The party, having decided to leave town with Finn in order to make safer progress into the Doomholds than they might make by themselves, move away from Lullin and start up the mountain road. Not too treacherous at first, they climb easily onto the track – only to stop when they hear the patter of paws following them from the town behind. They turn to see Jasper, one of Runesa’s stray dog companions, come bounding towards them. She greets him excitedly and rubs his fur – though still consistently ignores the rest of the group. Eager to keep moving (as Finn tells them it’s a day’s walk to Marren’s Eve, the capital of the Gateway to the Doomholds – Shaor Scos), the group continues. He tells them stories of local folklore; some of which is greatly exaggerated, some of which is about the Low Gods of the area, and some of which relates to cautionary tales of a figure called the Greyhold Mother. He believes in none of these except the wildest and most ridiculous ((50ft wolves stalking the mountains waiting to eat him)).
Several things happen as they travel up the ever-steepening road. Amid fervent conversation about how to get into the city of Marren’s Eve, and what tact to take, Aster hear Runesa cry out from the back of the pack – kneeling and clutching at one of her hands. Jasper stares at her expectantly, tense (but not aggressive), as though he may have just bitten her by accident. Rushing over, Finn flakes out at seeing blood and starts having a small panic to himself, whilst Runesa tells them not to worry about her. She slumps on Karolina’s shoulder, quickly becoming warm to the touch and slipping into sleepiness. Karolina picks her up and puts her safely in the back of Finn’s cart, before they move on and leave a curious Jasper looking after them. When Natali checks on her, she hears Runesa mumbling a passage of something she cannot hear clearly apart from odd words, said over and over and over.
Passing by a group of miners headed to or from Lullin, the party stops when they come across a Dunlorian carriage – marked with the crest of the civil servantry of the kingdom (as Natali recognises). A rain troll with gold-rimmed glasses sits out of one door, inspecting the guards accompanying him as they try to unstick one of the carriage’s wheels from a rut in the ground. The nicely-dressed troll smiles jovially at them as they approach, so the group offer to help get the carriage moving again. Though his guards seem agitated, he welcomes any assistance with a smile, and Aster successfully lift his cart from the rocky entrapment. Laughing, and calling his guards incompetent, the man introduces himself as Tauvash
Toe-Rash of Dunlor, perhaps some kind of diplomat or envoy, and bids them adieu. Finn doesn’t like the idea of associating with what Aster usually consider ‘the enemy’, and appears to get a little jealous that they so readily would use Tauvash as a pawn for help should they need it, over himself.
As they move off from where they had stopped to help Tauvash, Patience stoops down to the ground (which is now steadily changing in form as they climb higher and higher) as she is overcome with a sense that she has been here before. Finn tells them that many thousands of years ago, the rock on which the kingdom of Shaor Scos is built (a black, flint-like substance) used to be warm to the touch, melting the snow that fell on it. Though it no longer radiates heat, it still has a distinctive look and is famously recognisable. When Patience touches her hand to a piece of this rock, still jutting from the mountain, she is surprised to feel that it is hot to her touch, just for a second. As her attention is elsewhere, she doesn’t notice the eagle-eyed ((hehe)) creature watching both her and the cart from above, and a short fight with a mountain Griffon ensues. Finn hides under his cart, Natali electrocutes it and Shilea twists its limbs off.
Finally, after many hours of climbing into snowfall, the group reach a long bridge over a dark, seemingly-bottomless chasm. There is just about enough room for one cart to pass by itself, and the group goes carefully across – thankfully, as the road is well-travelled, this bridge is well-maintained and sturdy. Some of the party take this chance to look around, taking in the grand and oppressive presence of the surrounding mountains, and some catch glimpses of what look like two small yellow eyes looking up at them from within the darkness below.
Safely reaching the tunnel carved into the mountain on the other side, Aster makes smalltalk whilst
Grace goes to the bathroom they wander through the underbelly of the mountainside, discussing where they had travelled in their lives and what they had seen. Finn seems to listen in only somewhat, but politely keeps out of the conversation that isn’t his. Eventually, they all emerge into an open plateau – the grand, black city of Marren’s Eve on the hilltop before them. Aster decides it is best not to lie to the guards (decided on information given by Finn at the time about Shaor Scos’ political state at the moment) on the gatehouse, and they press on into the stream of travellers and traders thronging on the road leading up to the capital. At the gate, before any of Aster are even questioned, Finn shows his papers to the gatekeepers, and passes over a small purse. Though questioned by Aster, he refuses to say how much he paid, embarrassed. Aster thank him for his kindness.
As they pass under the great reinforced archway at the mouth of Eve, Fireteam Aster arrive cloaked and hooded against the cold mist permeating this foreign city. Finn Lavlin tries to imply a goodbye to them, as they have stalwartly refused to tell him of their business here, but the group ask him for one more favour; a map. He tells them of some of the places he knows here (having visited many a year before) and says he will be staying in The Broken Drum inn; it can’t be beaten. As this is the best recommendation they’ve had all day, Aster decide to join him there. Natali has a quiet word with Finn, in which he once again just double checks they aren’t here to assassinate someone (/get him involved in spooky shit he isn’t willing to get into) and she reassures him.
Next, our heroines enter that nexus of iniquity, The Broken Drum. After striking a hard bargain with the landlady, the cunning Maartje, for a room, Karolina carries an unconscious Runesa upstairs and puts her comfortably in a bed for the night, checking her fever is no higher. The carrying of the limp woman draws many stares, but attention is quickly drawn to the stage as the main act of the night begins. Four men take to the stage – one in white cloak and adorned with a strange, stone-like shirt adornment, one with a string instrument bigger than himself, one taking to a piano and one with a beautifully intricate brass instrument, valves and pistons abound. There is a tension in the air as the crowd wait with bated breath, a vibrating energy about them as if a fight may break out or someone might scream. Then, the music begins to play; it is like nothing Aster has ever heard before. Patience’s mouth falls open. The lead singer appears to gesture and wink at several members of the audience, Natali included. People in the crowd swoon, clap, try and join the singing and look on in awe as the smooth, passionate notes roll over them. Some even start to dance.
When that song, and the one after, ends, the lead singer dismounts the stage, wiping his sweat from his forehead and touching audience members casually (as if a good friend). Many people talk to him as he makes his way to the bar – a place which Karolina also finds herself as she takes money from Natali in order to buy a round for the group. Shilea, having keen-eyed the man (seeing a scene in which he seemed to break down crying in front of a very dissimilar from him but pretty woman, who called him her brother and tried to console him), asks Finn for his thoughts. Finn isn’t unimpressed, but has seen a Guise of Nature concert before many times. He also isn’t one for that much flash, but doesn’t seem to think Nhean is a bad guy. Karolina chats pleasantly to him at the bar, with Mirza quickly pointing out her and her compatriots are all in Opanan armour (Finn quickly headdesks). He doesn’t seem to mind though, and wishes that they enjoy the rest of the concert and their evening.
Natali approaches a woman at the bar clad in a red robe, who has been sitting watching the stage and seemingly agitated/interested in the performance. She quickly strikes up a conversation, but isn’t able to get much from the coy and mysterious lady. She seems intrigued by her company though, answering a little to Natali’s questions (particularly pointed ones regarding why Nhean seems to avoid her in a crowd) but quickly choosing to sweep away into the night, the last thing remaining of her being the flash of her beautiful face Natali catches in the candlelight.
Patience also chooses to briefly talk to the player of the strange brass instrument – he introduces himself as Arjen, and thanks her for her compliments about his music. He doesn’t seem to have much time to talk about the instrument now, though he does tell her he isn’t sure where it’s from, but possibly Oryn-ja. Following this light introduction, the party proceeds to recover mood together by drinking and enjoying themselves into the night. Responsibly, or irresponsibly? Who knows (Next Session knows)?
In the night, Patience dreams of two voices (a man and a woman) trying to convince her to take action, with the male voice seductively calling her to an action she knows is wrong. Shilea dreams of an all-white man with a rusted crown hovering in mid-air, seemingly unable to breathe amongst the void, before he looks at her and is promptly smothered by to giant, all-encompassing hands. Natali dreams of her mother softly touching at her hair, before opening her eyes in the dream to see a familiar face petting her – who upon realises she is being watched, panics and makes to strangle Nat in her sleep. Natali awakes to find her cloak accidentally wrapped too close to her neck.