The team returned to debrief the Lord Warden fully of what they found. The Lord Warden explained that Sandred and Yanissa, Sanner’s wife, had both been detained and revealed as cultists under questioning. He had also sent messages to Gis Gorion, the kingdom’s capital, but authorities there were not concerned with a possible kingdom-wide resurgence of the cult and had no interest in the prisoners. As the team also believed that there was nothing to be learned from the prisoners, they were sentenced to be executed, along with Kempter the necromancer, and all three were burned at the stake at sundown, leaving Linder‘s whereabouts as the only aspect of the investigations that had not been died up. Their ire appeased somewhat by the public execution, the masses of Gis Galen began to settle down. Meanwhile, the team divided up the treasure from the dragon’s hoard and enjoyed some downtime. To bring the team’s strength back up to six members, the Lord Warden promoted Guardsman Shogarr Ronah to the squad, stating that although Shogarr might look strange, he came highly recommended not only by Captain Gralt but also by the Church of Bahamut, which had trained him. He replaced Glymm, who had finally been called up by the wizard’s guild even despite his race.
About a week passed, and midsummer drew near, as did the accompanying festival. The city’s mood grew determinedly frantic, as the populace tried to focus on the celebrations as a way to ignore the general poverty and misery. Refugees continues to flock into the city, with many more coming from the border towns and villages, telling tales of raids from over the Paragaan border. Refugees coming from the south, however, had different horror stories: of a mysterious Woman of the Road, known to make difficult bargains with those who did not respect cats, and of friends and fellows snatched away by her.
One refugee, Marta, managed to make her case to Lord Doric, who called in the PCs to investigate. She described a strange looking woman, who had ‘something wrong with her’, and the same type of eyes as Aiowyn – the eyes of a Fey creature. Marta stated that as her group camped the previous night, several great cats surrounded them and the strange fey woman appeared. She bargained with Marta’s husband for the safety of the group, and then the husband, cats, and woman all disappeared. Lord Doric ordered the team to find the woman and put a stop to the stealing away of refugees.
The group headed out south along the road. While many of the refugees seemed unusually nervous of Aiowyn, one woman proved a valuable source of information for Tandem and Shogarr, telling them about the stories of fey who would be offended if you traveled through their territory, or stopped and ate without making an offering. The woman claimed, however, that the fey were not disappearing to somewhere else – it was simply that they were known to be very good at hiding, so good as to be invisible. The group, deciding that the best way to catch a fey out would be to offend it, decided to break for lunch and pointedly not offer anything, but saw nothing unusual during their meal. Afterwards, they continued along the road for a time, during the heat of the day, when most of the refugees cleared off the road for a rest. As the group was about to contemplate taking a rest themselves, however, several members spotted flashes of blue off to the sides of the road – some to the left, and some to the right – and the buzzing of hornets filled the air.
As they crested a rise, they found the source of the buzzing – an strangely thick swarm of hornets. The more observant members of the group, however, also saw that the hornets left tiny trails of blue in the air as they flew. When the swarm came closer, Caelik swatted at it, which apparently angered it enough to attack. At this point, several panthers pounced from the tree, striking at the front and back of the team’s line.
After a long, tiring battle against the fey creatures – which bled not blood, but blue light, and dissolved into motes of light when they were slain – Tandem finally finished off the hornets with a burst of flame. One of the panthers teleported away as if to flee, but Aiowyn and then the rest of the group pursued; seeing this, it turned on them again, and Aiowyn struck to kill it – but before his blow could land, the panther dissolved, and the team was greeted with a woman’s mocking laughter, as the fey woman appeared before them.
Caelik and Tandem almost immediately realized that the woman was a Sidhe – a very powerful fey, although one bound by a code of conduct that included an inability to lie or to break bargains. Aiowyn was particularly wary and distrustful of her, frustrated by the way she kept referring to him as her cousin. Several minor bargains were made; Tandem bargained his name in return for hers, and was told that she was the Leansidhe. Aiowyn bargained his name in return for knowing what she gained from the secret of Marta’s husband’s fate, and was told that she gained knowledge, which is power (particularly to her). When Aiowyn initially refused to provide his name, however, doubting the fullness of the Leansidhe’s answer, the leaves of the trees around the clearing began to darken, and other party members quickly advised him to give her his name. Caelik attempted to bargain with her using gold, but she demonstrated that gold had no value to her by plucking a handful of it from a sunbeam. Tandem also unwisely begged a favour of her, asking her to tell them of Marta’s husband’s fate, not realizing that he was offering a favour in return: the Leansidhe quickly accepted, and revealed that Marta’s husband had entered a contest with her – the same contest she offered Tandem and the rest of the group – with the terms being that, if he lost, he would forfeit his fate to her for a hundred years, to do with as she wished, provided she returned him to the state he was at the beginning. She stated that she had set him to guard the site of the contest, in the hope that he might be fortunate enough to witness someone succeed where he had failed.
After some further bargaining, the Leansidhe began to lead the group to the site of the contest, which was to move a particular heavy weight, with the proviso that should the group attempt to touch or move the weight, they would have accepted the challenge, but that they could look their fill before doing so. On the way to the site, terms were discussed, and Caelik also mused on about the motivations of the Leansidhe, explaining that he thought her main motivation was to be amused. When he bargained for her opinion, she explained that she thought they ought to ask for the fate of Marta’s husband to be returned to him. When Caelik mentioned that the coming war might curtail her fun, her expression briefly froze – the first and only response from her thus far that had not been smiles, laughter, or exaggerated dismay.
After much bargaining, it was eventually settled upon that if the group lost the challenge, the Leansidhe would control their fates for a hundred years, to do with as she pleased provided that she return their fates to them at the end of that time, and that they be in the same condition then; if the group won, however, she would give over to them all forfeits she had won from contests in the past century in the current country, and would abstain from taking any forfeits from contests in that country for one century. The contest deadline would be sundown of the same day, and the group would have to move the weight at least 10 feet, unless they re-bargained that distance before accepting the challenge. Upon agreement for these final terms, the party immediately arrived at a clearing: the site of the challenge.