Pieter and Alruna are split from the party and cast adrift after the ship everyone is aboard is wrecked in a storm. As they drift they are visited by an, un-named, angel with white and salmon colored wings. The angel tells them to swim towards the sun, then to follow the pole-star from an oasis they will find. The angel also admonishes them for having freed Prince Balaam, but tells them forgiveness will be theirs from Erathis should they save “one town and one soul”, each. A vision is shown them of Boss Simkins at the start of his cattle-drive, he swears an oath that since none of the gods he knows will help him he’ll build a shrine to any god that will. They follow the angels instructions and come ashore, find the oasis, follow the pole-star into the desert, and pass through a shallowing to the Feywild they find hidden within a cave they come across.
Rook is pulled beneath the waves along with the stern of the ship after it breaks up. He and the wreckage are seized by a kraken and pulled further down, he then drowns.
Wythe, an eladrin wizard on the run from himself, has finally managed to find a nicely isolated spot to live out his life. He’s found two shallowings that lead to The World, and one day sees a pair of humans stumble out of one of them. After some conversation with them it’s apparent to him that Erathis has not let him go free, at least not yet. The three agree that divine providence is clearly at work, and take the other shallowing back to The World. (as it happens this second shallowing leads not to the world of the Earth Kingdom and the Caliph Al Raschaid but instead to the world of “Carta”, the world of the Crimson Port, the Maelgrimm Empire, and Port Liberty)
They emerge atop a pass between two peaks, below they can see a massive cattle-drive moving alongside a river, beyond the pass is a valley, they decide to approach the cattle-drive. Heading down they find an off-shoot path leading away from the river. At the crossroads is a dead horse, shot through with massive arrows, and a dying Pony Express rider. Nearby him is Rook’s body.
In darkness Rook wakes, he finds himself speaking again with Akasha, the Exarch of the Raven Queen. She talks with him for a bit about how his life has been led this time around, then tells him the Lady has decided to send him back for another try, again. As his vision grays, and he collapses like a corpse to the ground, she bends down and whispers in his ear, “As always, it must be a life for a life.”
Pieter fights desperately to save the life of the Pony Express rider. He’s terribly fevered from a massive compound fracture of his leg and the resulting infection. As he works the rider suddenly dies, just as Rook gasps in pain and sits straight up. Rook notices a small, black, raven’s feather fall from his chest as he sits up and quietly pockets it. Some introductions ensue.
As the group begins to question what’s happening here a group of five men from the cattle drive ride up. Initially things are quite hostile as it looks like the group has just murdered a Pony Express rider, but after seeing the actual situation is quite different the two work together to examine the scene.
It seems the rider was going as fast as he could for the “town” of Laredo, a small mining village not more than a few day’s journey away. Letters indicate that Laredo is in the grip of a fierce plague, Red Spotted Fever, and that they sent to a healer priest of Graahk for aid. The rider was returning with the components to finish a ritual, a ritual to produce a cure to the fever.
The leader of the riders, Jeb, is pleased when Pieter says he’d like to meet the leader of the drive since he was going to have to bring them in anyway and this way there won’t be a fight. At the tail end of the drive Jeb brings them to the chuck-wagon where they meet with Boss Simkins. Simkins is a tall, whipcord-thin, salt-and-pepper haired, grizzled man with a grip as hard as steel, though he doesn’t crush the hands of folks who will shake his hand. He’s a hard man, but on hearing Jeb’s tale, and Pieter’s desire to join him, says that “As I lost some boys recently” he’ll take Pieter and his crew on. He warns them the work is hard, and the trail long, and payday isn’t until they reach the railhead and sell the cattle, but that he’s a fair man and will pay them fairly for their work. Everyone agrees.
For their first job Simkins tells them to talk to “Cookie”, a half-elf named Aerun, who will set them up with horses and gear they’re lacking. Once they’re set they’re to take the medicine to Laredo and then return. He says to ride the horses until they die if that’s what it takes, “But save that town, folk what don’t stick together out here don’t survive and I’ll not have Laredo’s dead on my conscience. After that’s done ride on back, you should catch us up in a few days, I won’t drive my cattle more than 15 miles a day if I can help it. brief pause Well, what are you still doing here, get moving!”
Kitted out by Aerun the party rides for Laredo.
Rook takes a spare moment when no one is watching to examine the feather and determines that it’s very definitely divine magic, but that it seems to be waiting for something, like it has a purpose….
Along the trail to Laredo they are ambushed by a party of orc braves. Sporting war-paint and bows, to go with their obsidian axes, the braves aren’t quite good enough to surprise the party. Arrows fly before the two sides clash together. The lead brave, an orc blood-rager, nearly downs Wythe. But in the end the party defeats the war-party and moves on.
Later that same day they crest a ridge only to see a huge “indian” camp in the valley below them. It rests alongside a small lake. Several parties of braves charge the group to test their courage, but won’t attack while near their camp. Pieter’s group is stopped outside the camp by a line of braves and their chief. Chief Red Bear doesn’t speak common, and no one in the group speaks Giant, so for a time nothing happens. After a while a half-orc “slave” appears and translates Red Bear’s words for the group. The two sides agree to be friends, for now. But while the Chief will offer them the hospitality of the camp he is reticent to send them on towards Laredo as they seem unsuited for such travels, the group succeeds in convincing him otherwise.
The night passes uneventfully as the group succeeds in intimidating one group of challengers and being diplomatic with another group, and chooses correctly which group to do what to. Early the next morning they leave the indian camp, heading for Laredo.
The trail to Laredo rapidly becomes extremely difficult. There are navigational obstacles, it’s exhausting, and it nearly lames one of the horses though Pieter is able to save it’s leg by walking it the last bit of the trip.
Laredo proves to be an, apparently, empty walled village of 30 or 40 buildings. The gate is closed. Some hollering produces a badly weakened young man named Jarit who warns them to “go away, there’s Red Spotted Fever here, we’re all as good as dead since no medicine has come yet”. The group convinces him to let them in anyway after explaining their mission to him.
Jarit takes them to the house of Leria, the local healer. Leria is infected and is delirious with fever, and is the only source of knowledge about how to transform the herbs and powders from Graahk into the medicine needed to fight the fever. Pieter cools her down with his healing knowledge, and the rest manage to decipher her rantings enough to realize that the process for the medicine can be found in her house. They toss the place in an intense search until they find letters and a book that help them figure out the right ritual.
After finishing the medicine, which is very volatile, they begin curing the villagers. Alas about a quarter of the villagers have suffered permanent brain and nerve damage, leaving them practically vegetative, and death from Red Spotted Fever is brutally nasty. It burns out your nerves in a remarkably painful way and then kills you by turning your lungs into bloody clots that you cough up until you die.
Rook acts on a hunch and puts the Feather of the Raven Queen upon a dying young woman’s forehead. In his head he hears an old woman’s voice whisper, “It must be wakened with a death.” He draws his dagger and gives the woman mercy, plunging it into her heart in a swift blow. As she dies the feather bursts into a black cloud of dust-like motes, which rapidly stream out of the house and across the town. People begin to notice that everyone who can’t be cured is now dead, even folks who shouldn’t be dead yet seem to have died peacefully.
Jarit and the group, and some other survivors begin the hard task of cremating the dead of Laredo. When that’s done everyone rests for the night. The next day Pieter exchanges his horse for a fresh one, with Jarit’s promise that he’ll see to it that the horse is treated well until it’s healed enough to ride again.
The return trip from Laredo is much easier. Chief Red Bear’s tribe seems to have moved on, they’re no longer camped at the lake, and after that it’s a quick day’s ride back to the pass where they first appeared. Boss Simkin’s drive has moved onwards while they traveled though, and it takes another two days for them to catch it up. Simkins is pleased with their efforts, and happy that at least some of Laredo survived.
But he remains quite the cynic, and is clearly still hostile to most gods. There must be something going on we don’t yet understand Pieter thinks.
Night falls and the cowboys bed down, making ready for another hard day the following morning.