The area of forest our heroes find themselves in is unlike the still eery quiet they have seen of this woodland thus far, for it feels more like a proper woodland, with small animal sounds and a general aura that whilst being strange and somehow unusual, is considerably less menacing. They continue following the Owl ahead further noting some older tracks of 2 people, one large and heavy and one a little smaller and lighter that seem to go both ways. They move carefully and keep an eye out in all directions, until they come to a large clearing with a cluster of 3 Ash trees in the centre, and what seems to be a treehouse of some size in its branches about 30 feet up. There seems to be a platform with a bannister around it surrounding the structure, and when the party call out to enquire who is there, a hunched, cowled, slow moving figure clutching to a staff peers over the side of the railing and looks down to them, asking who they are looking for and what they want.
When informed that they seek a woman of the forest named Sirene Valahinnin, she says they have found her, but before they continue, she says she shall ask them a question to be answered yes or no and promptly by all of them, and that she shall be interested in their answer very much; the question is whether they are connected to the Inquisition or not, and when the party seem to stumble with some saying yes, demurring or trying to explain away, all descends into verbal chaos, and when they protest over the question and saying it is not a straightforward answer, tempers become frayed, especially when Fullica Atra interrupts Sirene as the old woman hisses “Do not interrupt me little girl”, which outrages the proud Varun lady to the point that she stalks off, followed by a concerned Zeru Otxoa. The remaining three of Geesje Van Kuipers, Jorik and Skal Dreissel try to defuse the tense and dangerous situation (Korvaio help us), and after some moments of careful talking and placating speech, seem to have mollified the wary and angry crone. This being done, Geesje heads off to find the other 2 for they are wandering alone in a forest generously described as being dangerous, whilst Skal and Jorik follow Sirenes instruction to find the rope ladder that allows entry to the treehouse above.
They find a rope swing hanging from the eaves of the tree and as they approach see that it seems to shift appearance into a rope ladder, which bothers Jorik no end, though Skal seems more at ease in such surroundings than any of the others. Skal climbs up easily, though Jorik hangs back, wrestling with his thoughts and feelings. Inside, Skal enters the spacious and unusual treehouse, and spends a while talking to the woman on matters that are of interest to them both, and they reach an understanding. Jorik eventually joins them, though hugely discomfited by events thus far. Meanwhile, Geesje catches up with Fullica and Zeru, who seemed to have been going round in circles and quite disoriented. They agree to head back to the treehouse and enter, though on the way Fullica seethes with anger and indignation at the way she was spoken to.
Soon all are gathered in the treehouse, and a strange place it is. Arcane paraphernalia adorn the walls, a few cauldrons bubble to the side, shelves are laden with books of many sorts and sleeping quarters at the back of the dwelling. They are greeted by Sirene, who is considerably calmer and much less hostile than before, and it appears she already knew who they were, for she had read their minds as they approached, and she wished to see what they would say in their approach. This flat admission, her odd surrounds and all that they have seen clearly paints her as an Arcanist, and one of some skill and power, and the meeting is a curious and disquieting one.
She tells them what she has seen of the Horseman, and advises that he has killed more people than they know of, just the bodies have not been found yet; he is bound to the land and so cannot leave the township and demesne of Duiksbraal, and also he is unable to physically pass across running water, useful since he roams the north of the river. His armour and the barding of his horse indicates a connection to the Cavalier Order of the Cockatrice (see here for more Paladins and Cavaliers in Accitaine), and judging by the uniqueness and power involved, has been brought back by The First Denied Soul for some reason. His power is too great for them to realistically fight in conventional terms she advises, for it is a spiritual projection that travels abroad and does the killing; the remains of the dead Cavalier are elsewheres and they must be purified and consecrated in a specially designed ritual to lay the spirit to rest and banish it. Sirene indicates that Jorik is the only one of the party who has the ability to enact this ritual, and she needs his help to formulate it, and after some thought, Jorik agrees to work with her, though he is disquieted by this situation. It may take some time, so Sirene invites the others to make themselves comfortable whilst she and Jorik go through her books and papers to divine a ritual to end the Horsemans threat. Before the 2 start, Sirene asks them all if they knew that they were being followed by birds, for this is what appears to be the case. The birds refuse to speak to her owl Sagus, and though the type of birds seem to change depending upon locale, it keeps on happening. The party indicate their ignorance of this and the talk passes from it.
A few hours pass with the days light slowly fading and after extensively investigating the books and materials that Sirene has (a great amount of religious texts she seems to have, Jorik notes, including the ever contentious and heretical tome named The Engelmann Prophecies), Jorik and she believe that they have created an appropriate ritual that has a good chance of succeeding, though if the name of the Horseman can be found and incorporated into it, the chances are greatly boosted. During all this time, as the daylight is waning, the owl Sagus had been out scouting for a sighting of the Horseman, and it witnessed the slaying of 2 horsemounted travellers by the Horseman on the northern road, and the curious action of the Horseman taking one of the bodies as it vanished. Now, with the daylight almost gone and the river to the south being their best route of escape back to the town, Sirene wishes them success in saving the township (for as she says, though she is an Arcanist, she is no Society created monster), and as a parting gift, she passes them 5 potions that she says shall bolster their courage and will against the overpowering fear of the Horseman. She indicates the way out and watches as they depart.
The forest is darkened now, with little light left and the mist and fog from the sea having driven inland. A path from the treehouse to the threshold of safety opens up to them, and they surmise they are 300 feet from the threshold of safety to the river to the south. Girding their loins, they start off through the forest at a brisk pace, though Jorik is a little slower due to his heavier armour. The forest is back to being ominously quiet, so when they hear sounds from the south west (likely the bridge they think) of a cluster of people, they are curious but think little of it; it is however the unmistakeable sound of the horse and rider from the north and east fast approaching that impels their haste, and Fullica swigs an extract of Expeditious Retreat to rapidly pass the rest as she makes it towards the 20 foot wide rushing river and hurdle sit in a mighty bound, landing on the other side dry and safe, with the lights of the village through the misty trees nearby. The others charge towards the river, with Geesje trying to clear it in a running jump but landing in the cold rushing river and Zeru using his Whip to catch hold of a tree branch to aid his swing across the water. Skal engages a great run but lands half in and half out of the other bank, and finally Jorik tries to use the still attached whip swung across from Zeru to aid his own escape, but he ends up between Geesje and Skal in the water. They frantically manage to scramble themselves from the water, as they see the Horseman gallop past them on the other side of the river, heading towards the sounds from the bridge.
Wasting no time, Fullica (still moving very quickly indeed) runs full pelt along the river keeping pace with the occasionally seen Horseman (obscured at times by the night and fog), shouting warnings to the ones at the bridge to get over to the southern side. She arrives in time to shout her warnings to the 40 or 50 villagers on the southern bank, and her warning to those still on the northbank (carrying one of the newly found dead young lovers) allows some to move quickly to safety, but as the Ungodly and horrific Horseman and steed bear down upon them, one is rooted with fear as 2 others flee panic stricken over the bridge and another up the foggy northern road. The fear frozen man is neatly decapitated by the smooth stroke of the Horseman, and his head seems to vanish into the mist, leaving the body to topple over, the neck already cauterized by the extreme cold of the blade.
Illuminated by the torches and lanterns of the frightened and bewildered townsfolk (and also by Fullica’s thrown bomb which seems to do little to the nightmarish figure other than to illuminate its Cockatrice emblem on the breastplate), the Horseman salutes with its sword as it points to the crowd and with a voice like tombstones dropping with great finality, says “Megg Greetzen”, before vanishing into the mist in a explosion of smoky dark energy.
The others have just caught up at this moment, witnessing the departure of the apparition, and seeing the assembled throng. All is chaos, with Mayor Cheyne Higsvoort trying to calm the townsfolk (not easy since he seems quiet alarmed as well), before the Bailiff Kres Megrun uses a combination of shouting, orders and Intimidation to assert calm, ordering some of the scared assembled militia to accompany him over the bridge to recover the 2 bodies (poor Larsen the Cobbler it seems, and the body of young Henrik). Geesje tries to forbid this and challenges the Bailiff publicly on this call, and is snarled at to mind her own business, and that she is not the owner of the village yet; Geesje gamely tries to persevere, but is told in no uncertain terms by Kres that he is the Law in these parts, and if she doesn’t shut up, it’s the Law she shall deal with. She is led away seething by the others, accompanied by Mayor Higsvoort, the coachmen Olli and Barnabus (who looked likely to back the party and Geesjes play if needed), and the exceptionally old lady Megg Greetzen and her 2 bickering grandsons Veegin and Reymar. The Bailiff strides across the bridge with sword drawn accompanied by some nervous militia, but no harm befalls them as they recover their fallen.
The party and the others named are welcomed into the Speckled Hen, and the locals are sent to their homes for the night, leaving the party, the Mayor, Largo, the coachmen and the Greetzens alone in the common room of the inn, where time is taken for drinks to be poured, clothes to be dried or hung up near the roaring fireplace and nerves to calm.
Talk begins, as the Mayor makes formal greeting to Geesje and the others, and answers to the questions they all have are sought. Clever words are used by Zeru to entice Megg Greetzen to talk as to why the Horseman said her name, and over the next while, she relays, in broken old fearful voice, that Uttarn ven Rikktuur has returned, and appears to be seeking vengeance. It appears that Uttarn was the original Vennikur of Duiksbraal over 80 years ago, and a good friend to his fellow Order cavalier Jan Maas, the grandfather of Lord Korsin Maas. Jan concocted a scheme to secretly slay Uttarn whilst forging documents to indicate that the heir-less Uttarn named Maas as his beneficiary. The plan involved Megg (coerced into her part by her father Horskar, who owned the Mine), who was accounted the prettiest and most desirable in the township and whom Uttarn was infatuated with; she would arrange a meeting in the mine after dark with Uttarn, for her father forbade the Cavaliers suit, and once within, the trap would be sprung, with Jan attacking Uttarn with the aid of a group of hale co conspirators, namely Saalund Timms (father of Rayelle, the owner of the general goods shop); Rod Higsvoort, the Mayors grandfather; Caidmar Megrun (Great-Uncle of the current Bailiff); Horskar Greetzen, Meggs father and Mine owner; Klein Straahn, grandfather to Tydo Straahn, who lost his daughter to the Horseman last night and Hustar Vibiutz, the grandfather of the Reverend Father Vibiutz. They slew the horse of Uttarn first before rushing him within the mine.
This roll call of villainy indicts the ancestors of many of the townships best and most influential familes, for all had a hand in the slaying of Uttarn; Rod and Hustar were slain by Uttarn and all the rest took great injury, including Jan, but the defeated and staggered Uttarn was ultimately beheaded by Jan himself, and the remains of he and his horse were dumped down a disused shaft, and the mine was closed shortly afterwards, claiming no more productivity (a lie, for there is still tin to be mined there). All were rewarded, either personally or their descendants, with the Greetzens given the mill to recompense the loss of the mine.
This sorry tale greatly saddens the Mayor, but he shows character in not flinching from his family’s part in this. What to be done is discussed, and plans start getting tossed around, for they have the means to lay Uttarn to rest, though the opportunity is the key, for the way to the mine is to the north of the river through dense and untracked forest overgrown over the years, and the layout of the mine is unknown, for its plans are under lock and key at the Townhall, with the keys held by the Bailiff. How to lure the Horseman or distract him is wondered at as is how to get access to the plans of the mine; also a way to get hold of the possible proofs that Duiksbraal was acquired through crime and murder would greatly help Geesje and her family against Lord Maas and his family.
Fullicas Varunnian mind turns towards clever deceits and plots to achieve this, and she and Zeru start the beginnings of a trick to play on the Bailiff, so that he surrenders the keys to themselves. Geesje watches the Greetzen brothers escort their grandmother home, whilst Skal, Zeru and Fullica accompany the Mayor to the Town Hall to look for a portrait of Merydia Maas, the eldest daughter of Lord Maas, and one of his most trusted agents. Such a portrait is found, and given the beauty of Merydia, likely a true account of her. The plan starts to turn, as a guide for getting to the mine is discussed, and it appears only Kronj Saltax and Nemue Saltax are the only people who ever spend time in the forest with any degree of expertise, so perhaps one of them could be convinced to aid. As the Mayor wishes them well and shows them out of the Townhall (he lives in the civic suites there), they head back towards the Speckled Hen to meet up with Geesje to fine tune their plans for the following day…