The magi have discovered two necropoli near the ruined city, one to the east and one to the west. Gregorius sets out to explore the eastern one, aided by Patrick and the cats. He discovers that Patrick has apparently been walking though the ruins for some time, though Patrick never mentions this, let alone his reasons for doing so. The barrows stretch out as far as the eye can see, with taller hills at the western end of the necropolis, and shorter hills to the east.
When night falls, Gregorius can see with his Second Sight a ghostly walled city built on the barrows surrounding the one where he and Patrick have set up camp; in fact, the camp lies on the same hill as the citadel at the center of city. The Kitten notices that the apparitional structures on top of one barrow to the south are flickering between two different states.
Gregorius explores the barrows to the south, and discovers a "burrow" exiting directly south from one hill. Tiny foot- and handprints suggest tiny occupants; a look inside reveals a passage tall enough for humans to walk, with dozens of eyes shining out from four tiers of shelves on either side and the other end of the passage. He later discovers a weak Faerie aura within this burrow. Later, at midnight, the cats see a welcoming light shing from the hole, and hear cheerful singing, music of the sort that might be enjoyed by children.
On a hill to the north, Gregorius discovers an apparently Hermetic device (a two-foot stone block) that issues a spooky warning message in Latin once a diameter whenever a human is nearby; Gregorius finds a possible reason for the warning, an Infernal aura. His wolf Alcimus also notices that several of the nearby barrows are deformed in shape; one even has a side that is almost concave.
Next, Gregorius explores some hills to the east, on which he had seen ghostly watchtowers. There turn out to be five watchtowers, on hills that radiate from a murky pond at their center, rather than being aligned east-to-west like almost all of the other barrows. With Second Sight, the pond assumes a shape that appears vaguely pentagonal. Meanwhile, Alcimus smells something redolent of ancient death coming from the northern barrow, and, after some digging, discovers a small hole in the underlying stonework, through which Gregrius can see ghostly figures moving about inside.
After clearing away the water and investigating, Gregorius learns that the pond is actually the rainwater that has collected within a sunken marble chamber. Armored ghosts from the surrounding barrows, attracted by his investigation, inform him this this is the 1500-year-old unfinished tomb of their king, who was never buried there. Carved into the floor of the tomb, Gregorius finds runes that look like they might be associated with a predecessor of Hermetic magic--perhaps Mercurian? The runes also include a plan for the completed tomb. Casting spells to investigate, Gregorius sees a vision of a stone statue within a pentagonal room, with an archway, guarded by a warrior, in each wall. Below the floor of the room,* he sees a table full of alchemical equipment, which has been pushed aside to make way for a sarcophagus. Before leaving, Gregorious creates a Moon-duration illusion of the pool that had been there before, in order to discourage others from finding the tomb.
[* amul's description says only "Below", without specificying what it's below.]
Gregorius returns to the camp, and Fray arrives there the next morning. Fray has a look at a copy of the runes that Gregorius has made on a wax tablet, and determines that they belong to some non-Hermetic system of magic that has incorporated elements of Mercurian magic.
The next day, Gregorius, Fray, and the cats make to explore the faerie burrow in the southern hill. Fray shrinks the two cats and they proceed inside. The find a burial chamber with two stone coffins, surrounded by shelves full of wooden and (decayed) cloth dolls. While they're exploring, light begins to shine from one of the coffins, expanding all the way to the entrance of the burrow. The light pulls the cats into a regio, and makes it possible for the magi waiting outside to enter, as well, simply by touching the light. Inside, the magi find themselves glamored with childlike appearances (and, apparently, the height of children--or possibly, the regio's inhabitants and objects are simply bigger than normal). The entire regio is a market fair, as imagined by children, and full of (glamored) ghosts and skeletal remains of children, as well as fearie storytellers and vendors. The regio centers on a puppet-maker, Gepetto, who mentions one of the dead children, Johann, as being different from the others. The magi also discover that it would be possible to learn various Lore Abilities by listening to the storytellers.
Next, the magi visit the western barrows: this complex is much smaller, with only 15 barrows, arranged in five rows of three each. All are oriented east-west, save for a diagonal one in the center; this last one is covered with a rare, dark green plant (technically a single plant, multiple shoots from the same root system) normally found only in Loch Leglean Tribunal. All of the barrows have collapsed at least partially, and the damage surrounding the central hill shows evidence of a sizeable battle in which Hermetic magic was used.
Back at the covenant, Viola and Calliope begin work on a new story for Halia. With suggestions from Viola, Calliope produces a stirring epic. It begins with Halia's seduction (or rather, deception) by Poseidon, and the curse by Poseidon that turns her into a gorgon, separating her from her children. The story continues with human heroes who attempt to kill her to prove their mettle, only to be foiled and petrified, with some assistance to Halia from Demeter, a patron of mothers. In the end, Halia is reunited with her children despite a dark storm brought down by Poseidon, and she begins a new story as a protector of mothers.
However, to bring the story to life, it has to spread among the local populace...Calliope, while a capable musician, is writing her epic in Greek, not the local Kipchak. Finding no locals who can translate effectively from one language to the other, Viola--even before the story has been finished--dispatches grogs to the nearby Latinate port of Tana. They return with Antonio, a talented singer burdened by some sort of checkered past that's made him persona non grata in Constantinople. Unfortunately, he doesn't know Kipchak, and, once he's at the covenant, he doesn't seem to be a very good singer, either. Thus, Viola prepares to set out for Chersonesus (the likeliest local settlement in which a musician fluent in both Greek and Kipchak might be found) as soon as the nothern edge of the Sea of Azov thaws in spring.
Once the sea has thawed, Viola sets out for Chersonesus, with Theodoric, Bogdan, Godzimir, and Antonio in tow. They pass through Tana on the way, and Antonio's return incites an argument with a local innkeeper, who had apparently engaged him to play all winter (that is, Antonio's departure at Viola's behest triggered the dispute).
Viola and her party board a trading vessel that drops them off in Chersonesus, where they encounter a tiny and seemingly disingenuous funeral procession. Suspicious, Viola dispatches her butterfly familiar Constantine to follow it--he does so, only to have the entire funeral party disappear in the town's main square (though not while his eyes are actually on it). His investigation of the square turns up an interesting statue of a woman, and two plinths were other statues formerly stood, but no entrance to what must be a regio.
In the meantime, after exchanging pointed remarks with the grogs (who questioned him about a conversation with the ship's captain), Antonio flees from Viola's party...obviating her need to dispense with him. Viola sends the grogs to find another singer--hopefully one who actually speaks both Greek and Kipchak. They hear of one--but also of her untimely death the night before. Attempting to locate her brother and accompanist, they trace the path of her funeral procession, only to realize it must have been the same procession that Constantine followed earlier. Investigating the square herself, Viola discovers a regio boundary, and indications that a funeral procession might be the key to entering it. She thus arranges her own procession the next day, putting Theodoric in a casket and placing him under a spell to simulate death.
Viola and the grogs manage to enter the regio in this fashion. After reviving Theodoric and heading into what appears to be a regio reflection of Chersonesus, Viola discovers the "dead" singer, Ipek, her brother, and three friends cheering on a mob led by the fae version of an ancient local notable, Gykia. She's directing the mob to burn her own house, which holds a group of invaders led by her treacherous husband (an outsider still loyal to his father)--Ipek outlines the entire story for Viola, including its eventual aftermath. Magical intervention by Viola brings the faerie story to its conclusion, with the deaths of the invaders. Having found her singer, Viola attempts to leaving the regio, only to discover that the exit is triggered by something related to oaths. Gykia has asked the townspeople to reward her heroism by swearing an oath to bury her within the town walls (which is against the local custom); in the original story, she faked her own death in order to test this oath, and, when the town's citizens broke it, she castigated them and extracted a new oath, which, on her real death, was duly carried out. Hoping to open the regio, Viola bids Ipek to help convince the townsfolk to swear the oath. They do so...but the regio remains closed, the barrier to the mundane world seemingly even stronger. Viola concludes that she, the grogs, and Ipek's party will have to wait out events (that is, wait for Gykia's faked death), perhaps speeding them along with some encouragement by Ipek to the townsfolk to break their oath.
Back in the vicinity of the covenant, acting on an earlier vision that suggested a possible vis source, Patrick travels a few hours south, into the Don delta marshes, where he finds a faintly glowing pool overhung by a willow tree, in a Magic aura slightly higher (2) than the surrounding area. When a leaf drops from the willow into the pool and begins to glow, he realizes he has found a new source of Creo vis--one that can likely be harvested in Autumn.
Led by a heron, presumably acting as a messenger for the spirit of the delta, Patrick heads some way further southwest, where he finds an ominous-looking thicket of briars that that lie at the center of an Infernal aura. Within the thicket, Patrick unwittingly enters an Infernal regio with an aura of 3. Patricks find no sign of any inhabitants of the regio, even after burning the thicket within it. He returns to the covenant to ask for assistance, and returns with Fray, but their investigations turn up nothing further. Patrick, however, leaves the covenant soon thereafter, perhaps upset over the other magi's negative reactions to his plan to use a magic trough that warps the animals who eat from it.
A few days later, Gregorius and Fray begin the task of draining the flooded cave system beneath the covenant. For some time now (two years, off and on), workers have been quarrying a tunnel up the route of the stream that exits the cave system from a bluff beneath the covenant. Now, they finally discover a large cave, which turns out to be a storeroom. Pressing forward, the magi also discover a ruined sanctum (the lab's ceiling has collapsed, crushing everything within, but the living quarters are intact, and contain the occupant's notes), and, finally, a pile of rocks that turns out to be the cause of the flooding: it's blocked the stream. Once they remove the rocks, the stream flows normally again, and the caverns gradually drain.
Gregorius and Fray make their way upstrream, and find a side passage, blocked like the other one--this must also have contributed to the flooding. This rock wall is thicker than the last one, though, and while workers remove it, the magi continue to explore. They climb a stairway carved next to a waterfall, and, passing through an empty cave and then taking the left passage at a fork, they find a huge room the old covenant had used as a storeroom; it also has an elaborate mosaic (about 1,300 years old) in the center of the floor, and carvings in the walls and ceiling--all depicting stories involving Poseidon.
A passageway leads from this chamber to another waterfall and stairway. The stairway is blocked at the top, but the stream above the waterfall appears to have been widened, violently, leaving rubble at the base of the fall. Backtracking, the magi take the right branch at the fork, and find a small chapel to Poseidon (decorated similarly to the large chamber), with an altar. The altar has a couple of compartments that must have held relics, but now they're empty.
When the blockage above the stairway has been cleared away and everything investigated, Gregorius and Fray discover that this staircase opens into the main room of the second level of the caverns; the stream that runs over the waterfall comes out of the (formerly) flooded room (a storeroom) on the same level.
Finally, the magi return to the lowest level of the caves, and explore the now-cleared passageway, which runs into a cavern with a small pool, a pool that is now re-filling--they later discover that the stream that leaves this pool flows back into a stream that runs through the ruined lab. Along that passageway, they find a regio entrance (Magic 7) that takes them into a large cave containing the remains of a relatively recent (three years old) campfire. The cave opens onto a large lake, with an island in the middle--and most notably, light from a multitude of points on the ceiling is bright enough to support plant life on the island, and near the mouths of caves, and ledges between the caves, that ring the lake; many of the caves have streams that empty into the larger body of water.
The island has an altar to Poseidon; pollen scattered acrossed it contains Vim vis, which is replenished at the rate of 5 pawns/year. The magi also find the lake filled with fish, and one monstrous beast they get only a glimpse of. The lake is deep, but they can't find an outlet though which water empties.
Gregorius and Fray find that the caves surrounding the lake twist and turn, and all intertwine, forming a maze. They later realize that the passageways don't follow normal geometry: no matter which passage a person takes, he ends up back at the lake eventually, unless he follows a stream, but you never reach the source of that stream. While exploring this cave network, the magi are attacked by a giant rabbit that smells like a predator. On killing it, they discover 4 pawns of Mentem vis in its ears.
Finding nothing more of interest, the magi leave the regio, but arrange for the entrance to be blocked and guarded.
Shortly thereafter, a new magus, Stephen, arrives in a flying ship. He's just in time to meet Viola, who's returned via Arcadian Travel in order to check on the situation at the covenant. Her caution proves warranted: the magi realize that Tasia has not been seen for some time, something that could prove a problem given that she's both the covenant's leader and the maga scheduled to cast the Aegis at the end of the season. With some trepidation, Gregorius ventures into Tasia's sanctum; by piecing together her scattered notes, he deduces that she's been investigating the destruction of the previous covenant, and that she's likely traveled east and south along the coast of the Sea of Azov in pursuit of more information. The local wise-woman informs him that Tasia was asking questions about hedge wizards.
Gregorius decides to set out immediately. The magi decide that he'll need Theodoric's local knowledge, and so Viola travels back to the faerie regio to retrieve the grog, then returns with him to the covenant, which she watches over while Gregorius is away. Gregorius and his party of grogs move from village to village, tracing Tasia's path through the inhabitants who've encountered her. They eventually discover a burned-out and abandoned villages, and another that recently fended off an attack, reportedly by Amazons--but the reports of Tasia cease. Gregorius learns that Amazons occasionally raid this part of the world, appearing from nowhere, but that lately they've been unusually active--and in one village, a wise-man reports that an oddly-dressed woman was asking about the "sorcerers" (the magi) who'd moved into the site of the old covenant.
Upon finding the destroyed village, Gregorius immediately contacts Viola via arcane connection, and, given the evident danger, Fray and Stephen decide to join the search, flying to Gregorius's location in Stephen's boat. The magi split up to search the area, and eventually find a group of Amazon riders, and follow them back to their camp. Using InMe magic on the band's leader, the magi discover that these Amazons have captured Tasia and are holding her--but the Amazons are apparently canny about mind-reading spells, and are holding the maga at a location unknown to the leader. Nonetheless, when the leader sends a message to Tasia's keepers, the magi stake out the spot where the message is left, and follow the message's recipient back to a cave where Tasia is being kept prisoner. They put the lone guard to sleep, and retrieve Tasia; they find magical paraphernalia in the cave, hinting at the presence of an Amazon wizard, and they learn that Tasia had someone been deprived of her magical abilities, until her restraints were removed.
Tasia recounts that she had helped repel an attack on a village, but then ended up being captured--she can't remember how it happened, but her grogs are missing, as well as her familiar, Vrahos. Disoriented, she asks to return to the covenant immediately; she does so, and then just as quickly departs the covenant to report to her Qaesitor superiors. A reply to a letter to Magvillus confirms she's OK, but also suggests she won't be back any time soon. Viola will have to cast the Aegis--from a casting tablet that Gregorius is able to borrow from his Tremere superiors. Gregorius and Viola also agree to make Gregorius the leader of the covenant, so long as he doesn't interfere in Viola's work.
Despite the danger that casting a ritual via casting tablet entails, Viola succeeds, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The casting completed, Viola returns to the faerie regio to await the end of Gykia's story.
After what seems (in regio time) like at least a year, Gykia finally decides to fake her own death. The townspeople's ensuing betrayal duly opens the exit from the regio, and Viola emerges with Constatine, her grogs, Ipek, Ipek's brother and friends, and the faerie version of Zethos, the head of the Chersonesus government, whose banishment has created the opening to the real world. Viola and party emerge in late summer and set out for the covenant (save for Ipek's three friends, who return to their families and jobs, with promises from Viola to do business with their fathers, if possible, in order to make up for their time away and the destruction of a borrowed wagon, whose boards had been tossed into the house fire). Zethos, who given his experience with running a household and a government, receives an Aegis token and becomes the deputy to the overtaxed stonemason/autocrat.