In their study, Tim and Sylvia give a size three exposition dump to the party. They claim to be part of an underground who are trying to investigate the queen. The Battle on Old Land doesn’t seem to be just about land, the queen has systematically conquered almost the entire continent, over several hundred years. The current war seems to be about suppressing knowledge held by the other side on her origins. The underground hasn’t managed to find out or get there. Serra is rather scathing of the whole idea, Brody seems uncomfortable but is still very drunk. James gives his word to keep the information to himself, which may involve not telling Chris…
Sylvia then tells Serra about the man she’s been following on orders from the dragon. He’s a member of their circle called Harrington Flaunder the Third….etc. etc. or Needle to his friends. A particularly odd name and apparently he’s similar in stature to Serra. They give her information where he might be headed. Serra then heads off to the tavern, looking for Til. Meanwhile James and Brody continue to make conversation, until Brody passes out from exhaustion and booze…
Serra fails to find Til and spends the night hunting for him with no success. Maybe he did run off to join Maurgrim’s band of conchies.
The next day, with time ticking, Serra heads back to chez Nightwood. On the way she spots Spanik, the ranger with deer recognition problems. She tries to avoid him but she’s spotted as she meets up with the others. In a short conversation he lets slip he’s working for “the council”. Serra heads back to the library to pick up books on people matching her description. There’s an entire tome on Peoples of the East. James and Brody head to the barracks.
At the barracks James and Brody arrive to find the muster underway. Chris is being beasted by the guards and Brody goes to join the ranks. James heads to his father’s office, who asks where Serra is, muttering about punctuality… James forgot he’d arranged to meet him the night before! They head down to Rob’s personal armoury, where James picks out a peculiar crystal sword for his use. The jewelled sword is placed in secure storage for the future.
Serra eventually arrives. Rob gives her her contract, which declines to give her any gear but places a guard dog in her custody. A dog which seems to be bigger and better trained than she is, and doesn’t seem to obey a word she says… The party are then loaded down with survival packs, Brody barely notices the weight, James manages but is slowed a bit, and Serra and Chris almost unable to carry them. They set out.
For a whole day and night march… In which a lot of the 21 recruits are exhausted and bullied into line by the guards, James struggles with the forced march and starts lagging behind too but is generally left alone by the officers. Blessed nepotism…
The next couple of days pass in the same gruelling manner until they arrive at a village, where the entire troop are made to abase themselves before a statue of the queen, flanked by robed priests. This causes a strange effect on James and Chris, and several of the platoon. James notices too late some nimbus of energy about the statue but isn’t able to avoid its effects. Serra notices James noticing the effect but isn’t able to see what he’s seeing. Ineffectuality abounds.
Brody uncharacteristically goes off to a bakery and buys a sweet roll. Offering it as a friendly gesture to another pleb he watches the recruit throw it to the ground and stomp on it. James spots this and demands the recruit apologise. As he refuses, James sees red and fascinates him into paying attention before disciplining him.
The march on this time has Chris grinding down with exhaustion, as he’s being punished by one of the officers, the column grinds to a halt due to a cart being in the way. The other officer heads up and confronts the woman in the cart, then stabs her in front of her kids. As Serra vainly tries to save her, James demands to know why he did it. He claims she and her kids are traitors and orders the goods confiscated. Serra protests and is eventually chained up with the barbarian prisoner. Brody runs off into the woods to find the kids. Eventually finding them and trying to talk them into heading back to the village.
But not before the column moves on driven by the officers…
That night Chris sneaks up to the tent of one of the officers, intent on some errand, meanwhile Chris is walking on the edge of the camp to make a distraction. Serra notices Chris and Chris, and Chris notices being noticed, Chris meanwhile fails to notice being noticed. Chris heads over and picks Serra’s cuffs. Brody gets back to the camp at this point and offers to let the other officer get some sleep, the noise of this waking James. As they discuss this the Chris who didn’t notice being noticed is also noticed by James and Brody, along with the other Chris heading to the officer’s tent. Fearing an attack Brody raises the alarm, and the camp is placed on alert all night.
The next day they enter the foothills headed to Fort Highguard, as they gain height there is an avalanche. As the dust settles James and a pinned Lydia are on one side, Chris, Brody, Serra, the barbarian and one officer on the other. And Serra’s dog. Everyone else is either crushed or falls to their deaths. James notices a weird rocklike creature above them and Lydia trapped under the rocks but does nothing until the others attack the thing, which causes more rocks to fall, injuring James and pinning Chris. They eventually dispatch the Avalancher, but not before James and the dog slip and are hanging from a branch over the precipice. Brody helps James up then they set about recovering the survivors, including the dog. With one exception: Serra walks over to the surviving officer and guts him like a fish, with Brody looking on in horror. James then pitches the body down the cliff, one last victim of the avalanche as far as he’s concerned.