The group made quick travel from Barcino to Buche, where Kasimir made his leave. Explaining that he needed to follow the trail of his old comrade, Manfred, and the only lead was the merchant headed for Sices. Everyone agreed to meet back in Buche in about 2 months to report in and see if Kasimir was returning. After the farewells, the rest of the group continued their trek towards Altamira to investigate Louisa's family, headed by Don Paolo Garcia de Soldano del Castille and his wife, Rosalita Vasquez Lopez de Garcia del Castille.
Upon arriving in Altamira, the group began questioning the locals about the Garcia family and its holdings. Zhennya, using her ability to get on with the common folk, found out that Dona Rosalita was very well liked by the people, especially the children and orphans for whom she would bring spare clothes, sweets, and food whenever she visited town. Unfortunately, the lady has not been seen in town for several weeks and many of the children have been asking about her whereabouts. Fabien, pulling upon his business contacts, discovered that the rancho's wine fields had been not properly prepared for the coming spring and many of the merchants worried that the family's wine production would be affected by this. One of the merchants went to investigate about a week ago and has not returned to town. Dr. Blackwell visited La Universitad de Arciniega and confirmed the legends about Iku-Turso. He found corroborating stories about the witch hazel unguent and its reputed property to be able to soften the hide of the beast. He did discover some additions to the rumors of bright lights distracting the creature, noting that it was more of rapidly changing light intensity that had this effect and not nearly the presence of bright light. Meanwhile, Silvia took the opportunity to nurse some local alcohol at a neighborhood bar before meeting up with the others. In another part of Altamira, Bonny was visiting a safe house she was familiar with. Her friends made a request that she escort a woman named Gina to Kirkwall, since Bonny and her companions were charting a ship anyways.
Regrouping, the heroes set out for Rancho Garcia about 10 miles from Altamira, along the Eisen border in fertile foothills of wine country. Along the way, Fabien and Zhennya noticed that the fields were indeed not prepared for spring planting and that weeds had overgrown many of the vines. There were also no people working in the fields. The only sign of activity was a carriage coming from the main villa. Bonny stopped the other carriage and spoke with the driver, who encouraged them to enjoy the entertainment being provided at the main house. His smile left the group wondering what could be going on. Upon arrival at the main gates, the heroes found them open and inviting and proceeded to the front doors. Several other carriages and horses were outside, some appearing not to have been tended to in some time.
Upon knocking at the door, a scantily clad Castillian woman named Sera greeted the group and took an immediate interest in Bonny. When Bonny attempts to scout outside, Sera insists upon going with her. Getting closer to her, Bonny uses the distraction of getting kissed to knock Sera out and put her into a carriage for safekeeping while she becomes a peeing Tom. Bonny gets quite an eyefull as she looks into each window, seeing all manner of sexual appetites being sated.
Inside, the group quickly ask for the location of Don Paolo and Dona Rosalita and are directed to the upstairs master suite. There's a line outside of the door, but Dr. Blackwell thinks on his feet and offers up Fabien as a distraction to the pair of women waiting in line. It turns out that Marta and Julia are mother and daughter and are eager to experience some enjoyment with Fabien. Moving to one of the side rooms, Fabien leaves the pair and promises to return, but instead slips out into the hall and finds another man named Angelo to take his place with the women. After bursting into the main bedroom, the group encounters Dona Rosalita spanking a large Eisen man tied down with leather while Don Paolo watches naked in a nearby chair, sipping a glass of sangria and smoking a cigar.
Upon questioning, Fabien learns that the family reunion had over a hundred attendees, mostly family but also family friends as well. At the party, there was a Castillian woman wearing a black mask that Don Paolo remembers kissing and perhaps more, as his memory is a bit hazy of the night. The mask was described as a smooth black mask with narrow eyes, a seductive grin for the mouth, and a blue symbol resembling a crown on the forehead. He also discusses how much wine flowed that night, and that many of the attendees got drunk and woke up with hangovers the next day. Attempts to garner the Don's guilt about his daughter getting sick are met with a desire for her to return to her family.
After a brief physical examination of Dona Rosalita, Dr. Blackwell heads outside to examine the wine cellar. There he meets up with Bonny, who ended her peeping Tom rounds in the cellar. The two of them chased out the would be revelers and locked the wine cellar with the key Dr. Blackwell acquired by sweet talking Don Paolo. Finally, as one more step, Bonny put up a "Quarantine" sign on the front gates to dissuade others from entering. On a hunch, Silvia utilized one of her foul unguents to open up her eyes to the mystical realms. She was able to make out a faint bluish haze around the Don, Dona and many of the Castillians at the house. While the haze lingered on anyone who wasn't Castillian, it seemed to quickly fade as they were separated from the Castillians, even if the effects of passion did not.
Reflecting back on how the heroes managed to overcome the effects of sadness on the Eisen lord a few weeks prior, they separated all the occupants of the house into their own rooms or space, tied up. While Zhennya, Silvia, and Bonny keep the bound people fed and watered, Fabien and Dr. Blackwell visited the university to research the symbol. Though the university is one of the best in Castille, they were able to find only one reference to a similar symbol. In an obscure religious text from the ancient nation of Numa, there is a passage that speaks about someone named Aselgeia along with a hand drawn symbol in a circle that looks somewhat like the symbol described by Don Paolo. Fabien and Dr. Blackwell were able to translate from the Numanari…
"Enchanted by the sight as he received the sweet maddening spark in a heart which knew it not.
The overking was worsted by a child, Aselgeia's touch set afire this Bearer of the Crown.
Not the deluge of the flood, not the fiery lightning could help its possessor
There was none to quell the heavy-booming din from this lovebreeding kiss."
After the duo returned to the villa, the group decided to hire some people to care for the Castillian's in the villa for the next several weeks, keeping them apart but also fed and watered. Zhennya was able to recruit some nursemaids and midwives who were used to this type of work, while Bonny was able to bring in some of her friends, who would perform the task in exchange for her escorting of Gina. The group left these woman with some coin for food and payment and left Altamira for the coast, arriving in Crieux several days later, after a brief but harrowing chase by a group of Vodacce men demanding that Maddalena be turned over to them. Gina, the new arrival in the carriage, was not forthcoming with much information, except that she was from Vodacce and had been on the run from some bad men who had assaulted her in the past.
Dr. Blackwell made contact with Gerard DuPaix in Crieux and after some coins exchanged hands, the group was able to board the "Dawn Trader" the next morning, captained by an Avalonian named Captain Reynolds. The crew left the passengers mostly to their own devices, but it was obvious that this crew was quite a diverse bunch, including many crewmen and women from the Crescent Empire as well as the far south of Ifri. The Captain was quite reluctant to travel to the Maw in search of a sea monster, but after more coins changed hands, the ship set off to the east…but that is a story for another day…
Upon recovery of the legendary sword, the crew made repairs and made for Kirkwall in the northern Marches. Once upon dry land again, Fabien fell to his knees and wept, having spent most of the trip green in the face and releasing the contents of his stomach over the railing multiple times a day. Bonny quickly made arrangements for a carriage to take the group to the south west into the MacKensie lands of her father and his bannermen.
Upon reaching Clan Ainsley lands, one Colurn MacKensie's bannermen, it was clear something was wrong. The fields showed no signs of tending for the spring and there was very little activity occurring. When questioned, the women of the clan explained that the men of Clan Ainsley, and in fact all of the men in Clan MacKensie's lands had been stricken with a wasting disease and seemed to age them beyond their years. This was confirmed when young Angus, a seventeen year old boy, emerged to see what was going on and appeared to be easily in his thirties but more infirm than he should have been. When asked how the clans were dealing with it, the women assured Bonny that they did not need anyone else's help and their wisewoman was working on a cure and they were positive she was only days away. Finding the cure would certainly elevate Clan Ainsley in Colurn's eyes. They mentioned trying to get a jump on Clan Frazer and Clan Caldwell who had both beaten the Ainsley clan in the Winter Highland Games earlier that year.
Fearing the worst, Bonny and the rest bypassed other clan lands and headed directly to Clan MacKensie, only to find the same state of things. Bonny immediately checked on her father, finding him weak and aged beyond his years. Bedridden, he was still defiant about women not having their fair say in the running of the clan. Colurn did mention that Gillian had left the Clan, claiming she would be working on a cure for this wasting disease. It seemed odd though, given that Colurn had forced the man she loved, Duncan MacKensie, to marry another woman for the benefit of the clan. Gillian had been devastated as it had occurred during the Highland Games. Gillian then left the Marches for parts unknown and was gone for several weeks. When she returned, she seemed to have a renewed purpose and everyone felt she had worked out her grief.
Knowing what her friend had procured, Bonny encouraged the group to track down Gillian and the witch Bodicea, fearing the two of them had worked together on the wasting curse. After several hours of tracking, the group located the witch Bodicea's cottage in the deep part of the woods that border the MacKensie lands. There were a ring of small animal skulls on sticks, stuck into the ground in a large circle around the structure. Crossing the threshold, the heroes found themselves amidst a wind storm, and Silvia suffered intense cold when she touched one of the skulls. Drawing upon her knowledge of wisewomen and soothsayers in Ussura, Zhennya took it upon herself to approach the cottage with a small rabbit as tribute. She was allowed into the cottage and spoke with Bodicea. The old woman appeared to be of Inish ancestry and was very polite, if not unnerving. Zhennya elicited a deal from Bodicea, that she would reveal the terms of Gillian's contract if Zhennya brought her the book Gillian had recovered from the mainland. It turns out that Bodicea had lost some control over her student after Gillian had brought the Buch von Untoten.
Leaving Bodicea's cottage, the group continued on into the wilds, tracking down Gillian's cottage. It was smaller and had a wolf skull hanging over the front door instead of a ring of small animal skulls. This made the group nervous at the sign of a predator skull. Zhennya took a small nap while a nearby forest mouse made its way into the cottage. Gillian was inside brewing something in a pot and had a set of predator bones on a table in the rough shape of a quadruped. After Zhennya reported what she'd seen, Bonny decided to approach. Hoping she would admit an old friend, Bonny, Zhenny and Silvia approached the cottage while the men hid. Gillian seemed surprised but pleased to see her old friend, inviting all three women in after eliciting a vow that they would not touch nor disturb anything within the cottage.
The meeting was fruitful, with Gillian seeming pleased that what she had done to the men of the clan would enable what Bonny had always wanted: that women would have more power and say in the clan. Though her methods were extreme, she appeared to have good intentions along with a desire to get vengeance on Colurn MacKensie for betrothing her love to another. Gillian's greatest desire is to be free of Bodicea's contract so that she may grow her power independent of the other witch. Bonny does learn that Gillian's contract involves servicing Bodicea in a ceremony once a month and in exchange Bodicea taught Gillian what she knew to release her heart's desire. It turns out her heart's desire was to see women in control of their destinies. She also informs the women that killing Bodicea while the contract is in effect would effectively kill Gillian, but that Gillian's death would end the contract. Silvia asked what the skeleton bones were for, to which Gillian explained it was a protector in case she were attacked by any men who might be lurking about. With this information, the three left, met up with Fabien and Dr. Blackwell and headed back to Bonny's father.
Colurn continued to argue against giving the clan women more power, until Bonny explained he would be dead and the clan would be disbanded. Reluctantly he agreed to sign a proclamation, giving women equal rights to voting and a say in the clan's direction and making Bonny the clan's leader upon his death. After he affixed his seal, Colurn passed out, having only days to live by all of Dr. Blackwell's diagnosis. On the trip back to Gillian's Dr. Blackwell and Fabien discuss a plan they hatched during the trip. In order to free Gillian from the contract, she had to die. Dr. Blackwell knew of a combination of herbs and medicine that would stop Gillian's heart. He would after a few moments be able to restart her heart and bring her back to life. Though the women were skeptical of this, they agreed it seemed the right way to about this.
Upon arrival back at Gillian's, all the heroes again made their vow and entered the cottage. They explained their plan to stop Gillian's heart, to which she was reluctant. After a heavy discussion and Bonny showing Gillian what her father had signed, Gillian relented. She agreed to turn over the Buch von Untoten after they freed her from Bodicea's control. She did warn that should anything happen to her, the guardian would attack those who had harmed her. Putting her trust in her old friend and Dr. Blackwell, Gillian was given medicine that essentially killed her. While the heroes watched, a dark form left her body and dissipated. During the process, Dr. Blackwell performed exceedingly well, prevent the guardian from accidentally animating. When Gillian awoke, she not only felt free of Bodicea's control but also had a renewed guilt over what she'd done. She gladly turned over the book to Silvia, glad to be rid of it. Vowing to give up the witchcraft, she did aid Silvia in deciphering a cure for the wasting disease. It needed to be delivered to each affected man personally.
Brewing the cure proved difficult, as the ingredients of angels wings, corpse dust, amerith leaves, sea clay, aniseed oil, and extract of aloe grew in different parts of MacKensie lands, each owned by a bannerman's clan. The clans themselves would still not work together, each vowing they would be the ones to cure the men. The heroes gathered the ingredients and brewed the cure, delivering it first to Colurn MacKensie, giving Gillian and Bonny credit for delivering it. Gillian was welcome back into the clan as the men began to slowly recover. Though there was much grumbling about the women having more power, it was indeed a new dawn for Clan MacKensie and perhaps the example would spread through the Highlands.
As the heroes celebrated their victory, there were still unanswered questions…what happened at the Highland Games that winter to cause the clans' bannermen to become so insular and reluctant to work with one another. Bonny vowed she would get to the bottom of this anomaly while she was back home and the rest of the group agreed to stay and help her…
Rewards: 1 Experience (bankable), 1 Wealth, Item Story (4-pt Companion): Skeletal Guardian