Thursday, April 27, 2017

Chapter 9 – Dough and Bone

Wherein our heroes find themselves in several sticky situations...

Lionia urges the group on – there is not telling when Plamen might follow them, and this is work best done without him. The five cross over the frozen Vydra on foot, and proceed to Crows’ Meadow, skirting around Lazarevo. Plamen knows a long tunnel that leads into the warren from one of the taverns in the village, but no one else has seen it, and there is no telling how confusing the passage might be, and what might be waiting for them there. Better to face the dough guardian – (now affectionately called “cookie monster”) by going down the way they know.
Aren't crows supposed to go to Crows' Meadow?

However, as soon as the group leaves, it is followed by a flock of crows from the woods beyond Yelizarov’s keep. Chonkorchuk is especially worried that they will spy on them, and reveal what they saw to their own nechist’ master. Dmitri suggests misleading them by going into the woods for a while, while Chonkorchuk suggests going back to his hermitage, and returning later. But Lionia is impatient: he says if they wait any longer, more people will learn of the warren’s secret (he nods at Druvvaldis as he says this). In any event, the master of the forest is asleep until spring, and he can be dealt with later. A vote is taken, and the majority sides with the Old Fox – it’s now or never.
The chute into the warren has been partly sealed up, and then frozen, so Dmitri takes to the shovel, and is aided by Druvvaldis, who grows a torch flame, and softens up the dirt. It’s time to give it a try. Rodion conjures up an invisible servitor to carry the torch into Plamen’s chamber, so as to get the cookie monster to follow the flame, and give more people a way to join the attack against him. The plan seems to work, though not without some sweat, as brawny Dmitri gets stuck in the chute on the way down, and has to be wiggled free by Rodion’s arcane hand. When he makes it down, he sees the shape in the chamber, stomping out the torch, so he rushes in to attack with his spear. Lionia soon joins him, though Chonkorchuk, who is next, also gets stuck.
While the hermit struggles to make it down the chute, Dmitri and Lionia are having a tough go of it. The guardian is easy enough to hit, but weapons get stuck inside him, and the monster pummels both repeatedly with his doughy fists, which also make them stick to it. Worse, the dough reforms itself around the rends and divots made by saber and spear. When Chonkorchuk, and following him Druvvaldis and Rodion, finally make it down, and begin blasting the monster, it continues to demonstrate resilience. If anything, the cold makes it tougher. It crushes Druvvaldis’ crow, though he quickly summons a weasel to replace it. Finally, Dmitri manages to pull away enough to change – into a wolf-headed humanoid – and then bites the creature through a hole just made by his spear. The cookie monster’s head comes off, and it tumbles onto the ground.
Having won their way back into the warren, it is time to rest: a lot of arcane energy went into the fight, and Lionia and Dmitri are pretty well pummeled. The five decide to camp out right there in Plamen’s chamber: though the owner might appear at any time, there is hay and straw there, to make for a comfortable rest. The sheep that was there earlier seems to be gone.
Now where the hell is my rusty Kochmak helmet?
After an extended and undisturbed rest, the group is ready to go on. They heard  occasional creaks coming from the tunnels, and Druvvaldis sensed the presence of nechist’ in the area, but nothing appeared. It is best to follow the way they know, especially since it leads to where they need to go – Plamenka’s chamber, and her special trinkets. Progressing around the maze, the group suddenly encounters four skeleton warriors, dressed in scraps of rusty Kochmak armor, around the corner from the Mother’s chamber. Plamen’s lost sheep is behind them, bleating loudly. Perhaps it was set up as an alarm system, because the noise awakens Plamenka, who comes up, livid as ever, behind the skeletons. The skeletons’ rusty weapons prove relatively ineffective, and most of the warriors are dispatched quickly, though Plamenka succeeds in frightening Lionia and Druvvaldis, who flee back toward the entrance. The rest summon up reserves of courage: after Dmitri dispatches the final skeleton, Plamenka sends him to sleep (along with the sheep), but Rodion succeeds in putting Plamenka herself into a deep slumber. Awakening Dmitri, they tie her up in their net, gag her, and put the iron manacles found earlier near Chonkorchuk’s hermitage on her hands.
The battle appears to have been won without murdering Plamen’s mother. However, Lionia, changed to foxman form, soon returns, and while no one is looking, slips a dagger into his hand, and slices at the captive’s throat. While the companions are at first aghast, he shouts that they will never have peace while she is alive. In any event, she has many deaths on her head, as the skeletons warriors attest, and should be dealt with quickly. It is not Lionia’s day, however. He succeeds only in waking the prisoner, and in the blink of an eye, she transforms into a cat, breaks out of her bonds, and vanishes. Rodion manages to locate her and put her to sleep again. In the ensuing chaos, Lionia continues going about his dirty business, Dmitri attempts to shield the falling Plamenka, and Druvvaldis, who has now also returned, aims a frosty blast at her, but hits Dmitri in the back instead. Rodion finally lays her down again with a blast of magical force, but the resilient poludnitsa gets up again. Finally, Lionia hacks her to pieces with his saber. The band drags the mutilated body, oozing black blood, into her chamber, and collapses from

Monday, April 17, 2017

Atypical books as campaign source material

There is nothing particularly innovative about using books as source material for setting RPG campaigns. Some, like the Lord of the Rings, A Song of Fire and Ice, the Call of Cthulhu, and the Amber Chronicles have already been used to build settings (and indeed, mechanics) for use in those specific worlds.

But what if we try to push the boundaries of what's acceptable material outward a little? There are many varieties of literature that do not typically fall into standard gamer purview, or fit into standard categories like "fantasy", "science fiction", or "pulp", but that could, properly handled, definitely serve as backdrops for highly unique and attractive game settings. Some of these might fall under the rubric of "serious literature", and are shunned by a lot of gamers because they are perceived as being "difficult", or "boring". Some may derive from linguistic cultures with which most gamers are not familiar. Some might be children's literature that have not yet been mined for RPGs.

In what follows, I select a number of such books, and highlight their gameable aspects. The list is highly idiosyncratic: it reflects books from my childhood that I have mused over through the years, or those I encountered later that immediately struck me as RPG quarry. There are certainly blank spots, which represent major oversights in my own fiction-reading history. On the other hand, the list deliberately avoids "genre books" classics that already have a strong RPG echo (e.g. Spencer's Faerie Queen, Dante's Inferno, or Stoker's Dracula) or cult classics (e.g. Burrough's Naked Lunch, the Illuminatus! trilogy, or Pavić´s Dictionary of the Khazars) that already have high purchase in the gamer community. The point is to get people to become acquainted with interesting books they may not be familiar with, to share their own lists of titles, and to stimulate a discussion that will expand our collective gamer horizons.

  1. New Atlantis (Francis Bacon).     In general, early utopian literature is a great gaming genre. Here, I choose to focus on New Atlantis rather than on More's Utopia or Campanella's City of the Sun largely on account of its peculiar institution - Salomon's House, but an amalgam of the three is certainly possible. The settings for all these novels are large islands in the middle of an ocean, which are discovered by adventurers during an age of exploration. The society on the island is highly orderly, though it may be egalitarian (as for More), or divided into distinct castes (as for Campanella). Typically, the utopian society does not use money internally, though it is rich, and uses its stock of wealth to purchase what it needs from the outside world. The society is usually both open and closed - it accepts what it regards as rational ideas (for Bacon, that included astronomy, Platonic philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity), but it does not permit regular immigration, and free trade. Unlike for More and Campanella, who have highly visible monarchies, Bacon keeps governing institutions very much in the background, and focuses on Salomon's House  - a prototype of a baroque scientific academy, but also easily recognizable as a Mage's Guild and an employer of adventurers. Salomon's House can direct visitors to procure spell components, seek out ancient tomes and worthy collaborators, and even influence foreign politics by placing desirable candidates on thrones (if they are judged as having potential for advancing knowledge). At the same time, adventurers who reside in New Atlantis over long periods may find that as foreigners, they are deliberately excluded from the halls of power, prevented from integrating into the society, and used to destabilize the outside world to promote the New Atlanteans' "security". 
  2. Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann).     A sanatorium high up in the Swiss Alps attracts all sorts of ailing and neurotic patients. Although the book offers subtle commentary on fin de siècle Europe and various modernist projects, it can easily be read as early magical realism. The mountain is separated from the mundane world in the manner of a D&D demiplane, or a World of Darkness horizon realm, and escape from the sanatorium is either impossible or inadvisable (steep cliffs, or possible yetis/icepeople, as the GM sees fit). The denizens of the sanatorium - great models for quirky NPCs - may also be powerful mages, who are seeking to entrap other visitors in their lunatic fantasies (further horizon realms that could be directly accessed from their quarters). The inmates may even be deity-level entities, who appear as patients, but who are simply using the premises to test their mad schemes upon the world. The set-up is somewhat similar to Paranoia, or a Cthulhu Now adventure, set early in the digital age at an asylum where Cthulhu has infected a computer. Here, the role of the mad computer or Cthulhu can be played by a divine-rank psychiatrist, or perhaps even by the gnomes of Zurich, who live deep under the mountain, preparing to unleash a golem-like Davos Man upon the world in another half century.
  3. Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov).     The Devil, who holds an annual ball in a chosen city, has selected early Soviet Moscow, and has descended upon it with a retinue made up of Princes of Hell, in various guises. Some appear as gangsters, some - as middling bureaucrats, and at least one (named Behemoth) - as a human-sized, bipedal black cat. Along the way, they engage in theological debates with Marxist functionaries, hold seances of mass hypnosis, grant pacts to initiates (including the main heroine), and turn a theatre manager into a vampire for refusing to take his own phone calls. This is almost an ideal setting for an urban fantasy using Mage: the Ascension rules, as it involves hefty doses of paradox-generating spell use that completely undermines (or backhandedly promotes) a newly established regime of the Sons of Ether who have gone over to the Technocracy. Additional fun may be had courtesy of one of the resident NPCs (the novel's hero), who is building a conduit to ancient Judea in order to explore the relationship between Procurator Pontius Pilate and a certain Yeshua of Nazareth. For additional hijinks, throw in some of Bulgakov's other plot lines into this setting (a mad scientist who creates a dog-human hybrid; another mad scientist who makes a mistake, and imports the Eggs of Doom into his lab).
  4. War With The Newts (Karel Čapek).     Čapek is best known for inventing the neologism "robot", and with it, the trope of robot revolt against human masters. War With The Newts is a more mature, and in my estimation, better written work (Čapek's gifts as a lyrical writer comes through much better in novel than in dramaturgical form), but it explores many of the same themes. In the book, some pearl divers in the East Indies discover a colony of intelligent, amphibious newts. Local people are aware of them, and advise European sea captains to steer clear of the "sea devils", but sure enough, soon the newts are caught up in the wheels of industrial civilization - first, as zoo curiosities, then as laborers, and ultimately, as fodder for raw materials (the macaroni-class newts, bred on a mass scale simply to produce tissue for manufacturing and pharmaceutical concerns). The newts are overbred to such an extent that the World Ocean soon becomes too narrow for them, and a movement led by a Grand Salamander springs up virtually overnight to make demands to expand the ocean at the expanse of the earth's landmass (where the human masters reside). This is a great 1930s style pulp setting, though given the obviously environmentalist themes Čapek conjures up, it can easily be transposed to an apocalyptic scenario set in our own time.
  5. Old Khottabych (Lazar' Lagin).     This is a children's book that was originally published during the height of the Great Purges, but still gave several generation of Soviet (and post-Soviet) kids one of its most beloved heroes - Old Khottabych. A powerful djinn named Hassan Abdurrahman ibn Khattab (Russified as Khottabych) is punished by the King of the Djinns Suleiman ibn Daoud (the Biblical King Solomon) and imprisoned in a sealed bottle, which is then thrown into the sea. 3000 years later, it is discovered by 15-year old Young Pioneer Vol'ka Kostyl'kov, who scrapes off Solomon's Seal, and releases the djinn from his imprisonment. Khottabych has no greater wish than to shower his young benefactor with wealth (jewels, palaces), and to shield him from problems created by teachers and fellow students, all of which he effects by tearing hairs out of his prodigious white beard, and muttering ancient incantations. In Vol'ka, however, Khottabych meets his match, because the young man takes it upon himself to reeducate the djinn, get him to abandon his retrograde ideas on slavery, hierarchy, the power of money, and miracles, and to exchange them for faith in equality and technology: the novel ends with the djinn abandoning magic to become an engineer. Despite the clear ideological message, a lot of people read it as tongue-in-cheek; in any event, Khottabych's popularity is caused precisely by his colorful use of magic, and his eccentricity. In many ways, Khottabych is a Soviet version of the Famous Five books (the djinn leads Vol'ka and his school chums on global expeditions on a flying carpet, to battle Italian fascists and American bankers). It is perhaps even a forerunner of I Dream of Genie, which essentially shares its main plot line.  
  6. Neznaika (Nikolai Nosov).     Another classic Soviet children's book that later grew into a trilogy. Neznaika (literally, 'Know-Nothing') is a garishly-dressed bad boy with no obvious skills or talents aside from fighting, teasing, and generally annoying his friends. He is a Little Person, and lives Flower Town with others of his kind. But this classic children's book set-up soon yields a lot of peculiar elements. Neznaika's home is a gender-segregated commune, and when he inadvertently becomes the leader of a hot-air balloon expedition, he and his commune mates end up in a wholly gender-segregated town, whose population split into two separate settlements as a result of a war between the sexes. In the sequels, where Neznaika and friends travel to a suspiciously Campanella-like Sun City, and then to the Moon, it becomes clear that Neznaika's society is also a classless, money-less communism. Its denizens refer to one another as Brother, have mostly technological and artistic inclinations (but no religion), and end up leading an effort to help Little People on their moon to overthrow a rapacious capitalist order. At the same time, Neznaika, like Khottabych, is a lovable rogue who enjoys taking self-important and preachy Little People down a notch, and who exhibits leadership qualities precisely because he doesn't play by the rules. The fact that he doesn't exhibit much personal growth from book to book is a stark contrast with, say, The Wind in the Willows, where the forces of order succeed in taming Mr. Toad, and getting him to see the error of his ways. The setting, which encourages colorful (if whimsical) characters is easily reinterpreted as a fey scenario with a dose of windpunk and steampunk thrown in for good measure. 
  7. Generation P (Viktor Pelevin).     This is a post-Soviet answer to Generation X and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A literature student comes of age in the very late Soviet period, when the country had already effectively lost the culture wars to the West (the "P" in the title stands for "Pepsi", which became a major American import at that time). As he watches the system collapse around him, he is forced to apply his literary talents in advertising agencies, translating Western ad campaigns into a cultural medium that will be understood by culturally disoriented, and then increasingly nationalist Russophone audiences. After notable successes at work, psychedelic experiences in a decaying post-Soviet countryside, and seances with the ghost of Che Guevara, the hero is discovered by the mysterious and debauched Ministry of Beekeeping, which, as it later turns out, operates a media-driven virtual reality, which, among other things, is responsible for designing the entire Russian political system. But behind the Ministry is an ancient Babylonian cult, whose leader must consummate a ritual marriage with the goddess Ishtar in order to prevent an ancient apocalyptic beast from manifesting in Russia's northerly wastes. This setting, which combines the Matrix, occult conspiracy, and biting social and political satire, would make a good backdrop for a Virtual Adept-centered Mage campaign, especially as it can be supplemented by Pelevin's other World of Darkness-resonant themes (e.g. "A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia"). 
  8. Baudolino (Umberto Eco).     A 12th century bard, scholar, and likely pathological liar, the title character sets out to find the kingdom of the Legendary Prester John. After his patron  - the Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa dies in the course of the Third Crusade, Baudolino continues eastward into the distant lands of the medieval European imagination. Some are inhabited by the classic beasts of fantasy RPG lore (manticores, basilisks, chimeras, satyrs, rocs, and unicorns), while others  - torso-faced blemmyes, skiapods, and the dog-headed cynocephali - have, inexplicably and unjustly, been ignored by designers of fantasy races. What Eco presents in this lesser known book (compared to the Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum) is a veritable master-class of medieval-type fantasy world design. Not only is there a credible (given sufficient suspension of disbelief) articulation between the real medieval world (from which player characters likely originate), and a fantasy realm packed with legendary beasts, monsters, and potentates; there is also a truly medieval geography - the eastern edge of the oikoumene, where Prester John's realm is located, simply ends: as in Pratchett's Diskworld, water falls off the edge of the world. It's hard to count all the people who won't countenance any but high-magic campaigns, and yet insist on drawing up continents on a globe, where standard physical laws must function. To account for this world's existence, one of the characters  recounts a Gnostic creation myth - a red thread that runs through most of Eco's novels. That makes it possible to run Baudolino as an occult conspiracy game like Nephilim, or, both of which strongly feature historical conspiracies and have modern echoes. But standard D&D - with a twist - is also an eminently workable option.
  9. We, the Gods (Bernard Werber).     We, the Gods, and the other two books of Weber's Gods Cycle, rest on a fairly simple premise: cultural heroes of each nation (both fictional, like the book's narrator, and real, like most of the supporting cast of characters), after spending time as transfigured angelic spirits guarding their assigned humans, are promoted to deity status. As gods, their quarry is no longer individual people, but civilizations. They are given training in world design by establishment deities (most notably, the Olympians), and then set loose on a planet of their own, contending against other newly-baked gods, to see whose civilization will come out on top as the globally dominant one (notably, Werber is a believer in a single world government). Along the way, they engage in intrigues against one another and the tutor gods (most importantly, Aphrodite), and try to give their people a push by entering their own civilizations in mortal guise. Ultimately, the series is best described as Sid Meier's Civilization video game transformed into an RPG. There are annoying aspects of the cycle, like the author clearly favoring 'his people', strongly drawn contrasts between "good" and "bad" civilizations, and strange takes on Toynbee's notion of civilizational affiliation (the Americans are a modern incarnation of the Romans). Still, it's an interesting twist on most conceptions of divine characters in play, and could be fruitfully portrayed using a game system such as Exalted or Scion.
  10. The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Michael Chabon).     Although it won the Nebula Award, this book is not commonly identified with the sci fi genre, but is better described as a noir detective novel meeting alternative history. Set in Sitka, Alaska, which became a locus for a resettled European Jewish population at the start of the Second World War, the novel looks at the final days of the autonomous settlement, which is to revert to the State of Alaska at the end of its 60th year. The resettlement plan succeeded in rescuing the majority of the Jewish population from the Holocaust, but the State of Israel never got off the ground at the end of the war, and Palestine is a messy jumble of sectarian statelets beset by militants of various stripes. The novel's hero - hard-drinking police detective Meyer Landsman - tries to solve a murder mystery as he negotiates the divide between Sitka's Jews and the native Tlingit Alaskans, pursues Jewish mobsters and millennarians, and uncovers an apocalyptic  US government conspiracy to usher in the Messiah and rebuild the Temple in a newly Jewish State. The unique and colorful setting could serve as a backdrop to an investigative game using the Gumshoe system, or perhaps even constitute a twist on an international espionage setting. But to me, Meyer Landsman and his Sitka offer a much richer take on a Dresden Files-type urban fantasy, with Yiddish dybbuks and Tlingit Land Otter People there as otherwordly presences for the professional wizard to summon, bind, and bargain with.    

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Chapter 8 – Obstacles Clear and Paths Open

Wherein the band ties up some loose ends, and grows yet again

A stranger with white hair and a patchwork overcoat stands on the banks of the Vydra River. He has a spear and a scythe strapped to his back, a drum hanging off his belt, and a large raven on his shoulder. The raven’s voice resounds in his head, urging him to follow the river eastward. But the stranger is drawn to the opposite bank. There, three fur-clad riders are trotting toward a village about a verst from the opposite bank. The man exhales a cloud of cold air, drowns out the raven’s voice in his head, and walks across the ice. The villagers fishing through holes in the ice cast askance glances at him, but he follows the riders toward the village.
At the waystation in Yelizarovka, the host informs four guests just rousing themselves on a frigid Gruden’ morning that his lord has come to call on them. Boyar Yurii Yelizarov and his two sons – Yulii and Lev, clad in coats with sable collars and cuffs, and with sabers hanging on their belts, stride inside the shed. Yelizarov says he heard about a commotion in the village the previous night. He then questions Dmitri about the previous days’ goings on, and inquires as to why he didn’t return to the fort. In response, Dmitri tells him of his travails, and indicates that he came upon a body in the woods that crows had begun to feast on. He left it in some confusion, and, rather than continuing to search for the dead man’s companions, or their hideout, he decided to head back before running afoul of the wood’s guardians. He encountered Chonkorchuk, Plamen, and Rodion somewhat later, and followed them back to the waystation to inquire into what they were doing in the woods. Chonkorchuk adds that the companions – students of local lore from Lazarevo – were combing through the woods to learn about the cairn, the crow swarm, and other landmarks. Rodion says the party was resting when Dmitri suddenly came upon it, and then engaged its members in conversation that lasted deep into the night.
To all appearances, Yelizarov does not believe these stories. As Dmitri is still in his employ, he tells him to retrieve the body, and to continue his search for the other smugglers, and their base. He agrees to have Chonkorchuk accompany him, though the hermit first wants to look for Lionia. Yelizarov stares at Rodion intently throughout the conversation, and then insists that while the other two are off in the woods, that the redhead remains at his keep as his guest. Rodion consents, and convinces Plamen to accompany him as well. 
Yuri Yelizarov lays down the law in his domains
 As the group is in the process of departing the waystation, it encounters the stranger coming into the compound. The host crosses himself in the stranger’s presence, while Yelizarov gives him, and his raven, a long, parting glance. At the shed, Chonkorchuk exchanges a few words with the laconic stranger, indicating that his friend Rodion also has a crow, before being informed that ravens are different. He gathers his things, and goes off in search of Lionia. From the villagers, he learns that Lionia actually lives in the village of Medunitsa two versts away. He follows the northwest trail, and soon arrives at what locals say is Lionia’s abode. Behind the hut, the owner keeps a large number of beehives (the village as a whole is apparently famed for its apiaries). But no one is home, and after knocking, Chonkorchuk leaves to meet the rest of his party at the Yelizarov keep.
While the rest of the group is traveling to the keep, the boyar points out that the stranger’s raven is following them. He invites Dmitri to a shooting competition: both draw their bows, and launch arrows at the raven, but fail to hit their target. The raven flies off toward Yelizarovka, back to the waystation, where its master is setting himself up for the day. Having paid the host, and setting aside bulky equipment such as his fishing gear, he awaits the raven’s story about what he saw. He then proceeds to follow the group into the woods.
At the Yelizarov keep, the boyar gives Dmitri a sack for bringing back the body. Along with the hermit Chonkorchuk, the trailseeker treads the previous day’s path. The crow flock is acting more aggressively now that Plamen is not there to placate them. Without aggravating the birds or troubling the cairn, the duo progresses until arriving at the clearing with the freshly dug grave. On top of the grave, they discover the body, though, with most of its face pecked off, it’s barely recognizable. It’s not clear why it's there – this is not where yesterday’s combat took place. Dmitri finds tracks leading in the direction of that altercation – clearly, the body was brought here, perhaps as a warning, perhaps as a way to keep people away from the smugglers’ compound. But that search should commence later – it is now time to get the body back to the keep in one piece.
Meanwhile, the stranger enters the woods after skirting the keep. After being set upon by crows, he tries to frighten them away, but after the birds draws back, he blasts them with cold magic. The crows fly at him, trying to beat him down with their beaks and wings, and the stranger barely gets away with his life. As he approaches the cairn, he meets Chonkorchuk and Dmitri, carrying a body. Formal introductions are finally exchanged. The stranger is named Druvvaldis, and he hails from the coast of the Western Sea. Long ago, invaders destroyed his home and killed his people, and he has been wandering the earth in search of what remains of the old world. He is a speaker to spirits, and a seeker of wisdom beyond the visible realm. His companion spirit has pressed him to seek a place called the Crows’ Meadow, where his fate awaits him. Chonkorchuk indicates that he knows the place, and that he and his companions are heading there as well, in search of a treasure.
As they begin to make their way back, they suddenly meet Lionia, who in typical fashion comes up behind them. The old man is fully armed, with a sabre at this side, and demands to know why they are still hanging around his territory. Dmitri explains that they were forced to collect the body, and asks why it was moved onto the grave. Lionia indicates that it was put there to make it easy to collect, and to keep people away from the base. Learning about Rodion’s detention, and expressing exasperation at the party’s failure to mislead Yelizarov, he says that he will have to handle matters with the boyar himself. He then attempts to engage Druvvaldis, and to learn who he is, but the newcomer stays tight-lipped. Chonkorchuk tells Lionia that the spirit-seeker may be useful to the group’s plan to recover the treasure. The Old Fox reminds him that he warned about more people learning about the treasure. He is willing to bring the newcomer along, but insists that the original deal, whereby he gets a quarter of the proceeds, is honored. After some wrangling, Chonkorchuk acquiesces. Lionia then parts ways from the rest – he heads to the Yelizarov keep, they – back to the waystation.
Druvvaldis - another corvid bearer
At Yelizarvoka, Chonkorchuk, Dmitri, and Druvvaldis talk about future plans. The hermit relates the stories of the polevik treasure, his relationship with Baba Yaga, and the search for the Alatyr stone. Druvvaldis expresses surprise that his new acquaintance knows Baba Yaga, but indicates that he has no interest in treasure and material goods, and voices his dislike of the ginger Lionia, and all those who pursue material goals. Chonkorchuk says the treasure is merely a means to an end, and so is Lionia, who is likely freelancing, and not telling his band-mates about the treasure. Dmitri wonders what he has gotten himself into. As Dmitri and Chonkorchuk have no coin, they head out to sleep under the stars, promising to meet their new companion down by the river in the morning.
In the night, Chonkorchuk’s extremities become frostbitten, and he catches cold. Managing to rouse himself, he meets his companions down by the river. The attempts to ice fish are less than successful, but by mid-morning, Lionia reappears. He has succeeded in placating Yelizarov, he says, and Dmitri, and the rest of the group are now off the hook, and free to proceed back to Crows’ Meadow unimpeded. Dmitri ask if Yelizarov would be willing to give them supplies – winter clothes, torches, sacks, a net, a shovel, and a bit of food. Lionia indicates that the boyar should be in a good mood, and amenable. He returns with the requested supplies, and with Rodion in tow – Plamen has been conveniently “forgotten” at the keep. He then calls on the rest of the group to lose no more time in attending to business.