Sunday, September 24, 2006

Conspiracy of Shadows (Season Two, Epilogue)

Having dug Little Alexander from the rubble of the Grey Claw Tower and returned to the hunting lodge the group decide to split up. Little Alexander and Kasper are to travel to Stosz and exchange information with the Order of the Closed Book contact there while Big Alexander remains with Sedziwoj.

The pair travel down river before heading north, over land to the city. The land around Stosz is rich in minerals and ore as well as being good farmland. The city is surrounded by ridges of rolling hills that trap a deep mist within their valleys.

On the trip the pair see many encampments of Rankians, despised travellers in most other countries. Close to Stosz, Little Alexander decides to join one of the encampments for the night and trade news and gossip. As near penniless travellers themselves the pair have little to fear from light-fingered Rankian. In fact when they sit beside the large bonfire at the heart of the camp they see that the Rankian actually seem more afraid of them, making the sign to avert the evil eye.

Little Alexander is determined to find out why the Rankian are scared while Kasper is happy to sit by the fire and watch the Rankian dance, sing and dare one another to leap and somersault over the fire.

The Rankian initially refuse to talk to Little Alexander but finally allow the two travellers an audience with the Old Mother. A wizened old crone that reads their palms and tells their future. The woman tells them that the Sleeping King is pursuing them and they are in constant danger. She also gives them some clues about the location of the Witch Chamber to the south.

Finally the pair are asked to look into a cauldron that the Rankian fill with strange herbs and powders. Little Alexander sees a vision of a procession in the High Church of Tor but the congregation all have the heads of roosters, dogs, cats and other animals. The Patriarch himself has the drooling face of a Jenkan mastiff. Kasper sees a vision of Asig Danaret and Ravanna falling and burning deep into the earth until they enter a vast chamber. There a gigantic demon lies with green and black scales and a pair of huge wings folded against his back. The creature suddenly awakes and reaches out a huge clawed hand to catch the falling fireball. It opens its mouth to reveal an inferno of green flame frame with burnt black flesh and then it eats the wretched lost souls that have fallen into its clutches.

After seeing their respective visions the pair come to and find that they each have a single witchmark under the skin upon their primary hand. The pair are initially horrified and the Rankian explain that they have only made visible the curse the two are under, nothing more. The Rankian then give them each a charm made from a crow's foot and urge them to leave the camp.

Despite it being past midnight the moon is high and full and the pair decide to continue to Stosz and before long the city's famous clock tower is visible in the distance, a guide to draw in the weary travellers.

As the pair reach the edge of town they find several watchmen gathered round a man dressed only in his night shirt. After challenging the travellers the watchmen explain that the man in a sleep walker, one of many in the recent weeks. The watchmen seem amused by the man's antics but the marks in the pair's hand burn when they get close to the sleep walker, who seems to be intent on trying to enter some kind of outhouse. Concerned the pair decide to carry on into the city and gain the safety and shelter of the church there.
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