepare and dress the body he selected. He leave the Sidhe alone with everything he needs for a unique experience.
Showdown at the Encampment
Hafwyn and Kukla go downshelf and see a crowd gathering around the palisade walls. Nearly a hundred fae, and countless wee folk, have gathered inside the encampment around the stick Keribrar put into a pot. Standing on the other side are the Followers of Techiuan. Both sides refuse to give any ground, but despite the warlike nature of the fae they have not attacked. It could be that standing on blessed ground is causing them difficulties – it is definitely affecting Kukla.
As the tension builds a redcap shots an arrow at Hafwyn. The two of them trade insults with Hafwyn gracefully accepting her verbal defeat. That is better than escalating this to a physical confrontation where hundreds will die.
Everyone’s attention is drawn to the sudden confrontation between Father Karl, Benevenuta, the High Lady of Ice, and Warden. Father Karl escorts his two guests to a test. While the four of them negotiate four of his followers carry in a chair holding Lady Anne Mowbry. She is barely able to move, but she relishes the chance to cross verbal swords with a member of fae high nobility.
The fae claim the land upon which the pot sits is fae land and by rights theirs to hold. Father Karl says the land is blessed by Techiuan and belongs to him – and he has said nothing about fae.
At the gathering by the palisade a knot of men push people aside to make way for their leader. Gabor begins to whip the gathering into a frenzy while he men distribute iron tools, bags of shavings, and a few knives. The fae fear the touch of iron and he has come prepared for battle. Hafwyn tries to talk them down until Kukla steps up and hits Gabor hard enough to collapse the man. The riot starts after seeing Gabor injured by this “fae creature”
Hafwyn tells Kukla to run and then disappears before the crowd. Kukla is drug under by the surging mob until he changes his shape to a human and joins them long enough to slip away. The humans, armed with iron, drive through the fae inflicting terrible casualties. The fae are just as vicious, but severely hampered by the blessed land. Their illusions turn to smoke and the powers of the Shadow Realm fade to mist when they work their magic.
Several humans charge the tent where they are negotiating, but each of them freeze solid before coming within a dozen feet. The ice shatters leaving the humans in hundreds of pieces on the ground. Terrifying enough, they are still alive in some sense as they call for help from those nearby.
The fight does not end, but slows as the white-hot anger of the crowd dissipates. The mob congratulates itself for driving out the unwanted outsiders. They gather in small knots to enjoy cups of the ale Gabor had his men bring down. A true toast to the end of faerie kind is offered and seconded. By voice vote they carry the day.
Licking their wounds
Thorne tires of the experience and thanks Vittori before leaving. Vittori tells him the spirits are very restless as the night draws near. It would be best to stay behind a door tonight as the spirit control the land when the sun no longer touches the stone. Rather than walk all the way down the shelf he goes to the Watcher’ House. Inside are nearly a score of wounded fae. They tell him about the battle with the humans and how they will mete out their own revenge.
Ollonni has still no returned although the High Lady is gone. He wills the house to a door he knows close to the Camp of Techiuan. He gets there in the trailing moments of celebration. It is nearing night and everyone wants to return home before the sun no longer touches rock. With the battle the fae will be on the hunt tonight. Nobody wants to get caught outside on this night.
When he wanders up to a group his wavers and collapses. He manages to quick-talk his way out of the predicament by bringing up his friendship with Seirian. Although a Sidhe, she is well-known to the downtrodden – and better well-liked. Most of the crowds believe a fae attacked first, in fact, many of them believe that lie. As he passes through Crofterton someone gets a strange feeling from Thorne and he is discovered as a fae. It could have turned ugly, but Elora comes to his side and supports him. Elora is an elf, but she is well-known to many in the crowd. She steers Thorne away from the spot where Gabor and his men are drinking and towards where she thinks Father Karl can be found.
Kukla, still under the guise of a human, sees all manner of human spirits wandering the camp. In large and confusing battles the spirits often linger for several nights until they are led to the Afterlife. He finds a particularly mournful spirit angry at the guildsmen who pushed them forward. The guildsmen who live well while the others simply scrape by – for a small bit of coin he came here so his family could eat – now the guildsmen drink and celebrate their victory, while his family will suffer now that he is dead.
Kukla helps the spirit. He guides it towards his family and delivers the news of his death to his wife. Before the spirit can pass on Kukla extends his power and gives the spirit some last remaining time in the physical world. It is not long, but enough time for a husband to express his regrets and say good-bye to his wife.
When Hafwyn left the fight she ran to the Shady Tree to find Alavara. The elves need to get involved before the fae turn the streets red with human blood. Once night falls the unseelie will hunt in earnest. The mood in the tavern is somber after the death, but she is given directions to where Alavara is staying. She bangs on the Handmaiden’s door until she gets an answer. After a short description of what has happened Alavara shouts for her armsmen to ready themselves and they leave with Hafwyn.
As they near the bottom of the shelf they are joined by Thorne and Elora. With the silver tongue of the fae Thorne convinces those they pass to return indoors. The battle this evening will make the night more dangerous than any other night. The lingering crowds before him melt away to see to their own safety.
When they come to the tent where Lady Anne is overseeing negotiations between Father Karl and High Lady Asteria they are stopped by several Followers of Techiuan. The negotiations are over and the guards clear a path as they carry Lady Anne back to her room. Anne has fallen asleep in her chair and is now tied down to ensure she does not fall out.
It is announced the Followers of Techiuan will stop blessing the land around the pot and the fae will not take the pot or anything it contains. Nobody may move the pot or what it contains until a further agreement can be reached with Keribrar who brought this stick to the camp. Father Karl will be responsible to finding Keribrar and hosting the next negotiation.
Hafwyn and Thorne take Alavara to see the fragment of the Great Tree and Keribrar pulled from the root beneath the city. Alavara immediately claims the cutting from the tree as belonging to the elves; although anybody nearby cares little for what she claims. She tells her guards to take the pot, and the stick planted in it, to the Shady Tree. She will send for the Arborists of Ethiald to examine it.
When the guards their their first step hundreds of snowflakes are suddenly around them as everything except Alavara, Hafwyn, and Thorne are turned ice. They cannot see anything except the potted stick, each other, and those arriving. The High Lady of Ice escorted by Warden and Father Karl escorted by Benevenuta. Father Karl says that a deal has been reached to the benefit of all. Tensions rise as Alavara’s anger rises. She demands the stick be returned to the elves as it was stolen from their community.
Thorne, being far removed from the emotional context, interjects himself into the argument. He points out the origins of the stick and exactly what Keribrar did to create it (with a bit of storytelling flair). The elves should have a say in what happens, this is not just a matter between the fae and humans. Father Karl points out that the Followers of Techiuan are not just humans anymore. With Keribrar’s help he has opened the temple and their camp to both goblins and elves; although he does not presume to speak for the elven community. Keribrar did bring the pot here to the holy ground of Techiuan.
Thorne turns instead to the obligation the elves have to the Great Tree as their vassal. It is a difficult point as Keribrar explains it the Great Tree is just a small bit of the spirit of each Great Elf that has ever lived. Still the fae take obligation very seriously, so it is a point well made. The High Lady gives a minute nod of her head to Thorne for the verbal touch and changes her stance.
The elves may guard the tree during the day when the sun still shines on it. They cannot move it from the spot, but they are free to visit and commune with its spirit. Once the last rays of the sun leave the stick belongs to her until the sun once more touches it. An area around the pot enough for ten men to stand in will no longer be the blessed ground of Techiuan, but instead governed by the agreement reached here. Under no circumstances may the pot be moved for the stick removed from the pot.
The deal is agreed to by all sides so time begins to flow once more. Alavara agrees to meet the following evening at the Watchers’ House to issue a formal dispute of The High Lady’s claim to the cutting of the Great Tree. The High Lady agrees to keep her guards as her prisoners until then. Alavara leaves as she needs to commune with Ettrian.
High Lady Asteria give a telling bow to Warden who mounts up on a brown-red horse with black boots. He dips his spear in honorable salute to the High Lady and rides off.
Hafwyn and Thorne go to the Watchers’ House to recover and find that it has been completely taken over by the High Lady. Cold stone floors and walls replace the wood, while harsh light shines from frozen lanterns and chandeliers. The rooms are the same, but maybe a bit more opulent instead of homey, as the High Lady has personally undertaken Ollonni’s obligations until such time as he returns.
The faeries in the parlor have brought a small human family and have the dad suspended from the ceiling letting the wee folk beat him with sticks and frozen pokers. Thorne tries to interject, but his heart is not really in the effort – but that does not matter as Hafwyn’s warrior spirit takes full control. She bats aside the wee folk and stands toe to toe with the leader of the group. What begins as a sharp verbal exchange quickly rises to threats and insults that draws the attention of the crowd.
It goes so far as to draw the attention of Lady Asteria who is impressed a mortal has the courage to stand so tall in this place. Everyone except Hafwyn and the Sidhe looks as the door to the Watchers’ House explodes into fragments as Queen Mirasandoral steps into the parlor, flowers springing from the stone as she walks. The argument between Hafwyn and the Sidhe becomes a proxy between the High Lady and the Queen. When the Sidhe is forced to back down the High Lady’s face shows a momentarily flicker of anger before becoming a mask once again.
The Queen smiles at the High Lady, nods slightly to Hafwyn, and then leaves – repairing the door behind her. The High Lady destroys the door and erects one of white stone flecked with black.
When they are gone Hafwyn takes the human family back home. She wants to get behind a door tonight before the unseelie begin their hunt.
Lady Anne’s words
Lady Anne visits Kukla that night as he has many questions. She brought him to that shrine because that is the spot where Aegrin died. This land is where he committed is largest and more dangerous sin against the natural order. She does not deny that he was a great hero and saved many lives, both human and elf. However, he did so in a way that cost many more lives in the future. It is not the fight that is honorable or makes the hero, but how you deal with the setbacks along the way.
A single loss is just that – a loss. Win the wrong way and you set in motion more tragic losses in the future. Aegrin could not accept a loss, not even a small one – victory was his driving goal in all things. So he failed to understand the cost of what he did to win.
She will not be able to visit him too much in the future. As her body heals it becomes more difficult for her spirit to wander the world at night. She cannot go far from her body for fear of being pulled into the River of Souls.
Thorne spends a few moments talking to Seirian. Her memory is still scrambled and she feels drawn in two places at the same time. She can hear conversations that people around her are not saying, she hears music that is not being played. It is very bewildering. She thanks Thorne for rescuing her from her captors, but did not know how she got captured. She cannot remember much after they returned from the Fae Lands.
Thorne returns to his room and uses the boots to call Ithunzi, the shade bound to them. He makes a deal with the shade. In return to crossbow bolts (at least three score), linen, quills, and ink – he will procure a freshly dead body for him. The Shade returns within hours with the material requested and expects the body by the following evening.
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