Chapter V: Hob-rousing
The Handsome Grackle - bizarre creature of the genis sea-hag, identical in form at either end, its landward name derisively given it by the piscators who snared it. Small as sea-beasts go yet nigh indestructible, the Handsome Grackle is routinely swallowed by the great kraulschwimmen and other vasty beasts of the depths, only to travel the entire length of the alimentary canal and emerge at the other end, unharmed and setting off on its own obscure business once again. - Factotum
2-3 Calor 1602 HIR
The rest of their sea journey proved uneventful and they arrived at High Vesting at mid-afternoon on the first day of the new year.
After obtaining lodging, Frangelin obtained a small corser's cart. The party hoped ultimately to blend with the black traders who were said to still ply the Wormway east of Winstermill. The cart was nondescript enough not to attract attention while they still were in the territory of Men. At dawn of the next day, they set off on the road to Silvernook, the last friendly town before the fallen fortress.
Near a post-house on the outskirts of Silvernook, they came across the camp of the army that was gathering to retake Winstermill.
The army was awaiting the arrival of the Archduke of Brandenbrass who was to take personal command of the endeavor. To keep the soldiers occupied, the New Year celebrations had been extended. Despite its official illegality, a rousing pit had been set up for the men's entertainment. A huge derehound was to be pitted against some hideous monster. Only slightly less hideous was the looks on the faces of the on-lookers; Accural was disgusted by their visceral reactions.
This monster proved to be the incredibly odd creature known as a Handsome Grackle.
The hound and the creature began a ferocious battle.
The party scanned the crowd of soldiers and camp followers who crowded the pit. They suddenly heard a faintly familiar laugh. It proved to be Abdank Skarbek, the Lausid knight they had captured prior to the Battle of the Vab. He said he had been sent off just before the battle and, as a prisoner of war, spent the last seven years as a slave, recently in the silver mines here. His master had gained some trust and so granted him a degree of freedom not usual for on in his position. Upon learning of their intent to travel the Wormway, he asked to meet with them in a more private setting.
Immediately thereafter, Accural noticed the mysterious reddleman that they had encountered twice before. Alhambra easily moved to intercept the man. Unfortunately, Accural was less than light on his feet and crashed into the unfortunate servant who was holding a chamberpot for the convenience of the quality spectators. The poor doused man's cries of "Why!" attracted the reddleman's attention.
Nonetheless, the party was quick to surround him. Accural noted again the symbol tattooed on the man's hand indicating his membership in a dread false-god cult.
The party could not follow him as the crowd had gone wild due to the gruesome slaughter of the derehound by the Handsome Grackle.
Then a tall woman, dressed richly in calendar habit entered the ring. It was a sister of the Soratche, fanatical calendars who pursued a violent and single-minded pursuit of the dark trades. She began a tirade against the hob-rousers and the spectators, condemning their depravity. Her special ire was directed against the party; she seemed to assume them to be part of this horrible display. With a warning against further congress with monsters and black trader, the sister, whom they learned was called Perfidia, departed.
As night drew on, the party ventured to an old wind-pump where they had agreed to meet with Abdank. He reported that he had been in Winstermill when it fell and but for the aid of the Duke of Sparrows, all of the everymen in the fortress would have been slaughtered. Thus he confirmed, as the Lapinduce had indicated, that there existed urchins, those monster lords who were benefactors to everymen. He warned them of that Winstermill fell to man-made gudgeons and they should watch for warnings from sparrows who would be there to aid them.
For the night, the party sought hospitality in the camp of a Fayelillian regiment that was part of the ever-growing army. Fortuitously, the commander proved to be one of Lord Danny's many older siblings, Coniferus Figge. Well into the cups the older Figge welcome the party and provided them with extra supplies and comforts for their journey.
The next day's surprisingly uneventful travel brought them to the ruins of mighty Winstermill.
A preternatural silence pervaded the ruins, adding to their unease.
While Accural and Lorent waited at the entry to the fortress' undercroft, Prince Avi, Lord Danny, Alhambra, and Frangelin entered into the under-fortress as stealthily as possible. Fransalir and Sister Angella began to circle the ruins hoping to discover any possible ambuscades.
Within the fortress, the four discovered within a cold room, the remains of a shattered door behind which rose a steep furtigrade. This ultimately led to large ill-lit room filled with the grisly indications of black habilist work. At the moment of their entry....