Three of the humans were dead, Julian was badly injured, and Stangil was overcome with fury. After slaughtering the horned beast with one swing, Stangil returned to Julian’s side and asked Elrathia, who was still treating him, if he would survive. She said he would.
Belaric and the others built funeral pyres for the fallen; Chantor, Diorn, and Echorn.
As everyone set up camp for the evening, Stangil and Serafina relieved Arianna of the prisoner she had taken. Elrathia asked that they spare his life so she could use him to activate the mirror later that night.
One broken ankle and one shattered wrist later, the prisoner was left for Elrathia. Stangil and Serafina learned that there would be more ambushes ahead on route to Haimir. They also discovered that the Twisted Men were now organized and followed a leader by the name of Goruug. Stangil and Serafina decided to seek out Goruug before more bands found them. Their plan was to find him, kill him, and hopefully the followers would be too intimidated to retaliate. Neither Elrathia nor Kraikos wished to accompany them on what was considered a suicide mission. Arianna wanted to remain by Julian’s side.
They found Belaric around the campfire with Abrahm, Bremen, and Farn, telling stories to remember the fallen. Abrahm was shaken by the events and asked if they would be better off turning around and going with the Fimm Drekar. Serafina told him that there was no turning back and Stangil pointed out that not all adventures are happy tales. After sundown, Belaric set off with Stangil and Serafina, in search of Goruug.
Belaric tracked through the night and by noon the next day, the trio caught up with a patrol of half a dozen Twisted Men. They laid a trap. Belaric lay in waiting atop a ledge while Serafina and Stangil walked up behind the patrol eating lunch. Once they were noticed, Stangil asked to be taken to Goruug. The patrol looked to the one with the sword, who spoke for the rest. He seemed disinclined to acquiesce. Serafina said, “either you can all take us, or one of you can take us.” After a second round of asking politely, the leader gestured to the archer in the group but before he could do more than raise his bow, Stangil said, “Belaric.”
All they could see was fletching sticking out of the archer’s neck. The leader grabbed his sword and immediately stopped. He staggered in place, his skin sweat and almost boiled, and his eyes popped. “Too much?” Serafina turned and asked Stangil.
The four remaining Twisted were terrified. One of them offered to take them, but not with the others. Stangil easily dispatched of the three others, leaving only the one. The trio followed the Twisted blood-traitor the rest of the day. Upon evening, Serafina noticed that they were being watched and the trackers had gone from three to two. They approached a figure in the path, who addressed the Twisted man, asking why he had brought strangers. Their guide began to explain but was shot with an arrow mid-sentence. The new guide instructed them to follow him.
As they crested the hill, they saw a large encampment with nearly a thousand men. The Twisted men at each camp appeared to be from different factions and each more primitive than any other race the humans had ever encountered. Each time the humans walked past a campfire, Serafina made the flames rise. Murmurs followed them. Fear. “Outsiders.”
They arrived at a tent in the center of the bivouac and were told to wait outside for a moment. Their guide reappeared and told them to enter. Once inside, they saw a large figure kneeling over a bowl, swishing the contents over a fire. Above him, nailed to two beams, was a Twisted man with his guts trailing into the bowl. Stangil and Serafina saw a dark purple aura about the kneeling figure. A few moments passed before he stood and greeted them.
Goruug was 6’6", with the head of an unfamiliar yet horrifying creature. He asked if they had eaten, and gestured for them to sit around a small table. He sliced meat off of a hanging animal and lightly cooked the outside. They began to talk.
Stangil and Serafina briefed Goruug on the attack that befell their group and how they had learned that he had organized the Twisted men. Goruug asked what their intentions were, coming to him. They said that they were impressed by his ability to unite such people and that they saw the advantage in befriending a man like him. Goruug said that he united the tribes with, “murder, blood, and a promise for a better tomorrow,” adding, “we all hate them.” Them being, the more familiar Drekar. Serafina noticed that Goruug did not seem taken aback by humans at all. She and Stangil made several attempts to ask about “mutual friends,” foresight, and dragons, to no avail.
The humans asked for safe passage to Archon Toth in Haimir. Goruug asked for a weapon in exchange, to which Stangil agreed. Goruug said that if the humans kept their word about wanting to destroy the dragons Voranyth and Kalloruth, they would have his partnership. Goruug then asked the humans their names and sent them on their way with a guide to intercept their traveling companions.
Meanwhile, the first evening that Stangil, Serafina, and Belaric were away, Elrathia sacrificed the detained Twisted man to use the mirrors. She was relieved to be able to speak with Aristos. However, her sacrifice was so strong, that Aristos reached his hand through the mirror and pulled her to the other side. They spent some time together before she had to return.
On the second evening, the suicide squad returned. Kraikos said that neither Goruug, nor any of the Twisted “abominations” (as he called them) were to be trusted. Elrathia seemed upset at the alliance that had been forged and stormed away from the conversation.
Stangil visited Julian while Serafina and Belaric went off into the woods to smoke some of the herbs that Ptleamur had given Serafina when they departed from Kuskarosa. Julian asked Stangil if he had dispatched Goruug and looked almost hurt when Stangil filled him in. Stangil insisted that this ensured their safe travels and that no more harm would come to Julian.
The next morning, Belaric appeared upset and in a hurry to get the troupe moving again. Serafina asked him what was wrong and he in turn asked, “who is Ptleamur? You were moaning his name last night.” Stunned, she explained that he had been teaching her how to unlock her magic in Kuskarosa. She also chose that moment to tell Belaric about Somnambuliss’s prophecy before they departed from Breakwater. “That was five days ago,” he said before he turned to walk away.
Later in the day, when Serafina had an opportunity to speak with Elrathia alone on the path, she requested that Elrathia take the bag of herbs for safe keeping. Elrathia questioned why Serafina would give this up because it had only helped her and asked," wouldn’t you do anything to enhance your powers?" Serafina tried to make it clear that she was growing more drawn to them and that she wanted to find a way to explore her magic without the use of a strong substance. In the end, Elrathia convinced Serafina to keep the herbs.
That night, Elrathia awoke in a foggy dream. Somnambuliss came to her to make a deal. He informed her that he had tried to prevent their attack on the road by appealing to Kraikos. He then asked her, “would you really do anything to enhance your powers?” Elrathia asked Somnambuliss what deal he had in mind. He wanted her to murder someone in exchange for information that would save their lives. She amended the terms to exclude murdering her children, Adlei, or Aristos.
Somnambuliss told her to walk 3,700 steps forward, 2,200 steps west, and 400 steps south. Then, instructed her to set the tree she came upon on fire. She could not enlist the help of Serafina for this task. He told Elrathia to bring someone she trusted and that this would lead her to the information he promised.
Before sunrise, Elrathia woke Belaric, told Zeuth that they would be back in a few hours, and set off.
Elrathia found the tree. It was not a Heart Tree, but it was alive and magical. She used Belaric’s flask to douse the tree and lit it on fire. As she watched it burn, she felt prickling on her arms and face. Suddenly, she realized that it was from the falling leaves. Tens of thousands of leaves were swarming her and biting. She could barely see Belaric through them. They cut through her clothes and their ichor leeched her strength. Her insides burned with an unworldly toxin. Elrathia thought she was running away, but was only staggering from muscle spasms.
Twelve hours had passed since Serafina and Stangil set on the road. They noticed Elrathia and Belaric were missing in the morning, but Zeuth had assured them that Elrathia would return within a few hours. They trusted that she would be safe with Belaric and waited for the better part of the day. As dusk drew near, they worried.
Serafina, Arianna and Abrahm backtracked for several hours before they saw Belaric, stumbling along the path, carrying Elrathia over his shoulder. Despite being incapacitated and in much pain, it looked like Elrathia would recover. Arianna carried her back with Abrahm at her side.
Belaric was still struggling to walk. Serafina asked if he was okay and he said that he was but closer inspection of the swollen lump on his arm showed that he had been nicked and was poisoned from one of the leaves. She quickly made a remedy for him and they walked together, slowly. Neither said anything about their fight the previous day.
That night, suffering immensely, Elrathia had another dream. Somnambuliss offered to heal her in exchange for her friendship. She refused. Elrathia asked for the information that he promised her and once again, Somnambuliss skirted questioning. He said that she would receive it when she needed it.
In the morning Elrathia awoke with the same pain. Stangil noticed a difference in her aura, assuring her that whatever she thought of Somnambuliss, he had just made her stronger.
That day, the humans finally made it to Haimir.