As the Brother's Pride swooped low over the Boulderlander encampment to reclaim the Twins, Eliot Sam, Pursus, and Michkin braced themselves to ride the winch-cable down, drop into the camp, secure the Twins, and escape. After crudely lashing the winch into place in the hold, Eliot Sam clipped his harness in and dropped down the line, followed closely by Michkin and Pursus.
Eliot Sam jerked to a halt at the end of the 250' line, still forty feet short of the ground. With Michkin and Pursus descending after him, he thought quickly, severing the last bit of rope just as they passed over the huge tent at the heart of the encampment. After a second of freefall, the thick hides of the tent slowed him only slightly before he crashed into a meat-strewn table. Instantly, a tall, scarred, naked woman leapt from a mass of furs with a bright axe and gleaming sword of steel almost instantly in-hand as her two bed companions scrambled for their own weapons and armor.
Meanwhile, Michkin bounced and rolled off the side of the tent, quietly re-approaching it to listen within.
The woman seemed more curious than alarmed at Eliot Sam's presence, at least until Pursus slammed into the ground behind him, wasting no time in dumping heavy wounds into the ground in rippling waves of writhing darkness. His sudden appearance and unknown magics launched an exchange of blows in which the woman inflicted a grievous wound on Eliot Sam, only to have its equal returned via the razor edge of Sam's sword Widow's Reprisal's. As a thousand warriors armed themselves and poured towards the tent, Michkin hacked his way through the side to die with his companions, just in time to see the woman's call summon a thirty-foot long snake-lizard from a side nook of the tent.
Staggering back from her wound, the warrior woman called for a halt to hostilities and lowered her weapons, a gesture quickly reciprocated.
As she calmed down the riled up throng of barbarians – having to tackle the berserker she'd been sleeping with to subdue him – her pet Aedaric Theurge was dragged in wrapped in chains, forced to heal her, then hauled back out.
Righting the table, Eliot Sam, Pursus, and Michkin plunked down across from the three that had been in bed together, Pursus starting the introductions: Eliot Sam, Scion and Duke of the Eon Baronies, Michkin Scion of the Skies, and Pursus of a bank of no particular relevance. She professed some knowledge of the soul bank, but failed to elaborate further, instead introducing herself as Borli Victorix, Khan of the Kinnate. Her companions were presented as Helta Sky, loresinger, archer, and adviser and Ranveig, doughty warrior and long-time companion.
As horns of mead were exchanged for sips on a flask of whiskey Pursus always packed, Eliot Sam recounted the tale of the blow Borli had landed on him, met with much approval and followed by Helta Sky offering an identical recount of Eliot Sam's blow in halting Aedaric. Such pleasantries complete, Borli asked why they were there. Pursus said they had come for the Twins, prompting Borli to ask with some surprise and admiration if they had hoped to slip in and whisk them away from the middle of an armed camp of a thousand warriors.
Pursus then began to bandy about ideas of alliance, hinting at the vastness of the land before them and the innumerable well-trained foes they would face down every mile of the way. She then corrected their misconception that she led the whole of the Kinnate, saying she controlled only her clan, the last tie to the other Thanes their promise to meet her at her city of Aetherport at the end of Summer-year with her one-part-in-ten of whatever loot they'd claimed on pain of being hunted down by her one-by-one.
She also admitted she was ready to kill them all until Eliot Sam landed his blow, proving that they may in fact be capable of killing her before they died. While she expressed no aversion to so worthy a death, her curiosity overcame her and so here they were. The subject drifted back to the Twins and her purposes on them. She told of “the small, slimy one's” offer of a two wagon-loads of gold for the safe return of the Twins to Chiain. She would have killed him outright but for the respect and prowess exhibited by the old quiet one.
Then the topic of Enkila came up, Borli having been informed of her Rimewitches' departure. An edited version of the spider story answered her query, prompting her to ask if Enkila had found a good death and concluding that death to battle-poison to be a decent exit.
The subject returned to the innumerable Legions likely already making their way North from Old Aedaron and Borli wryly related her subtle encouragements to the Thanes who sought their glory in taking the Statue City for themselves that they might blunt and absorb the Legions until Winter-year, long enough for her to solidify her hold on Aetherport. Her only worry was that the ships might flee the approach of her army like “pigeons from the coop at the approach of a fox” which sparked a great outpouring of Clanspeak from Helta Sky.
Translated, it became a proposal that Borli and a group of her best warriors ride in Michkin's Aethership to capture the Aetherport by surprise and hold it until Borli's fifty thousand warriors could secure the rest of the city.
Giving them time to think, Borli surrendered her tent to them, heading off to complete the night-time activities they had interrupted by crashing through her roof. The resulting discussion ranged from the feasibility of convincing any number of clans to avoid the Baronies, estimations of what chance the now-divided clans would have against the unified might of the Legions, and postulations as to whether a barbarian conqueror even could rule a city the size of Aetherport. After bandying about various plans, Michkin proposed they simply follow the plan she'd laid out, judging that she would not have been able to unify all the Clans unless she was honorable. Cunning yes, but definitely honorable.
When Borli returned with her companions, Eliot Sam started things by asking her what her companions meant to her. She said Helta Sky was the loresinger from a small, barely existent Stoneborn Clan who she'd convinced to follow her not only for his wisdom and advice, but to record her legend in song. Ranveig was her longest companion and the warrior closest to her equal of all she knew, one who had traveled with her to find the secret that led the Clans across the Summer Swamp.
Eliot Sam's questions answered, she sat down to finish their whiskey and hear their decision. They proposed flying to Chiain to drop off the Twins first, then return to Aetherport. Somewhat distracted and buzzed, Borli agreed and pushed quickly for their means of boarding the ship. Michkin proposed they flag down the ship to scoop them up, then he would land it on a high hill a few miles away where she and thirty warriors could board. She agreed, but asked for someone to remain with her to ensure their compliance. Pursus immediately volunteered to stay as a hostage.
After flagging down the circling ship, Michkin snagged the trailing winch-harness and was lifted to safety, followed by Eliot Sam. After telling all aboard of what had transpired, they headed to the hill at dawn where the Boulderlanders, the Twins, Blisseru, and Mideru boarded. There, Borli learned of what she had mistakenly agreed to, changing the plan to them going to Aetherport, dropping her people off and leaving them with the Twins. Eliot Sam pushed for better terms if the deal was to be changed, gaining the promise of free access to Aetherport once it was hers along with five Aetherships.
With that they set sail, the day passing uneventfully but for Pursus attempting to contact Borli's pet healer and being rebuffed.
Near dark they approached the Hollow Mountains again to spot the rapidly approaching shape of the Fury Faeda's Mourning Star. Thinking quickly, they hid the Boulderlanders below decks in hopes the pirate ship would approach and board. Instead, it stayed high and far, lobbing bolts from a ballista along with a wave of larger three-man gliders.
Pursus leapt into action, grabbing Gorge's hawkling, ripping its wings off, transforming his own arms into massive pterodactyl wings, strapping Eliot Sam and Gorge to his harness, and heading for the ship. The boy Yinshi took the broken beast and miraculously restored it with a touch. En route, they evaded the gliders alighting on the aft castle to assault Faeda. Meanwhile, Michkin turned the Brother's Pride towards the Mourning Star as the Boulderlanders formed a shield-wall on deck to engage the gliders. One suddenly dove for the aft castle to take Michkin, but Nanoc and Brassy managed to hold them at bay long enough for the Boulderlanders to spill up from below decks.
Aboard the Mourning Star, Faeda's etched steel cutlass nearly lobotomized Eliot Sam while the half-dozen archers protecting her took Gorge down. Pursus hurled his familiar and detonated CI in their midst, but his magics were not enough, a final decision causing him to haul Eliot Sam to safety, leaving Gorge's bloody corpse behind...