While the Harbringers were intriguing for their own gains, it had become very evident that Tom of the Gatii’s patience was coming to an end with Baron Stepan of Karpad. This did not go unnoticed by the retainer and a fact in which he made a point of keeping in his memory for as of late, Tom’s behaviour had certainly become peculiar. The Baron’s continued seclusion from the rest of the village stood as the blockade between that in which Garros and his companions required – access to the Boroi Manor library – hoping that it might hold clues or information pertaining to mirror magic or the dreadful haemonculi constructs of Irrisen.
Knowing that following proper etiquette with Anya and the nobility of the Boroi Manor would get them nowhere closer to Stepan, the Harbringers took it upon themselves to make their way through the Manor and search for the answers they sought. Only, while lurking through the manor they were were met with Aldrych Betyrina’s curiosity as to what was held in the manor’s basement. After a brief exchange of words, it was agreed that the defector of Irrisen’s curiosity would be sated and a chance to see what secrets, if any, the Baron might be hiding from the rest of Karpad before approaching him directly.
Much to the swordsman’s surprise, at the bottom of the staircase was a chamber of worship, no, to Garros this looked much more like a room where people would have been tortured. To those unfamiliar with the Nidalese customs, those were not lines that would be easily blurred but for the populace of Nidal, they were one in the same.
The floor was of inlaid stonework, it did show it’s age however as many were now uneven and large gaps and cracks were evident. Garros’ senses were also affronted after stepping down into the chamber – the metallic smell of blood still lingered in the air and was visibly seen on many of the stones and across the walls. Along the walls were various tools which also appeared to be used for the twisted worship Zon-Khuthon. At the center of the long, and dimly lit chamber was an alter table, which held other bloody instruments which seemed to have been not used recently. Garros felt disgust. Not from a repulsion of a weak stomach but rather from the sheer lunacy the fanatics of Zon-Khuthon displayed in their worship to their twisted deity.
Much to Garros’ shock, an ethereal being began to manifest by the alter in the form of a middle aged woman. This apparition seemed very curious at first and she mentioned no one has been down to worship Zon-Khuthon in some time. She claimed her name was Evgenia and that she held her lords favour and offered that worship was to be made at the alter. Ever the diplomat, Zhixian-Li offered his penance for this apparent lack of worship and began whipping himself repeating, “Praise be onto Zon-Khuthon!”. Clearly, Evgenia was not satisfied with just the one offering but demanded that all present themselves before her lord and submit to his will. Without hesitation, the swordsman drew his blades and knew that he could not offer what she yearned for but rather send her back whence she came. After a short battle ensued, Garros dispatched the apparition with a superb display of swordsmanship and with Evgenia put to rest, they made their way to Stepan.
The retainer did not share an aptitude for subterfuge and skulking around in the shadows as some of his companions did, yet he did understand it’s merit when it was required and as they made their way through the manor and approached the Baron’s study door he knew that would soon be dispensed with. As they stood outside the door Tom began rapping on that which separated them and Stepan, “Who goes there?!” shouted the Baron and Tom began knocking again. “Laurentiu! Laurentiu! Who is at the door, I said I was to not be disturbed!” was what was bellowed from inside the study chamber.
Laurentiu the manor’s majordomo came scurrying to his masters demands and found his jaw agape as he saw the Harbringers standing but just a few steps outside his masters door. “Wha…wa waw wa what are you doing here? The Baron is not to be disturbed!” was what the majordomo mustered with what little courage he had. A show of force would be all to easy the retainer thought to himself but there was no time to sit around and wait for a time that Steapan would allow visitors. Garros then saw the door open and the Baron could be seen if only half covered by the door.
After the Baron’s suspicious were mollified, the retainer and his companions were able to speak to Stepan regarding the disease, Tallowthroat, which now plagued Karpad and their desire to peruse through the library of the manor. A man who does not cast a shadow would surely be unsettling if not sinister but this was not something the swordsman observed at first for he was caught up in the conversation and gauging weather or not what he spoke was true but the fact remained Stepan, did not cast a shadow. The retainer also pressed his findings in the graveyard where Iosif and Henric supposed tombs were laid to rest yet Garros and Corvus discovered that they were left empty and not with the corpses of his brothers but rather filled with rocks. They also stated that a fey creature was found in the Chandlery and it was on the Baron’s authority that it was set loose upon Karpad.
Finally, cracking under the pressure of constant paranoia and with the evidence presented, Stepan revealed his intentions and what he sought to achieve. He further went on about the Mirror locked away in his basement and a deal that was made with a Shae who went by the name of Nicasor. With all his cards laid on the table, the Baron pleaded that they somehow placate Nicasor to preserve his life for fear of retaliation if he were to ever escape from his now prison or find a way to bring his brothers back if they might still yet live and end Nicasor’s life. If they were to do this, he stated he would grand them full access to whatever they needed in the library.
Garros did his best to not let his emotions get the better of him nor did he want to become to deeply routed in the politics and intrigue of another nation but listening to what the Baron had done to his brothers was enough for the retainer to strike down this man where he stood.
A coward the swordsman thought to himself.
Yet, Garros knew that Stepan was the stepping stone to what might be the key to unlocking the secrets of the witchcraft of Irrisen. Keeping that at the center of his thoughts, it was decided that they would make their way into the basement and attempt to communicate with Nicasor through the mirror. After hearing the Baron’s portrayal of how events unfolded, perhaps judging what Nicasor would have to say might yield a solution to the problems in Karpad. Laurentiu and Stepan lead the party down back into the basement, little did they know the Harbringers had already step foot here, they walked to a door that was under lock and key. Just as Laurentiu was motioning to hand Stepan the key, he had already begun to speak, “I will go no further. This is where the mirror has been sealed away and I do not intend on provoking Nicasor further. There is a command word you must speak to invoke the mirror, do not forget to do so.” Stepan leaned in and whispered the word under his breath into Li’s ear and this was lost on Garros but surmised that Li held the most wisdom and knowledge and as such would be best suited to him.
The retainer took the key and unlocked the door and felt a cold sensation pass through his body. He disregarded the feeling and passed through as he swung the heavy wooden door open and revealed a room with many possessions covered in cloth and dust but towards the far end was the mirror standing by itself. Garros could see the mirror’s surface swirled and billowed – it almost looked murky and as they approached closer, Li placed himself directly in front of it. Using touch and sight as the medium for studying the large mirror, the venerable Tian bent down and noticed a long crack in the mirror which lead to a missing fragment. He searched around and on the ground was a shard, the missing fragment to the mirror. Attempts to communicate and call for Nicasor had proven useless as the mirror continued in the same fashion as they found it, ever swirling and rolling ever so slowly.
Though the rest of the group did not see it, Li’s eyes held a glimmer of mischief as if wondering what would happen next. Before anyone could come to an agreement on what to do , they would not get that chance to see that look in the Tian’s eyes as he spoke the command word.
Garros experienced a sudden tug at his being as if a boulder was being dropped off of a cliff of a mountaintop, the sheer weight being exerted on his body was almost unbearable. Being drawn in to the mirror and into the extraplanar prison was completely unsettling for the swordsman and the feeling was nothing he had ever experienced before. When the feeling passed, the swordsman found himself standing beside his companions and turned around and saw the mirror, only instead of the murky visage they now saw the room in which they had just stood.
This place was entirely unnerving to Garros – it oddly resembled the manor yet it was shrouded in darkness and shadow. There was also no colour that could be observed and as the swordsman looked around he observed the windows, they were reflective, not transparent as if there was no ‘outside’. The temperature had dropped significantly as opposed to where the retainer had just stood on the other side of the mirror and he noticed those who were breathing heavily enough could see their breath on the air. Garros shrugged this off as if not phased, the Ulfen people were of a hearty stock and they have been ravaged by the cold before – this, this was nothing compared to the like of the frozen lands of Irrisen or the deep cold winters in the Land of the Linnorm Kings.
Perhaps due to the nature of the magic imparted from the mirror or perhaps of finding himself in such a cold and dark place, the retainer could not help but to find his thoughts wondering back to what happened in the Chandlery in Karpad.
Some days earlier…
The battle that had ensued with the monster made entirely out of wax and the creature who was humanoid to say the least but it’s head wreathed in flames had tested the swordsman’s ability with the blade for it was a formidable foe. But it was during this battle that struck Garros with a most grievous wound indeed. As they were matching blows the retainer kept his footwork to match the furious creature but before Garros could pivot and shift the heal of his foot to the right, he witness in horror as he saw his opponents spear slash across Li’s chest and watched as his dear friend engulfed in flames.
Turning from his wounded ally as the Jyoti’s spear blade fell violently, Garros wrenched his blades and turned to face the creature. He snarled as he did it, savage, brutal but economical with his vindication. An onslaught of blows took strength, but ended the creature who took Zhixian Li’s life with certain lethality.
The flames that had consumed Li’s corpse were now extinguishing and to everyone else, they all observed Garros’ demeanor as silent rage. The retainer knelt down and picked up the corpse of his former companion and told the rest very curtly that he was returning to the Sleeping Willow. There was but one thought in his mind and that was bringing Li back. He knew that he could not appeal to the church of Zon-Kuthon for he did not want them performing sick and twisted rituals bringing him back. Mulling over his thoughts and what little options that laid before him, the swordsman hastily brought the corpse back to his room and placed it on the bed, with as much respect would allow in a situation such as this.
What Garros had not yet recognized was that when the remaining party returned Tom had been blinded from the fight and began drilling the retainer with questions regarding Li’s corpse. A disagreement ensued between the two over whether or not Zhixian Li would be brought back. A new height of anger washed over Garros as he listened to Tom – do not bring him back he stated. It was preposterous and unthinkable to speak such words. To die so far from one’s homeland and to be what? Burried in some backwater, twisted village under the grips of belief in Zon-Kuthon. No, the retainer would not have it and it was an affront to have even suggested otherwise.
Tom was also escalating, becoming ill-tempered and almost aggressive. As Garros dismissed what Tom was saying he simply said, “No, we are bringing Li back. I will not speak further to this!” The son of Molthune attempted to swing and grab hold of the retainer and Garros effortlessly brushed the failed attempt to the side. His anger now turned to pity, “Tom I will not fight you, you’re blind both in sight and in mind.” and simply shook his head at his misguided companion. Suddenly, a gentle knock came at their door and a soft voice was heard, “Mm, ‘scuse me. Is everything alright? I’ll have to ask you to keep it down please.” The swordsman’s patience was spread thin and walked over and opened the door before even answering. Before his eyes stood Rucia and she stood across from him wearing nothing but an evening gown and holding with her a candle which illuminated the silhouette of her figure.
Garros hurried her into the room and closed the door behind her and to her complete shock when she glimpsed at the corpse laying on the bed, she let out a subtle gasp. “I, uh, uhh, I didn’t mean to be interuptin’ anything.” Even though Tom could not see, he immediately recognized Rucia’s voice and demanded that she talk sense to the swordsman and allow Li to pass on to the afterlife. After an exchange of words, Rucia revealed that she was not exactly who she said she was and that she was working under the guidance of Desna. She confessed that she was a cleric of her deity and that she would preform the revival yet it was up to the soul to decide if they wished to be among the living once more. Yet, this would come at a price and ever since Garros left a small fortune to Sveinn Blood-Eagle his coin purse was exceptionally low. A look of frustration flashed over his face and as he was mulling over how they might come to pay Rucia, Aldrych Betyrina very plainly and without provocation or even being asked, offered the payment in full.
No matter the cost – that is what Garros had told himself but he never saw this. He kept his thoughts to himself for bringing back Li was paramount but why did this jadwiga deserter offer up payment? Was this another plot to ambush the Harbringers? Whatever the reason Aldrych had, the retainer would see this through whatever the consequences were.
The journey through the mirrored plane of the Boroi Manor had been filled with terror and the encounter with the little fetchling boy Soren who appeared quite bright given his surroundings proved to be remarkable indeed. He did have a curiosity about him though and thought perhaps all who were not of his ilk were of the Boroi lineage. Little Soren eventually led the group to his uncle, not before explaining that he was playing hide and seek and divulged his understanding of the Heart.
Plumes of swirling darkness rolled off and around the white porcelain mask that covered his face, a form that was entirely mesmerizing and difficult to concentrate all in the same instance was what Garros first observed when he walked into the library draped in shadows. Nicasor stood and Soren ran to his side and the Shae began to press the Harbringers and immediately turned suspicion to Stepan having sent them to end his life. It took considerable diplomacy and tact but Li with all his great wisdom had reconciled, if only slightly, Nicasor’s twisted rage for having been betrayed by Stepan. The Shae explained that despite his nearly a millennia of imprisonment in this extraplanar prison he had not yet found a way to escape. Nicasor added that if they find a way to free Soren and himself, he would do anything in his power to repay that debt.
After Nicasor reviewed the shard that Li had unintentionally brought into the demiplane, he concluded that there might yet be a way to leave this prison. In a manner that suggested this was of great importance, the Shae told Soren to follow behind him closely and waved to the Harbringers to follow. After making their way back to the room which held the bizarre paintings, Nicasor indicated this was the source of the disruption and took the shard of the mirror and began slicing away, cutting open the wall. Without looking back he jumped through and fashioned the shard to a spear that the group was not using – trusting his instincts, the swordsman followed suit and awaited what was on the other side.
Madness. Sheer madness what was on the other side for any lesser man would have succumb to the insanity that lay before the Harbringers. It took all of his concentration to steady his thoughts and not become lost in how such a horrifying creature could possibly exist. In that very same moment, Nicasor ran towards whatever it the creature might be but was knocked off his feet and the spear fell to ground. Garros, following suit picked up the spear and charged the monstrosity and plunged the shard deep as he possibly could.
Eyelids, all peeling back and eyes circling and focusing all on Garros suggested he had caused it tremendous pain. It’s many mouths gaping and shrieking as the shard of the mirror lay deep inside its being. The swordsman rolling back avoiding the hard swoop of the many arms and mouths let loose his blades, Absolution and Wrath. A grueling battle ensued and once the abomination could take no more it simply collapsed in on itself and everything around them was beginning to be sucked in. Nicasor roared for everyone to run back to the slit that had been cut open and to flee immediately.
Garros was entirely unsure of what was happening but he knew that their lives were in danger – returning to the mirror was critical. As the plane grew more and more unstable, closing in on itself, Soren was having a hard time keeping up with the group and Nicasor grabbed his arm as if to drag him as they ran. The mirror laid but meters ahead and once in front Nicasor jumped through and vanished. Garros was panting but knew that every second counted and when he saw the mirror he did not hesitate and made his way through.
Now having returned to where they came, all sense of colours and temperature had returned. As they were composing themselves and trying to comprehend exactly what had just happened, Nicasor strode of without saying a word…
Without knowing it, Garros had experienced his first shift through the planes. With Nicasor having been set free might yet prove to be disastrous. The Shae would need to be followed and ensure that he would hold his end of the bargain…