[tab][/tab]Winter is not the time for travel and yet here you are on the road, in the miserable, biting cold making your one in a lifetime hijrah to the mountains of Epirus. For most of you time in a covenant, with its amenities and protected rooms, with the cozy libraries and hot forges, has not prepared you for the rigors of caravanning, let alone under such conditions. Woefully inept, you pass the governance of your little group to a trusted mundane, doing what you can to protect your few precious belongings from the dump weather, gritting your teeth and trudging on. For some others more accustomed to the pains of road, things are a little better, and yet you chaff at the small delays and foul drizzle, the caring of the pack animals and the ineptitude (real or perceived) of their handlers and teamsters. All of you follow the laconic directions of Anastaj that will lead you to the creation of a new covenant, Meru Mudi.
[tab][/tab]For the Western Magi the inland trek starts at Durres, an old city at the coast of the Adriatic, a jewel port (probably the only one on this side of the sea), where mercifully a group of teamsters has been paid to wait for you and your small retinue. Feeling slightly relieved that someone else took the task of dealing with transportation, and for the good organisation skills exhibited by the Covenant you are going to join, you start the long journey from the coast towards the mountainous mainland. Though winters are much colder up north, the humidity of the Balkan peninsula makes the wind bite that much more. Twin parallel ridges of the Transylvanian Alps frame a narrow valley traversed by a roaring river, a natural road you follow towards your rendezvous point of Aristi. The Nemërçkë ranges are fully capped with snow and ice and the weather promises even more snow, the wind picking up in intensity while you dredge through the not-so-melted sludge on the poor road.
[tab][/tab] Eastern Magi have a different route to take. In more travel hospitable seasons you would have gone by foot on the mainland through the mountains of Thessaly and over to the Pindus range. But the weather does not permit such an endeavor and the dreaded Katara crossing, a pass most difficult in gentler months, is certainly suicidal to travel during this season. Instead you arrive by ship at a coastal town of the Despotate (Preveza, Parga or Igoumenitsa) and make your own arrangements to journey to Ioannina and then north into the Konita valley. The trip is harsh and arduous made more difficult by the poor condition of the roads and the suspicious nature of the inhabitants. This war torn-realm has seen better decades. Only the wall enclosed town of Ioannina, rapidly growing into a small city, has a different feel to it. Certainly there is some scent of despair from the refuges, but more pronounced is their determination to make a new life in these parts and put the fall of the Shining City behind them. It was an interesting respite to your exhausting journey.
[tab][/tab]No matter where your came from, which route you took, your paths eventually take you to the old Imperial station at Aristi. Your party camps outside at the leveled area reserved for merchants and travelers. The outpost itself, walled by a wooden palisade, offers some rudimentary amenities but this is a military encampment not a caravanserai. The soldiers here seem alert and professional, but closer inspection reveals less than average quality of arms, some rust on weapons, a few bad fitting armor and the darkening cheek-fuzz of unshaven youth. Their officers are something else; scarred, brisk veterans with no-nonsense, harsh voices demanded information and inspected wares. The lieutenants looked at everything and everyone suspiciously, not relaxing even after inspection a dark toned man paid your fees. He was Dimitris, someone sent from the Covenant with teamsters to take you in. A tall, lanky man of dark features, with slightly slanting almond eyes, he was a trusted retainer of Anastaj sent to wait upon each of you. Next morning after moving your packs to the new mules, you start up a by-river, while your old porters make their way back home.
[tab][/tab] The view of Tymfi slowly changes from snow-covered mountains to a majestic mastiff, the Towers of Astraka dominating the landscape like giant, white capped sentinels. Grey clouds promise another snow fall and while the temperature drops the further you go up the mountains, the strong wind scraps ice crystals from the top of mastiff making it seem it is veiled in a white haze. There is now hard packed snow at this altitude, though the path you are following has signs of frequent use. Even as you marvel at the river flowing on your left side, you can spot ice flows drifting in the current. Spring seems far away, the Halcyon days a distant memory. Dimitris opens up a bit the more you travel up the slopes, offering to answer questions about the mountains, the road, what each feature is named by the locals. He points at this ridge, that mountain top, this village showing in the distance. Your party reaches a wooden bridge, no more than some planks thrown together over a shallow part of the river and the path splits in two; on the other side of the river you can see the way going up the hills like a snake, your guide pointing out the smoke from the village Papigo in the distance and a monastery on the other side. On your bank it becomes a goat trail steeply going up the mountainside. It is an exhausting climb, but the teamsters and mules seem used to it. The hard packed earth is sometimes covered by snow (a blessing really, there is little dust this time of year) and you can see animal droppings on the trail. There is a smell of decomposing half-digested old grass, reminding you that this is back country. Finally you reach the top of the ridge, but instead of following the animal trail towards the north where a circular settlement is located, your guides turn east and start going down the slope. This new path is little used.
[tab][/tab] The Vikos Gorge steals your breath. Tracks of sparkling blue river framed by miles of vertical cliffs seemingly going on foerver. And though it is winter and all life sleeps, you can feel a tingling of the senses, a quickening of magic in the air. While silence descends on the teamsters and animals, and even your guide stops talking, you sense the holiness of this place. Except for conifers, there is little green in the gorge now, everything covered in ice. A little snow starts to fall, muffling the sound of the river and the weird, distant cries of alpine crows. You party descends towards a frost covered meadow with a tiny church in it, situated on a bend of the river. A huge, blue pool looking like an eye, is barely obscured by the trees, water maples in full foliage, a surprising sight. That stretch of river draws you like a siren, but your party veers right and starts to climb up one of the many clefs of the gorge. Very soon you feel the weight of stone all around you, sure that this place never sees sunlight. And yet the cold does not bother you more. Many trees, now bare, cover both sides of the trail, and mixed with the conifers you spot different kinds of crab-apple trees, an impossibility on this altitude.
[tab][/tab] After hours on hiking up the mountains you at last reach the end of your journey. There is a huge bare tree on a snow-covered hill and at its feet a large rotunda dominates some wooden structures. This is the Covenant you came to join. A couple of sentries are all the protection this place has and most of the rickety houses seem barred and empty. The sound of a smith at work is muffled by the snowfall, giving reassurance that this place is not abandoned. A large stone building that looks like barracks shows signs of life, but Dimitrios urges you to enter the rotunda instead and get out of the cold; he will take care of your belongings. What each Magus thinks and feels upon looking at this rustic place is anyones' guess, magi being mysterious fickle creatures of weird moods....
[tab][/tab] You take a moment to adjust your sight upon entering the main building. There is a hush of silence and you find yourself facing a large area covered in pallets and possessions, cordoned off by blankets and sheets of cloth. The faces of coven-folk stare at you, with fear and awe like someone frozen in fascination upon encountering a snake, not knowing if it will harmlessly slither away or bite to kill. There are a lot of people there, even children hiding behind their mothers. It seems almost all retreated to the rotunda during the winter, the whole edifice somehow heated without the use of fireplaces.
[tab][/tab] An old man in brown robes comes to greet you, it is Anastaj the Vlach whom most of you already met. The magus is an old, old man, stooped by age. Clean-shaven and with lines around his face evident even indoors, his face tattoos almost faded, his blue eyes are open and innocent, welcoming you to your new home. He is a most gracious host and an eloquent conversationalist, taking you upstairs for some warm food and drink and maybe a bath to loosen up your weary body. He talks about this and that, answering questions as best he can, giving you a tour of the place like a kind hearted grandfather showing off his home with pride. On his left biceps over his robes he wears a frayed black band of cloth (for those of Greek descent it means he is in mourning); you soon find out from the coven-folk that Christoforos the other founder died this late November. Anastaj seems in deep sorrow over this, but does not let it affect his duties. He gives you the width and breadth of the place, administers the oath on you and entrusts you with a smooth blue lapis stone, a token for the aegis. Welcome to Meru Mudi....
[tab][/tab] This is the prelude for your characters. For visuals see photo links in announcements. You can post anything and your magi characters are encouraged to talk to other magi. You all arrive in February, on different days, and are all welcomed with warmth and some relief. While the coven-folk are mostly still afraid of you, they are respectful and a bit curious of their new masters. The Gift creates a gulf between most of you and them, with some exceptions. Pavo awes everyone. Raven is more of a surprise. No-one believe at first that she is a maga. The coven-folk treat her differently, calling her my Lady, and seem more at ease around her. They do not like her beast though. The teamsters whisper and spread rumors about the familiar. Some say Raven had charmed the beast and only she can calm down the tiny dragon not to attack and kill them all. Others say the reverse; it is the dragon that has captured her and whomever slays the beast will get the girl. All nod sagely and say she is a maiden.
[tab][/tab] This month is spent making the characters accustomed to the Covenant, the folk and other characters. At some point all are gathered in the council chambers to talk..